04 June 2018

A very movable feast

The late winter snowstorms damaged the beer garden roof of the Franciscan Well brewpub in Cork. It meant that Ireland's longest-running beer festival got shunted from its normal Easter slot to late in April. As it happened I was down in Cork anyway that weekend, for Reuben's wedding, so was able to drop by for a couple of hours on the Friday night. I'm usually in early and out early at this gig so it was a novel experience to roll up late and be kicked out last.

As with last year there were two long bars facing each other across the beer garden. It was still packed to capacity when I arrived so I took refuge in the pub. There was a new Franciscan Well beer on the bar there: Archway, a 4% ABV yellow lager. The brewery's connection to the owners of Coors Light is pretty obvious here. This one is bland. It's almost literally tasteless, in fact, with just a wisp of soda water minerality. It's not thin or watery, nor overly fizzy, nor could I detect a single off-flavour. I just couldn't really detect any flavour at all. If I hadn't come to it on a clean palate I'd have been doubting myself.

Off out to the festival bars for something more interesting, then. Black Donkey had a new pale ale, with the jolly name of Happy Out. It's a suitably sunny yellow colour and uses Mosaic and Wai-iti hops. The twist is the use of a saison yeast. The result is massively bright and fruity, a Carmen Miranda hat of pineapple, banana, white grape and more. Though only 4.5% ABV it's quite heavily textured; perhaps a little too much so to be refreshing. The counterbalance is the delicious complexity, a late-arriving peppery spice preventing all that fruit from turning it difficult.

Speaking of fruit, JJ's had brought along a Blueberry Pale Ale which was receiving some comments around the yard, very little of it positive. I thought it was OK, though; fun, even. It was 5% ABV and an amber colour. The opening gambit is shockingly bitter, like overcooked green veg. This calms down quickly and the later flavour is gently infused with real blueberries, tasting sweet and slightly concentrated, like a compote. The contrast works well: it is both a hop-forward pale ale and a fruit beer; gimmicky but not too gimmicky. Experiments like these make festival drinking that bit more engaging.

On the plainer side, JJ's also had GarryOwen pale ale, a little lighter in strength at 4.8% ABV, and lighter in colour too: a clear gold. There was a worrying savoury smoke in the aroma which thankfully didn't come through to the flavour. That was quite sweet, beginning on caramelised winter squash, and increasing to apricot. Apart from this mild fruitiness there isn't much else going on. It's decent, thirst-quenching fare, well suited to being a core beer if that's the brewery's intention for it, but exciting it is not. And let's just leave to one side the brewery's claim that it's based on an 18th century recipe.

Next to them, Baltimore brewer West Cork was pouring their latest, Cape Crusader. This is a 3.9% ABV pale ale. It was kegged but had a cask-like feel: a rounded foamy texture, not too cold, and with soft floral flavours: rosewater and lemon sherbet. A very slight dank bitterness creeps in at the end, ensuring it's not completely anodyne. This one would definitely work well as a session beer, much like good British golden bitters do.