07 November 2018

Ticking casks and taking names

On a determinedly damp Saturday morning last month I set off for Dún Laoghaire and the Wetherspoon 2018 Autumn Festival, hoping desperately that the beers available would be worth the drenching. There were no high-profile international collaborations this year, which took a little bit of the fun away. Is it wrong to see something a bit Brexity in the purely-GB line-up?

I started with a trilogy including Inveralmond's Ossian, which isn't on the festival list but howanever. It's an attractive medium gold colour with a honey and lemon sweetness, turning to a waxy bitterness in the finish. It's extremely refreshing, the dryness in each mouthful cleaning the sugar away and setting up the next. In one sense it was the perfect kick-off but also suited to drinking in much larger quantities than thirds.

Mauldon's Blackberry Porter is next. It could be my imagination but there appeared to be a purpleish tint to the black beer. The fruit is unsubtle to say the least: a sweet and sticky forest-fruit syrup with as much raspberry and raisin in it as blackberry. The base contributes a milk chocolate flavour and some burnt toast, and all-in it's not an unpleasant combination. I bet it tastes far better without the "enhancement" though.

My guess was that Salopian's Hop Twister would be the pick of the bunch. The Shropshire brewery rarely puts a foot wrong. It looked much like the Ossian: clear and blonde. The aroma offers a promising citrus buzz, suggesting lemon and grapefruit. No surprises on tasting: a powerful lemon-rind bitterness, but also lots of malt sugar which balances it and makes it taste of a lemon-flavoured boiled sweet. A tannic dry finish prevents that from getting cloying. While neither subtle nor especially complex it is rather jolly.

The final tick for this visit was Autumn Leaves by Upham Brewery. It's the appropriate shade of russet and mostly quite dry, roasty even, presenting a toffee flavour without the sweetness. It manages to taste sufficiently autumnal, which I guess is the point, but there's little else interesting about it. This time a third was plenty, as tends to be the case with the medium-dark beers at the Wetherspoon festival.

To Blackrock, then, and two more that aren't on the festival list, beginning with Elgood's Greyhound. It looks like an average brown bitter and tastes terrible, redolent with disinfectant phenols suggesting it's been on here for a while. Mercifully they're just at the front of the flavour, fading quickly to leave a strong-tea dryness and some grain husk. Even perfectly kept I doubt this would be any good.

I wasn't familiar with Swansea's Boss Brewery, nor their US IPA Brave. At 5.5% ABV it's a bit low-strength for the style but it tastes big and chewy, leaning heavily on the caramelised malt at the expense of fresh hopping. There's a definite old-world feel to it, all metal and jaffa, making me suspect that this too has been on tap too long and is far from freshness. Or maybe it was just another dull brown bitter to begin with. I got to give it a second chance in a different branch subsequently, finding it pretty much the same so I can't pin this one on the pub.

Coach House Blueberry calls itself a Classic Bitter though there's nothing very classic about chucking fruit in, is there? Though clean-looking and pale it smells like a compôte and tastes of real blueberries in a way that blueberry beers rarely do. The base bitter seems to be a rather dull affair, not pushing any malt or hop notes forward. Frankly, this could be a blueberry lager. There's not a damn thing wrong with it, however: if you like blueberries fill your boots, but don't expect anything else to happen.