Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know that my festival visits are swift and clinical to a fault, and despite that being something I'd like to change (some day maybe I'l actually relax and enjoy a beer fest), the Franciscan Well's Cask and Winter Ales festival last weekend was no different.
Almost everything is on cask, and certainly everything I had was hand pumped (it's not every day you get so much fresh cask) and there were plenty of newbies for me to try.
|Pictured: 5 Malt Dark Ale (L) and Roaring Ruby (R), supposedly.|
The beer I was told to be the 5 Malt Dark Ale was a hazy, rust coloured affair that didn't give much on the nose. The taste its a pleasant and full blend of red fruit malt with apple and woody caramel in behind, doing their best not to spoil things. There's just a flash of citrus and bubblegum before the taste abruptly ends. Nice and sessionable this.
The Roaring Ruby (again, I was assured this was the Roaring Ruby) was by contrast a darker experience. It looks darker, it smells darker, and with plenty of toffee, strong roasty coffee beans and milk chocolate it certainly tastes darker. However, it does all of this in a rather light and limp fashion so that after the half pint is finished, I can't say that I enjoyed it very much. Approaches good things but ultimately is fairly bland.
Now, the evidence is fairly damning; it appears these two beers are the other way around. That's not how I was served them by the trusty Fran Well staff, so I'm sticking with my story here. As such, your results may certainly vary.
Staying with the red theme and looking to step it up a notch, I head to Rascal's Big Hop Red, at 5%. The aroma here suggests New World hops, with an initial citrus flair. This is matched on the palate; orangey, almost sweet marmalade notes are to the fore, with a light peel note offering some sort of tongue tingling bitterness and a waxy afters. The hops are certainly there but they are reined in, keeping the beer nicely balanced and drinkable. Perhaps it was just the lightness of the previous two, but this one felt positively slick in the mouth and full of flavour on the night. Lovely stuff.
Metalman were in town with Heat Sink, a chilli porter of 4.9%. Eight Degrees' Aztec Stout is the only thing I had had for comparison, and I really wasn't a fan, so this could have gone either way. Thankfully, it proved much more enjoyable than the Mitchelstown offering. It pours black and soapy and gives some roasty toastiness on the nose, but not much overall. I could just about detect a smell I immediately recognised as Tayto smokey bacon crisps. I shit you not, this is exactly how it tastes to begin with - smokey bacon Taytos. There's a decent amount of cocoa butter to stand up to the tingle of spice at the finish that turns in no time into a proper heat at the back of the throat. This is well worth trying, despite the fact that it leaves the mouth thirstier than it was to begin with.
Sticking with dark beers, it was time to start climbing the ABV ladder, with Independent's Whiskey Stout, of a hearty 7%. It appears thick and black and certainly stout in its aroma; a fair amount of spirit makes its way to the nose with chocolate and bittersweet coffee in tow. The palate then gets a slick of the same stuff; bitter dark chocolate, mocha and malty chocolate biscuit, with a hint of woody fullness, though without any of the vanilla or spice you might expect from a barrel-ageing (which I'm assuming this is). Satisfying stuff, and a good return for the money and ABV.
I knew by now that it was time for the big guns. The first of those was Trouble Brewing's Beoir #2, brewed with plenty of help from the men and women of Beoir and a follow-up to Beoir #1 brewed in Black's. The style aimed for here is an imperial red, and it's immediately the boldest beer of the festival so far. There's loads of stuff in this; a big, hearty body and a ripe and juicy fruit profile. A toffeeish backing provides cover for some sweet jelly bean-like fruit notes and some lovely grapefruit, mango and strawberry highlights. The attack is sharp and zesty but not exactly bitter, balanced as it is. Hats off to those involved, I'd like to see more of this.
The night finished on the only beer that could have followed that - Black's High Vis, a 9% IPA. There's not a whole lot to say about this beer in that it's relatively straightforward as these kind of things go; orange, pithy bitterness, lemon skins and grapefruit, a touch of sugary malt and proper peely marmalade. Loads of citrus flavour with enough bitterness to counteract a hefty malt body makes for an enjoyable, easy-drinking strong IPA.
I had seconds and went merrily on my way.
Roll on Easterfest!