Sunday, 31 March 2013

#135: Franciscan Well Easterfest 2013

It's Easter Sunday, and that can only mean one thing in Irish Beerdom: The Franciscan Well Easterfest. Seeing as I got my festival over and done with yesterday, there's no time like the present to give my evaluation of it.

First impression upon walking through the arch was the feeling of relief, followed by joy and excitement. My last (and only other) festival experience here was a bustling mess, so to see the place so quiet and relaxed, with all kegs and casks full and ready for tapping put me in a good mood.

Kindred Spirit
Being from Cork, and being hopelessly biased, the first stop had to be Eight Degrees and their whiskey barrel-aged stout, Kindred Spirit. The last beer of this style I'd had was the understated Jameson Stout from the Fran Well, so comparisons were inevitable, and right away I can find more of a whiskey hit on the nose of this one. At 7.5%, it's even a little boozy. The taste is of a good, hearty stout, with roasty, toasty malts coming through at first, before some nice stickier malts, dark fruit and of course, whiskey follow through at the finish. The barrel-ageing process seems to have worked wonders here, as you can really pull the base stout apart from the vanilla and sweet woody malts of the barrel. Expect this to be bottled in the coming weeks, and I'd recommend you pick up a pair. It could very well be a nice one for ageing yourself.

Next stop was Dungarvan, who had their beers on cask. I'd tried everything else, so it was an easy decision to take their Mahon Falls Rye Pale Ale for a spin. Pouring a hazy copper with a weak, soapy head, it doesnt promise much in the glass. This effect continues with the subtle aroma that doesn't do much to describe what's happening inside, but at first tasting, things change for the better. It's light bubblegum-like sweetness does it's best to reign in a very hop-forward character, with fruity notes dotted here and there. I haven't got much frame of reference when it comes to a rye beer, so I didn't know what to look for in this. Perhaps the underlying graininess or hint of a spicy bite, but in truth, it's the hops that take centre stage here. The bitter aftertaste is lip-smacking, and the cask serving works wonders in showing off the freshness of the hops. Another one to try again.

Opus II
Moving onto the Galway Hooker bar, I found they had a tap of Opus II, a dark wheat beer brewed exclusively for Tigh Neachtains in Galway. Exploration is the name of the game, and explore I did. What I found was a very unusual beer, with roasted coffee bitterness playing off a potent fruit bouquet, none of which was suggested by the spritely wheaty aroma. It's nice enough and worth a try, but I don't think I could manage a pint, let alone a couple. I was hoping to try some Bonaparte Stout, listed on the menu, but it seemed to be absent from the bar.* Oh well, onwards then.

Returning to the hop-forward beers, I opted next for a taste of O'Hara's Double IPA. Reactions to this one appear to have been mixed, from what I'd been reading on Beoir, with many people suggesting that it was a little unbalanced and hopped to death. I can only say that I wholeheartedly disagree. While it truly is a hop bomb, with tropical fruit, citrus peel and even pine notes dominating, there's a gorgeous honey undertone that provides just enough balance to keep your palate intact. There's plenty to savour here, especially if you like your hops. I forgot to ask the brewer if this was to be bottled, but hopefully it will. I'll definitely be looking to try this again.

Heading upstairs to find out what the mystery keg of Sierra Nevada was, I discovered a row of apparently experimental casks from Sharps. Nothing caught my eye, so I went for the Sierra Nevada Tumbler on keg. I'd had it from the bottle before, but this is a completely different beer. A light grainy sweetness on the aroma belies a grassy, woody undertone in the taste, all of which is blown to smithereens by the very strong, almost peppery, copper-tasting hops. This was so potent that it made it very difficult pick out anything beyond the bitterness, even having an adverse effect on my next beer...

...which was White Gypsy's Mustang. I only went for a taste of this, seeing as it's extra alcohol points meant more money and less coherence, but it was actually a pretty good beer. Tropical fruit abound in this one, and there's a nice hop character, but ultimately, my tongue was still recalling the metallic hops of yesterbeer, making it difficult to enjoy. For what it's worth, it tasted like a more hop forward (and more American) version of Metalman's lovely Pale Ale.

Which brings us to Metalman. There were four iterations of their Chameleon on tap, as well as the Pale Ale, Alternator, and two versions of Windjammer. Tough decision, but I had to go for the Windjammer on cask, considering how great it was on keg last year. Anything hoppy on cask comes alive, and this was no exception. The strong, bitter, tropical fruit character you'd recognise from previous years is still there, while the whole thing is kept grounded by a slightly sweet, biscuit malt backbone. Very nice, I hope I can get this as regularly as I could last year. 

Stonwell Cider
Finally, for my last drink at my first succesful beer festival, I decided to try a cider. This was really a shot from the hip, my last cider being a Bulmers a few years ago. It could have gone either way, but with Stonewell Cider serving from keg and cask - both of which appear to be a rarity - it had to be done. I went for the cask, and boy was I glad. It pours hazy and very pale, with next to no head. To a beer drinker, it doesn't promise much. The taste, however, is sublime. My cider experience doesn't give me much flavour descriptors with which to enlighten you, but all I can say is that it tastes like the purest, most elegantly sweet and, above all, most beautiful apple juice you've ever had. Alongside so many great beers, I wouldn't have put my money on a cider to shine, but it really did. If you get the chance, I strongly recommend readers to try this wherever they see a tap. Failing that, their bottled Medium-Dry is closest to what I was drinking, and I'll certainly be picking up a couple.

It's impossible to pick a favourite from the eight drinks listed above. However, the Stonewell might have to be my find of the festival, because it truly was a revelation. The only down points of the day were the absences of UCC's brewery and the half-assed showing from the Porterhouse. Overall though, it was a great festival, and the Franciscan Well are great hosts. I'll definitely be attending in the future, and I recommend that you do too.

Next up for the Destrier? Dublin Round 2.

*Correction: It very much was on the bar. Curse these eyes.


  1. Nice to meet you yesterday!

    The Bonaparte was on but easily missed as it had a very similar label to the pale ale and you had to read the small print to see it was "Galway Hooker Irish Stout".

    1. You too, I would have liked to have had a proper chat about the beers but I was so overwhelmed with the choice around. I forgot to eat or drink water for the two hours I was there. Next time sure.

      Shame about the stout, but the Opus was interesting enough. I was also looking forward to trying Emerald from White Gypsy, but that wasn't there either. Great festival though, is there one in the summer?

    2. The 'Well just does the three: February, Easter and October. The next one with all the brewers on site will be early September in Dublin.

    3. Shame that. Oh well, hopefully I'll get to the festival in Dublin this year, never really worked out last time.

  2. Professor Pie-Tin2 April 2013 at 10:47

    Three cheers for the Mad Monk in Midleton who hosted their first Beer Festival over the weekend.
    Four bars offering huge numbers of foreign and Irish beers and ciders.
    Fantastic achievement for this pub.
    The Kindred Spirit was superb.