Sunday, 22 February 2015

#258: Franciscan Well Winter & Cask Ales Fest 2015

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.
I ordered two newbies to begin with, Torc Brewing's 5 Malt Dark Ale (4.5%) and West Cork Brewing's Roaring Ruby (4%). I was handed two beers that looked almost identical, and that was just the start of the confusion.

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 Hi Viz, 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!

Friday, 20 February 2015

#257: Metal Can

Much of a hubbub was made of the first canned Irish craft beer on the market; for a long time, Metalman had been teasing the idea, whetting the appetite of those who have been enjoying cans from the likes of Founders, Brewdog and Beavertown for some time now. Not only are there the practical advantages (indulging incognito, easier to recycle, harder to break, completely light-proof, better for preserving freshness, stackable, etc.) but Metalman's entry bore special significance because it heralded the first time any of their delicious beers would appear in a take-home serving (not including the collaboration with Hardknott).

Thus, Metalman Pale Ale made a long-awaited return to my palate. It had been around a year since I'd had the draught version - a shame because of the quality of the beer but testament to the myriad of great Irish beers to be occupying yourself with these days - so comparing with the draught version would be very unfair.
That said, it surely isn't as good.

Pouring clear copper, it's almost devoid of any aroma at first. When it does eventually drum up the courage and warmth to be smelled, it is simply awash with caramel. For the first few sips everything is OK; fruity, not exactly bitter, but noticeably hop forward, as you'd find the draught version I'm sure. Malts overcome this before long, to an effect that is not exactly cloying but certainly too much to enjoy. If you're really looking, you might find some grapefruit and other miscellaneous citrus notes clinging to driftwood for dear life in a sea of caramel, roiling with the odd swell of toffee malt. Amazingly, the beer remains quite drinkable - quaffable even; the four cans I bought didn't last very long. All of this would be disappointing but ultimately fine if it wasn't for the fact that, rather inconveniently, there are just way too many better pale ales and IPAs on this island, and many at a better price point, for this can to eke out a living.

The very first run was by no means a disaster, but improvements will have to be made if Metalman Pale Ale cans are to match the brewer's own very high standards.

Also; Metalman, please can Windjammer.

Friday, 6 February 2015

#256: Eager Beavers

When Beavertown beers first started to appear in our shops, 8 Ball, the rye IPA was one of the canned offerings I was most looking forward to trying, rye being a new favourite beer ingredient of mine. It's a shame it took this long to procure, but the results were at least worth it.

8 Ball is hazy and orange and smells like sharp, coppery-bitter orange skins and sweet marmalade from the off. There's a sort of wet grainy biscuit thing and a suggestion of grass, but the real joy comes on the palate - as it should. Again, it's all juicy orange marmalade, rind and grapefruit. There's a good bit of residual sugar in there too, and the overall effect is of a bittersweet and admittedly unsophisticated beer, but it's plenty enjoyable for all that. However, like the previous Beavertown releases I've tried, the price is a tad too high to encourage me to repurchase, especially as Irish beers of this sort (*coughSimcoeRustbucketcough*) do a better job below the price.

Another recent Beavertown appearance was Holy Cowbell, a so-called India Stout. It certainly smells that way, bursting with fistfuls of grapefruit, mango and mandarin, with particular emphasis on the zesty bitter skins thereof. The bright, punchy effect of the aroma is enhanced by the fact that the beer pours opaque and black and supports a thick creamy off-white head. The taste is a perfect interpretation of the beer's name; it's milky and smooth in texture, carrying traces of cocoa powder and the like, but with plenty of the bitter, astringent tropical fruit and lemon zest in behind.

Where 8 Ball is underwhelming but enjoyable, Holy Cowbell excels, and the best beer I've had from Beavertown yet.