It seems like aeons ago now, but this year's Easterfest was another good'un. This despite the notable absence of an Eight Degrees stand, though there were plenty of worthy breweries to take their place, and a few first-timers to the festival too.
I started with one of the regulars though, who had brought one of the most irregular beers of the festival. Dungarvan Brewing and Nøgne Ø teamed up on Seaweed Saison, with the Nøgne Ø head brewer Kjetil Jikiun travelling to Dungarvan for the brewday. The beer is (obviously) a saison with added Dillisk seaweed, and it was served here on cask. It comes a cloudy yellow with a nice slice of foam and immediately announces itself as nice. It's smooth, full and fluffy in texture with a sort of light waxy bitterness throughout, an odd salty tang in the middle and a round, softly sweet lemon curd thing to finish. It's excellent, really, and the first few pulls are beautiful, fresh and invigorating. However, it just isn't that drinkable; I was glad I'd settled for the half pint of this, it's just not the sort of thing you could take too much of. That said, as an example of creative and delicious brewing, I do advise you pick up a bottle, just don't expect to be downing it in one.
Between this and my next purchase I was handed a half glass of Black Lightning, the latest from 9 White Deer. Stag Bán doesn't do much for me, and I was pleasantly surprised by the relative richness of Stag Rua, a beer in a style that has a lot of explaining to do, so I was intrigued to hear the Ballyvourney outfit had opted for a 6.5% black IPA on this one. Just as well too, because it's the best beer they've brewed to date by far. A decent whack of bittersweet citrus fruit plays off a light roasty backbone - this is BIPA by the numbers - with a touch of pith here and juicy, orangey stuff there, all remaining very drinkable despite the strength. I'm looking forward to seeing more of this and more like it from 9 White Deer.
Next up was Metalman's Equinox, the latest in their shape-shifting Chameleon series. It's a wheat lager of 4.6% and does exactly as you'd expect; it's a lean, clean, belch-inducing, summer quenching lemon machine. Lemon and orange are added to this, alongside coriander, but for me there's only evidence of the former, and it does a good job of scrubbing the tongue and refreshing the palate before I move on to bigger, bolder things.
Not quite yet though, as I opted then to try the third 'funny ingredient' beer of my visit, Bo Bristle's Wild Irish Ale. Hold your horses though; this ain't no spontaneously fermented farmhouse ale, rather it's a simple 4% pale ale brewed with the addition of elderberry, hawthornberry, ginger and rowanberry. It's a better palate than mine that can find each of those ingredients expressed in the mouth, but it does offer up plenty of husky, herbal and vaguely floral effect if that's your thing. It wasn't for me.
O Brother were one of the festival newcomers and I opted for their Fixer, billed an American Red. I certainly wasn't expecting a punch of burnt, bitter coffee and scorched malt, and was further surprised with the follow of red berries and citrus peel. Decent, but nothing special. I missed O Brother's Bonita, a 7.1% black IPA, which is a shame, as it appeared to be one of the beers of the festival. Oh well.
Before I moved on to the big guns of the festival, I decided to try some palate cleansers; Killarney Brewing Company were newcomers to the festival too, and brought with them some nice branding and Devil's Helles and... something else. I'm a sucker for Helles lager so that was my pick. It's a hazy one, all vegetable crunchiness with a cool, herbal hop character. It's close, but no cigar for me; there's none of that cool-fermented cleanliness that I prefer in the style. I'll be keeping an eye on these guys though, their leaflet had a good smattering of styles that I'll be looking forward to trying.
Seasoned festival-goers White Gypsy were also pouring a Helles, and this seemed to be even further away from the goal than the Killarney version. It's yellowy-orange and hefty in the mouth. So far so good. A flash of citrus surprises me, before things really unravel with a bit of weird cheesy off-ness at the finish. Not good.
Much better was their Scarlet, a sour of 5.2%. It's an amber-brown affair that gives plenty of sherbety sour raspberry but with a good roundness too. An unsophisticated sort of sour, perhaps, but it makes for a decent refresher.
The final leg of my festival began with a long-awaited glass of Black's Model T. It's only 6.5%, but has more flavour than it has any right to. Hazelnut chocolate greets the nose, while the palate gets a wash of full, milky, smooth chocolate - texture is a big player here, and it wins. Creamy vanilla and chewy toffee just about make the cut. Excellent stuff, and one of my highlights of the festival.
UCC's pilot brewery had pUCCa, a 5.5% pale ale that promised a good fist of citrus and apple on the nose, but performed less than perfectly on the palate, with tropical fruit juice and candied pineapple and mango lost under way too much sweetness. A touch of bubblegum finishes it off.
Thankfully, the students also brought Innocence, a 9.5% quadrupel that, going by the pUCCa, could have been a disaster. Thankfully, it wasn't. There's nothing innocent about the shit loads of dark fruity chocolate to the fore, being a far-from-perfect-quad but still quite enjoyable. It's sweet to finish, and while decent enough, it never approaches the shadow of the Belgian masters. Bonus points to UCC for also bringing pretzels, the essential beer festival snack.
The final purchase of the festival was, as is becoming a tradition, a cider. Stonewell blew my mind with their casked medium-dry a couple of years ago, and this year they were pouring Tawny, a 15% cider from the keg. Shit. It is exactly the kind of thing you'd expect; thick, slick, tart cider with vinous, boozy overtones and an everlasting buttery toffee finish. I can still vividly remember the taste, and my taste buds tremble. It's bold and puckering and absolutely not taking the piss, a proper finisher...
...that is, until I passed the Bierhaus on the way back. I knew they were pouring one of curiosities of the festival, Trouble Brewing's Hop Priority, an 11.1%-er they've decided to call a triple IPA. Well then.
It's got heaps of tropical and citrus stuff, namely grapefruit and mango, and whets the appetite for some searing bitterness. This doesn't really come, but it does scorch the tongue a bit. Underneath it all there's a solid sweetness that goes through phases of caramel, toffee and alcohol heat. I'd be willing to try this again, but on the day it was a bit harsh. Not terribly bad, not great.
TL:DR I drank beer.