Tuesday, 10 November 2015

#296: Octoberbust

The October bank holiday weekend beer festival in the Franciscan Well is arguably the least enticing of the three held there every year; the focus here is on imported beer over Irish stuff which, while offering plenty of good drinking, goes without the nerdy delight of meeting the brewers and the feeling that you're trying the latest and greatest that your scene has to offer. Instead, you're treated to esteemed guests from Belgium primarily (classics from Chimay and Westmalle were in attendance this year) alongside a host of internationals on one of the busiest weekends in Cork City.
Taras Boulba

I started in Belgium with Taras Boulba, a highly considered pale ale from Brasserie de la Senne, proponents (at least in part) of the delicious Manneken Penn. This, however, was not delicious. An aggressively grainy beer, it is harsh, husky coarseness and bitter in a twiggy, stalky kind of way. It is actually hard to drink, and I'm forced to abandon my half far too early. This is a bloody poor show from a brewer I expected more from, and not for the last time on the day I started to think about the kegs/lines instead of the beers themselves.

There was no such funniness with Tuatara's Aotearoa. This was disappointing in its own, very beery way. There are far more toffee shenanigans than I'd like but it doesn't offend or insult the palate. In fact, there's some lovely jaffa sweetness that acts as the sole highlight to the beer and while it's softer, rounder, sweeter and easier to drink than the previous one, it leaves the mouth a bit too sticky to be properly good. Still, I did manage to finish the half, so that's not too bad.

I was getting hungry by now, and with the ridiculously good Pompeii Pizza in the corner of the garden it was time to pick the most sinkable drink on the menu to accompany it. That drink was meant to Havik, a 'Euro pale lager' from De Struise. Things took a terrible turn right about here, and what follows is a direct transcript of the notes I made right then:

- jesus, how is it so bad?
- shocking
- pissy - I mean actually how I imagine urine to taste
            - slightly pungent and acrid, but ultimately hollow and sterile
- cidery?
            - sulphur and cider
- the worst €4 I've ever spent on beer
- poxy. I'm angry now, fuck this shit beer or shit cellarmanship.
- it smells like a dirty beach.

I left it there. It's harsh, I know, but the beer was truly terrible. The staff were great and changed my beer without hesitation, but without being able to figure out what was wrong, the beer stayed on. Just as well, too; another punter came and ordered a pint of the stuff shortly after my experience and, the bar staff on the ball, they made sure he tasted it before confirming the order. He tasted it, liked it, and bought it. The whole €8 pint of it. I feel it's only fair I make this known as I'm being so critical of this awful, horrible mess of a beer - perhaps it really was just me.
One of the more attractive beers on the list was the other De Struise guest, the XXX rye tripel which, arriving as I did on the Sunday afternoon, I missed. Thankfully, I'd had that (or the reserva version?) from the bottle here.
Lupulus Hibernatus

The beer I received to compensate for this was ample compensation indeed; Lupulus Hibernatus is a strong dark affair from Les 3 Fourquets, another Belgian guest, and pours a headless brown with plenty of brown sugar and molasses on the nose. To taste it's a hefty, chocolatey dessert beer that bears more than a passing resemblance to the glorious Aventinus. At 9% it's a sipper, but the sips come too quick and too easy, especially for a shameless sugarfiend like myself.

Rodenbach Grand Cru
I was finally on a high, and to keep it going I had to go for one of the VIPs on the menu, Rodenbach Grand Cru. I hated this the first time I had it, back when it was the very first sour beer I'd experienced. In hindsight, such a beer is probably the worst initiation for a devoted vinegarphobe (all vinegar must die, now and forever) - at the time, it felt at the time like I was drinking a glass of balsamic. Nowadays, I have a sour itch that needs scratching, and this does it. Again it's headless and almost devoid of aromatic punch at the cold draught serving temperature, but it delivers a ridiculously good, palate re-adjusting sour hit that screams of cherries and raspberries and, weirdly for a measly 6%, a perfume headiness. Still, it's a full-bodied, bang-for-buck beer with enough finesse to stand up to scrutiny while remaining quite easy to drink. I'll be buying more.

I was given a taste of Unknown Shore at this point, a Lithuanian oaked dubbel from Brick by Brick which, a quick Google will tell you, is in fact Švyturys. In any case, it's pretty tasty; oak intensified malt a seriously chewy, woody, raisiny thing unlike any dubbel I've had before. It probably won't stand in the pantheon of classics of the style, but it makes for interesting drinking indeed.

It was back to Belgium thereafter and to Vicaris Tripel-Gueuze from Dilewyns. It's, well, kind of like it sounds: coppery, citrusy bitterness, honey sweetness and a measure of sourness. It's weird and, I suppose, objectively interesting, but ultimately not as much fun as the name suggests. 

To finish the festival and complete the geographical set I went for Karpat's Eagle, an 8% IPA from Ukraine. It's a sweet tropical fruit and bubblegum concoction that doesn't play too nicely as a proper IPA but doesn't do much harm either. 

On that note, I left perhaps the most dramatic and emotional beer festival experience I've had and tried to move on with my life.

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