OK, not a true festival, obviously, but a recent Galway Bay tap takeover at the Bierhaus felt pretty festive to me, even if I was mean and stuck to the limited editions, ignoring the core range yet again.
Not that I'm having any doubts about whether or not that was a good idea, because it absolutely was.
It begins with Heathen, a(nother) black Berliner weisse. Handed to me in black and tan, it is an exceptionally light body to begin with, except for a brief flash of something fuller and creamier in the grist. There's sharp acidic sandpaper on the tongue with plenty of that grist but no blackness to speak of - this is all relatively bright on the flavour spectrum, even if it does lack a hoppy seasoning to go along with it. There's lots of fizz, a blink, and it's gone. It's not often that I'd compare beer to water in a good way but this is a stupidly refreshing, incredibly drinkable and rather plain beer that puts itself away pretty fast. That might not be enough for those who demand more flavour, but at 3.5%, I could find enough wheat-supported citric acid to let this beer flow fast and fun.
303 is step up in the flavour department, billed as a tart pale ale. There's plenty more citrus to the fore of this one, though more bitter and less sour than the Heathen, as you'd expect. Sherbety lemon curd, lime zest and pithy bitterness do a good job of cushioning and balancing what acidic sourness there is, before the thing turns surprisingly herbal in the middle. In fact, I don't know what sort of profile the Azacca hops were supposed to bring to the table but for me there's a crunchy green coarseness throughout that doesn't allow much of the pungent fruit I was expecting to shine through. It's tasty, but it's less drinkable than the Heathen (again, a for a beer with more flavour and more alcohol that's not surprising) and doesn't quite hit the hoppy sour heights of either Trolltunga or Sky Mountain for me.
An even bigger step up in every department was required to reach the Two Hundred Fathoms pouring from keg. This year's edition it was, and oof is this a different beast on tap or what?
My first note is a scrawled 'ridiculous' that I remember being my only contribution for the first few minutes. This is pure, melted dark and milk chocolate mousse territory, pulling you through the rich, creamy, boozy stuff and all the way out the other side to fatty. This year's bottled version had plenty of oaky vanilla and whiskey hiding the background, but here, the vanilla has a fuller, sweeter Madagascan vanilla ice cream effect. With time the initial, intense, dark chocolate hit sinks into the rest of the beer to become real life, unashamed milk chocolate that I just can't get over. What I also can't get over is the very finish where it tastes, briefly, like barley malt extract, reminding you that, as dessert-like as it is, this is still a beer and it still tastes like one.
Just a big, full, filling one that you wish you could have year round.