Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Belfast Beer Festival (Round 2)

After getting fed on a cheese and onion burger and chips, which were actually all pretty tasty, it was back into the fray. By this time the hall was filling up and a couple of musicians were putting out a few tunes of the Irish kind. Despite being a long, cool hall, there was a nice friendly atmosphere in the place, so it would be easy to spend all night there. As it was, we only had a few more hours to make the most of, and I started back in with a beer I thought would give me the fuller flavours I wanted. The Copper Dragon Black Gold was another light beer at 3.7%, but it did have a nice mild coffee, chicory aroma, vegetal notes and an undertone reminiscent of prune juice. Although it was quite flat with little life in it, it fitted with the flavours and texture well, again bringing out a chicory kind of flavour. The blurb on the sheet of beers available said it was "quite bitter", but I didn't really think so. More a dark chocolately bitterness perhaps. Flavoursome at least.

I'd never had the Sharp's Doom Bar Bitter before, even though it's apparently a regular kind of ale. Not terribly challenging, I thought it was pleasent and quite drinkable with ginger, an orange pith-like bitterness and a caramel undertone.

Mr. BeerNut had an Atlas Latitude, and as a former surveyor I had to try it even on the name alone, and because it was marked as being a Pilsner. It had a slightly soapy thing going on with a good dollop of lemon verbena. Maybe a bit too much like a lemon scented washing up liquid, but interesting. Also quite possibly the weakest Pilsner I've ever had at 3.6%.

Moving up the flavour and strength scales, the RCH Old Slug Porter came next, weighing in at 4.5%. Dark chocolate dominates the flavour here, with a slightly veinous undertone, vanilla and a fresh hop bitterness. It's the coacoa that keeps this beer going though, with a roasty backdrop. Lovely, and actually my favourite beer tried that day.

At some point we went off to play some of the games on offer, and despite being really crap and careless with the shuffleboard (compared to Mr. BeerNut's failed measured approach) I got enough points to win a pint glass. After looking at them I asked if I could go down to the lower prizes, as really the glass selection was like the official tasting glasses. Mixed and generally of no interest. I opted for a Harviestoun BItter and Twisted pump clip and got a Young's pin into the bargain.

Staying in the black zone, the Houston Warlock Stout came next. This had more nice chocolatey aromas with a hint of almonds. I found it quite dry with a touch of dried fruits down deep. Not bad.

The Blindman's Eclipse Porter came next after having a sniff of Oblivious' glass. This has an intense, in your face chocloate aroma. The flavour is similar with a flavour like cheap chocolate (we reckoned chomp bars) and a nutty strand running through it. Oblivious seemed to think it would have aphrodisiac properties simply from the aroma, maybe like chocolate pheromones, but fortunately he didn't get to test out this hypothesis.

Time was beginning to run out, and having wanted to hit the heavy beers before leaving, all I could do was get a half of Orkney Skullsplitter and funnel it into an emty water bottle for the journey. Glass emptied, I then got a Whitewater Clotworthy Dobbin to knock back. This is one of my favourite beers from a bottle, so I wasn't sure what to expect from a cask. I prefer the bottle. It just seems to have a bit more going on, and a fuller, creamier mouthfeel that the cask just wasn't offering.

That done, it was time to rush accross to the Balmoral station to catch the train to Portadown. Half an hour later, with a few shared sips of Skullsplitter, we piled out onto the platform in Portadown and accross a car park to a bar that Mr. BeerNut insisted we try, as long as we kept our mouths shut. McConville's is a nice old world bar, a touch of victoriana I imagine. With it's little snugs all along one side, we jammed in and got a mix of pint bottles of Guinness Extra Stout and Smithwicks. I have to say I haven't had Smithwicks in a long long time (for obvious reasons), and this was the first time I'd ever seen a pint bottle of it. Having had our first drink we reckoned it'd be good to grab a few more bottles for the train. However the barman must have copped it, as when we emerged from our snug the wee man was standing in front of the door with his arms folded. He told me that we couldn't take the bottles out as the police were outside and it was a big no-no to be taking the open bottles out (we should have asked for them to be left closed). We of course complied and glugged back some shelf-warm Smithwicks before setting out accross the car park to the train station. As it happens, he was right. The police were outside and were watching our rag-tag group half-jogging towards the station where the train was waiting on the platform. Mr. Station Guy said we were very lucky to get it, as it pulled out as soon as we were on board.

An hour and a half later we pulled into Dublin Connolly and of course headed straight for a pint of Galway Hooker in the Bull and Castle. Possibly not the smartest thing to do, as that also led to a kebab in Zaytoon on Parliament Street. It's hard to walk past that place, really. I wouldn't mention it only I was so impressed with TheBeerNut's capacity for punishement as after he finished his large mixed doner he ate about a third of mine. Impressive, most impressive.

In hindsight, I quite enjoyed the festival for the craic and the atmosphere, but I was a bit disappointed with the beers. As I said before, I've only had cask beer on a few occasions, and I generally enjoyed those. I think I was expecting a cask festival to be like nectar of the Gods, but it made me feel that cask isn't all it's cracked up to be. It certainly doesn't make a mediocre beer good, but I suspect, in some cases at least, it made an ok beer mediocre, and there were certainly a couple of complete clangers in the mix. Of course it's the same in all the beer world. It's always the few that really stand out, and there were a handful of really ejoyable beers. It's the search for those that make it fun.

This post was made courtesy of my former employer, as the Porterhouse didn't have any web access scratch cards available. But it did mean I got a Brew Dog Hardcore IPA.


Tandleman said...

Problem is that beer festivals just aren't the place to experience cask at its best. Too many variables.

Adeptus said...

Yes, we were discussing that. Indeed, I've enjoyed cask beers on trips to the UK. Still, it was nice to try a braod cross section.