Saturday, day three of my trip back in Ireland, began with an early rise to get to Connolly Station with TheBeerNut and Kieron to get the train to Belfast, meeting up with Oblivious (another ICBer) and his friend at the station. Mr. BeerNut had made this journey before, so he had the journey planned to perfection. We arrived at the rather cool and slightly empty hall at the back of King's Hall about 12:30 with about seven hours to go for the sampling. With a choice of about 70 cask beers to choose from, it was going to be tough.
I've said before elsewhere that coming from Ireland, cask beers are a rarity. We simply have no living tradition of them, and I think the last time casks would have been seen regularly was the 60's (I'm open to correction on that), and these days the micro breweries that do make cask ales usually do so for export or festivals. So it was a bit of an oppertunity for me to get a chance to choose from so many, as the only other oppertunities I've had over the past few years were the odd trip to Aylesbury. Not exactly the bright centre of the Galaxy.
After getting a stack of tokens and the so called festival glass (it was a mixed bag of random glasses or leftovers from other fetivals it would appear) like everyone else in our group, I headed for the Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby, a strong throwback mild I have been informed. At 6% it's not one to be knocking back, and indeed the dark, dried fruits, light burnt toffee, warming alcohol and port-like undertone make this a complex ale ideal for sipping by a fire. I would have prefered more carbonation to be honest, but such is life.
Next up was the Triple FFF Alton Pride, voted Champion Beer of Britain 2008. I wasn't so impressed with this. It had quite a vegetal nose, verging on green cabbage, and this with green hops came through on the flavour, riding on top of a grainy caramel base. I had really hoped to be blown away by a champion beer, but that didn't happen. Maybe it was having an off day.
While drinking that I took a sample of Kieron's Bateman's Valiant which was most remarkable for how close the aroma was to a public toilet. It reeked of stale piss. Despite this it had a pleasent enough appley flavour. But only pleasent as long as you held your breath.
I had to try the Harviestoun Schiehallion, as I'd never had a cask lager. A very yellowy gold affair, this had apricots, green hops, pine and a slight citrus tone on top of a grainy backbone. I really didn't think was at all like a lagerbier at first, but a kind of hoppy dryness lingers which definitely made it feel more like a lager. Interesting, but I would like to know how long it had been lagered for, and how it got that slightly oily mouthfeel.
Being somewhat of a hop head (part time at least), I steered towards the Dark Star Hop Head. This had a really clean floral hop aroma with slight peach and floral notes. A light beer at 3.8%, it also tasted light, dominated by the hops with grassy, pineapple, grapefruit undertones. Something it shared with the Oakham Ales JHB, which gave me a bag of sherbety, grapefruit flavous. Not much else that I recorded about it though, apart from it being a light beer at 3.8%. I've never had so many beers under 4.5%!
I followed this with a Purple Moose Snowdonia Ale. This had a sulphury, eggy aroma. With a dry feel, the sulphury snatch came out inthe flavour too, but overall I found ti pretty weak and one-dimensional. I didn't bother finishing it, opting instead for a Mayfield's Auntie Myrtle's. With a sweet, toffee and veinous nose, this was quite promising. It had a toasty backdrop with slightly woody notes and on top of this a raiseny sweetness. Not much of a finish, but I quite liked the raisen thing going on. As with alot of the earlier beers I would have preferred a little more carbonation to lift the flavours up a bit.
At this point my stomach was rumbling, and having not brought a supply of scotch eggs as Mr. BeerNut had (this madeus fear the return journey in an enclosed carriage), a couple of us were forced out to the rather large chipper truck (not van!) to take on some soakage. I determined to stay dark for the second round, but we'll see. I've bored you enough already...