We arrived in Cork a little after 1pm yesterday on a very warm and sunny afternoon and headed straight to the Bierhalle. I had already had a full Irish breakfast at the train station so I was still stuffed. Instead I had a pint of Howling gale (8 degrees) to get me going, a started if you will. A few minutes later, Scott from 8 degrees came in and joined us before we all headed down to the Franciscan well for the festival. There were already a few people there at about 2:15 so it was time to get started.
First up was a visit to Trouble brewing and their new Saison, a beer that was the winner of their homebrew competition and then brewed by them as the prize.
Spelt saison was submitted by Mark (Maf on Beoir) and is a 6.5% cask conditioned Saison. Perhaps the most striking feature was just how creamy and smooth it was, like a nitro-kegged stout. The 6.5% was obvious as there was a boozy quality to it but it was not harsh and in fact it was very drinkable. Lots of caramel with a hint of sour candy.
Next it was over to Metalman for the first of their new Chameleon range and sadly the only one I got to try. Chameleon is a batch of beer, a very simplistic beer recipe but it was then split into a few different batches and altered. Pacifica was dry hopped with pacific gem in the cask. You can taste that it's a simple and somewhat boring recipe in the background but first you have to get through the hops and there is a lot of them. It does not feel like a beer that is 5%, it feels more sessionable than that but it the tannic hop tea was lovely. I know it might not be to everyone's taste but I loved it. Citrus heaven.
The next one to go on was a Chilli and something version but we did not drink enough Pacifica so it only went on after we were on the train home that evening. Ah well, perhaps it will make an appearance some other time. There was also a Ginger version and a few others I don't recall.
Next it was time to visit Scott from 8 Degrees and try his new Barefoot bohemian pilsner. The beer was poured straight from the conditioning tanks where it had been lagering for about 2 months. This meant it was a little lacking in carbonation but it did not detract from the beer in any way, in fact it reminded me of unfiltered Pilsner Urquell from a wooden cask. A lovely peppery and biscuity Pilsner and would not be out of place in Prague. In fact it was one of the highlights of the festival if I'm honest.
I had a great conversation with Scott and he asked my advice on future beers they should try so I gave him a few ideas. He then went on to complain about how busy he is, a good complaint of course. Any thoughts of having a handy job brewing beer is long since gone and the reality of hard work has replaced it.
The Dungarvan stand got a fair bit of attention from me because not only did they have a beer I have not had before, and also a dry hopped version of their Copper coast red ale, they also had bar snacks. It seems that Keoghs, a hand made crisp manufacturer joined forces with Dungarvan and used their fantastic Black rock stout to make Roast beef and Irish stout flavour crisps. They were absolutely fantastic so I lingered there for a while. I highly recommend anyone who sees these crisps to buy them. I think I will have to seek them out. They created a bit of a FABPOW with the dry hopped Copper coast. Either Copper coast had a meaty smokey quality, or it was the crisps. Probably the crisps but the match was sublime. Had their not been so much other beer to drink, I would have tried the crisps with their other beers, especially Black Rock stout.
The other beer was their Comeragh Challenger which is the ultimate session beer and being International session day it was perfect. It did seem like a weaker version of Helvick Gold but it is certainly not because for one thing, it is completely hopped with, and as the name suggests, Challenger hops. It should be available in bottle from next month.
Next I was over the the Galway Hooker stand for two of their non pale ale beers. Both are currently brewed for Tigh Neachtain in Galway. Though they should be making an appearance in other pubs at some point. Nectar is the one that is new to me and to be honest I thought it was one of the best beers at the festival and certainly up there with the best beer I have ever had. Why that is I can't truly say though. At 4.5% it straddles the border of session beer and the strong flavour probably makes it less of a session beer than something like Comeragh challenger. It's a very caramel malt driven beer with a similar creaminess to Spelt saison. The surprising thing is the hop level, there are lots of hops in this beer, something needed to balance that strong caramel malt backbone. It left me gagging for more.
Opus II is their dark wheat beer. This I have had before but not on cask, although I did have a previous Hooker dark wheat on cast two years previous. Unlike the kegged product, which is almost black and looks like a stout, the cask version is a murky brown. It looks like glass of muddy water. Boy does it taste good though. Packed full of rich milk chocolate. Actually it does rather look like a glass of creamy hot chocolate. I tried both with and without the sparkler and the non sparkled version worked a little better from the mouthfeel perspective, though the flavour was identical.
Word is that Aidan will be more adventurous soon and maybe finally do a dry hopped version of the pale ale. I can't wait. I would love to try dry hopped Hooker pale ale on cask.
I moved to lovely young ladies from the UCC brewery who brew commercially soley for beer festivals. Usually the beer is bottom fermented and called Hansel and Grettel. This year they picked a darker pair and called it Max and Moritz. Max is the wheat beer and it's a very tasty and bog standard German style hefeweizen, full of clove and banana. Moritz is the *
Later in the evening, towards 7pm the crowd got fairly thick and I know from previous years that by 8pm or so, there can be a queue to get in. Beoir members arriving at this time can skip the queue if they have their T-Shirts on so it pays to invest €10 (for members) on a T-Shirt. I had John (Beoir treasurer) bring down another one (burgandy) for me to add to my collection (I have 3 now I think). The newer version is a much better quality material.
Having tasted everything I wanted to taste that was new to me, I was able to just wander around and drink regular beer, have a chat with people, eat some fantastic Pizza from the wood fired oven before heading for the train at 8pm. Scott had said he would give us some bottles for the train ride home.
He was true to his word and we had two 6 packs and an 8 degrees branded glass (to add to me glassware collection). We had a very enjoyable train ride home as you can imagine.We may have been knacker drinking on the train but we doing it with class.
The day was only ruined by the Citylink driver failing to stop for me, even though it was pre-booked for that time and stop. He blew by Houston station after I had waited an hour for the bus to arrive and I was forced to spend the night in Dublin. A very strongly worded email was sent when I finally got home as well as angry twitter messages last night. Reading back, I must have been shaking with rage if the typos are anything to go by.
So Beer of the festival? It's very hard this year because there are some great contenders.
- I would have to give 8 Degrees a well deserved first runner up for Barefoot bohemian pilsner.
- Second runner up to Metalman for their lovely Pacifica Chameleon. I hope to try the rest!
- And I think for me, the number one beer of the festival was Galway Hooker with Nectar.
Thanks to everyone who gave me freebies, it is always appreciated. Especially since the cost of getting to the event set me back about €90 and saw me getting up at 6:15am to start the journey.
And a big thank's to all the brewers for being like a close nit family. Beer festivals like this always have a real family reunion feel about them rather than a commercial venture.
* EDIT: I was contacted by Jean from UCC who along with her Farther, brewed both Max and Moritz and pointed out that Moritz is actually a Kölsch style beer and not a top fermented Pilsner. It just can't be called a Kölsch because it is now a protected term. That certainly explains a lot.