Bringing your own beer to the pub is great. Drinking beer that other people have brought to the pub is even better.
Last Thursday the Bull & Castle hosted a tasting night for the members of IrishCraftBrewer.com. Seven homebrewers brought their wares along and the standard was, frankly, amazing. Highlights included a hopped-up amber ale, a cherry stout, and a porter which -- were it available on the open market -- would leave Messrs Fuller, Smith and Turner quaking in their boots. It was a good night.
We non-brewers were permitted to bring along any interesting or unusual beers we had come across, and the management generously offered round some of the oddities they had accumulated but had no intention of selling. I don't think the commercial beers were deliberately chosen to make the homebrew look good, but that's certainly how it turned out for me.
Starting with something light, I tried a Tusker, fully aware that it doesn't have the greatest reputation, even among African lagers. It's pretty close to being your average tasteless fizzy yellow beer, but there's an almost weiss-like fruit flavour in there as well. Not enough to make it really worth drinking, however.
I've long been curious about King Cobra, the extra-strength double-fermented version of my favourite pseudo-Indian English lager. I wasn't impressed, however. There's all the corny taste of regular Cobra, but the lightness of body which makes the standard beer palateable is replaced with a heavy, sticky body which just tips over into special brew territory. Not recommended with curry. Or anything else.
Passing real Africa and fake India, we come home to Ulster. Until Thursday I wasn't aware that Whitewater made a lager, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised: lack of imagination can affect craft brewers the same as any of us -- though not the other Northern Irish microbrewery Hilden, who make a superb golden ale for the lager crowd, called Belfast Blonde. Whitewater's Belfast Lager was hugely disappointing. The flavour is dominated by a powerful malty mustiness and I couldn't get past it. I suspect they're going for a full-bodied central European feel, but it's not working for this drinker. How the people who brew the amazing Clotworthy Dobbin make something this poor is beyond me.
One of the event's attendees was just back from South America and, judging from what he brought us, I have to wonder how much he enjoys the company of his fellow ICBers. They were three from InBev's Quilmes range. The Cristal is yellow and basically tasteless, with just a teensy hint of dryness. Quilmes Bock is the same in brown: a bit sweet, but not sweet enough. Not enough of anything, in fact. And then we come to Quilmes Stout. Everyone who tasted it made faces and proclaimed its disgusting sweetness. As the only fan of sweet beer I know, I wouldn't run to damn it outright, but it's still pretty awful. The saccharine quality of the flavour reminds me of nothing so much as a dodgy oud bruin, like Brand. There's also a bit of Belgium's Leroy stout in there as well. If these are your two favourite beers, you'll enjoy Argentina. Once they let you out of the asylum, of course.
The lesson, then, is that when the world gives you bad beer, make it better yourself.