Whoosh! There went the 2008 Great British Beer Festival, in just six and a half glorious hours of great beer and excellent company. Especially big thanks to Maeib, who spotted me on my tod and introduced me to his fellow RateBeerians (Chris_O I should have known already as I met him last year: sorry Chris). Other People of t'Internet I met included Chris and Merideth of BeerGeek TV, Young CAMRA's Dubbel, the elusive Tandleman and the very obvious and very purple Stonch. I saw the back of Pete Brown's head from a distance as he whizzed past looking very busy. Zythophile: sorry I missed you. I was looking for the bloke in the cream jacket but it was like a bloody Martin Bell lookalikes' convention in there.
And of course the leading lights of Irish craft brewing were there, hovering by the Irish section of the Bières Sans Frontières bar (which was decked out in livery announcing it as "Leprechaun Lane": we do like our bit of casual racism in CAMRA). Whitewater also had a couple of beers on across the way in the miniscule Northern Ireland section. I have to say I was a little disappointed with Clotworthy Dobbin on cask. I love this beer from the bottle: full-bodied, leaning towards heavy, but still eminently gulpable and full of rich fruit and chocolate flavours. It could well be that several barrel-aged beers and a spicy pork pie had numbed my palate by the time I got to this, but I really felt it lacked the robustness of the Clotworthy I usually enjoy.
I found the same only more so with Galway Hooker on cask. Keggy fizz really brings out the American-style hoppiness of this, while still leaving the very Irish crystal malt sweetness at the back. From the cask those hops are toned down and a sort of raw grainy character comes out. Nevertheless, I heard some very positive reactions from the English tasters, and no less a personage than Stonch gave it his seal of approval (get your coat, Aidan mate: you've pulled).
Top of my Irish hitlist was the sublime MM Imperial, but I went whoring after some of the fancy American brews first and within a couple of hours the Imperial was all gone, and none of it to me. A firm self-inflicted kick to the The Beer Nut's shins for that one. I comforted myself with a glass of Messrs Maguire Extra instead, a beer I've not had in ages and never written about here. I had actually gone looking for it in its home pub last week -- where it's served on nitro, natch -- but they were all out. From the cask it produced a similar sensation to fresh Porterhouse Plain Porter: big roasty notes on the nose followed by chocolate flavours on the foretaste. It finishes with the classic Irish dryness, just catching the back of the throat. A superbly balanced, high quality, plain drinking pint of Irish stout of the sort that is almost completely unavailable in Ireland (Carlow's Druid's Brew -- available for two days each year -- is the only one that comes close).
The festival continues until Saturday as will, I expect, my posts about it. At least. But before I leave Irish beer for a while, I thought I'd throw in a quick note about a beer Thom had a go at recently: the mysterious one called Shiva, made exclusively for Monty's Nepalese restaurant in Temple Bar. It's a fairly heavy dark-golden lager with some major fruitiness about it. I can't say I spotted Thom's Nepalese apples, but it does carry a definite suggestion that the lagering was done at temperatures higher than they should have been. I found it quite drinkable with my spicy Nepalese lunch all the same, but then I like Cobra, so who the hell am I to judge?
Shiva is named after Monty's owner, but there's nothing written on the label to say who makes it. I seem to remember from the last time I had it -- about six years ago -- that Celtic Brew in Meath were listed as the brewer previously. Back then, Celtic Brew was a going concern and a major player in Irish craft beer, best known for the Finian's range. Brewing stopped a year or two later and the company now concentrates on its import business. The proprietor, Dean McGuinness, can be heard on the "Movies and Booze" slot on Sean Moncrieff's Newstalk show on Fridays. My suspicion is that he's still making this to keep his brewery ticking over. I also suspect that he's behind Mao's house lager, since both beers look like they've come through the same half-arsed labelling machine. Tenuous, but as good a theory as any.
(Mao news just in: I won one of the prizes in the Bubble Brothers' Mao/iKi beer compo. Watch a video of me getting lucky here.)
Anyway, apologies for the interlude into dodgy Irish lager. More and better from Earl's Court to follow.