It's important that I note how much fun Saturday's trip to Belfast actually was. These posts are mostly confined to what I thought of the beers, which might make it seem that the event was more like an exam than a festival. But despite such appearances (like Adeptus and Oblivious, right), the company and the atmosphere were superb. Indeed, the quality of the banter is one of the main reasons my remarks will likely bear a strong resemblance to those already published by Adeptus: we discussed at length how much that beer smelled of wee, for example. But more on it in the next post. I'm starting here with the darker brews.
Everyone's opening gambit was the much-anticipated Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, last year's Champion Beer of Belfast. It's certainly dark ruby in colour: like a freshly-filled bag of blood, and almost as opaque. A sour nose wrong-footed me for the sweet vinous follow-up on the palate, with an added sharp piquancy, like spiced port. Very much a heavy, sipping, winter beer, and it boggles the mind to think that pints of this sort were once the norm for beer drinkers in these parts, before typical alcohol strengths dropped to their current levels during the twentieth century.
Next on my must-have hitlist was Hooky Dark from Hook Norton, a brewery that seems never to put a foot wrong. Alas, this one just didn't live up to expectations: it's a vaguely bitter mild, but with none of the rich, warming flavours I like in this style. Spire's Dark Side of the Moon did them much better, being a mild which wears its roasted qualities up front with pride.
A fair bit of sourness was on show in the milds, with B & T's Black Dragon being one of the best of this sort, including some creamy coffee notes in with a pronounced sourness and a soft lambic-esque texture. It was the same only less so with Copper Dragon Black Gold: interesting in its own slightly sour understated way, but really a shadow of the flavour profiles of the other milds on offer.
One of the strangest, and best, beers I had was Bruin, a mild by Yorkshire's Old Bear Brewery. No sourness or roasted grains here, just big big chocolate and caramel flavours. "Like drinking a Cadbury's Chomp bar" somebody (Mark? Laura?) said: absolutely spot on.
A couple of fake Irish stouts were among the dark beers, including the quite decent Black Pearl from Milestone of Nottinghamshire, which had some worthy dry roasted flavours to it. No such luck with O'Hanlon's Dry Stout, shipped from Devonshire with seemingly all of the flavour left behind -- a residual dryness is all it has to say for itself.
It's nice to have a bit of non-Irish fruitiness in a stout, and Warlock from Renfrewshire's Houston brewery delivered this quite beautifully, having tasty plum notes in amongst the bitter roasted flavour. Going in the other direction, I enjoyed Spire's super-dry Twist and Stout, with its lip-smacking sour nose and full-on hoppy bitterness.
Then, perhaps inevitably, in came the phenols. I suppose I should have expected it from Moonraker, the 7.5% ABV sweet dark ale by Lees, but I was taken aback by the felt-tip markers present in Eclipse, a porter by Blindman's of Somerset with a mere 4.2% ABV. Eclipse starts well with some nice milk chocolate flavours, but once the phenols arrive it becomes hard to finish.
It's all getting a bit cloying now, isn't it? Time for some palate-cleansing pale beers next, I think.