It was flavour bingo up the Bull & Castle last Wednesday lunchtime. John, Ken, Mrs Beer Nut and I were sitting round halbes of Phúca, the winter ale just released from Franciscan Well in celebration of ten years a-brewing. There's a lot to this dark brown ale with its tan head: ginger is definitely in the mix, being present in the aroma and adding a bite to the taste. Cloves dominate the flavour -- raw and uncompromising. Cinnamon is in for sure, and there's lemon zest as well, we think. It's quite possible that there's malt and hops on the ingredient list, but Declan from the B&C tells me that a solid dose of gen-ew-ine Canadian maple syrup was thrown in at some point in the process, and that's where the sweet caramel base comes from.
It sounds like an explosion in the mince pie factory. It sounds like a mess, but it's delicious. The different spices work together just the way they do in a rich Christmassy dessert. Of course it's too cold straight from the keg, but given a few minutes breathing it turns into a first rate warmer, with the spices giving it incredible legs.
It's three years since I complained about the lack of winter seasonal beers in Ireland, and noted the single exception. Once again, only one of the country's breweries has stepped up to the plate and given the discerning beer drinking public (all fifty or so of us) what we want. The Franciscan Well, based out of their brewpub in Cork, is really going from strength to strength and I was delighted to hear they're buying a new fermenter to raise their capacity. They already host the Ground Zero of the Irish craft beer scene every Easter, and I sincerely hope they get their beers out into more of our pubs.
Here's to the 'Well and another ten winters, each of them full of spicy winter ales.