ICB's monthly amateur night at the Bull & Castle recommenced on Thursday last, with a difference. We had the usual interesting variety from the home brewers -- a fascinating dampfbier; a passable bitter; a cracking red ale; a powerful coffee stout and a tasty winter warmer -- but the larger-than-usual crowd also included several representatives from our favourite trade, including a bar manager, an importer and, best of all, a brewer.
I've already mentioned Jonathan the importer of Californian beers. His website is now online, though it seems oddly preoccupied with a weird grape juice by-product I know very little about. Along with news of new stock he has on the market here, he brought a couple of samples of Speakeasy's Double Daddy -- the souped-up version of their Big Daddy IPA. To me (not a fan of Big Daddy) it tasted more like a double version of Prohibition. It had that same superb finely-tuned balance between the dark caramel malts and the American bittersweet citrus hops. I spent a fair bit of time with my nose stuck in the sample glass because it smelled divine. It tastes pretty good too, and the 9.5% ABV adds a marvellous warmth to it after swallowing. Absolutely magnificent stuff.
Our hosts had promised us a sneak preview of the new stout from Carlow Brewing, and were true to their word. Leann Folláin (pictured left, resisting Laura's telekinetic powers) shares the label colours and ABV (6%) of the limited edition 10th anniversary Celebration stout they made last year, but is a different animal. Instead of the classic Irish roast barley dryness, this appears to have been oaked up in a big way [edit: actually, no, it's not oaked], creating a heavy, sticky, sweet stout, filled with that lactic, vanilla-ish barrel flavour which I'm never sure how to take. I decided this wasn't a beer for me. Carlow probably agree, hence the packaging is a 355ml bottle intended for the North American market [edit: wrong again -- they just had leftover bottles; this has not yet been exported to the US]. Mind you, if it's being pitched at people lucky enough to have never sat through an Irish class it probably would have been worth mentioning somewhere that Leann Folláin means "wholesome ale". Thanks to na gaelgoirí of ICB for the translation -- I dropped Irish like a proverbial superheated root vegetable after just three years of half-arsed study.
The main event of the evening for me was a tasting of the first beer from Ireland's newest craft brewery. Based in Co. Down, Clanconnel is starting with something safe -- a blonde ale called Weavers Gold, in honour of the trade which accounted for most of the industrial revolution in Ulster. It's only available bottled and is pitched squarely at the middle ground, with 4.5% ABV. But it's no lowest-common-denominator mass-market clone for lagerboys: it starts with a hefty whack of Saaz aroma, and the first sip couples this with a striking bubblegum maltiness, with the Styrian Goldings making themselves felt at the finish. It's a complex blonde ale, but still eminently sinkable -- a great one for introducing wary drinkers to the joys of properly-made beer. Nice one Mark, I hope it sells well, and I look forward to the next one from Clanconnel.
Coincidentally, the Bull & Castle management had a couple of bottles of Morrissey Fox Blonde Ale available on the same evening. It's not sold in these parts, but Richard Fox had been in town for an event before Christmas and had left them lying around. Oh dear. It's really not very good, and next to the Weavers Gold it fared very badly indeed. In an attempt to attract starstruck lager drinkers they've managed to create (or commission, rather) something almost indistinguishable from mass market yellow lager. It's bodiless, flavourless and overly fizzy. Maybe it works better in draught form, but from the bottle it just failed to deliver anything worthwhile.
All this sampling was punctuated by a hefty halbe of Phúca, still on tap at the Bull & Castle and still highly recommended, with a couple of Hookers to finish on a lighter, hoppier, note. It was one of those evenings when it becomes very easy to forget that I live in a city where good beer is really quite thin on the ground: it takes brewers, importers and bar managers of a very high calibre to make that possible. Thanks all.