The Bull & Castle's commitment to Ireland's craft beer has reached new heights in recent months with the addition of a beer engine to the downstairs bar. Yeah, the counter-mounted barrel is a bit of an eyesore, squatting on the bar in its black jacket like an undercover warthog, and the handpump is rather hidden out of the way, but the succession of cask beers we've had from it have been worth all of this and more.
The set-up was put in place through the good offices of the Carlow Brewing Company, and although there's no tie arrangement all of the beers have been supplied by the Carlow team. On the stout front we've had plenty of their fabulously chocolately Druid's Brew -- normally a festival special only -- plus their normal O'Hara's Stout which is so much more multi-dimensional on cask than in any other form, even when the immersion cooling system broke down.
So content was I with the stouts that I never batted an eyelid the first time a cask of O'Hara's Red was delivered in an unsaleable condition. I changed my tune when the second one arrived and I got a taste: nastily vinegary, sure, but underneath there are some quite wonderful raspberry and redcurrant flavours. When they eventually get this one right I'll be first in line. The last of the three core bottled Carlow beers is Curim Gold, their light lager-like wheat beer. It's dullsville normally, but when it appeared on cask it blew me away: jam-packed full of lemony citrus notes it was all kinds of quenching and the single cask drained away over the course of one balmy weekend last month.
And then the direction changed. Carlow, to the best of my knowledge, don't have a pilot plant. In fact, they're in the process of moving out of the Carlow goods store by the railway station into a bigger site. They don't do small runs (I'm sure someone can tell me their minimum batch size; I keep forgetting) and yet the latest residents of the Bull & Castle beer engine appear to be just that. First up was the charmingly-monikered Malty Bitches, a full-bodied red-brown bitter which looks like it ought to be malt-driven but has been dry-hopped to give it a fabulously citric juicy-fruit bitterness, as well as bits of hops in the bottom of the glass. It's interesting to compare it with Ireland's other copper-coloured bitter cask bitter, Porterhouse TSB. It lacks the intense harshness I generally find with TSB, making it easier for one pint, but the second pint of TSB always goes down a treat as the tannins come out and I'm not sure this sort of complexity exists in Malty Bitches. I can't be sure though, as all I got was a half pint from the fag end of the cask. You snooze you lose. For more ruminations on MB v TSB, see Reuben's Tale of Ale.
Next day, it was replaced with an IPA called Goods Store, a name derived from it being the last beer to be produced at the old brewery. Woah! What a beer! A bright and hazy orange colour it resembles nothing so much as a Bavarian hefeweizen. If there isn't a very generous dose of Cascade at the tail end of the hopping schedule then I don't know hops, but we're talking massive zesty mandarin orange flavours. There's a touch of the chalky dryness I tend to associate with, and quite enjoy in, Hilden Ale, but the body is really quite thin with the malt just providing enough of a stage for the hops to sing on. And sing they do. Goods Store IPA is without doubt one of the best Irish beers I've ever tasted, and I'm actually a little worried about what might happen to the rest of the batch.
Obviously, we need more pubs set up for cask. But what are the chances of that?