Hooray! The Carlow Brewing Company have had another go at recreating their fantastic 10th anniversary celebration stout. As with the last attempt, they've badged it Leann Folláin, but this time we're getting proper half litres of it rather than the small bottles they gave us before. I wasn't a fan of Leann Folláin Mark I, with its massive sweet woody flavours, and I hoped they'd toned them down for the new one. Last Thursday they held the official launch in the Bull & Castle with a cask of Leann Folláin Mark II, and of course I went along.
One thing was very apparent as soon as head brewer Liam poured me a glass of the viscous black liquid: it's complex. The aroma gives off lots of chocolate, the sweetness tempered with vegetal hops. These themes continue on tasting, with the first sensation a combination of candy-sweet and bitterness, like liquorice, though smooth and not at all sharp. The chocolate arrives next and includes more than a hint of boozy syrupy heat -- perhaps more than you'd expect from 6% ABV -- and finally the hops make a last stand to finish dry. It's a real workout to drink and I'd say I'd struggle with a pint of it, though others at the table didn't seem to be having much difficulty in that department.
Cask isn't likely to be available on any kind of regular basis, but I did get a brief taster of the bottled version. It has all the same flavours, but arranged differently. The aroma is much more full-on and the hop bitterness a bit more pronounced. In fact, I think the bottles may still be a little green and will probably be at their best in a few months from now, much like the revamped Porterhouse Celebration which is drinking great at the moment.
With this strong stout and the recently-launched pale ale, Carlow are definitely doing their part to move beyond the stout-red-lager/wheatbeer range that so many Irish micros have stuck with in the past. I can see Leann Folláin being a big seller abroad, worthy of shelf space beside craft brews from all over Europe and beyond.