It wasn't all mild, porter and stout in Belfast on Saturday. With 22 different drinks tasted, a bit of variety was needed, and this included one of the rare deviations from beer to be found on this blog. I had never tasted proper perry. Since Hereford Country Perry, at a modest 4.5% ABV, was on I thought I'd take the opportunity. It wasn't worth it. This totally flat pale green drink was incredibly sweet without offering any real pear flavour. Mostly it tasted like some Blue Nun with extra table sugar. Not offensive, but somewhere on the road between boring and unpleasant.
I was on much more familar territory with the dark amber beers. Bushy's Old Bushy Tail was a good 'un: full of caramel and chocolate, though not as caramelly as Old Mill Winter Warmer which added herbal honey notes and a touch of phenols into the mix. I wouldn't say this 4.7%-er is especially warming, but it is tasty and that's the main thing. I'm not sure what to make of Bowland's Hunter's Moon: russet-red but extremely thin with a fair whack of sulphorous minerals in it. Perhaps it works best as a crisp and refreshing session ale but it didn't hit many of my buttons. And neither did Mole Brewery's Rucking Mole. Again, it had some nice dry notes, and even a hint of smoke, but not enough of either to keep me entertained. You can have your dark-amber ales either heavy-and-busy or light-and-boring, it seems.
Time to lighten the mood, then. As always, Irish beers I've not had before are high on my list of priorities, so Whitewater's All That Jazz was an early sup. It's a pale shade of gold and very sweet with lots of that bubblegum flavour you get with certain UK blonde ales. Despite, or perhaps because, it reminded me of blue raspberry flavoured Slush Puppies I rather enjoyed it. Kelham Island's Pride of Sheffield was another interesting blonde, harmonising the pale malt sweetness with some lovely grassy Budvar-esque hops.
Mrs Beer Nut didn't appreciate it when I said her (unasked-for) Humpty Dumpty Lemon & Ginger smelled of ginger and piss, but there's no denying that it did. Quite enjoyable to drink, though: light and refreshing as ginger beer should be. Wood's Bonfire Brew is a much more serious affair: 5.4% ABV and a dark shade of old gold. There are major bitter overtones on top of that malty weight, finishing on some zingy fresh hop notes. A very satisfying strong pale beer for cold evenings.
Strikes Back by (who else?) Empire has been on at the Belfast festival in the past but this was my first go of it. It's an uninspiring shade of yellow with a worryingly farty aroma. The flavours are subtle with sharp mineral notes in the ascendant. Drinkable, yes; but only just.
Which brings me to my favourite of the pale ones: Strathaven's Clydesdale IPA. Leaving aside the unfortunate equine associations with a certain American lager brand, and moving swiftly past the worryingly soapy nose, this is a marvellously refreshing hops-forward beer, served in wonderful condition with the bubbles forcing out lots of candy and bitter lemon flavours. One of those beers that clearly shows how IPA at 3.8% ABV is not only a legitimate style, but one well worth pursuing by the brewer.
And that's where we left things at the Ulster Hall. With an hour or so before the train home, there was a welcome opportunity for a palate cleansing pint of Whitewater Copperhead in the glorious surrounds of The Crown, and a swiftly shared bottle of Belfast Black in Bittle's near the station.
A grand day out, all-in-all. Great having you back on the calendar, Belfast. And a hearty well done to the stalwart volunteers of CAMRA NI.