It's Porterhouse Independent Irish Beer and Whiskey Festival time once again. And, also once again, they've re-jigged the way they're doing it. Instead of splitting the line-up across several bars, they've asked each one of Ireland's micros to supply just one beer and all of the 14 submissions are available across the estate including (apparently) London and New York. I called in to the Temple Bar branch on Wednesday last for the results of their annual, blind-tasted, competition of the festival exhibits. Just one overall gong this year, plus two runners up. And all worthy recipients too: first prize to Mel Camire for the fabulous Messrs Maguire Brown Ale, second to Franciscan Well's excellent Purgatory, and bronze medal for the newest arrival Metalman -- one hell of an achievement given the seasoned competitors they were up against. Metalman Pale Ale is now officially superior to O'Hara's Stout, Galway Hooker and Wrasslers XXXX. Tremble in your wellies, established brewers.
The Porterhouse's ever-generous hospitality gave us Beoir members the chance to do some comparisons of our own from among the festival listings. There was just the one new beer to me: White Island Wheaten Ale from yet another newcomer to Irish brewing: Fermanagh's Inishmacsaint. I already tried their lager (here) and was impressed, though perhaps more by the technical prowess than the taste of the beer. I reckoned the wheat beer would be more interesting. And it is, no doubt, just perhaps not in the way I'd anticipated.
As it happened I was surrounded by brewers when I brought the bottle back from the bar and offered it round. Every one of them recoiled in horror at the smell and screwed up their faces at the taste. I'm pretty sure this is wheat beer as no-one but the Good Lord intended it. It pours clear and starts with some fairly serious vinegar on the nose. The texture is highly attenuated, thinned out and barely discernible as a wheat beer at all while the taste is both sharp and sour with a major lactic sour-milk tang on the finish. I'm no Quincy, but I would guess that something in the lactobacillus line got in here and had its wicked way with the fermentables.
And yet, perhaps because I'm not a proper brewer, I thought it still had something going for it. Other non-brewers in the company thought so too. The thinness and sharpness is at least clean, with an interesting bite. Could it be that what we have here is a new lambic appellation? No, probably not. I would guess that if Gordon gets the right sort of feedback he'll have this cleaned up and tasting properly Bavarian in no time.
More's the pity, perhaps. It wasn't that long ago that brown or hoppy ales wouldn't have stood a chance in an Irish beer competition. Why not give the sour side a fair crack of the whip?
The Porterhouse Independent Irish Beer and Whiskey Festival runs until Sunday 3rd April.