Our beer culture in Ireland is, to a very large extent, pub based. Even when we're not in the pub we tend to prefer approachable beers in the 4-5% ABV range. Below that is perceived as low-rent pisswater; above it is crazy loopy-juice. It results in a fairly limited range and it's impressive that our native brewers manage to do as well as they do inside it. But breaks in the pattern -- in both directions -- are always welcome. The microbrew revolution hasn't yet produced any iconoclastic new breweries making excitingly strong beers, so we have to depend on the more established reliables. The Porterhouse's Brainblásta and Celebration are plenty to be going on with; O'Hara's Leann Folláin is a tasty bonus. And now we welcome the latest of the 1990s craft breweries to start bottling strong beer: Franciscan Well and their Shandon Century extra stout.
Rebel county rules dictate that not just any bottle will do, so they've gone for hand-numbered one-litre swingtops. The beer inside is 7.5% ABV, so it seems we're a long way from the cosy confines of the pub session here. Although that said, it's also available on draught in the Franciscan Well brewpub in Cork city.
And on tasting I can see that it really would be quite pub-compatible. I've never been the biggest fan of Shandon, but this is definitely a cut above. Smooth, with lovely smoky overtones helped out of the main, lightly chocolatey, flavour by a gentle carbonation which adds further to the smoothness. Of all that alcohol there's very little sign: dangerously so, in fact. I can't see any stout drinker having difficulty sinking a pint of this which, as an exercise in trust, is wonderful indication of the maturing Irish beer market.
In short, I'm delighted to see the Franciscan Well do this, and the format has wonderful potential, even if the first outing is on the solidly-drinkable side of things rather than the awe-inspiring. But we're getting the previously-extinct Bell Ringer winter ale next. I'll be in the queue.
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