So another Belfast Beer and Cider Festival has been and gone. For the 14th year the Northern Irish public have been spoiled and lavished with over 100 beers and 20 ciders to choose from at the majestic Ulster Hall. Three days of quality beer choice that you wouldn’t get anywhere else in Belfast. And I include two of my favourite Belfast bars The Hudson and The Garrick in that statement.
Although the festival opened to the public on a Thursday the CAMRA NI team were hard at work from the previous Sunday assembling the bars and installing and plumbing casks. A big thank you to all of them for their efforts.
Then the place opened and the fun really began. Beer novices and self-appointed connoisseurs flocked in their droves – learning, criticising, deliberating and simply tasting what was on offer. (I’ll tell you later about my quotes of the festival.) From lagers and light IPAs to rich porters and strong stouts, something was on offer to suit all palettes.
Of course anyone who was there will have their own favourites and your choices will differ from mine but that’s what makes festivals interesting. One man’s ‘meh’ could be another man’s ‘mmm’. However this is my opinion so get over it! (Does that annoying American style finger/face gesture.)
My four winners were Ards Brewing’s brand new Bittles 366, Fyne’s Jarl, Metalman’s Chameleon Smokescreen and Otley’s Saison Obscura. The Ards experimental offering was a hoppy and fresh 4.8% ABV ale that you could easily enjoy any free Saturday afternoon with pint after pint. Aaand maybe another. Perhaps it was a combination of the public’s desire for light IPAs, seeing a local Ards pump label and with ‘A’ being one of the closest pumps to the entrance door, Bittles 366 was the first cask to finish at lunchtime on the Friday!
Also in the same fresh and hoppy category was the award winning Jarl from Argyll brewery Fyne. With a citrus and grassy finish, Jarl boasts the Champion Beer of Scotland title along with claiming 3rd place in CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival in London last August. At 3.8% ABV, it exudes quality and smoothness. I loved it since first sampling it in Cork last summer and was very excited to see it at this year’s festival. If you see it in any shops here in Northern Ireland, don’t think about it – buy it immediately.
Metalman Brewery is based in Waterford and had originally intended sending up their delicious Pale Ale as well as the dark Moonbeam. However Moonbeam didn’t materialise but instead we were treated to the fantastic 4.5% ABV Chameleon Smokescreen. Their Chameleon range is so called as it’s a ‘we’ve no idea what to expect, anything goes’ policy – trial brews come under this banner and boy did Smokescreen hit the top corner of the net. As the title suggests, smokey and dark – a delicious porter that could rival any established porters already on the market.
My final choice of the festival comes from South Wales – the 5.5% ABV Saison Obscura from Pontypridd brewery Otley. First to strike you about Otley are the funky and simplistic pump clips. A basic ‘O’ design with black and one other colour is the norm for Otley beers . Very nice. The brew itself has a complex and intriguing underlying tongue of dark pepper and orange peel. Definitely a winning winter ale and one to warm yer cockles after battling through the hoardes of psychotic weemin buying unwanted Christmas presents for wee Britney, Piers or whoever.
I also had the privilege this year to be one of the judges on the panel to select the Champion Beer of Belfast. Although the four beers named above were not in the shortlist of eight (was very disappointed with that), Brentwood Brewery’s BBC2 emerged victorious by one point from Titanic’s Cappuccino Stout. An amazing feat by Brentwood considering BBC2 had the lowest ABV of the festival at just 2.5%. Just goes to show that not all weak strength brews are tasteless. BBC2 is a mid copper coloured ale with hints of caramel and citrus, a good session beer.
Before I go, three brilliant questions I was asked while working behind the bar –
3. What lagers do you have?
2. Do you have any Heineken?
1. Have you any beers?