Last weekend saw the return of the Belfast Craft Beer Festival at Custom House Square and in an unusual twist of good fortune, the sun was out for the two-day open-air event. Praise be. Quickly, to the bar before the clouds gather and the heavens open.
A gin bar was prominent for the first time but that’s as much as I’ll mention that, gin’s generally not my bag folks.
Beer it is then!
I can only imagine how difficult it must be for any brewery to operate in the vicinity of County Sligo’s The White Hag but fair play to Lough Gill Brewery for making the journey east to Belfast. And it was their stand that I ventured to first – a lovely chat with the very engaging Francesca, Tony and Jordan and a half pint of the Sloe Gin Gose, brewed in collaboration with London’s Five Points Brewing. I know I said gin’s generally not my thing, but this is. Sloe and juniper berries, coriander, lemon, sea salt and gin all in the mix with the result being a superbly refreshing, hit-the-spot 5.2% ABV gose that’s the perfect way to start a sunny evening at a beer festival.
While I was in the fruity and light gose mood, a short walk to the other end of the tent took me to the Hillstown/Barrahooley bar. Hillstown brewer Sam also has his own personal side project Barrahooley on the go so this pitch was split between the two breweries. It was great that nearly every beer brought to this stand was brand new. NEIPAs, sours, imperial maple stouts (that I missed out on!) double IPAs, pale ales and more. Somehow I managed to completely miss out on the Barrahooley maple stout later in the day but will mention the first one I had while at the stand. In A Vision is a delicious 4% ABV grapefruit gose, brimming with a sharp and salty edge that would make you decide one half pint glass isn’t enough.
While I was standing there, Hillstown had a 3.5% ABV Blueberry Sour on the go, so it would be rude not to! The brewery’s first sour beer poured an inviting pinky purple with the expectant smooth blueberry fruit on the tongue but with an understated tinge of sourness rather than creating a kapow-sherbert-dip-face-gurning sensation. And understated sours is the way I like ’em. Like many of the new Barrahooley and Hillstown brews, this was only available in draught for the festival and no decision has been made yet on whether it’ll be rebrewed and bottled.
Finally for now and the larger-than-life ‘Nordie brewer’ (as he put it) Conor from Boyne Brewhouse. Having recently made the switch from Mourne Mountains Brewery in Warrenpoint to Boyne in ‘Drawda’ (as he put it), he was very keen to let me try the Vienna Lager. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, or any other horse for that matter, I happily obliged. This is another highly enjoyable summer beer, a 5% ABV copper coloured, malty lager that you shouldn’t be overlooking. The good thing about this beer is you can find it in various retail outlets in Northern Ireland – some in bottle, some in can.
Some lighter summery beers for you there to either seek out now or look forward to at some point in the future. Thanks to all the brewers I chatted to during the festival, every one was understandably enthusiastic about the beer on offer and hopefully we’ll see them again next year. Thanks also to whoever or whatever kept the rain away for most of the festival.
Belfast + beer festival + sunshine = good times.