Northern Ireland

A One Year Old’s Party, Norn Iron Pub Style

What kind of first birthday party have you been to where there’s been over thirty beers from local breweries on offer? A damned good one, that’s for sure.

That was the case last weekend with Galway Bay Brewery’s only Northern Irish pub, Northern Lights on the Ormeau Road in Belfast, reaching the one year milestone after taking over from the doomed Brewbot.

Labelled as a Northern Irish Beer festival and giving a platform to some of the best beers from our wee country, it was great to see so many local brewers in one place and all up for a chat.

First on my wishlist, and following on from a previous blog post on Northern Irish Brut IPAs, it had to be Mourne Mountains‘ first such offering, Dry Riser. Weighing in at 6.5% ABV, this was a great start to the weekend’s event – dry enough to fit into the style, bubbly and with plenty of floral hop quality.

Next, on to the makeshift cask bar at the back of the pub where Farmageddon had a new 5.5% ABV Autumn Time IPA, complete with amazing branded pump signage for the first hour or so. 😉 This is a robust and hazy effort, not a million miles away from tasting like an NEIPA, but with slightly less fruity characteristics.

One of Northern Ireland’s newer breweries is MashDown from Banbridge and after the success of his Sour Cherry at the Portrush festival, brewer Chris brought along Brett Town, a 5.7% ABV version of his Irish extra stout Dark Town conditioned with brettanomyces. Those bad boys give the original stout a funky and spicy angle while still holding on the primary coffee and chocolate aspect.

Staying with the darks and despite the Beer Hut boys also being present at Portrush a couple of weeks back, it had been a while since I’d had their 5% ABV Fluffy Bunny marshmallow milk stout. I did really enjoy it from a bottle a few months back but this was the first time I’d experienced it on draught and with a better recipe, according to Andrew. I’m not so sure about it being better – it was initially very good though I don’t think it was better than before. Let’s say, constant. There’s the expected delicious sweetness but it doesn’t become sickly which plenty of these stouts can be. It’s vanilla roasty too. Nice one.

I suppose once the stout gate has been opened you can’t really close it, so an onward march led to Lacada’s newly rebranded Utopian – now in hefty 500ml bottles as well as the original 330ml. This 8% ABV giant has featured in my NI Beers of the Year list the past couple of years and it’s still as consistently good as ever in the bigger bottle. So much so that it was announced as beer of the weekend by Northern Lights. Thank goodness Lacada has at last now introduced it to the core range instead of being a yearly special. Think of roasty smooth chocolate blended with rich molasses. Yeah, I’m in a happy place.

Finally for now, the biggest hitter of the night came from Mourne Mountains Brewery and the new 10% ABV imperial stout Switchback. To my knowledge this is as high as MMB has gone since its creation in autumn 2015 and is probably down to the new assistant brewer Gareth deciding that’s what he wanted to brew. So kudos to him for jumping in at the deep end and brewing a deep and slightly hazelnut stout that’s not only a big boy, but a big boy in a tall boy 440ml can.

Thanks to Sinead and all the Northern Lights team for a superb event and I have to say it wasn’t bad for a 1st birthday party. It’s certainly one of the better ones I’ve been to with not a bouncy castle or doting granny in sight – though on second thoughts maybe the bouncy castle could be a request for birthday number 2?

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