Beer: Belfast Craft Beer Festival well and truly sampled

This week, Paul relates his imbibing experiences at the Belfast Craft Beer Festival
Paul McConville

'I BEG your pardon, I never promised you a gin garden.' Well, you did actually – and, under that pretence, I was able to convince my non-beer-drinking better half to join me at the Belfast Craft Beer Festival in Custom House Square last weekend.

The advertised 'gin garden' turned out to a be a little stand at the head of the tent which covered all the beer and cider makers behind them. Still, she was happy with her G&T and I was happy to peruse the various beers on offer.

On the up side, Belfast was bathed in sunshine: on the downside, there was a distinct lack of seating (maybe they should have borrowed a pew or two from those good people behind the ABV Festival).

Anyway, as well as the many brewers on show, the craft beer-championing Belfast pub The Sunflower had their own wee stand and I grabbed a half-pint of Boundary's Wits Out to quench the early thirst.

It's perhaps a sign of the now fragmented nature of these festivals that there were a few breweries without their usual big presence while other newer and more diverse beer makers were there.

In the few years since this one has been on the go, so many other events have popped up to pull brewers this way and that every other weekend – and then there's the crucial business of actually making the beer.

Anyway, it's all good if it gets great beer out to all arts and parts.

The queue was a mile long at the White Hag (I still managed to snap up a glass of the sumptuous Hare and Hag stout) and they had a fair few of their beers on offer, but I was taken with another Sligo brewer, Lough Gill.

With such warm weather, I naturally went for the heavier end of their range.

Hoppy Scotch, from their Irish Punch Up range was described to me as a 'wee heavy' and I was sold immediately, being a big fan of this style of Scottish strong ale.

This didn't disappoint. It clocks in at nine per cent and was malty and sweet and smooth. Then it was on to Bog Monster, which I can assure you tastes a million times better than it sounds.

Another strongish ale (a relatively lightweight seven per cent here) it is aged in peated whiskey barrels, giving it a rich, earthy flavour with a sweet finish and a little linger of lemon.

Lough Gill are broadening out their northern presence, so keep an eye out for them in off licences and half-decent pubs.

I also called in on one of the newest brewers around, Samuels – but I'll save them for next week.

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