When Spring is near, Belfast, that for many months didn’t come out of the typical irish grey weather, lights up with wonderful days; the sun is different from Italy, where actually it’s not so warm, and the sky is that light blue colour you can see only in Ireland. The people turn out in the streets, outside pubs and clubs and, although the weather is still cold, you can already taste the lively vibe that will be typical of the city during the summer months.
With the sun and all the city in the streets, it starts also the period of events and markets. This year we started the season with a pretty special festival: last weekend, from Thursday 21 to Saturday 23, in the city centre (right under Albert Clock) was held the Belfast Craft Beer Festival 2016, three days celebrating irish craft beer, whiskey and cider.
One of the things people are saying to me more often when I say I half live in Ireland is: “so you are a beer expert, surely you tasted so many.”
Actually the story is completely different: when I go out to the pub, I drink almost ony Harp (no, not even Guinness. Ah!). I don’t know why this happens, since in Italy I often tried different beers, many of them craft as well; it could be for the big importance we Italians give to the drink and food culture, but you can find them almost everywhere: festivals, often at food fairs, in clubs. Here I have the impression that craft beer is less known.
Anyway: this time, both me and Stevie, thought this was the right occasion to go from stand to stand and finally try and make a culture about Irish craft beers.
With a selection of more than 30 brewers from all over Ireland surely it was not a problem: we tried many beers and also an outstanding cider. All the effort was in choosing what to taste among more than 150 beers, ciders, whiskeys and cocktails (and then in returning home, but this is another story…).
To get inside the event there was a ticket to pay: we payed 10£ and we got a eco-cup, a reusable plastic glass for tasting the beers, and, since we arrived early, also half pint at our choice to start with. Inside the Festival you couldn’t use money, but you had to convert pounds to tokens at the start and with them you could buy the beers: 2 pounds → one token → half pint.
A new idea
I went to the Festival for tasting beers, but also to work on a bizarre idea I got in last times: I draw a lot (you can find a lot of my work under the hashtag #sketchingaround) and I see and write about many things; why not put together these activities and create illustrations for my articles? Therefore, super-portable equipment with me, while tasting a beer and another I tried to sketch a bit.
When night came it was of course difficult to draw, so the sketches are not as many as I wished for, but as a start this can be good.
Hence: beer and drawings, who had more fun than me? 😉
Our favourite beers
During the night me and Stevie created some rules: we could choose one stall per turn and we had to take from it a different drink each; then, before choosing the next beer, we had to vote. Using this system we had the possibility to try different ones and to compare them.
Among the ones we tried, Stevie’s favourite was the American Amber brewed by Wicklow Wolf:
This beer, produced in Bray in County Wicklow, takes its name from the legend that says that the last wolf in Ireland before extintion was living in this zone. After all, as we can read on the brewery’s site, even hop, which originally is Humulus Lupulus, takes its name from this animal since of the strenght that is common to it and the plant.
My favourite was *drum rolls* the IPA by Jack Cody’s, coming from Drogheda in Co. Louth: lighter and, because of this, more akin to my tastes.
These are just two of the ones we tasted, but imagine to have in front of you +150 drinks among which you can choose: who knows how many, surely awesome, we missed?
The only other drink we tasted other than craft beers was Armagh cider. I remembered it from a visit to this city of Northern Ireland: that time there was a food and drink market that I could visit only in a hurry and it was full of stalls selling cider. This cider, in fact, is famous to be one of the best in the world, thanks to the local Ballinteggart apple with which it is produced, and for being completely natural.
Stevie wasn’t sure, I don’t love cider; anyhow I insisted, so we went close to the Armagh Cider Company stall to get an idea, and they gave us a taste of it: autumn fruits cider for me, honey cider for Stevie. Three minutes later we made our choice and we were at a table sipping half a pint. Really, really good!
We were pretty satisfied by this Festival: we sipped beer and chatted between us and with beer producers until the closing at 23.00. Time passed fast and the only regret is we weren’t able to try also the food stalls.
This event is surely recommended to both craft beer fans and those, like us, that aren’t experts but want to try: the relaxed environment, the wide choice, and also the pure irish-style chatty brewers make the activity pretty enjoyable. Next year, if we will be around, surely we’ll do it again.
Now the homeworks: go search for Armagh cider and taste it! 😉
More info: Official Site
p.s. I’m sorry for the low quality pictures: unluckily my reflex’s lens is broken because of traveling and for now I have to use my smartphone 🙁