Last fest before the Terrible Teens

I've just returned home from the 12th Belfast Beer Festival, held once again in the magnificent Ulster Hall in Belfast. This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Northern Ireland branch of CAMRA and we had some snazzy commemorative glasses made up as well as t-shirts for staff.

Set-up began on Sunday 13th with the unloading of scaffolding and errection of the stillage and bars. Construction work was finished by Monday afternoon and all cider secured however there was no sign of the beer. A quick call to the couriers confirmed that it was with them and due to a misunderstanding they had been planning to deliver on Tuesday! Luckily a driver was on hand to deliver ASAP and in the end all was stillaged Monday evening ready for tapping  and spiling on Tuesday.

By Wednesday evening most of the quality control had been done, leaving Thursday morning free for last minute checks and set up of the tables and glasses stand. 14 beers were selected by the bar managers for the Champion Beer of Belfast (CBOB) Competition at the final quality check stage and this was whittled down to six for a blind tasting by a group of staff, customers and invited experts. Results were as follows:

The other beers judged were Blue Monkey BG Sips, Houston Peter's Well and Brecon Pale Beacons. For a more detailled low down on teh judging see The Beer Nut's Blog. Yours truly foolishly volunteered to be the beer runner, bringing fresh jugs of beer up to the awaiting panel. This role was reprised for the 8 tasting sessions which had from 2 to 14 participants, resulting in one very knackered beer blogger by Saturday evening. I'll probably do a separate blog about this one or this will become too gargantuan.

Amongst beer running, glass washing, punter serving and the occasional burrito or pasty I managed to try a good few beers from my planned list. I posted the full beer lineup here before the festival and all beers were in attendance except the Hopback Entire Stout, which arrived but had an unfortunate mishap (read: blew its keystone and dumped 18 gallons over the stillage/floor).

Summerwine is a brewery I had wanted to try for a good while. Last weekend I had a chance to try the Covenant at #Twissup; so I was excited that both barista and diablo would be on offer at Belfast (at my suggestion)* Barista is an espresso stout. Its my kind of beer. Its how I remember the Dark Star Espresso used to taste before it became considerably less caffienated. The smell of cold coffee escapes the glass from the moment it is poured and a lovely hop bitterness contrasts the coffee astringency in the mouth.  Diabolo is a different beast. At 6.6% it was the strongest non-silly** beer on offer. A strong citrus nsoe continues into the taste with a good grapefruit and orange bite and long finish. Very refreshing and easy-drinking it belies its strength. Definitely one I shall be seeking out again.

The Cider Bar
Another beer high on my hitlist was the Ards Ballyblack (having interviewed the brewer for this here blog last month). It poured a dark brown black with a thinnish white head. It seemed a mix of a sweet stout and an Irish dry stout, with the roast barley and dark chocolate notes of the latter attenuated by a sweeter milk chocolate in the finish. Lovely stuff and very impressive for a first attempt at cask beer.
Other beers I enjoyed included the 3 CBOB winners, Bowman Elderado (from my old Stomping ground), Ilkley Black, Leeds Midnight Bell and Youngs Bitter. I also got to try Toby's Cider on draught and Tempted's special festival blend made with a higher percentage of cider apples, which added a tannic edge to the fairly sweet cider.

I met some fellow Beoir memebers and proudly received my membership card from John (#149). Reuben (Tale of Ale) kindly brought me a bottle of Franciscan Well Shandon Century, which I expect to crack open later in the week. He was pleased when I showed him the direction to Boojum burritos. I also had a special treat in meeting a fellow ratebeerian who had created his own braambes lambic. More on this beer later!

So exhausted was I that by 6:30 on Saturday evening I was ready for bed. I returned bright and early (read: 11am) on Sunday morning to help with takedown. Everything has to be done in one day, a mammoth task when everyone is so worn out after a long week. My bus was at 4ish; so I stayed until 3. The scaffolding had been sent on its way, the van of Northern Ireland kit loaded and the flying firkin dray had arrived. Only the CAMRA van needed fillng; so I'm sure everyone was finished up before 6pm.

It was another great festival, great to see new and old faces and see the hall so packed every day. It seemed to me like there was less leftover beer this year too; so will be interesting to find out how it all went at the wash up meeting next month.  Its a great wee festival which you should consider coming to in 2012 if you've never been, Belfast is a great city for a short (or long) break with plenty to see and do besides the festival.
*Beer orderer Adrian (branch secretary) believes in a democratic approach to beer selection, with the Flying Firkin being circulated amongst all interested branch members in order that they give their selections. He does his best to accommodate everyone (even those who go overboard and suggest about 20 beers...ahem) as long as price isn't too high. We aim to have as many Northern Ireland ebers as possible and to this end all local breweries are invited to supply. Unfortunately Clanconnel had just mioved premises and were unable to produce any beer in time and Innishmacsaint is having trouble keeping up with local demand. Hopefully we will see beery offerings from both of these next year.

**We have a silly beer on each bar. These beers above 7% ABV are only sold in halves and this year comprised Orkney Skullsplitter, Burton Bridge Thomas Sykes, Otley O8 and Green Jack Ripper Tripel. As with previous years, these four had no problem in selling out.


  1. Did you find out if the Hall floor survived its impromptu stout wash unstained?

  2. So the beers were judged having been poured out into a jug then re-poured? Ouch.

    Good to see some beer from darkest Nottinghamshire made the trip and it all sounds like a good weekend - nice write-up.

  3. @TBN: yeah it seemed fine though the floor liner needed a good mop down!

    @Gareth: That's the only way it could be done for ten people. I think other festivals have the same logistics issues.
    Yeah I think there was a good selection this year, you should come across for 2012!

  4. @Steve. It would be a good one to try and get to, my best mate is from Belfast so we'd have somewhere to crash (I'd drag him along). Assuming it's same time next year it's my birthday weekend - good an excuse as any. All money permitting of course!

  5. Its fairly easy to get to Belfast and the hall is right in the centre so pretty handy.

    No guarantee I'll be here however as I may get moved to another works!