Popping down to Cork

Last weekend saw the annual winter cask beer festival hosted by Franciscan Well in Cork. I travelled down to judge the beers for the inaugural Beoir Cask award with some fellow Beoirites. More on that later. Cork is a fairly compact bi-rivered city, a lough away from the South Coast of Ireland. Until recently it could justifiably lay claim to being the beer capital of Ireland, with four brew-pubs alongside a larger Heineken establishment - but Dublin is now catching up. There are plenty of places to get your beer-on however, with numerous bars and offlicences for whistle-wetting activities. (John did a great write-up for the Beoir mag recently). On my last visit I didn't make it much beyond the festival environs; so decided to remedy that this time. 

My first stop was Market Lane, a reasonably priced gastro-pub come restaurant just a stones throw from the bus station. I tucked in to a belly-pork brioche with home-made fries and Aioli and plumped for the sample tray of four of their beers (€10, brewed next-door by Elbow Lane). All of their beers were competent, free from defects though all a bit under-egged, the lager the surprising pick of the bunch. 

 From there a short stroll took me to Rising Sons brewpub. This had only just opened this time last year; and brewer Shane kindly showed us around. On a Friday lunchtime it was rather quiet; so I had a chance to chat to barman Dave about how things were going (very-well) and a recommendation for somewhere to eat. With a number of seasonal beers available on tap I got my ticking-cap on; and was particularly pleased to find the son of their Belgian Ale (D'vil A Bit) on draught as Little D'Vil. Still quite pokey at 6.2% (v the originals 7.1%) with characteristic Chouffe floral yeast esters and a clean but hearty body to allow them to shine. 

 A quick nip round the corner to the well-stocked Bradley's off-licence before checking in to my hostel, the handily located Kinlay House, roughly midway betwixt two revered beer destinations, the Bierhaus and Abbot's Ale House. I'd gone for the saver value option of a shared dorm, but after gassing with the friendly staff about why I was in Cork was unexpectedly bumped up to ensuite FoC (much appreciated, thank-you) meaning I got a much better night's sleep than I'd anticipated. 

 After an afternoon trip to the festival, I visited the Friary, a short distance from the Well with a small but well-chosen selection of beer on draught and in bottle. I had a half of something (which I can't recall) and had a chat to the barkeep about the DJ set he had-on the next night. A quick visit to the Bierhaus and I was ready for bed. The Bierhaus has perhaps the widest selection on draught in Cork, well supplemented my a range of bottles (perhaps on the pricey side) and a very-well kept of cask (Trouble Brewing's Deception, dry hopped with mosaic on my visit) with a generous discount for Beoir members which I of course I availed of - well it would be rude not to! 

 Lunch on Saturday was perhaps the highlight of my trip. Rocking up at 11:30 I was a little early for food; so ravenous I dove across the road to the recently opened Harley's Coffee House for a salmon bagel and tasty espresso. Temporarily sated I was back across the street to Dave's recommendation from the previous day - White Rabbit BBQ. A long bar with seating to both sides; I chose to sit on a stool and get acquainted with the beer range and co-owner Steve. Coming up to their one year anniversary (they opened St Patrick's Day 2015) the business is doing a steady trade, growing by word-of-mouth without need for advertising. Steve has worked in hospitality for a number of years but wanted his own place. The location was scouted in advance, but not available right away, it finally became free just before Steve's wedding and luckily was still available on his return from honeymoon and everything flowed from there.
They offer a fairly simple menu with a selection of meats to have in a bap or on a tray with two sides. All priced at a recession-beating €7 for baps and €10 for the trays. I had ribs with coleslaw and BBQ beans - the meat just falling off the bones, a crunchy and zingy 'slaw and hearty, juicy beans all washed down with a selection of beers from Rising Sons, with Mi Dzza being particularly suitable plus a few guests.
Steve also stocks a good range of American whisky's with some decent ryes available too; so I finished up with a pickleback of rittenhouse 100 and a shot of their house made pickling liquor. As I was departing Steve brought me a bottle of their house BBQ sauce - made with the aforementioned Mi Dazza - definitely recommended. So impressed was I that a return visit for dinner was necessary and the pork-belly bap with tangy gherkins, spicey sauce and creamy slaw really ended the day nicely - make sure you pay Steve and team a visit if you're in the vicinity.

Pre-festival on Saturday I also called in to Abbots and managed to snaffle a number of Irish beers I hadn't yet come across whilst coveting an excellent range of Belgian and other world beers (with De Struise a particular strength). I would return later to visit the upstairs bar, buzzing and banging with beers aplenty - my kind of joint. My weekend finishing with a delicious Wired oatmeal pale ale from Trouble - they're really nailing the pale n'hoppy at the moment. I unfortunately didn't make it to Cork's fourth brewpub, Cottonball, but will try to remedy that on my next visit.

So what of the festival itself? As with last year it was sedate during the afternoon, growing busier later on. A range of 30-odd beers were seen over the weekend, with 28 available for the judging. Aside from a few ill-conceived ideas the majority of brews were solid, with some excellent contenders. Unfortunately (as is sometimes the case at these events) a number of beers were (to borrow a phrase from Tandleman) flat as a witch's tit, either through over-venting or under-priming. Also, by the saturday some of the beers were getting a little tired, having been tapped for three days and many casks near empty.
These criticisms aside we pushed through with the judging and four category winners emerged victorious:
Best Lager - Yellow Belly Rosehip Schwartz
Best "Pale" - West Cork Roaring Ruby
Best Stout - Blacks Worlds End
Best Speciality - Otterbank Pine Needle Berlinner Weisse (since named "The Vikings are Coming")

These went through to best in show, with Roaring Ruby emerging victorious with World's End a close second and the berlinner rounding the rankings out in third place. Well done to all involved! Personally I'm not a fan of Irish Red Ales but this one was a particularly good example of the style and fully deserved its award. The Worlds end was far too sweet for my palate - perhaps a product of lack of carbonation but the berlinner was fantastic, perhaps one of the best I've had of the style.

It was a great weekend, Cork has a lot to offer; but always good to combine with a beer festival. The next event is the Easter Fest, which should be on 25th-26th March, take a dander down there!