Cask Ale? Isn’t that just an English thing? It certainly hasn’t been popular here in my lifetime anyway. A quick search showed some evidence of a small resurgence around ten years ago in Dublin and if I remember correctly there was a cask engine in JJ Harlow’s, Roscommon and a handful scattered around the other large cities. But that was about the size of it and now if you really want a Cask Ale you might have to head to a Witherspoon’s. The irony is that the champion of Cask Ale CAMRA was founded in Kruge’s Bar in Dunquin, Co. Kerry, back in 1971. Their efforts have helped to keep Cask Ale pouring in the UK. Alas the style of dispense didn’t suit the dominant market players here and so it has largely dried up.
Until now that is, Paul Varley, the man who decided it was a great plan to host a Wild Beer Festival in Mullingar had the brainwave of putting on a Cask Ale Festival in the same spot! Breweries from across the land answered the call and showed up with handpulls (some of which had never seen action before!). During set up there was some heartwarming cooperation with sharing of tools and equipment to get everyone up and running in time. I started off with Sham Maths American Amber Ale from Dead Centre. This chewy, malty, rich beer really suits the style. Maybe it’ll make an appearance in Athlone at some point?
At the far end of the room Kev was pouring Third Barrel’s new Afternoon Delight, a dry hopped American Stout which weighed in at a punchy 6.5% and was indeed, a delight. Disclosure – I sell Dead Centre and Third Barrel’s beers in my role with Fourcorners. So you’ll have to try them yourselves to determine if I’m biased!
Wide Street’s Plush Pale Ale was far more sensible and sessionable at 4.3%. It’s a straightforward easy drinking little number perfect for an afternoon sup. Sean told me that most of this beer has been exported to Switzerland so if you see a can snap it up.
John Fahy was manning the sticks for Galway Hooker. I enjoyed the dry hopped Pale Ale, another very quaffable drop. John was sharing the bar with James Dundon who was pouring Brehon’s always excellent Shanco Dubh Porter.
Paul was pouring three beers from Trouble Brewing where he now works. He had a Brown Ale with Harry’s Peanut Butter and a session Pale Ale called Little Monster. I just had to go for the Extra Special Bitter Catenary. I think the last time I had an Irish ESB was in the Porterhouse in Bray and it was their Turner Sticklebract Bitter. This one was satisfyingly bitter and enjoyable.
Tom Land and Labour was pouring something from an slightly different tradition, his Lambic style Geimhreadh which was zesty and refreshing. And it would fit in very well at the Wild Beer Festival.
Ballykilcavan are no strangers to cask, they regularly feature a hand pull on their festival bars. And their traditional beers really work well on cask. I enjoyed the Bin Bawn Pale.
Hats off to Paul for pulling the event together, hopefully it will become an annual occurrence. And fair play to Smiddy’s for providing this lovely space. Well done to the brewers for the great showing. And to everyone I clinked mugs with: sláinte!