Members' bottle share: Northern Lights, Belfast
451 Ormeau Rd, Ormeau, Belfast BT7 3GQ
Monday 23 March 2020
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The Island of Ireland
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To say that Northern Lights plays a central role in Belfast’s craft beer community would be something of an understatement. Owned by Dublin’s Galway Bay Brewery, it is one of the very few bars in the city not locked down by Guinness and Heineken, and certainly has the biggest and best range of craft beers. This is also backed up by friendly, knowledgeable staff who are as passionate about beer as their punters, led by the legendary Sinead.
Sinead’s influence in the local scene is demonstrated by the fact that every single beer at tonight’s tasting is being presented by a representative of the breweries that made them. They’re joined by 15 thirsty Beer52 members, all eager to hear more and get drinking.
First out of the blocks is Banick Pilsner from County Down’s Mourne Mountains Brewery, introduced by brewer Gareth. This is a classic Czech pilsner, with the cheeky twist of some New Zealand Motueka hops for a note of lime. It’s a hit.
Karen says: “I love what that citrus note does to the malt – both really come through. I know very little about this brewery, but I’ll definitely look for more from them after this.”
“That’s exactly what I want a lager to be,” adds Emma. “I like it a lot. I’m very hard to please when it comes to non-IPA and non-stout, but that’s absolutely gorgeous. I want to go to New Zealand to chew on their hops!”
Megan also enjoyed the pronounced fruitiness in the hop profile: “Nice crisp beer, there’s something very piney about it which I enjoy. Unusual to have NZ hops in a lager and it works really well.”
Charles agrees: “Lager’s not a style I go for, but this doesn’t have that ‘oh, it’s a lager’ thing. The hopping is more pale ale style.”
Next up is Andrew McBride, the co-founder and brewer of Beer Hut. I’d already enjoyed a couple of his beers at the amazing Sunflower pub earlier that day, so I’m looking forward to this. He’s brought the brewery’s descriptively-named new El Dorado Columbus Pale Ale. Kegged just two days ago, this will be the first time it’s been poured.
Super fresh, the bright, fruity hops absolutely shine, while soft, bready malt and rolled oats for body round out this relatively low-ABV beer perfectly.
“This is very tasty,” says Alan. there lots of different flavours that are hard to put your finger on. Two or three really big flavours that just sit together really well.”
I want to go to New Zealand to chew on their hops!
“It’s great,” agrees Eleanor. “And it actually pairs really well with the first one.”
Kent enjoys the whole package: “It has that cloudy swamp-water look and you get that really fruity smell off it. The taste doesn’t hit you straight away, but it’s like tropical fruit punch. I don’t know if you could go for more than two pints. Be good on a hot day.”
It’s Lacada’s turn now, with its East The Beast IPA. As the brewery’s Steve explains, the name is not a reference to The Beast from The East (though sales spiked during the cold snap) but refers instead to a famous surfing wave near Lacada’s home of Portrush.
Kevin and Dylan were already drinking this beer before the tasting started, which possibly explains why most of their chat centred around Mexican drug cartels using high-end prostitutes to steal people’s organs after Las Vegas boxing matches. I did however learn that Lacada is one of their favourite Northern Irish breweries, and the its dulse-infused stout is the stuff of legends. As luck would have it, Steve kindly brought a bottle of this for me to sample, which I later share with the group. Savoury, salty and silky, it more than lives up to the hype.
Sam enjoys the complex hop character of East The Beast. “A lot of IPAs are too bitter and piney but this one isn’t at all. It’s very light and refreshing,” she says.
It’s also a big hit with Emma: This has more of a savoury taste, and I’m a savoury person. I’m very into sours, but I really want something that’s not going to sicken me. This one sits very well. Fucking gorgeous.”
“I live on the North coast just along form Portrush and I had no idea it was there,” adds Patrick. “I’ll definitely have to check them out properly.”
Beer number four is Fruit Bowl from Farmageddon. As Sue explains, the brewery worked closely with Wicklow Hops on this one, using the Irish company’s in-house developed Fruit Bowl New England yeast to bring out the naturally fruit flavours of the El Dorado, Azacca and Cashmere hops. The aroma is intense, and a taste reveals mango, tangerine, and even a touch of strawberry.
“You really get the hops coming through in the foam. It’s just like foam mango,” says Dylan.
“It’s making me wish it wasn’t a Tuesday,” laughs Karen. “I think it’s very fruity, and I like how heavily carbonated it is. Gav’s a big fan of oats, so I think he’s particularly enjoying that. I’m used to Farmageddon being really strong so I kind of avoid them, but this is under 5%, so it’s good news for me.”
I'm like a kid in a candy store on nights like this.
Our final beer of the evening is one I’ve definitely been waiting for, Bullhouse’s El Capitan, a 7.5% ABV export stout aged in Bushmills barrels. It’s velvet-smooth with malty sweetness, balanced by layered bitter notes ranging from good espresso to dark berries. The barrel ageing gives it a rounded quality, as well as hints of cinder toffee and vanilla.
“I love this beer – this makes me happy,” says Pascale. “I could drink this slowly all night and not want anything else.”
“Yeah it’s just so rich,” chimes in Kent. “It’s definitely an end of the night drink for me. As in, it will end your night pretty quickly. I just want to sleep!”
As the discussion continues, five huge platters of bar snacks arrive: sausages, chips and barbecue chicken wings. The timing is perfect and everyone tucks in.
“The great thing about all the ales coming in five or six years ago is that suddenly you had a choice,” says Alan. “You get sick of just drinking Heineken or Guinness. I’m like a kid in a candy store on nights like this.”
Eleanor adds. “That’s why this is such a great bar. I see so many things that I’d want to try, but nowhere else is going to stock them. Belfast doesn’t really have any other bar where you can explore as many local beers. And it’s such a nice atmosphere, very family friendly.”
Despite promising myself an early night, I predictably hang around until it’s just me and Sinead, sampling more beers, discussing the bar’s great whiskey collection and generally shooting the breeze. The morning after a Belfast bottle share is never particularly pleasant, but always 100% worth the pain.
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