06/02/2016

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 Meg 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!

31/12/2015

Golden Pints 2015

Best Cask
One of my favourite places to drink this year has been the new Moor tap room. It was here I probably drank most of my cask offerings (not bad considering I'm not often in Bristol!) and it was here I had my favourite cask beer of the year. B-Moor is punny continuation of their porter Amoor with the distinctive blueberry, jammy notes from mosaic. Delicious and spot on carbonation. Sloe walker on cask also very interesting.

Best Keg
Although I try not to list limited beers as winners (how cn others try them if so?) I need to make an exception for Beavertown/Prairie Barrel Aged 'Spresso. On draught at ABV and like drinking a tiramisu, especially with added ice-cream float!

Best Bottle/Can
Hands-down the highest rated new beer this year was Cloudwater DIPA. After a somewhat shaky start they really nailed their beers with the DIPA being the pinnacle, clean malt bill, fresh and juicy hops and barely a hint of its 9% ABV. A recent revisit has confirmed its holding up well. Cloudwater don't intend to rebrew any of their beers, but am hoping they make an exception for this.
Others worth of mention are Brewdog Born to Die & Beavertown Power of The Voodoo, both of which I hope will continue as occasional brews.

Best Collab
I've had a few this year, these by their very nature are usually one offs. I have enjoyed the dinner for.. range from Elusive/Siren and the aforementioned 'Spresso but my favourite has to be Marble Howgate and Kemp. Fantastic news that JK will be commencing as head brewer there from next year.

Best Overall
There can only be one winner here, excellent on both keg and bottle, with the November batch being particularly superlative. I make no apologies that my favourite UK beer is still Buxton Axe Edge.

Best Brewery
Logic follows that the brewer of my favourite beer would be a shoo in for brewer of the year and indeed Buxton has released a continued range of interesting beers this year (though a few I've not been mad keen on). I'm going to jointly award the crown to Beavertown however as I've not had a bad beer from them this year, and gamma ray/neck oil in cans has been a welcome hoppy reprieve on numerous occasions! Honourable mention to Brew By Numbers for producing excellent beers across all manner of styles (though was't as keen on their BA iterations of Gyle 100 unfortunately...).

Best Oveseas Draught
There's a beer I drank four times in three days, each time bringing delight to my mouth. Gorgeous in colour, tart with a heap of raspberries - Girardin Kriekenlambic was that beer. Highly recommended and cheers to Ian for the recommendation of where to find it!(see below). Was also v impressed by Pohjalla on draught at Indyman - ones to watch!

Best Overseas Bottle/ Can
My favourite bottle this year was a 2011 vintage of Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla Stout, but since that's not available any more my winner is instead Ballast Point Dorado. I don't care who owns it, the beer is excellent and I hope it remains so. I'm just disappointed it may be harderto track their stuff down in the UK for a while now Brewdog have ceased importing them. Mikkeller's Nelson Sauvignon also really impressed though value-wise its lower in the ranking.

Best Overseas Brewery
I ummed and ahhed about this, there are a few contenders such as Stone  and Boon  but in terms of consistency across a wide range and drinkability this year's award goes to De La Senne. I was also impressed by the few I tried from Amager; if I'd had a few more they'd certainly be in contention.

Best Overseas Bar
To drink my girardin kriekenlambic four times I visited the same bar; belle epoque wall tat, grafittied terrace, various seating areas, free nibbles and a well chosen beer list this award goes to Fleur En Papier Doree. I'll definitely be back.

Best Brewery Opening
This ones a little harder my Ireland winner Boundary is definitely a contender as is Manchester buzz-generator Cloudwater but I'm actually giving the crown this year to Left Handed Giant who have gone from strength to strength with a decent core range and some excellent specials. Glad they're now bottling too; will certainly be drinking some this Christmas!

Best pub/Bar
Alongside the Moor brewing tap room, the places I've visited most this year are Small Bar the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer. Both have a fantastic range of beer, TFRNV has great food, Small Bar has comfy chairs and a bookshelf. Joint award to these two this year! Bag O'Nails continues to hold a special place in my heart replete with cantankerous landlord & many cats.

Best New pub/bar
I enjoy the Moor Brewery Tap but was also really impressed with attention to detail at St Andrews Brewing Co Tap, great guest beers, a fab range of spirits and plenty of care taken on garnishes. Plus good value and filling grub and a bottle fridge rammed full.

Best Food and Beer
More best food with tasty beer alongside this year it has to go to Chomp for fantastic burgers and beer from Wiper & True.

Best Festival
I didn't make it to as many festivals as I would have liked this year but I did finally make it to IMBC which was enjoyable if hectic and too short. However its the Belfast based festival inspired by it that I most enjoyed (working as bar manager for all 3 sessions). Congrats to Matt, Darren, Felicia and Michael the team behind ABV, best festival in the UK, fab venue, excellent food choices, interesting tastings and fantastic beer range, heres to 2016!

Best Branding
As always there are a number of contenders, but for putting the "can" in canvas the award has to go to Beavertown, great work Nick! I particularly liked the shiny stickers on the Phantoms and Bone King which now adorn my chromebook. I also love the bespoke paintings inspired by Boundary's beers; so they're my runner up!

Best Book/ Magazine
We've really gotten to a great time for Drinks coverage in print media with Hot Rum Cow, Hops and Barley, Ferment and Beer to name but a few but I think my favourite is informative & enthusiastic whilst remaining current - Original Gravity.

Online retailer
I've used fewer retailers this year, but the one that continues to impress is Eebria... after all - anyone who can facilitate getting my favourite beer delivered to my door within a few days must be on to a good thing.

Independent Retailer
I was really impressed by the depth and breadth of beers in Manchetser's Beer Moth but as I didn't buy any I can't really nominate them! (will have to take a suitcsase to Indyman next year!) One new opening I did really like was the tiny Brew off St Nicholas Market in Bristol, select but interesting range, lots of local stuff, decent tunes and a home-brew corner.

Best Blogger(s)
I've not added many blogs to my roll this year, with a number of old favourites falling by the wayside. Boak & Bailey still continue to churn out a variety of interesting stuff but this year the award goes to the (old)newcomer- Stonch (or more specifically the collective voice behind the blog). I enjoy the travelogues, enjoyment of beer, cantankerousness, digging, weekly round-ups and everything in between. The comments are usually well attended and often spark a slew of spin-off posts. There have been rumours of winding down again - please don't.

Simon Johnson Award
Always bang on with the wry humour and dubious puns and featuring on my blog a few times this year this has to go to Twatty Beer Doodles.




22/12/2015

Whats New? 2015 edition

2015 brought us another bumper crop of new breweries (see last years round up here), though there are a few that have fallen by the wayside (I had a chance to try most of what I'd missed last year but West Cork still eludes me!). We hit the major milestone of 100 brewers on the island, with a near doubling of outfits in NI; I've covered the new arrivals below:
 
Barrahooley have a trio of beers including probably NIs first black IPA, which I found to be rather tasty. Sadly yet to come across their other beers.

Boundary burst on to the scene after a highly successful crowd funding round (they're raising money again now). Whilst the core range in general doesn't quite do it for me its the specials which really excite, with the excellent Berliner Vice series and recent Filthy Animal chipotle Porter both ones to try. There's also a series of mid-strength IPAs (push and pull) that has throw up some interesting results. They rightfully took best new opening in my Irish #GoldenPints

Brewbot are known for their app controlled nanobrewery kits & delighted the Belfast beer scene with the launch of their bar; but they also brew beers of their own. They're occasionally on draught in the bar; but I've yet to come across any.

Nightcap brew a golden ale which I've not yet found in the shops

Lacada are another co-operative, this tame based in Portrush. They have a core range of a golden ale (needs work) session IPA (lovely when dry hopped on cask) and a porter (excellent - came runner up in my Golden Pints). They've only recently launched; so expect to find bottles covering the province in 2016.

When We Are Giants appear to be a contract operation, making an an irish ale a pale and a lager. The red actually had some leafy hopping and malt complexity to it which made it a cut above many others.

O'Connor have just a single golden ale so far; decent enough but not exactly filling a gap in the market.

Mourne Mountains wheat beer was very promising on keg at ABV but disappointing in bottle, as were the other two core beers. Both seasonals I've had have been enjoyable though, in particular the pumpkin porter which was luxuriant without overdoing the cakey spices. Also really like the thought that's gone in to their logo design.


Walled City actually arrived in the tail end of 2014; but as they weren't serving until May this year I'll include them here. Last month we popped along to the taproom, which has a tasty menu of tapas and larger plates, but more importantly a number of their own beers on draught. All were solid takes on classic styles with the Boom Derry Pale particularly enjoyable - ones to watch in 2016 for sure.

Knockout are another outfit who actually began in the tail end of 2014. A decent core range, the APA is actually hoppier than IPA and my pic of the bunch.


Edit: Maltmeister have recently launched, taking the NI total to 11. They have a wheat ale and a spiced seasonal ale, keep your eyes peeled!

If I've counted correctly there were 24 new outfits starting in 2015 in the south (I'm sure Andrew will correct me!)

Arthurstown brewed two beers in the Kevin Dundon range a standard golden and red ale one-two. Yet to try them but not overly bothered if I don't.

Boyne currently contract brew at White Gypsy and both the dortmunder and pale went down well at ABV fest; looking forward to trying others.

Brewtonic have contracted a couple of brews with Rascals to stock in their Dublin venues. I've not tried them but The Beer Nut has.

Connemara are a new Mayo outfit, just a golden ale thus far and we've not crossed paths.

Corrib brew the Wild Bat range and have only recently launched - I'll hopefully come across them in 2016.

Craftworks are a "Brew your own" facility but also brew their own range under the Postcard label. Their two lagers did nothing for me but I also have their (pricey) tripel which I'll crack open when I have someone to share it with.

A Kerry crowd called Crafty Divils make an amber ale under the name of King Puck.

A gluten free outfit called Desmond and Son has also a trio of beers I've some en route; so stay tuned for an update(if they're any good!)


Drew Fox brews the Cleverman range, fairly standard except for their smoked ale which is rather tasty.

Comedy? troupe Hardy Bucks have a lager contract brewed for them at Rye River...its apparently not worth parting with your pennies for though.

Hope are another Craftworks dwelling outfit, with their initial trio rough round the edges but showing some promise. The exotically spiced saison was rather interesting and would make for a decent pairing with well-spiced dishes particularly a thai green curry.

James Brown has brewed a chocolate Orange Stout and a rhubarb IPA, neither of which have the headline ingredients  particularly discernible which is somewhat disappointing. Having said that the stout is decent enough and picked up first best Irish beer at Killarney this year; so worth picking up if you see it.

We called in to Killarney brew co for an impromptu tour whilst waiting for proceedings to begin at the festival. Its an impressive set up, with obviously no shortage of cash from the outset which will always give a competitive advantage. Of course the best equipment counts for nowt if the brewer isn't up to scratch, but they've done well on that count too, with four decent beers with the (ruby) IPA and helles able to stand their ground against some of the more established players.

Ó Cléirigh in Cavan have been quite quiet thus far with just a ginger ale to their names. Correction: They produce an APA, IPA, a BestBitter & a Kölsch but I've yet to come across them. Look out for the Kölsch on draught in the Beer Market, Dublin.

Radikale is a new gypsy outfit brewing left of centre beers with both the rubanesque and hopster somewhat lacking in hops in bottle - disappointing given the reputation of the brewer.


Raven Brew are based at the Old Schoolhouse in Swords. I hope to make it to the pub next year as there have been good reports on their stout.

Rising Sons are a brewpub based in Cork, opening at the turn of the year. Its the new home of the excellent Mi Dazza stout formerly brewed at franciscan Well. They brew a core range and regular seasonal specials and their pizzas are pretty special too. If I'd been able to visit more than once they'd have been contender for best new opening

Simon Lambert and Sons impressed the Beoir cohort with their Yellowbelly on their recent trip, but I'm yet to come across them in the wild. 

Benwiskin started off at Craftworks with a competent Irish Red Ale and have now moved to Bru and are expanding their range.


Third Circle are also at craftworks with an Irish Red and a saison. Both have gotten off to an okay start but need dialling in somewhat. I wish that red ales weren't so ubiquitous though!

Torc are another Killarney outfit with a less common core range including a wheat beer and a dark ale (basically a mild) which were both pretty tasty on keg and cask respectively.

Another Wicklow outfit, bagging the name Wicklow Brewery based at Mickey Finn's pub but not tried yet.

Wood Key also began at Craftworks but now brew at Independent. Their red ale the Pilgrim encroaches on porter territory and is thus rather more enjoyable than the majority of reds on these shores. Their IPA is currently sat in a box shortly to be in my possession.



Edit: As pointed out below Carlingford Brewing  have also launched in Louth with a red ale and a pale.

So that's yer lot for 2015 (and at a total of 34 3620% 25%more than last year - though a lot are contracted), I didn't seem to do as well tracking them down this year as last (did have 200-odd all told though!); but that's perhaps a sign that newcomers are focussing on local markets first and are perhaps draught only. It does also suggest that their may now be a fight for space on already crowded independent bottle shops' shelves and this squeeze can only continue in 2016.

20/12/2015

12 Beers of Xmas

After Andy posted his selection of twelve beers I decided it was about time to clear out my cellar a bit; so I'm joining in too (though may stick to Twitter for the daily beers). Hosted by the Beer O'Clock Show it seems like a good bit of social fun in the run up to Christmas. I picked 12 big beers that I've hung on to for far too long. So without further ado, I plan to work my way through these little beauties


Twickenham/Alvinne Old Ale has been slumbering for two years in my cellar, having spent a prior two years in a wine barrel. Should be interesting.

Rebel Mexi-Cocoa is from a small Cornish brewery but has picked up a bit of a cult status, I picked up this bottle to see what the fuss was about.

Evil Twin Christmas Eve At A New York City Hotel Room the name's a bit of a mouthful and at 10% I'm sure the beer will be too. Felicia at Prohibition brings Evil Twin beers in to NI; so was able to pick this up at my local offie. Have been impressed with some of Jeppe's beers in the past; so lets see what this brings.

Prairie OK-Si were one of my favourite discoveries last year with big stouts and farmhouse ales alike delighting the senses. This tequila barrel aged beauty falls in to the latter category.

Old Chimney's Redshank is the 2014 vintage of a barley wine brought to us by the makers of England's top rated beer; so it has good pedigree at least.

Camba Bavria Imperial Stout not a common style amongst largely traditional German brewers, lets see how they handle it! (Bottle via my regular trade partner Sabine (McTaps on Ratebeer) cheers!)


JW Lees Harvest Ale is a well regarded barley wine, this 2012 vintage should be nicely melded now.

Sambrooks No. 5 Barley Wine is a newer entrant (despite the old-world label). Their core range is solid; so lets see what they can do with a bigger beer.

Tiny Rebel NP10 provides something a little different -a Belgian golden ale from Wales. At 10% its very much a Duvel-a-like lets see if they can pull it off.

Ilkley Longhorn & World's End  are two barrel aged versions of past specials, Speyside and Islay respectively. Sometimes the barrel aging process can be over-done, lets see what it does to these two.

Swanay (nee Highland) Old Norwayis a 9%-er showing off what Maris Otter can do.


We're actually with family for Christmas week; so may fall behind, but will get all twelve beers blogged when I can. Look forward to reading everyone elses contributions!


If I get through those twelve I may reward myself with this special duo from Nogne O on New Years Day #1000 and #1001. Stay tuned!



19/12/2015

Golden Pints: Ireland 2016


As per last year, I'd like to put together some nominations from the island of Ireland as this bog is all about highlighting the growing beer scene over here. I'm not going to look back at last years until after this post goes live; so it'll be just on my memory and ratebeer scores rather than being influenced by what went before. The usual provisio applies: I wasn't able to try everything that was released and if any more impress before the end of the year I reserve the right to amend my choices!


1. Best Cask Beer I've not had very much Irish cask this year as I missed the ICBCF, but I was able to attend the Franciscan Well winterfest. However I'm going to "cheat" slightly and nominate the Northbound 08 Kolsch which was on key-cask at the CAMRA beer festival.  Clean, fresh, flavourful - I had three pints which is a rarity in these days of halves and thirds.
Honourable mention: Lacada Stranded Bunny for tasting just as a porter should and filling a real gap amongst the Irish reds and dry stouts. If I'd had a chance to try it with more condition it could have taken the crown 

2. Best Keg Beer I've had a lot more of these, though largely what's been imported to the North as I've only been to Dublin a couple of times. The crown has to go to Eight Degrees for Gasman Rye for its sheer drinkability, which it has no right to have at 7.8%, a tropical melange of hops combatting with a robust and spicy body.
Honourable mention: There are far too many to list really, 2015 has been an excellent beer year but I was really impressed by Killarney Devils Helles a really crisp and nettley doughy pils like beer and the juxtaposition of clean malt and fruity hops that was Trouble Brewing Remix India Pale Lager.

3. Best Bottled/ Canned beer This one is much easier, has to be Galway Bay's Superlative 200 Fathoms. Last year's release was special this year was spot on and one of my highest rated Irish beers altogether. Honourable mentions Farmageddon Hopburst IPA - these guys had a run of infected bottles but this one showed off how the beer is intended, bright juicy tropical hops on a clean lightly bready malt profile. 
Boundary Filthy Animal a Christmas special which unfortunately sold out before I could get hold of any more bottles a lightly spicy and smoky rich porter, great with cheese or desserts alike.

4. Best Homebrew has to go to Shane's Raspberry Turbo, outright winner at Sourfest. Its the kind of beer I'd want to keep a few of in the fridge for its sheer enjoyability. Luckily a version of it is currently slumbering in a wine barrel at Boundary and is certainly a contender for best bottled beer next year!

5. Best Overall Beer is a tricky one but I think it has to be the Northbound 08 because it just surprised me on draught after having found it ho-hum in bottle. Its a year-round beer rather than a seasonal like the majority of my other picks this year, try it if you find it!

6.Best Brewery is becoming harder every year as the ranks of excellent breweries swell almost weekly. I could easily give this to Eight Degrees again, who haven't released a bad beer this year but that would be far too easy. Instead I think there's a brewery this year that's really dialled in its core range and released a raft of interesting specials with a head brewer who's really gotten into his stride. That brewery is of course Galway Bay. I can't claim to have loved everything but Foam and Fury continues to be a world class DIPA, the Voyager US IPA filled a real gap in the market and the sessionable kettle sours are real winners. Congrats Chris and team!

7. Best New Brewery -Killarney very much impressed on first outing earlier this summer; but I've not drunk enough to give them the crown. Instead this award goes to a brewery I've drunk monthly from their launch, with a solid core range (though admittedly not all to my taste) and a raft of specials and collaborations it has to be Boundary.(full disclosure: I am both a co-owner and good friends with Matthew the brewer, but I like to think the beer speaks for itself). The ethos behind the brewery and the buy in from the local community are the real things that make it stand out.

 8. Best Pub/ Bar has definitely been earned by The Sunflower. Woodfired pizza oven in the garden, host to Belfast beer Club, well kept beer on cask and a great range of local and international beer in the fridges. Saddened and angry to hear that redevelopment may lead to its demolition - I hope not but in the meantime please support it whilst you can.

 9. Best New Opening - I've not been to any new bars down south but there's one that immediately springs to mind in the north. I was a bit of a latecomer but I've now visited on a number of occasions and been impressed each time. 10 guest taps with regular takeovers and the biggest bottle list of perhaps any UK bar, interesting small snack plates and a buzzing atmosphere. The award this year goes to Brewbot.

 10. Best Food and Beer Pairing I've not eaten out as much this year, but one thing that really does stick in my mind is the fresh, lemony and mouth-filling creaminess of St Tola against the crisp, pithy and brightness of Eight Degrees Full Irish (Cheers to Mike at Fancy Cheese Co. for facilitating this!).

 11. Best Festival is really getting some real competition now, with some weekends having multiple events, especially during the summer months. I now have to pick and choose which to attend but in my mind there is one true stand out. Fantastic venue, excellent food and world class beer selection. Great feedback from all who attended - amazing considering its in its first year! This award belongs to ABV. (Disclosure time again: I worked the full weekend at the festival and know the organisers)

 12. Best Independent Retailer with a new growler fill station and probably still the best variety of Irish and international beers The Vineyard takes this again.
Honourable mentions: McHughs have made ammends for an inauspicious first few orders and continue to impress with the number of Irish beers they manage to find room for. I'm also very fortunate to have the Winerack in Stewartstown acting as my local good beer hotspot - though of course its helped that I've been able to advise on what should be stocked!

03/12/2015

What's New?

A number of posts lined up for December (if I ever get them finished) including the now obligatory Golden Pints and summary of Irish beer for the year. There's also been a number of Christmas specials launched recently and plenty of events happening too so please do check back over coming weeks. My writing hand and drinking arm will certainly be well exercised in coming weeks, 'tis the season after all!

In the mean time Daisy and I have finally launched our joint blog Drinks We've Known (see what we did there?!) with a post on whisky cocktails. Some of you Eagle-eyed Twitterphiles have been following us since the start of the year; so hopefully your patience is now paying off. Please feel free to follow the blog account (which Daisy will also be tweeting from, @drinksweveknown. 

The thinking behind the blog is to provide a home for all of our drink escapades, both at home and travelling; think bar & drinks reviews, spirits, attempts to make drinks & probably even coffee. I'll probably move the non beer/cider things from this blog across at some point too (though will continue to promote posts from my own twitter account 'cos that's my perrogative innit ;-p )
My Mezcalendar...thanks Daisy!

Daisy also thought of an awesome present for my birthday; an advent calendar with booze in! You've heard of the whisky dram calendar and even ginvent, but I've gotten hold of one with traditional Mexican mezcal... a mezcalendar* if you like! We'll be blogging our thoughts daily in an aim to find a bottle we can order for home cocktailing. The first post is here.

So until my next post here; see you around!

*Apparently I'm the first person to use the term but have graciously allowed Master of Malt to use it ;)

20/11/2015

ALL the hops

I'm a big fan of hop forward beers done well, we've had decent pale ales and IPAs but until recently there was a dearth of the elder siblings the double IPA on these shores, other than the occasional bottle of hardcore IPA or an exotic flying dog appearing there was nowhere to turn for a strong n'hoppy fix. We at Beoir decided to remedy this and concocted a plan to brew the first Irish DIPA at a collaborative brew day with Blacks. Alas (though happily) we were foiled and beaten to market by not one but two double IPAs and with a brace of new entrants the number of DIPAs has reached double figures. I decided to catch up with the brewers to chat about their reasons for brewing DIPAs, the Irish beer market in general and what we can hope for in the future.

Appearing in March 2013 (and first to market) was Carlow's DIPA Some pineapple and lemon cheesecake on the nose. Overwhelmingly sweet at first, fairly heavy body, low carbonation. As it warms some lemon pith and mango comes through with a touch of balancing bitterness, but very much a bulked up UK style malt led IPA with a US accent and a sipper more than a quaffer. Some people suggest that at 7.5% it sits more in regular IPA territory, but given the regular IPA is 5% this one is certainly punchier! I got a few thoughts from Seamus and the brew team.
"DIPA is a real craft beer drinkers beer and a challenge for a brewery to get the balance of such a monster beer right. To make the beer we took the approach of a traditional DIPA in that we made a hoppier, maltier, higher alcohol version of our regular IPA. We scaled everything up so that it would be the bigger version of our own beer, making a full batch from the start.
From the first test brew we knew it had found its way into our core range immediately. It is always developing more of a following as the Irish consumer develops a pallet for these full flavoured beasts, and as the consumer learns to drink them as they would a 4.3% beer they are learning how to have a better relationship with the strong DIPAs"
BIK:And what of plans for future releases, how does an established brewery like Carlow stay relevant?
"There’s always a plethora of beers swirling in our minds, I would expect to see a beer of similar vein come out of our range and it is more a matter of time.   Its very exciting to see the growth in the sector. We want to always see ourselves as pioneers in craft beer rather than the old guys so we are constantly adding to our range and staying innovative."

The most recent release, Millennium, comes from one of my go-to Irish breweries, Eight Degrees; brewed to celebrate their 200th brew. I caught up with co-owner Scott on the phone to chat about it and hoppy beer in general. They're pretty busy at the moment having just taken delivery of a 5-barrel brew system, second hand via Mauritius and their planning permission has finally been granted meaning they can now start assembling everything! They hope that the brewery will be up and running soon.

Eight Degrees are well known for producing pale n'hoppy numbers & with a Kiwi (Scott) & an Aussie (Cam) at the helm its no surprise that antipodean lupulin features heavily. These hops are becoming increasingly harder to find; so how has a small brewery in Ireland gotten on? "We recently won a Bronze in the World Beer Cup for Amber Ella (well deserved! - ed); resulting in the Australian hop growing association contacting us; we leveraged this to become the second brewery in the world to be able to brew with Enigma hops* and at the same time we've secured hops for the next three years." When pushed on the best hop-growing nation Scott sighed, "as much as it pains me as a New Zealander to say it, the Australian hops are that much more tropical and aromatic than the new Zealand ones...a lot of them (NZ hops) are descended from Saaz and that comes out especially in the aroma whereas Aussie hops are much closer to the US flavours" Each to their own, NZ hops certainly still do it for me!

BIK:So how do they go about developing recipes? "We know what combinations of hops work well by now and often the hop bill comes first with the recipe designed to fit afterwards. We don't generally do trial batches like experimental home cooking we use intuition to come up with something that works. One of our most successful beers Full Irish (Beoir beer of the year 2014 - ed) was just a nice combo that we happened to stumble across and thought 'that's fuckin' awesome' and turned it in to a brew. We consciously push ourselves to use new hop varieties" 9 times out of 10 this works in their favour but on the odd occasion something might be "pretty good, but not quite there. We tweak recipes as we re-brew them, which is why Hurricane was rehashed at a lower ABV when it became a core beer."

BIK:So what about the general Irish brewery aversion to hops? 
"You need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and brew modern styles. There's a great new-wave of brewers who began as home brewers, who perhaps produced fantastic recipes but just haven't quite worked out to scale up their recipes for commercial kit. Highly hopped ales need to be well balanced to prevent falling one way or the other and there are a lot of technical challenges to overcome with this."
Aside from variety in hop crops ("mosaic a few years ago was fantastic but this season it has a very 'oniony' aspect to it recently") there are kit limitations, physical limits on how many hops can be added to the whirlpool, clogging of pipes and pumps with hop sludge - "we've started using whole leaf hops in the kettle, in giant bags", and of course a limit to how high an ABV can be managed with a finite mash tun. "The easiest thing is to cram sugar in, but then you need a more alcohol tolerant yeast strain and need to make sure it doesn't end up to thin by building body with speciality malts. Every time we push the ABV up a few notches it feels like we have a mountain to climb, and then we mange it and think 'Jesus we can't scale another peak like that' but we've always managed it so far. We have something even stronger in the tanks."

Hopefully we'll see it this side of Christmas alongside some other specials (personally I'm hoping for a re-brew of Gasman A slightly more sensible but still pokey (8.7%) Rye IPA with (according to my rate beer notes) a super fruity tropical melange on nose.  mango, passion fruit, tangerines, balanced with fruity malt. Far too sessionable for its strength).


Of course (as is often the way with stronger beers) most of these were one off specials, but perhaps the best known of them, Galway Bay's Of Foam and Fury (OFAF)is semi-regular and starting to become more widely available with brewery expansions. Its a masterpiece with mango, slight yoghurt notes and orange pith on the nose bring a pithy piney bitterness in taste and seguing to a Robust, bitter, mango peel with a slightly chalky, rich fruity finish. I've heard it compared to Pliny, and whilst the former does have the same clean hopping & is just as easy drinking (thanks to Jay for brining us a sample to try at EBBC!), OFAF is just a bit more robust in body.

I emailed Chris Treanor (Galway Bay's head brewer) to find out more.
"Back then (When OFAF was released - ed), I had a recipe bucket-list (of which I'm still working from) of beers that I not only wanted to brew, but brew the best examples of such in the country. And at the top of that list was a DIPA and subsequently an Imperial Stout.

That resulted in many hours of research and preparation to result in two brews brewed within a week of each other (Of Foam and Fury & Two Hundred Fathoms). It was an interesting assignment as I was brewing these, very expensive brews without getting the green light from the bosses to do so!

Upon the first iteration of the first brew, little has changed overall aside from scaling the recipe up to our larger tank sizes and trying to get better efficiency out of our ingredients. When the first brew came to fruition, I thought it had finished too sweet, I stressed and had bought a massive amount of dextrose for the second brew. Alas, the first batch went out, and there was a strong following, so little changed.

There is a strong place in my heart for those US IPA's that have beautiful delicate nature to, of which this year's Voyager IPA was an homage to."


BiK: Whilst its completely different to your own, did Carlow getting a DIPA out first annoy you at all? (we certainly wanted to be the first with Beoir #1 but we were far too slow off the marks!)?
 "It's not an annoyance at all - I find the pissing race to be the first brewer to a style, and the infatuation with cost to the consumer to be more of an annoyance (and hindrance) to the industry here. Honestly, the only true race is quality, if the consumer and brewer realises this, then the Irish brewing industry will push into the next stage and truly find its place in the beer world. Anything less than that, we're getting stuck in a whole pile of nothing and we'll constantly be second best to the UK brewing scene."

BIK: And how about hop availability?
"We're struggling with hops, as I think everyone is in the same boat this year. But I welcome that struggle really. (I love a good complain among brewers). But really, shortages in ingredients will bear many new innovations in the industry and will be a test to the true skill of a brewer."

BIK: and what else can we look  forward to - a black IPA perhaps?
"Yes, one of our brewers has a recipe in the waiting for exactly that but we've been putting it on the back burner until we can be sure of our allocation to not interrupt the brewing of our core ranges. It will only be a matter of time until we tackle the next level being a TIPA, but we're in no rush to get there, but it's tucked neatly in that bucket list. Also, we're about to take the plunge on our new brew-house. Which will truly be a game changer, as we're brewing on some of the most difficult to work with equipment in the industry (considering our output) this will help us dial in on consistency and free us up to focus in more on the nick-picky side of each beer."

BIK:The use of the second runnings of OFAF for Via Maris is a great use of a potential waste product; what inspired you to do this and how do you go about choosing hops for each batch?
"We've actually had to reduce the amount of the Via Maris that we can run the partigyle of as we were skewing our efficiencies; we were finding a diminishing return in the quality of wort we were getting from the runnings of OFAF. We've now been finding better results in tailoring the OFAF to get better runnings for itself and to use an actual mash for the Via Maris.

Choosing hops for VM is really an experimental approach, we would do our research and figure out what would work well on paper, then receive the hops and figure out what would work well together when you look at the oil compositions and then finally bring that into the recipe itself."


BIK:OFAF has been extremely well received in the market, with some observers comparing it to Pliny the Elder and receiving Beoir beer of the year. How do such plaudits make you feel as the brewer?
"It's never really sunk in to be honest. Personally I feel there's a mile in the difference between the two, where Pliny is a truly delicate brew, with OFAF being a little bit more, furious!

I welcome the appreciation, using it as a guideline that we're doing something right. But we're way off the goal to be able to say we've done everything we can in terms of quality of DIPA's."


Following IMBC we chatted a bit more about consumer expectation, beer serving size and where the market could be going in Ireland, I'd heard people were refusing to try OFAF priced at £5 a third. (personally I'd never pay that as I know I can get a bottle for £5 but its a shame people missed out)
"£15 a pint is steep. But it's not a beer that should be ordered by the pint, whatsoever. And that riles me when that argument of cost comes up. There was no pint glasses in IMBC that I saw. Everyone has their margin to make on a beer, tax is very expensive, especially in the UK for anything over 7.5%. If people can't make a profit on a beer, where does the money come from to continue innovation in new recipes and general progression in the larger scene?
The same people who are fighting for pints to be the go-to serving size, complain when that expensive beer (that often goes through 2 stages of people trying to make a profit off of) arrives at an seemingly extortionate price (which in a pub often covers costs that the regular punter doesn't consider).
I personally prefer a smaller serving size, I find myself appreciating that beer in question that little more.
While the costs of beer is high to the consumer, it's high to the people manufacturing it also. As a producer its a difficult thing to be producing these beers at great expense yet still run a company that's still viable and profitable. 
 
Walking into the Italian pubs in Rome (Ma Che Siete), the ream of highly expensive bars in Copenhagen you're often given whatever the suitable glass is and the suited measure as small as a 1/3 in some cases, I'd never bat an eyelid personally. I appreciate that mentality much more than buying beers by the pint.
I know that that may not be a popular opinion by the regular beer drinker we have in Ireland. But if we don't allow some removal from the Pint serving, we will be limited by what the average producer may be able to produce.
It's this reason, that up until recently, we have had the most dull and lifeless craft beer scene in the world.
I'd like to think we're moving away from that, but there's always something that pops its head up in respect to pricing and volume."
Hear hear, shifting attitudes are something to be celebrated!


Blacks have made a number of DIPAs, including a crowd-funder special called Gold, a SMASH (single malt and single hop) Topaz DIPA and of course the Beoir collaboration imaginatively called Beoir #1. Another double IPA based on one of Sam's home-brew recipes (High Viz) is now a semi-regular with another batch due to be brewed in January. More recently an Indian Brown Ale Jester Brown has been seen in the wild (debuting at ICBCF15). I got speaking to Sam about his inspirations and how things are working out as they approach their third birthday.

Hi Viz has now been brewed four times, with the hops tweaked each time; the next batch will use new season southern hemisphere hops; so will be a bit different. How has it been sourcing hops?
"We've been around a bit longer than a lot of the recent start ups; so we've been able to secure contracts for a few years ahead, we'll have even more varieties next year, 20-something, which means we can really begin to play around. We should be able to spot-by any shortages we need. Some varieties are unavailable, for example the Jester hop we used in our double brown; so we'd need to rethink it if we were to brew it again."

Sam is fortunate enough to have a pilot kit; which the Indiegogo specials were brewed on & also some of the festival one-offs. This is great for R&D and scaling up of old home-brew recipes.
"I brewed a lot of double IPAs in the year before starting the brewery, they're a favourite style of mine. Its much harder to dry hop on a commercial scale; you just don't get the same contact with the liquid but we're getting there. US beers are hard to beat (a particular favourite of Sam's is Drake's Hopcocalypse -ed) particularly because they just have access to a better quality of hop & more importantly fresher. We don't get to choose which batches our hops come from and need to make adjustments from delivery to delivery for alpha acid and see how the flavour works out. That aside though, Irish breweries can match US brewers on most things and come up with pretty decent results". And of course we get to drink them much fresher here than the majority of American imports; so I think we're pretty fortunate that we now have some breweries willing to punch the boat out a bit!
So what of plans for future big beers?
"Well that double brown was pretty highly hopped, 5kg in just 200l on the pilot system but I'll continue to revisit home-brew recipes that worked well, will certainly look at a double black IPA (fab news! - ed) At the moment we're pretty busy developing our spirits range with the 200 litre still. we've just made a corn mash moonshine which is selling locally and also developing a gin which will see wider release. We have the gin basket and can experiment with botanical in there or in the boiler; so there are a lot of variables to play with! We also have an increasing amount of our KPA going in to cans (currently taking place at C&C in Clonmel) and plenty of demand for bottles which will keep us busy."

I've got a vested interest in Blacks being one of the initial crowd-funders and it helps of course that they produce great beers (am hoping we get more of their stuff up here!) Sam hinted at a special wood-aged poitin release in 2016; so look out for that!


Trouble Brewing have gone from a more traditional core range to producing a number of hop forward specials culminating in a DIPA, Chasing the Dragon (hazy, pithy, sticky, resinous, full on hop heavy DIPA. Plenty of fruit from some of my favourite hops: Motueka, Amarillo, Mosaic, Simcoe and Citra) and Ireland's First Triple IPA Hop Priority (sticky, pithy, fruity, well hidden booze but growing warmth, plenty of body to tackle the bitterness with Mandarina Bavaria, Equinox, Amarillo & Vic Secret hops). I spoke to Mark about the change of focus and plans for the future."I'm a big IPA fan so I was keen start brewing some more hop focussed beers. When we started brewing more frequent specials the hop-forward beers would always sell quicker and we were always getting better feedback on those styles. So, we're happy to brew them and people seem happy to drink them!  

There wasn't any one particular beer that inspired me (for chasing the Dragon), I just picked elements that I liked from other beers and from some of the specials we had brewed. I wanted to keep the malt bill as clean as possible so we used only pale ale malt and also used 10% table sugar to get a lower final gravity. I wanted to get as much aroma as possible but also keep the beer balanced, so all the bitterness was achieved by the sheer volume of aroma hops at the end of the boil. It was also then dry hopped 3 times.

Hop Priority was brewed to celebrate 5 years of Trouble Brewing. We had already brewed loads of hoppy beers of various strengths and a triple IPA seemed like the the right beer to fit the occasion! We used ~3kg/hL of some of the best hops available from all over the world."



I managed to draw out some thoughts on Irish beer quality and DIPAs in particular...
"Overall I think the quality of Irish beers is quite good, there is some really bad beer out there but most of it is decent and the quality is improving all the time. I was particularly impressed with the standard at the recent festival in the RDS and I think the more competition we have in the market the higher that standard is going to be raised. The Irish DIPAs are a mixed bag, some are among the best DIPAs I've ever had (freshness is key!) and there are others that aren't strong enough in ABV or hop character to be classed as DIPAs, though still good beers in their own right."


Mark has no current plans to re-brew either of these or indeed any "imperial" beers though he did like my suggestion of double oh-yeah (their black IPA)...He does intend to produce some sour styles of beer and perhaps non-traditional ingredients such as fruit, syrups and herbs. Imperial gruit anyone?


Bo Bristle made a DIPA for the ICBCF in 2014 with more of an East-Coast USA influence, the malt being assertive alongside high herbal+piney hops. Hempy , full bodied bitter IPA with a pithy, herbal and resinous sticky malt taste. Intended to be a one off beer but is now an inspiration for upcoming strong beer range. I spoke to Andy about their influences and recipe development.
"We're huge fans of Hops at Bo Bristle so developing a DIPA was a very enjoyable & rewarding process.  The development of the DIPA, as with all of our beers, was using our pilot brewing system, experimenting with recipes  on small batch sizes but ludicrous amounts of Hops.

Over the past few years we've developed a close working relationship with our hop suppliers, so fortunately getting hold of most of the hops was not a problem.We're big fans of the American brewery Odell's 7% IPA. (technically not an DIPA but lovely). Feedback from our DIPA was terrific & everyone wanted to know when the beer would be available in bottles. ....Answer:  2016, hopefully!"



North of the border only one brewer has gone north of 7% on a pale n' hoppy beer and That's Hilden, trialling various iterations under the Mill Street name and finally releasing the beer as Buck's Head. I preferred some of the more New-World versions but what they arrived at is also very enjoyable and more in keeping with British IPA. Herbal and slightly earthy  with sweet biscuit in the nose. Lively spritzy carbonation full bodied, shortcake, vegetal hops, lemon peel, minerally & finishing fairly sweet. Didn't hear back from Owen on how the recipe was developed.

Recently O'Brother released Brutus (9.3%) which I've not yet had a chance to try; so hope it makes it to bottle. I was kindly sent up a bottle by the brewery as I couldn't make it to the ICBCF this year (busy beering in Belgium!). I spoke to Barry at the brewery:

BIK: How has Brutus been received and are you likely to re-brew it?
"It was really well received – as it was its first outing it attracted quite a bit of attention as people wanted to try the new beer. A lot of people had it as their personal beer of the festival – we got a mention for it on the Beer O’Clock Show (one of only 2 beers highlighted – the other being 8 Degrees Millennium coincidentally!), and it is our highest rated beer on Untappd.  The Blackrock Cellar had a taste-off with Brutus and Of Foam and Fury and the crowd were split down the middle, so we are delighted with the response we are getting, and to be even mentioned in the same company as OFAF is great considering this is Ireland’s top rated beer!

Brutus is a one-off beer, or at least that was the intention – just like Bonita. We don’t have any plans to re-brew it but having said that, never say never. We might make it an annual brew or something like that."


Having tried it I'm inclined to agree that its very much in the vein of OFAF, though perhaps leaning towards sweeter malts and less aroma hopping. Like Chris at Galway Bay they intended for a West Coast Style of DIPA
"We did quite a bit of reading on beers like Pliny The Elder (though we have never actually had the pleasure of tasting it) Hoptimum etc, and also the East Coast DIPAs like Dogfish 90 and 120 mins.  Like everything in brewing (at least in our brewery) it’s coming up with the best of everything within a style, trying to get a recipe to match the concept, and then throwing a bit more at it on brew day!! 

We brew the beers we love to drink, and pretty much as frequently – so we don’t drink DIPAs all that regularly but we do love them. I think there is  a lot more fun to be had in doing the bigger beers and packing more and more flavour in there. We wanted the ABV to be over 9% - we were shooting for 9.2% but ended up with 9.1% as it was tasting pretty damn good and we didn’t want to push it any further."


As well as  tasting decent their labels also stand out; both in the core range and the more colourful "character" range. I asked Barry how these came about:
"We work with an incredibly talented artist called Marian Noone, who is from Sligo but based in Belfast. She does work under the tag Friz (www.thisisfriz.com). We basically float the idea to her about the character and she bounces some ideas back and then it very quickly takes shape. More down to her artistic talent to be honest but we do throw in the odd good idea or two, hopefully representing a little bit of what the beer is about – Brutus is a bit of a bruiser, not to be taken lightly!"

Despite Brutus being intended as a one off its been so well received that I'd be surprised it didn't make a reappearance and they certainly intend to branch out with more big beers in the future, I'm certainly hoping for a double up version of their Black IPA Bonita (see a pattern developing?!)

Rumours of a Porterhouse DIPA called Hop to F*ck are as yet unproven... are now proven with the beer spotted in the wild at a number of Porterhouse establishments; but I'll need to head back to Dublin to drink it...


*These were featured in a single-hopped pale ale and a recently released Tasmanian IPA named Big River (alongside Ella (formerly stella until a certain behemoth took umbrage at the name)). Superb juicy IPA - look out for it!