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!


To Stewartstown from Manchester Picadilly

Shiny stainless FVs
This weekend I've had the pleasure of drinking my favourite UK beer this year (so far) and one of the best I've ever had. It was a special edition Double IPA to mark 1 year of having a brewing premises (most people will know of which brewery I'm talking about now) which we were lucky to be able to secure some bottles of for the local market via Prohibition. The Winerack sold out of their allocation in less than a day. Of the other beers that were delivered, three were amongst the favourites in the tasting session  at mine on Friday night. How does a brewery reach such stellar heights in less than a year? Read on to learn more about Cloudwater.

Paul Jones in front of their brewhouse.
The first point in their favour is of course the team they have. Down to earth, normal people, talented people. The brewery is as much about the team of people as the beers they produce, each brings their own life experiences to contribute to how the brewery moves forward. Take co-owner Paul Jones for example (an interesting interview with him here), he's fascinated by skill and craft wherever it may be found, documenting every stage of the brewhouse kit out on social media. "when the floor was finished I went to the far corner and turned on the tap and just giggled as it ran off perfectly down the building and in to the drain". The team has doubled in size in this past year. Their long history in the business has enable them to build up a network of contacts to ensure they have a ready audience for their beers around the UK, with a buzz about them before even the first beer had left the premises. Luckily the quality of the beers has generally lived up to the hype and we've been benefitted in the UK as a whole by an addition of a brewery at the top of their game to the mix.

High-tech steam heating plant
But in addition to that they certainly have plenty of money behind them. A bunch of us writer types were invited to have a look around the brewery (see also Rich and Andy's takes), the set-up is above and beyond anything I've ever seen for a new start-up brewery and the team are very fortunate to have such a flexible kit to work with. (Those gadgets though, the brewery sound system can be controlled from a phone!) They also have space for additional tanks as required as demand for their beers continues to grow. They were also able to secure a room for themselves at the recent Indyman festival, pouring a slew of their seasonal range and a slew of barrel aged specials. 

What's that in FV7?!
That's an interesting point about their beer range: it changes every season based on what ingredients are available and what takes the brewers' fancy. This pleases the ticker mentality because there's always something new to be going at. I asked if there were any beers they'd like to rebrew - no plans at the moment but of course they'd rebrew something if there was sufficient demand. The idea of really honing a recipe and making it a best in class example does appeal, but the lure of the new is even more powerful.

The brewery already short of space!
"Is there anything else you'd like to try your hand at brewing?" I enquired of the Paul. "I'd like to try making some proper aged saisons and truly wild beers" Of course these are a la mode in 2015; but when done well can be amongst the best beers in the world. Luckily for Cloudwater and for us they have already located a premises in which to mess around with wild beasties (to prevent them causing havoc in the main brewery) a railway arch nearby in which they hops to showcase all things wild fermentation, pickles, cheeses, yoghurts and of course natural wines and beers. Sounds like a fantastic concept.

Even the best equipped
 breweries have wishlists!
Of course its not all been plain sailing. Their original location choice fell through due to impending network rail improvement works resulting in road closure which would have necessitated hand transport of everything in an out for 9 months! Their current premises is ideal, but overly conservative landlords restrict pretty much all attempts at connecting with the local community, no large brewery tour groups, no on site brewery tap and no music sessions. Being located in the red light district the unfounded fear is that the brewery will become part of a one stop shop, get boozed up there then avail of other "services" nearby...

The vienna lager spooled up for labelling
But despite these set backs the brewery is there, its producing fantastic beers and will continue to and we're going to benefit. Their beers are mostly destined for keg and bottle, the latter having striking white labels replete with all the necessary beer geek info (you can see that most brews are double-brews for e.g. and the different yeasts they employ). Take those beers I mentioned at the start of the post for example, a lager, a porter a hopfenweisse and a double IPA all top-class examples of their styles. The vienna lager is biscuity, clean and fruity easy drinking and moreish. The porter is rich, chocolaty and smooth a great dessert beer. The hopfenweisse showcases new season antipodean hops in all their tropical glory, full bodied and spicy and that winning DIPA, a clean malt bill, well hidden alcohol and a fresh burst of juicy fresh hoppiness, moderately bitter but overall fun and enjoyable to drink. That beer still in FV7 when we visited the brewery a month ago, bottled a week ago and in glasses up and down the country this weekend is a triumph. We need more beers like these in the UK.

A few beers from the Autumn range
Thankyou to Paul for giving up his Saturday morning on a busy weekend to show us all around and deal with our incessant questions. As always I love visiting breweries as there is always something new to learn about brewing alongside learning what makes the team tick. As I mentioned cloudwater is now available in my local off-licence Wine Rack in Stewartstown and various other locations in and around the Belfast area. Please do try them if you come across them; you won't be disappointed.

Cloudwater Brew Co


Where's the Cheese & Beer Book You Were Writing?

Image kindly created by Simon @ CAMRGB
Its a question I'm often asked and certainly valid, given the number of people I told I would be writing it! Its a difficult topic to write about because it touches on life outside of the beer bubble so take this post outside of my usual sphere of comfort but people deserve some kind of explanation, particularly those brewers who sent me beer samples for potential inclusion and the cheese makers who likewise sent through cheese. Special mention must also be made of Paxton and Whitfield who kindly arranged to sell me cheese at cost; to make it easier for me to afford the project on my own coin. Perhaps a chronological summary would best help explain.

Things kicked off well in early 2012. The idea was fresh in my mind and I drafted  layout of how I envisaged the book to look. Possible pairings were drawn up using previous experience as a guide. I decided early on that I wanted to feature UK breweries and cheeses; to highlight the breadth and quality we have on our own shores. I wanted to challenge the unwritten assumption that the best cheese is French and the best beers are Belgian and US! (I'd very much have liked to included Irish beers and cheeses, and whilst the latter was flourishing Irish brewing was fairly stagnant; an explosion in brewers (and more importantly UK and world class beers emerging) perhaps contributed to what would transpire).

Anyway, I digress, rough pairings hashed out I went about sourcing the best examples of beers and cheeses within the proposed styles. Once sufficient of each had been accumulated I was able to hold pairing sessions (often ably assisted by my friend Julie), determining whether my envisaged pairings actually worked (luckily the majority did!), taking photographs and notes on all of the pairings. These were all completed by Autumn 2012.

At the same time I began submitting my proposal to a number of publishers, with some enthusiasm at first. However when they read in to the detail the majority decided that focussing solely on the UK wasn't going to result in many book sales. Unwilling to change the raison d'etre of my book I decided to go down the self-published e-book/print on demand route. This was the start of the procrastination.

You see, when you don't have a deadline looming over you, or someone to prod you in to action things get put on a back burner. I edited a few photographs, started compiling tasting notes and worked out a rough page order for my pairings. Confidence already knocked by the rejections of publishers it was to suffer further on the release of Vinken & Van Tricht's Beer & Cheese. Aside from having to think of a new title, the calibre and quality of the book and writing was amazing. How could anything I write,a some-time beer blogger and enthusiast with some technical knowledge compete with the years of expertise of a sommelier and affineur? How could self publishing result in anything to compete with a gorgeous coffee table tome like theirs? My photos look crap in comparison. I knew my book would be unique and certainly more from a beer angle than theirs; so I wasn't completely put off. Then Janet Fletcher came along and took "Cheese & Beer" away as a possible title, I've not even been brave enough to look at that one...

Yet I was still keen to get the story of British Brewers and Cheesemakers out there to a wider audience (as well as of course opening people's eyes to the fact that beer and not wine is the best liquid to pair with cheese!). I kept the draft notes at the top of my to-do pile, picking them up, leafing through them but never getting anything substantial written.

The constant realisation I was letting down people who had kindly sent me samples led me further away from getting the writing done, causing me to lie awake at night fretting that I should actually be up and trying to write something...but what was the point anyway because whatever I wrote wouldn't do the beers and cheeses justice and I'd be better off not writing anything and pretend I wasn't writing anything in the first place.*

Alongside this self-doubt & self-loathing my personal circumstances outside of beer changed. I moved house, my fiancée (now wife) moved in with me and my job changed at work. My in-laws also came to stay for a while; so I decided to regroup for a few months and start afresh in the new year. Now almost three years have passed, I still get occasional pangs of guilt but often manage to ignore those notes calling at me from their pile on my upstairs desk. But then I start to get asked when the book will be coming out. I feel like a fraud, no better than that guy scamming loads of free beer for his non-existent book just to avoid having to pay for anything. At the same time some great UK beer writers began to emerge, all keen on food pairing and the writing began to be featured in more publications...did I even need to write the book any more?

At the same time new breweries and beers that I would love to include were cropping up all the time, some of the beers I'd written about were no longer in production, cheese companies had closed and our near neighbours in the South had really pulled their fingers out in the good beer stakes. It would be a tough job to revisit all of those pairings again.

But still the questions about the book continued to come, the "cheese and beer" pairings on my blog business card always garners the most questions, there's still plenty of interest out there for a book. But how to reinvigorate myself to start again? The answer came to me during a  cheese and beer pairing session at Killarney Beer festival. My Co-host Caroline Hennessy (co-author of the splendid book Slainte) asked me about the book and I tried my best to explain all of the above. "Never mind," she said, "Why not serialise it on your blog". What's that now?! "Why not write some of the pairings up and blog them, you've done single posts before, it will certainly be easier to tackle one at a time than trying to get everything together at once".

What a great idea! I can get all the pairings written up as a collection of blog posts then bring it all together as a book when I'm done, tweaking things to use beers that are still available and feature newer breweries, without wasting the work I've done to date. Fantastic idea. So that's what I'm going to do. The long dormant Cheeseandbeer.co.uk will play host to the 50 pairings I had arranged. I'm going to aim for one a week. Please feel free to harass me if I let that slip. That should allow me to pull everything together by the end of summer 2016 with the aim of having something releasable in time for Christmas sales next year. Wish me luck!

*This also impacted on my frequency of writing other non cheese, beer posts helping to explain the often large gaps in between posts. I have plenty of stuff pre-written but I've lost confidence in my writing and end up not publishing with things inevitably going out of date whilst dithering over that "publish" button.


Sourfest: the results

A stand-out beer is picked
This time last weekend I was in Belfast judging at the Freshman year of Sourfest, a competition to find the best sour/wild ale both commercially and from amateur brewers for both the UK & Ireland.

The beers were judged blind by a panel (myself included), with the top three in each category qualifying for a reassessment for best overall and in category. We were given details on style & additional ingredients, but only after the initial tastings. Entrants remained anonymous until all prizes had been awarded and beers were all judged to the same standard, with feedback forms from all judges* being made available to entrants after the competition.
I'm getting sour, is this a sour?
Someone wasn't impressed...
There were some truly impressive beers and perhaps even more encouraging was that the overall standard was extremely high, with all beers deemed drinkable (except perhaps that berlinner weisse smelling of farts and an enteric (faecal) sour brown).The results were as follows:



Best UK amateur
Chris Lewis took this with a very impressive attempt at a true spontaneously fermented lambic called Teeth Grinder; with four year-old, three year old and one year old beers blended to produce a gueuze-alike. Of course we did not know what it was at the time, but the quality shone though. Honourable mention here went to Plum Smuggler from Dean Hollingworth.

Searching for words to describe
The aroma pleases Giacomo
Best Irish amateur
Awarded to Shane Smith for his Raspberry Turbo which also took overall best in the competition (and my personal favourite).
Highly commended went to another talented homebrewer, Roger Rotheroe for his American Sour Brown Currant Situation.
Both of these winners will have the opportunity to brew their beers on  commercial scale with Boundary brewing. I certainly look forward to trying both of these and fully intend to buy a few cases of each.


Matt takes an initial sip
Best UK Commercial
Elgoods Coolship Blonde took this one but it was close run thing with Ali Kocho Williams' (Seren) Rum barrel aged sour dark ale. Elgoods overthrew the impression of being a staid family brewer when they put a disused brewery coolship back into use after many years to turn out a beer very similar to Belgian lambics, though of course with a different microflora. You can read more about it in Roger Protz's piece here.


Best Irish Commercial
A recently released beer & one I'd already been lucky enough to try: Kinnegar & Brown Paper Bag Project Geuzberry (you can read more about it here). This was also deemed to be best commercial beer overall too.
Highly commended was another beer recently launched, the sour version of White Hag's Beann Gulban.

Congratulations to all of the winners, and well done to all of the entrants; the overall standard was very high and I hope you all enter again next year.  What is particularly encouraging is the high standard of the amateur beers; often indistinguishable than the commercial attempts and generally more adventurous. This bodes well for the next generation of breweries, I'd like to see more commercial entrants next year. Everyone who didn't enter: you have a year; so get cracking! I look forward to seeing what you all come up with.

Aromas redolent of red berries

Congratulations also must go to Shane for a flawless organisation of the competition, thank you for having me as a judge and congratulations again on managing to win your own event ;)

*If you get a feedback form from me and need help deciphering what I wrote, give me a shout!

Photos courtesy of Phil Harrison


A tradition or an old charter or something

(Hat tip to one of my favourite authors Robert Rankin for the borrowed title quote)

The beer scene in Belgium is quite fractured, with no real large grouping to represent all brewers interests. I spoke the other day about the tension between established brewers and brewers sans brewery (gypsy or cuckoo brewers). Taking Brussels as a microcosm I hope to reflect on some of these differences but also point out the obvious common ground.

Something Old
This one is easy, Cantillon is the obvious contender here at 115 years old. I loved finally being able to visit this hallowed beer mecca where (for the lowly sum of 8Euro) you can get a self-guided tour of what is essentially a working brewery museum and avail yourself of two free pours at the end. The brew kit is the original and is all wood and polished copper, replete with cobwebs in the corners to attract the right microflora into the beer.

Mash tun with elaborate paddles for turbid mashing
Tour beers comprise the unblended lambic and then a choice of whichever of the core range beers are available on that day. Then you are of course welcome to stay for more; which I did (also returning a second time) working my way through such beers as Lou Pepe Framboise and Cuvee Florian (last year's Zwanse a cherried version of fresh-hopped Iris), though it was the grassy fresh and zippy hallertau dry-hopped 2y/o lambic, Cuvee Saint-Gilloise, that really stood out for me as well as the sour yet jammy fou foune fresh from the tank.
Beers silenty slumbering in Cantillon cellars

Cantillon is a Brussels institution but until recently they were almost omitted from the plans for Belgium's Beer Temple...to be based in their own city! Cantillon and the other lambic brewers are seen as a bit of an oddity and thus often forgotten about. It seems us non-Belgians care more about their heritage than the natives.

Something New
Two contenders here, but as we shall see later my choice fits nicely here. Traipsing around half a mile from Cantillon back in towards the centre will bring you to En Stoemlings, the newest brewer in Brussels, note its not quite the newest brewery as explained below. Unfortunately it was closed on our visit (Despite being advertised as open); so I cannot speak for the beers but gazing through the large plate glass windows we're treated to the typical craft-beer bar stainless & bare-brick set-up with a minute hobby-size kit (indeed I've seen many larger home-brew set-ups) taking pride of place along the back wall. Very much a taproom only brewer then,  I look forward to a  proper visit in the future.
Tiny kit at En Stoemlings

Something Borrowed
co-founder Sebastien at Brussels Beer Project
Actually existing longer as a company but until now no physical brewery is Brussels Beer Project. Previously solely cuckoo brewing, they have now "borrowed" (see what I did there) money via kickstarter in order to set up their brewery in the swanky fashion district of Brussels, Dansaert. Co-funder Sebastien kindly showed us around a site 90% of the way to being a brewery (fermenters and bottling lines were due in 3 days and are all in place now). They want to be a brewery for the people, amongst the people, going to great lengths to get the local community on board. It wasn't just funding that was crowd-sourced but also their first core-beer, a pale ale of which four iterations were made with the public choosing the best. This and some other core beers will continue to be produced elsewhere with the the new site for monthly and seasonal specials with an on site taproom pouring their own and friend's beers.  They'll open on October 24th and certainly look forward to returning to a fully functioning brewery.
They might be new but they still
plan to do some things the old way
Its not all been plain sailing however, despite a good reception from community and press, other brewers have been frosty at best. Again this stems from the fact that they initially were sans brewery, 'who are these upstarts coming in to shake things up?' I was particularly impressed by their mesopotamian inspired bread beer, doughy with rich ESB like marmaladey hops.

Something Blue
That leaves us with De La Senne out in the suburbs. They're very well regarded amongst Belgian beer fans and produce good, balanced UK style ales with a  Belgian accent and US aspirations. Their tap room was abandoned on our visit but a clanking noise alerted us to the 5-strong team assembling the new bottling line which will be able to knock out 9000 bottles an hour. (This is some expansion for a brewery found throughout Brussels but seldom makes much noise beyond it.) Worried that the taproom would close (its only open 10-3) before I could sample anything I went in search of someone and found Joelle having a smoke before knocking off for the day. He kindly came inside to pour me what was on draught and grabbed a few bottled beers too. I settled in to drink them whilst perusing my copy of 80 beers, all were solid with  Schieve Tabarnak (a collaboration with Le Trou de Diable) really impressing all fresh tropical fruit & black pepper bitter yes but well moderated by the malt body.
Of course until recently they were the only ale fermentation brewery in Brussels and now have two younger neighbours to potentially compete with. This would of course leave one feeling a bit jaded - more competitors for tap space, people being less inclined to trek out to the suburbs and of course more flexibility with smaller kit. This will only be exacerbated as the number of brewers continue to grow and drinkers look beyond Belgium's borders with flagship beer bars and shops already beginning to stock the best of UK and US beers and Brewdog's (very) recent arrival likely to result in more establishments branching out into "world" beers.

Sixpence in the shoe
This perhaps shines a light on to how the Belgian Family Brewers are feeling at the moment. There are an increasing number of beers in a fairly stagnant market, with a number of "brands" appearing with no provenance, poorly developed recipes and dubious quality. However its only by working together as a group (not just Family Brewers or Trappist brewers or lambic brewers, but all brewers, with and without brewery)* to promote the fantastic range of Belgian beers (there's more than just Trappist and lambic!) that they'll be able to grow the market whilst getting native drinkers to turn away from ubiquitous pilsner-inspired lagers to more traditional and yes new Belgian brews. Take that heritage, the focus on quality and provenance, add a twist of innovation and collaboration and the beers will sell themselves. I don't know if anyone is brave enough to attempt such an organisation, but the rewards would be swiftly forthcoming. I'd certainly support them.
Incidentally most of these brewers were invited to attend the beer bloggers' and writers' conference but for various reasons were unable to (largely due to exorbitant fees). That's a topic for another post, however knowing in advance we'd not meet them in the festival; I did my best to get out and see them in situ. All beers were paid for by myself or fellow writers with the exception of four sample bottles from BBP, who also gave me a glass, thank you Sebastien.

*Well maybe not that Behemoth in Leuven, that'd just be counterproductive.


Sour and Wild ales in Ireland

With sour beers enjoying a renaissance amongst the keener craft brewers and in trendy beer bars its only right that Irish brewers aren't resting on their laurels and attempting some of their own.

First Out of the Blocks
Galway Bay were perhaps the first (in recent times) to launch soured beers on to the market place. J18 months ago we were treated to a dry hopped berlinner weisse style "Desperate Mile" and more unusually a black sour. (Shane has more details on his blog here.) Both of these and a more recent collaboration with Begyle were kettle sours, "we have cultured from everything from lab pitches, grain husks and even probiotic pitches from the health food store!".
Head brewer Chris Treanor first discovered sour beers whilst backpacking around Belgium, being warned by locals "tastes like 'vomit, but it tastes great really!'. Oddly enough, I wasn't perturbed by this and unknowingly, I did open up a whole world of flavours that I would be trying to replicate as a career not 5-6 years afterwards".
He has grander plans however "I'm spending this week at the Oslo, restarting the kit there for a sours program". For Chris its important to keep this segregation to minimise the very real threat of contamination of other brews.
The beers have been generally well received, with demands for re-brews; so the expansion should be well received. On designing recipes - "we do tend to err on the side of simplicity. When simplicity leads to complexity, that's when the best beers result." Chris also plans to go for barrel ageing in a big way, with a number of wine barrels purchased in a job lot with Boundary at the start of the year.

"tastes like vomit, but it tastes great really!"

Sour in Belfast
Speaking of Boundary, Galway Bay have also collaborated with them on a kettle sour, Berliner Vice. This low strength tart wheat beer was the first beer to sell out at the recent smash festival ABV and will be re-brewed to varying strengths. Brewer Matthew Dick explained "Its important to think about body with berlinner weisse style ales as they can get quite thin. We're also going to do a series with added fruit; the first is likely to be lemon and coconut".
We also saw a soured table porter "Sour Bake", a very intriguing suggestion of how staled beers could have tasted. Sour bake was brewed from the second runnings of a batch of the export stout with lactic bacteria. The culture was then back-dosed in to a barrel of export stout in a neat full circle and is maturing nicely fr release in a year or so.
 Matthew first discovered sour beer on a football trip to Belgium in his mid-teens; "we had a whole day to kill before our flight home and a friend took us around a number of what I now suspect to be lambic brewers. I wasn't the biggest fan but the friend described the taste as 'like an angel pissing on your tongue'...I'll probably use that as a beer name." After that living in Reno meant regular trips to Russian River to try American Sour beers.
What else can we look forward to? Well Matthew intends to produce further soured beers, and plans on dosing wild yeast into some of those aforementioned wine barrels to develop some aged special "dirty" beers alongside the unaged clean versions, the first of which will be another Galway Bay collaboration on a wild IPA. "I'd love to get a coolship but that's not going to happen any time soon!"

"like an angel pissing on your tongue"

Keeping it local
New brewers on the scene White Hag also plan to go for sours in a big way, being big fans of the flavour profile. They're inspired by the Flemish oud red/bruin brewers but also Jolly Pumpkin, a well-regarded American mixed-fermentation brewer. White Hag's first release was a kettle sour Imperial Red whose flavour profile was up there amongst the best Flemish reds. The kettle sour process is beneficial for consistency because according to head brewer Joe Kearns "potential off-flavours from other souring agents. Plus, the other main souring strains of yeast and bacteria need much long contact time to produce the desired effects." Kettle souring also eliminates the risk of cross-contaminating other beers. "When souring in the fermenter, the issue of cross-contamination is very real. Good cleaning processes and complete sterilization, or replacement of all soft materials (rubber hoses, gaskets, etc.), is vital to protect your standard beers from 'infection'."
 They've stepped it up a gear for their new release, Beann Gulban, using wild heather as both a flavouring agent and source of yeast - a spontaneously fermented brew, "We wanted to emulate the flavour of a beer produced in the Neolithic times, and at the same time create something completely new". There is also an intriguing hint about use of oak wine barrels...stay tuned for more!

"The idea was to provide a little pH tickle rather than a kick"

Mixing It Up
Serial gypsy brewers Brown Paper Bag Project have brewed not one but four different sour/wild ales. Digging deep in to the brewing archives they've created four beers in styles not yet seen elsewhere in Ireland, a gose, a grodziskie an oud bruin and a berlinner style. They've all only been brewed once; so if you come across any do grab whilst you can!
Their gose (a collaboration with Fano) was first up. Brewer Brian somehow got in touch with someone at Fano through online forums whilst researching gose brewing recipes, which resulted in an invite to brew in the remote brewery in Denmark. Launched via a blind twitter tasting it was great to see it was well received, before people had realised it was soured with added seasalt and coriander no less. Colin of Brown Paper Bag Project and L.Mulligan Grocer pub in Dublin said; "The great thing about a blind tasting is that you have no precocnieved ideas of the flavour, you're waiting for them to come to you rather than pre-empting and pushing your own opinions on to it"

Brown paper bag project Shmoake was next,  of the less common Grodziskie (Gratzer) style,a tart, smoked wheat beer. As with the gose, an old recipe was found whilst perusing online forums and an idea of the flavour forms which they try to reflect in the beer.
Perhaps the best received of the sour styles has been Aul Bruin Bagger (an oud Bruin aged on cherries). "Its gone down well. some people taste the sweet and tart cherryness and find it amazing and others can't stand it an dthink its disgusting.  A polarising beer but lots of good feedback"
A star of the show at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival (ICBCF) this year geuzeberry (a collaboration with Kinnegar). Brewed with gooseberries and live yoghurt culture, its a fruity, tart and complex kettle sour that stops just short of enamel-stripping. "I wanted to brew something with a local provenance, both myself and Rick are from the North-West [of Ireland]; I'm not sure who came up with the idea to use yoghurt but we just ran with it. Brian travelled up there and brewed it over 2 days. The idea was to provide a little pH tickle rather than a kick" Colin & Brian hope to produce more collaborations along guezeberry line. "Brewers love to make sour beers because they love drinking sour beers, its basically a massively ego-maniacal cycle where the more sour beers that get brewed the more brewers can drink". If that results in more for the rest of us t drink I'm all for it!
(I did send some questions to the team, but have been unable to get responses in time, will update article when I do!)

"Its a vision, I can see the beer in my head, I can taste it...I just need to wait to release it into the world"

The Elder statesmen
Cuilan Loughnane at White Gypsy has always been interested in offering a diverse range of styles as evidenced by the bottle line up of dubbel, doppelbock and Imperial stout. Last year's ICBCF saw the launch of Scarlet, a wood aged sour and pretty much a statement of intent of things to come. Preferring to do things properly, he had some virgin oak barrels made up to his specifications in both American and French oak about four years ago. "Each barel has its own character, if you have the wrong type or at the wrong time it can affect the quality of the beer. You need to learn about the beers and develop them through natural progression to the taste you want".By feeding the barrels with beer they have been seasoned over time and developed their own micro-flora to allow for the secondary conditioning of beers already fermented.
Obviously these barrels are stored in a separate part of the brewery to avoid cross-contamination. The actual mixed culture Cuilan is keeping close to his chest but he's had discussions with ex Guinness employees and seen papers relating to the past ageing of Guinness with both brettanomyces and lactobacillus mentioned. "I was missing a few technical pieces of the jigsaw, which they helped us put it together. There used to be Brett in Guinness but no one would admit that any more"
Why go to all the effort? Put simply Cuilan believes to get the complexity and balance into a sour/wild beer requires time, premium ingredients and plenty of patience. Premium ingredients like floor malted MMAris Otter for example "Those maltings are over 100 years old, they have their own micro-flora, that gets on the malt and comes to the brewery and ends up in the beer, that's important" Whilst faster produced sours may be tasty and refreshing in their own right they can't hold a candle to the best in Belgium, Boon Mariage Parfait Oude Gueuze for example, which Cuilan holds as a prime example of blending done well. Blending is about "finding a balance between old and new beer. The blending is the art, you need to hold your old stock and use portions from different old barrels in to fresh beer. I found our scarlet a bit much, too sharp a bit curt back in October, but by its second outing (in March at St Patrick's Festival) it had rounded out and tasted  beautiful."
Cuilan's no fool however, he's not just producing soured beer for kicks but knows it will form a flagship brand for the brewery. "I've learnt that a) you need to be unique, b) you need a good shelf life c)it needs to taste good and at a good price". On that last point that's obviously important that it can sell for a good price too, given how much has been invested in the wood and a new bottling machine for corked and caged bottles. Soured beers have intrinsically better shelf life, allowing for ageing, storage and most importantly withstanding the rigours of export. "Its a vision, I can see the beer in my head, I can taste it...I just need to wait to release it into the world".
So what is this vision? Well without giving too much away it will be a keeping stout, "the fantastic Irish stout of old" with a soured component that will taste great on release but only get better as its aged. It should be ready in early 2016. "I want to brew something that you can't quite put your finger on it but you know its damn good. The minute you drink it you can tell its ready. I'm not interested in releasing an unbalanced beer. It might have a certain proportion of beer drinkers  drooling over it, writing good things about it but the general population will be like 'what the fuck is this?!' I'm not going to release single barrels as specials, this beer needs to be suitable for everybody" I think we can all raise a glass to that!

A Tart Future 
Fermanagh brewer Gordy Fallis at Inishmacsaint has also been experimenting with spontaneous fermentation, producing some test batches that certainly show promise. With Blacks also beginning to delve into the sour styles and a good showing at the recent Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival we'll certainly have plenty to choose from in the coming months and years, long may it continue!

*As an aside Guinness used to age a portion of beer for 9-18months in Russian oak all over Dublin, then blend it  back into fresh beer at 2-3%.


Heading to Manchester

Most people who are in to decent beer in the UK will have heard of the Independent Manchester Beer Convention (or Indyman BeerCon for short, or even IMBC if you're feeling particularly lazy) (if not, have you been under a rock?!) but not everyone has had a chance to go. Until this year that is. Yes you lucky people attending the Friday day session will be graced with /annoyed by/indifferent to* my presence.

Running from the 8th-11th October, the festival (now in its 4th year) is going strong with several sessions selling out mere hours after going on release. Fear not as there are still three sessions available to attend at the moment (including the aforementioned with yours truly). The beer list for each day is yet to be pinned down, but going by the murmurings on Twitter and the list of brewers in attendance there will be more than enough to be going at.

Festival is held the atmospheric Victoria Baths
(Picture courtesy of Gary Brown)

One thing that I like about the festival is that a number of collaborative one-offs are brewed, I've managed to try a few of these elsewhere in the past; so if this years are of similar calibre we're in for an oral treat. To mix things up a bit, they pulled styles and names out of hat and arrived at the following:

Weird Beard/Lervig with IMBC: Gooseberry Pale
Northern Monk with IMBC: Quince IPA
Madhatter with IMBC: Seaweed Gose
Cromarty with IMBC: Bilberry Saison
Squawk with IMBC: Fig Stout
Hanging Bat with IMBC: Sloe Wit

The idea of a bilberry saison is doing it for me.

There are also a number of events-within-event with break-out tastings dueing all sessions (many still TBA). One which is likely to be popular is an exclusive meet the brewer and tasting of Mure with Pierre Tilquin, the newest gueuze blender in the Pajottenland (lambic region around Brussels in Belgium). I was fortunate enough to share a bottle of this on my recent trip and highly recommend you try to attend.

For me visiting the festival is more than just enjoying a few beers (which will of course be a large attraction) but also to experience the archetype event, the grand daddy of the new wave of beer festivals as an experience rather than just a giant pub. Venue, food and entertainment have all been carefully chosen to make the event in to something truly special. A small delegation from Northern Ireland attended last year and as a result set up the ABV fest, which went down stormingly in Belfast back in May. If an event can encourage people to stage something similar in the most barren of beer deserts it much be truly special indeed.

Tickets can be purchased here for the lowly sum of £8.88. Hope to see some of you at The Victoria Baths (or general environs) in a few weeks. Those of you not going are free to live vicariously through my tweetings or likely post-event run-down blog or future in person ravings.

Even outside of the festival there are a number of fringe events happening in Manchester and of course there's no shortage of bars available to be getting at...why not even head to Huddersfield to check out the new Magic Rock tap?Cloudwater already in my sites and of course all the usual haunts will be revisited but please let me know if there are other places I should be visiting in the Manchester environs.

NB I have received a free trade ticket for the session (though I would have paid anyway) and the flight+hostel cost the best part of £100; so not exactly a junket.

*Delete as appropriate