14/05/2015

Whisky cocktails

Its been a while since I've had a chance to participate in one of Steve @TheWhiskyWire's organised TweetTastings (and even longer since I've written one up!); so I jumped at the chance when the opportunity arose. Even better was that this time the tasting would include three cocktails by White Lyan (2014 best newcomer cocktail bar in world) which means Daisy would also be able to join in.


 We kicked off with with Cutty Sark 33y/o blend (a limited whisky available for the princely sum of £650 a bottle). On the nose its a lot of caramel and butterscotch which would be off-putting in a beer (a sign of diacetyl, usually indicating the beer wasn't given long enough in the fermenter) but in a whisky indicates time spent in bourbon barrels. I described it last night as "woody Werthers Originals". Alongside that is obviously lashings of vanilla (another bourbon wood - American Oak - characteristic), the furniture polish that often crops up in a venerable dram like this and an underlying stewed pears sweetness likely from esters in one (or more) of the component parts, of which there are almost 50 from 9 distilleries!
As it opens up on the nose I got a touch of cola and fruity rosso vermouth, which carries on into the taste quite sweet too, vanilla first and foremost, then caramel and then some whisky warmth. Its truly a lovely blend toasted marshmallow jelly belly bean and butterscotch all appear as it develops in the mouth finishing really smoothly. Even Daisy didn't struggle to drink it, though still to boozy as a neat spirit for her.

After clearing our palates we moved on to the first of three cocktails produced by White Lyan. White Lyan batch up all of their cocktails themselves, which ensures consistency and speed of service on busy evenings in the bar, they also sell some of their most popular tipples through Selfridge's. We were instructed to chill our glasses but refrain from using ice. They don't use ice in any of their drinks, instead using technical wizardry to get all of their drinks to the correct dilution ratio. Their brief was Art Deco inspired cocktails; so they've dug deep into the recipe books and came out with three drinks, all with White Lyan twist of course!

Our first drink is an Artist's Special made with Olorosso sherry, an interpretation of lemon juice and of course Cutty Sark whisky. It offers up sweet red apple e & caramel on the nose but to drink its all about the sherry, rich fruitcake and raisins a plenty.  I'd perhaps have liked the balance more towards the sour side and the sherry dominates over the whisky but its certainly easy drinking finishing with a rich sherried note.



Cocktail #2 is called Seelbach, named for the hotel where it was created in 1917. We had to add our own soda water to a blend of whisky, bitters, distilled champagne and triple sec. I was pretty chuffed to pick up that both Angostura and Peychaud's had been used, though scaled back from the original 7 dashes of each! On the nose there's the rich orangey triple sec plus whisky vanilla notes giving something reminiscent of Campari. Its bubbley, warming and a fruity orange, clove and nutmeg to taste reminiscent of some Caribbean rum punches  or even mulled Gluhwein. A refreshing cocktail that I'll certainly look to replicate in the future.



An Old Fashioned is a classic drink that everyone should have in their repertoire, but this being a White Lyan tasting its obviously been mixed around a bit. Instead of simple syrup the whisky is washed through beeswax, picking up some honey sweetness and also removing some of the larger aroma/ flavour compounds smoothing out the edges to give a rich and luxurious finish. They also added gold flakes - just because they can I guess! What we're left with is the obviously named Beeswax Old Fashioned which really does smell of beeswax candles but also hints at cheese rinds. Taste wise its a little on the sweet side but it really does allow the complexity of the whisky to shine through.


We enjoyed all three cocktails; though the Seelbach was our joint favourite. Would certainly urge you to try recreating these at home! And if you're feeling flush; the whisky is certainly very nice but a little steep for our budget. Its been great to get the opportunity to try these and we're now determined to visit White Lyan on our next trip to London. Massive thanks as  usual to Steve for organising the whole thing and Cutty Sark and White Lyan for providing the drinks and tasting company, Slainté!

13/05/2015

On Unusual Ingredients in Beer

I've been sitting on this post for far too long, having previously intended to publish it as a #beerylongread but then Boak and Bailey published a very similar analysis as I was planning. I have promised the lovely Natalia a write-up; so its about time I moved this from draft to published...

The use of "non-beer" ingredients is often frowned upon in some beer circles, particularly those who cite beers conforming to the Reinheitsgebot as the pinnacle of barley beverage perfection. Others deride brewers for bunging in any old ingredient for the sake of it, often ending up with something far removed from beer. Whilst I agree that it does go on (and I've tasted my fair share of poorly-conceived or barely masked poor brews) I think that when done well additional ingredients can enhance a beer and bring something different - and lets face it we all like to experience different flavours. At its best novel ingredients can give lift a beer to new heights or even spawn a whole new style. It can also work well to differentiate a beer from similar competing products and give beer a sense of place by tying it to its region regardless of whether or not the bulk of the ingredients are locally sourced.
 
One brewery making good use of indigenous ingredients are Amazon Beer, based in Campia Belem in Brazil (that's in the North of Brazil, just inland from the coast and on the edge of the Amazon rainforest.)They use ingredients from Brazil to enhance the beers they brew and introduce people to Brazilian flavours. A lot of the ingredients are popular within Brazil but largely unknown outside the country; so now they're beginning to export they're raising the profile of Brazilian ingredients around the world. The process for designing the beers varies; sometimes the brewer decides on a certain style then selects an ingredient to complement the style. On other occasions the inverse is true Caio (brewery sommelier) brings a potential ingredient to his father (Armindo)and a beer is designed to bring out the best in it - both methods are valid as far as I'm concerned. They're also happy to work with others to exchange ideas and even produce collaboration brews.

I (and a few others it seems) was sent some bottles to try (all the way from Brazil). Whilst I'd heard of a few of the ingredients, the majority were new to me; so to keep things interesting I refrained Wkipedia-ing until after I'd tried them!

First up was Forest Bacuri a 3.8% pale golden ale. It had a Koelsch like nose, fruity strawberry with a touch of diacetyl, steady stream of bubbles, pillowy white head collapsing to lacing.In the mouth its more like a helles, fairly clean with Zippy carbonation, fairly sweet with peach and glucose, ends slightly thin with a touch of damp cardboard but pleasant enough, akin to a cheaper helles. Not really sure I could detect anything out of the ordinary here but quite enjoyed the beer. Bacuri allegedly is both sweet and sour and I certainly picked up on the sweetness but can't say it really enhanced my drinking experience.

 I did however find Cumaru IPA (5.7%) quite intriguing, with preserved lemon and ginger sponge becoming reminiscent of fresh apple strudel on warming. Full bodied with a gentle carbonation, cinnamon, herbal hops & sultana bagel. It reminded me somewhat of Windsor and Eton's Kohinoor IPA with cardamom and jaggery. Turns out Cumaru is another name for the tonka bean, a trendy (and cheaper) alternative to vanilla. Its certainly produced an interesting beer on this occasion and I'd certainly enjoy it again.

The red ale, Priprioca  is a heady 6% and slightly hazy chestnut with caramel and red apple on nose and tasting like toffee apple stuck in a sponge cake with a lasting fruitiness. Again, I couldn't really draw distinction between the flavours expected from malt in the style and the added ingredient (apparently a kind of root) but it probably does contribute to the complexity. Its not really the kind of beer I'd buy anyway but quite liked it.

Both the witbier and a bottle of pilsner (I bought the latter myself, pleased to find it in my local offy) were disappointing. Whilst the pilsner was a generic lager with no stand out features or ingredients to recommended it, the former seemed infected



My favourite of the bunch was the Acai stout, 7.2% - this really showcases what an added ingredient can bring to a beer. Pouring dark brown with pale tan head and slightly lactic fruity sultanas and prunes on the nose like an over-aged Christmas cake. To taste its fairly complex with mixed fruits, dry berries and a mint note which helps to tie everything together. Being an ingredient I was familiar with (through its addition in various foodstuffs as a "super ingredient") I'm pretty sure I was able to pick out the Acai berry but it was well integrated and complemented the style well. I'd certainly recommend buying a few bottles of this one if you see it.

Tapreba
Priprioca
Bacuri
Acai

So what did we learn here about added ingredients? Nothing profound really, sometimes it can enhance a beer's flavour and others its not really detectable. It can be a fun way to get a beer noticed however and done well produce tasty results. Speaking to Natalia Amazon are currently working on a porter made with cupulate - a chocolate made from Cupuaçu seed which is certainly one I'd be looking out for, being a big fan of porters. A big thank-you for the opportunity to try the beers and being so patient with waiting for my thoughts!  I'll certainly continue to try beers with added ingredients as they often do throw up some gems -I'd urge you not to write them off either.

Amazon Beer
@amazonbeer
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01/05/2015

Beyond The Boundary

With the first batch of bottles rushing off the shelves faster than they could be stocked and the entire first batches sold out within days I knew I needed to get hold of Boundary's new beers before it was too late. Luckily i managed to snaffle a few bottles of each via my usual purveyor of libations, The Vineyard. But before I let myself sample my illicit gains I thought I'd better call in on Matt at the Brewery...

Matt and his new brewery!
Calling the PortView trade centre home since February Boundary have been busy making Unit A5 ship shape and ready for action for most of that period. Simultaneously they begun brewing their first batches of beer, bottles from which I will be reviewing below. Arriving in to the brewery on a miserable Wednesday lunchtime I'm greeted by bright lights, gleaming steel and the sound of high pressure water circulating post caustic-rinse. Matt stands beaming and hirsute amongst his newly acquired equipment, "I've just taken samples of the beers, would you like to try them?" Not one to offend I of course jump at the opportunity to sample the three beers in the core range and not one but two collaboration specials with Galway Bay (both of the latter are to be barrel aged; but you'll need to wait for ABV fest to find out what they are!)

Galway Bay collabs sleeping soundly in warm conditioning
Matt shows me around the brewery, pointing out the freezer (essential for hop life), pest proofed grain store and conditioning room replete with barrels "I bought 20 but only 6 are for us, the rest are already accounted for". Of course there has been teething problems, for example some of the fermenters don't seal correctly and there was no way to recirculate the wort, but these have now been Heath-Robinsoned out. With all vessels currently filled there will soon be a need to buy more. There's plenty of space within the brewery but Matt has his sights set on the unit next door "Its still unoccupied and I could use a space for a barrel store..."

Pallets of stock and the three label designs
The first event was held in the brewery last Saturday, managing to squeeze 80 people in for a cheese and beer tasting. There's also an artist studio where the resident label designer has already been hard at work but will also be available for the local community to rent. Being a part of the community is very important for the team and is why the brewery was set up as a co-operative. This has of course ppaid dividends in the form of a market thirsty for their beers!


The three "core" beers
"So what of the beers?", I hear you ask, alright I'm getting to it! There are 3 in the core range an APA at 3.8 %, an IPA at 7% and rounded out by an export stout also at 7% ABV. They're all bottle conditioned too, which should please the real ale fans though Matt says he's had to bring forward plans to keg the beer as bottled product just doesn't get the exposure in pubs in Belfast.

I sampled the APA first, a sensible plan given the jump in ABV of the next two! Priced very fairly at £2.09 it certainly drinks as a session beer. peach tea and mango on nose. Decent level of body for its diminutive ABV, light carbonation, gentle bitterness, red berries and some biscuit. Very sessionable indeed and would sing on cask. If anything I'd prefer a 500ml bottle to really get to know it, ah well I'll have to make do with a second 330ml...


The IPA certainly seems related to the APA but with a different hop bill Matt assures me. Its pretty boisterous on the nose with a mess of yeast esters interfering with what is obviously an exiting aroma - a base note of orange bitters jus makes its through. Super pithy grapefruit peel with herbal sage and pine notes, heavy body, super bitter, a little sticky with a dry finish, its not boozy per say but doesn't have the cleanliness of Kernel or Beavertown. Not how I enjoy my IPAs but will probably have plenty of fans and certainly the highest perceived bitterness of any beer on the IRish market to my knowledge! (In fact it reminds me of some of the Evil Twin/ Mikkeller efforts brewed at De Proef.)

I finished things off with the Export Stout, which is much more up my street. Daisy tasted it too; she thought [that it] "smells metallic, coffee, marmite chocolate and peanut...mocha chocolatey coffee. Mouthfeel is good, quite bitter 'Steve will like it' really smooth but tongue filling bitterness, touch of sweetness, lots of dark coffee flavour, should be called espresso stout. Actually its not really marmitey and its less bitter when you return to it" 
I picked up rich roast barley with chocolate coffee and a touch of mint on the nose. Its full bodied but smooth with light carbonation preventing it from becoming too heavy. Its roasty burnt toast with a touch of liquorice and quite brief in finishing with a touch of sweetness but not overly complex. It picked up a touch of burnt rasin/blackcurrant after allowing it to sit a while but overall  Iid have liked a few more hops to balance the malt and provide some lift.

So whilst I thought all three beers were well brewed (and amazingly so given how new the setup is!) it was the APA that I really enjoyed and will certainly be drinking again. The Export Stout would make a good base to a black and tan (The mixed drink, not the uniform!) but the IPA in its current guise just isn't my thing. There are still bottles in local off-licences and pubs; so go and try them for yourselves!

27/04/2015

Finally getting decent beer in Belfast

I've been a bit lax with posting recently and this blog is perhaps a month past when it should have been posted, better late than never they say! A lot going on beer wise in NI at the mo, hopefully do a few posts in coming weeks to catch up a bit, not least on new breweries and beer venues in our capital.

Perhaps helped by the appearance of some craft-styled breweries in the North and the resurgence of good beer on the island of Ireland as a whole Belfast will host a new beer festival this Spring bank holiday (May 22nd-23rd). Set 6months apart and serving mostly from keg and bottle this will be a completely different affair to the November CAMRA cask festival held in the Ulster hall.


The listed and atmospheric Titanic Drawing Offices
ABVFest (for that is its name) has been organised by four disparate beer enthusiasts who have come together to bring decent beer to our shores.
Darren met Felicia at a beer tasting event at the National last year and she began to distribute his (Pokertree) beers through her business (Prohibition NI). Whilst they both love the Ulster Hall festival it doesn't reflect where good beer is in Ireland right now and wanted to run an event focussing on quality of beer, regardless of format where a group of enthusiasts could come together and enjoy beers in a more relaxed environment. When Boundary's Matt and Michael came along it turned out they were planning a festival on similar lines; so four people came together with the idea of putting on something a bit different in Belfast, modelled on the likes of Indy Man beer con. This is not least reflected in the choice of venue, wrangled somehow by Matt and Michael is the use of the formerly bustling now decrepit Titanic Drawing Offices. The festival will be the final event there before it becomes a boutique hotel. Of course this does mean if the event is successful they'll need a new venue next year, which is all part of the ethos says Darren!

All four are from different backgrounds and each contributed their own take on what they want from a festival, it really will be a reflection on four people's tastes. Michael's creative eye (he's a photographer by trade) has helped design the style of the festival and as the only non-beer-trade organiser he acts as a proxy for all 1200 attendees to ensure the festival caters for the geeks as well as the brewers!

A Boundary and Galway Collab Brewday
Photo courtesy of Tom Delaney
Each session will be fairly small with 400 people, allowing for conviviality rather than hubbub sometimes seenthe attendees reading like a who's who of the best our islands (and the worldwide brewing community) have to offer. Felicia's extensive list of contacts and good will built among brewers in the few short years Prohibition has been operating has resulted in an astonishing array of beers, the like of which have never before been seen on our shores including a number of festival specials and one-offs (currently held tightly underwraps) plus the official launch of newest Belfast brewery Boundary with their AGM being held on Saturday morning. It will also serve as a showcase for Northern Ireland brewers; all were invited and most were excited to attend, though Darren was at pains to stress that this is not "The Good Food show NI for beer" its a celebration of beer first and foremost, with of course a chance for enthusiasts to put the faces to the brewsters and brewers whose wares they so enjoy. Felicia said "we wanted to create an experience and not just a drinking session,  a festival that could allow people to taste some of the best beers that are available." In that respect ABV will be completely different to anything seen in Northern Ireland to date


And there will be a number of those purveyors of beers present at the event, behind the bar chatting all things beer, ably assisted by a posse of volunteers (including yours truly; who has volunteered to manage a bar for all three sessions). Most of these beers will be served on keg, 40 at one time across two bars, supplemented by a fistful of bottles. A lot will be a single keg only, meaning you'll have to make do with what's on during your session, but working out what's on is all part of the fun! There will also be some ciders for those of the fermented apple beverage persuasion and of course with decent drink must come decent food and a number of proper street food trucks will be in attendance.

Michael said "We've planned a festival that we know we'd love ourselves and I can't wait to enjoy it." He's particularly looking forward to a few "dark beasts" with more details to be released in the coming weeks @ABVFest.Felicia is also looking forward to seeing others getting pleasure from the beers, finding out "how fun and interesting beer can be, trying beers they have maybe never tried before and having a bit of craic." This sharing aspect will be cultured by some special tastings on the day.

Could this vial hold a clue?
I'm most looking forward to trying the Boundary Beers on draught (including some of those aforementioned collaborations)* and meeting a lot of those people who help keep our beer community lubricated plus of course catching up with old friends from around the UK. And for the team behind the festival its all a bit overwhelming but of course very exciting, "it's amazing how many hundreds of people have been so quick to buy tickets and support our efforts to do something different". The Friday, Saturday evening and weekend passes had already sold out one month before hand; so you'll need to act fast to get one of the last tickets for a Saturday lunchtime session (12-5)  and the final Saturday day session tickets sold out shortly afterwards. There is a waiting list, so try your luck on the website, hope to see you there!

*I'll hopefully bring you an update of these as soon as I hear about them!

26/04/2015

First collaborations

A comment on using ingredients for no real reason
from the excellent (sadly defunct) Trouble Brewing


A mark of a maturing beer scene is brewers reaching out to each other to collaborate on a brew together. Some commentators dismiss this as a cynical attempt to generate beer sales (often at a premium) without necessarily bringing anything new to the table; often characterised by bunging ingredients in with no real thought about the process. Whilst this is sometimes the case I don't see an issue with trying to make more money from selling a beer; its up to the consumer to decide whether or not to part with their cash. In my opinion, when done well a collaboration can create a beer better than the sum of its parts, or with a difference to a breweries usual output.

Collaborations have only just begun to emerge on the island of Ireland, with Carlow collaborating with Pinta on a stout (Lublin to Dublin) and Eight Degrees with By The Horns on a Belgian white (Horn8's nest) last year. They were both amongst my top-rated beers last year and show that Ireland's beer scene is beginning to coming of age. There was also a limited collaboration special (North & South of the River) between Donegal and Inishmacsaint for the Wild Atlantic Way festival last year (missed it, unfortunately). However there were no intra-country collaborations to be found - until now that is.

Yes, Gordy from the aforementioned Inishmacsaint teamed up with the redoubtable Darren from Pokertree after meeting at the very beer festival Gordy's other collaboration was released. They decided to produce a Christmas beer together, christened Crann, a "Saints & Sinners" collaboration. Being rural breweries in Fermanagh and Tyrone respectively they wanted to reflect their environment and the historic practices of foraging for ingredients (of which Gordy already has some form, having previously produced a bog myrtle beer).
Crann is Irish for tree, which fit in well with the planned use of spruce tips, a trip to the local An Creagan bog also yielded wild cranberries, which added a double-meaning to the name. Rounded out with raisins (not local obviously!) and a Belgian yeast resulted in a 6.6% biere de garde. Brewed on Darren's kit in Carrickmore (its a bigger set-up) and released in 750ml bottles to add an element of theatre to a beer designed for the Christmas dinner table.

I thought I'd missed the boat on this however as it was released before Christmas. Luckily when I was in Belfast earlier this month The Vineyard had just received a second shipment; so was able to snag a bottle for sampling. 

As you can see it pours an attractive pale amber with a fluffy beige head. On the nose are the typical spicey yeast esters you'd expect from a Belgian yeast, alongside a herbal, slightly tart nose. Medium body with creamy wheat spices, its very soft and easy drinking. Flavour wise its fruity, peppery, touch of banana ester, tart citric light finish with long esters. It's very much redolent of a German weissebier, with additional herb/spice complexities and very much enjoyed. I wasn't overly able to taste the influence of the fruit though it probably added to the overal complexity. It did remind me somewhat of William's Brothers excellent Nollaig, though of course with more emphasis on spice than hops. There may still be bottles available from the usual suspects if you're quick (there's only 1500 bottles!)

Darren seems particularly pleased with how well the beers sold, given the typically conservative palate of the province and fully intends to rebrew the beer for next Christmas. Darren and Gordy fully intend to team up for further collaborative efforts later this year (Crann did have a #1 on the label after all!), and, though he refused to be pinned down on specifics, gorse, elderflower and cherries have all been mooted. These are likely to be in 500ml bottles as people may be less willing to stump up the cash for a big bottle when not for a specific occasion. As Darren and Gordy both enjoy Belgian ales and with such a wide range of examples to draw from they're all likely to be Belgian inspired. In fact there should be something new mashed in on Monday...
Darren has also recently collaborated with Marble in Little Barney to celebrate the newest addition to his family; there may be a few bottles left in circulation. They have since been joined in the list of collaboration-friendly brewers by Boundary who recently collaborated on a sour ale with Galway Bay. There are also a number of collaborations happening south of the border, but that's a story for another day, I look forward to tracking down and trying them all!

What are your thoughts on collaborations within the beer community and are there any you have particularly enjoyed?

*For those who didn't work it out the Saint refers to Inishmacsaint and Sinners to the story behind Pokertree

23/04/2015

Around Belgium in 50 beers

Its already late April and I haven't yet posted about this year's annual beer blogging event, renamed this year to better reflect the participants as "The Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference". Slots are filling up nicely but there's still time to register to join us on August Bank holiday weekend. This years conference will be in Belgium (if you hadn't guessed from the title), more specifically Brussels and the organisers seem to have gone all out in organising an agenda befitting of an event in its fifth year.

Diepensteyn Castle, now owned by Palm
For the first time in the European conference history there will be an optional pre-conference excursion taking in three breweries (and a castle!) including première Saison proponents Dupont, fruit and lambic beer purveyors Lindemans and the oldest brewery in Wallonia Dubuissons. All this and meals plus transport for only 20Euro (so about fifteen quid for us Brits!)

The above excursion and conference proper this year are sponsored by Belgian Family Brewers so expect to sample beers from brewers Bosteels through Verhaege via De Konninck and St Bernard, there will be a veritable smorgasbord of beers to choose from.  There's also a tantalising hint of a big announcement with a press conference to be hosted on day two discussing a new direction for the family brewers. Could this be a move to protect more traditional styles from overseas interference as with Gueuzes or could it perhaps be railing against contract brewers and providers thereof? We'll have to wait and see but it will certainly be interesting.

Interior at BelgaQueen
I'm really looking forward to the talk on sour beers by Petrus and the history of Belgian brewing - how does it tie in with our perception in the UK? There are also the usual conference events including obligatory wordpress session, tales from the shires as we get a round-up of the state of blogging around the Globe and the ever-popular brewery speed-dating. We're spoiled for food this year too as alongside the usual Pilsner Urquel Feast we have an evening meal in Belga Queen which looks like it could be a highlight as well as lunch provided on both days, all for the measly sum of 120Euro!

The grand entrance hall to marivaux
The conference venue looks fantastic in the converted cinema that is Hotel Marivaux and there's an exceptional conference rate of 95Euro for a double room (helped by the fact Brussels is quieter in the summer). To get to Brussels you can fly directly or via Amsterdam or Paris. There's also the more relaxed method of Eurostar, which may be a better bet if you're planning on bringing bottles back!

Foeders at Rodenbach
The fun doesn't end there though as there are three* post-conference excursionsorganised by Visit Flanders. There's a one-day trip for wild ale fans around the Pajottenland including to my first Gueuzerie visit Boon as well as the lambic museum and beer festival. The second option is a trip to Leuven (now extended to two days) with visits to small microbreweries like De Triest and global behemoths like Stella Artois. The third option (which myself and Daisy are choosing) takes in the hop fields of Poperinge, six breweries over two days including crazy experimenteers de struisse, Saint Sixtus Trappist Abbey (producers of long-time World Number One Beer on Ratebeer (currently #2!) Westvleteren XII) and Flemish Red experts Rodenbach plus a  day pottering about Bruges including the Beer Museum. Crazily all of these trips are also 20Euro per person including overnight stays!
choice of not one, not two but

I can definitely recommend attending, all in for five days pretty much full board and transport once you get to Brussels with basically unlimited beer  you're looking at about £300 per person . Can't really beat that anywhere in the UK, let alone in one of the most expensive cities in the world so what are you waiting for? Hope to see you there!

*Though you've missed out on one of the two day-excursions already

16/01/2015

Can you dig it?


Logan Plant of Beavertown proud
with his newly canned Gamma Ray
Canned beers have long been associated with mass-market, "stack-em high, sell 'em cheap" beers and often have connotations of low quality, metallic tasting beverages for cheap home drinking only. Yet 2014 saw the installation of canning lines at some of the UK's foremost craft brewers (Camden Town, Fourpure and Beavertown) with Roosters online in 2015 and Magic Rock Following hot on their heels with a line ordered for the new brewery. Brewdog are also moving their canning in house. So what's changed people's perceptions?

Craft beer in America has seen the can treatment for more than decade, with Oskar Blues leading the charge in 2002 and many other breweries following suit in the years since. The confusingly named Cask Brewing Systems (the supplier of most of the new UK systems) started off supplying brew kits to customers in Canada. They saw an opportunity to help brewers in the US differentiate themselves from competitors in the oversupply crisis of the late 90s and came up with the canning solution:
"These brewers were looking for creative and economical ways to increase sales“and we’ve always prided ourselves in finding solutions for our customers.  We knew that consumers were ready for cans if someone would just provide that option. So our solution for struggling brewers was to help them utilize the aluminum[sic ;)] can.” Peter Love, Founder

Cask have been there since the beginning and have done a lot of the ground work (along with the brave breweries who took the canning plunge!) debunking the canning myths and much hostility from established brewers who offered only bottled product. In the first year, Oskar Blues' (later at cask) employee in charge of can promotion (Marty Jones) even received a letter stating “I look forward to the day your company fails for attempting such a ridiculous idea.” charming!

Once these myths were put to bed however; any rational person could see that canned beer had numerous advantages over bottled beer and often preferable to draught dispense methods.The obvious one is that obviously cans are lighter than bottles; so not only easier to lug around once you've bought them, but cheaper to transport from brewery to stores. This also makes them more environmentally friendly and the life-cycle of aluminium from ground through smelting to finished product and numerous recyclings is less carbon intensive than glass manufacture.
Once you've got the can's home its easier to get them in the fridge and they cool more quickly. Its easier to drink them surreptitiously and you can take them to places where glass is banned (sports events and festivals).
In addition to this the beer actually tastes better, well all know about light strike, the process by which UV light reacts with hop compounds in bottled beers to produce a "skunky" aroma and taste. Yes, brown bottles slow down the process but canned beers eliminate this completely. Another less well appreciated issue is oxygen pick-up in the packaging process, often lead to a stale or papery tasting beer. Oxygen can also get in through bottle-caps but again cans are impervious. Modern canning lines can limit oxygen pickup to as little as 15-20ppb (that's parts per billion!). (For comparison purposes Brewdog's dissolved oxygen with all of their fancy kit is usually in the range 25-40ppb)*
Aesthetically cans look better too; giving the brewers more space to play with for eye catching visuals and they stack well creating a pleasing display in shops.

But I didn't start the post to expound the benefits of canning, I'm sure most of you know them already. No, today's post is to bring you news that the first Irish canning line has now been installed and will soon be producing beer with all of the above benefits for us to buy in the shops! From their inauspicious start Cask have gone on to work with hundreds of breweries and canned beer sales have grown in the US by >80% in the past year (whilst bottle sales grew by a mere 16%); no wonder the Irish breweries want a piece of the action!

"So who is it?!" I hear you cry; well those who have been paying attention to the Twitter sphere will already know but those of you who haven't the brewery is Metalman. As first adopters they'll have their work cut out but there are plenty of decent off-licences in the country that will stock them. Indeed the last few months of 2014 saw the arrival of some of the aforementioned UK brewers' products for sale over here. Look out for Camden Town IHL, Beavertown Gamma Ray and Fourpure Pils for three must-stock Fridge Beers

Cans being printed
 The fact that they produce decent beer (and unavailable until now in takeaway packaging) will of course see them through without any teething problems. As I type this Gráinne, Tim and the team are seeing their can designs produced in Wakefield ready to fill in to at the end of the month.



For those of the more geeky inclination, the ACS model Metalman have chosen can can 30 cans per minute. That's 1800 an hour, or the best part of 5000litres in an 8 hour day; so there should be plenty to go around if they already stretched brewery capacity can keep up! Until recently Metalman brewed on the rescued kit of one of the early microbrewing pioneers in Ireland, Biddy Early, who unfortunately were ahead of their time. This investment should help Metalman to remain a fixture in the Irish beer scene for a long time yet. Their machine also has a small footprint meaning its not eating into space required for an expanding battalion of fermenters!
(L2R:Dave Fitzgerald, Grainne Walsh, Wayne Jacques,
Tim Barber, Adam Doyle, Jacqui Kelleher.)
The first beers will be shipped on February 1st,  I for one am looking forward to buying a case!

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*In itself a massive improvement on their 100ppb plus dissolved oxygen content at their previous brew house.