Monday, 25 April 2016

BrewCon 2016 - Dublin

On Saturday, I attended the 2nd BrewCon in Dublin. This is a homebrew conference which seeks to educate amateur brewers on how to be better. It also has the secondary effect of perhaps encouraging some to go pro. Saturday was also the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot.

The ticket price was more than compensated by the goodie bag we got which contained freebies and vouchers but the education we received was invaluable.

My good friend, Brendan Murphy warmed us up with a brief history of his own brewing and the path he took to winning best brewer twice and a plethora of meddles both in Ireland and abroad. He also provided some simple tips to help brew better beer as well as his trade secrets, specifically his house yeasts. While Bren is usually very technical, he decided to keep it simple because the following talks would be full of science bits. It was nice to ease our brains in to the morning.

Next was Peter Dudley who went through water chemistry, one of the most overlooked parts of brewing. Peter talked about this last year but the talk was different. It went over some of what he covered last year but really expanded in to getting your PH right.
Rory Sheils was back. Last year, his talk on safety left half of us petrified and the other half thanking their lucky stars they were still alive. This time, he talked about malt specifications and the impact it has on brewing.

The last session before lunch was Chip Walton from the Chop and Brew blog/podcast in the US. Chip is in media and it showed. He kept us entertained while talking about pushing the boundaries with special ingredients. If it’s on his spice rack, he will probably throw it in to the beer at some point.

After lunch and a few beers we had our keynote speaker. Gordon Strong, the president and foremost BJCP beer judge in the world talked to us about brewing better beer for competitions. I learned something interesting about not putting the darker grains in the initial mash to help with PH levels and instead, add during sparge as most dark grains don’t need to be mashed. This method will require a major shift in my brewing procedure if I do it. Gordon mentioned that the AHA conferences used to be about this size (less than 200), now they feature about 5000 attendees. He prefers the more intimate set-up. 

Next, Dr Gearoid Cahill talked to us about yeast and fermentation and how the magic occurs. Most homebrewers don’t need to know about the science, as long as the yeast strain they use is healthy. What I learned here is that dry yeast doesn't need to be oxygenated as such, though should be re-hydrated first rather than sprinkled on. I'm guilty of the dry sprinkle myself but when I think to re-hydrate, I use the leftover runnings from the mash that has been boiled and cooled so I can be sure there are no foreign flavour profiles. It probably makes no difference but it makes me feel better.

One of the most interesting session was Dr Bill Simpson’s talk on flavour profiles. I learned that scientists like himself can take simple water and add the individual chemicals that make up the flavour, aroma and alcohol profiles in a beer. What you will end up with is a clear, fizzy liquid with a white head that smells and tastes like a beer. In a fully blind taste test, it should be indistinguishable. The question he left us with was along the lines of: Is that really a beer, it tastes and smells like one. Or, is beer also about the process and history involved?

The last session was an informal interview session with Rossa O’Neill interviewing Alex Lawes, the head brewer for Rye River and his own gypsy brand of Whiplash. This was a fun and interesting chat to help us wind down from the serious stuff and prepare us for the drinks reception to come. It was a little tortuous since we watched Rossa and Alex sitting down and drink beer while we were all starting to pass out from the thirst and then all of a sudden, we were done. It was upstairs to the beautiful Smock Alley hall which is a bit like putting a German style beer hall with long benches inside an old church.

While the rest of us were enjoying the drinks reception, Gordon Strong and Chip Walton were judging beer for the Carboy Cup. Each NHC club entered a beer so the win went to both the brewer and the club. I don't recall if there was a prize but either way, there were bragging rights.

There was a first and second place which was interesting because 1st place went to Roger and my club, Midlands Brewers. Second place went to Garret and my second club, Liffey Brewers. Garret is also in Midlands but tends to enter competition for Liffey. It's great when both of your clubs wins.

The event was brilliant and the location of Smock Alley theatre is just perfect. The only hitch were a few laptop issues featuring the windows 10 sad face and message that something went wrong. It was sorted out quickly enough each time and didn't really take away from the conference. In fact, it highlighted the fact that at the end of the day, this is an amateur brewing conference run by amateurs and not a slick, professionally run commercial conference. The thing is, the organisational skills behind the conference might as well be professional. Here's looking forward to BrewCon 2017.

You can see the full album of photos I took on the Beoir Flickr Page.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Ireland - A Nanny State

New research from EPICENTER, the European Policy Information Centre shows the most restrictive countries in Europe to eat, drink and smoke. In other words, the most Nanny State countries in Europe with Ireland of course in the top 5. In fact, Ireland is in 4th place just after the UK in terms of overall lack of freedom. The full list can be seen on

If we break it down by type, Ireland comes in as the 3rd most restrictive country in Europe to purchase alcohol after Finland and Sweden in 1st and 2nd respectively.
When it comes to tobacco, Ireland gets 2nd place after our neighbours in the UK. However when it comes to food & drink excluding alcohol, Ireland gets a more liberal 5th place but it’s worth remembering that this is out of 28 countries so that’s not great news.
There is good news from the report when it comes to electronic cigarettes or vaping. Ireland is one of the most liberal countries in Europe with no restrictions of note. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will translate to any increase in tourism as I doubt there’s such a thing as e-cigarette tourism.
What concerns me most of course is the 3rd place position for alcohol restrictiveness. Finland and Sweden have serious binge drinking issues that have been artificially created by draconian restrictions on alcohol. By increasing the cost and decreasing availability, a culture has emerged that sees almost no alcohol consumption during the week only to have all of that consumption condensed in to Friday and Saturday nights. This is especially true of Sweden. Ireland isn’t quite there yet as many people still spread their consumption during the week with a minority also engaging in what one might term binge drinking at the weekend. Binge drinking is a term that I despise because the definition differs vastly from country to country and is usually based on flawed data. Personally, I think we should be looking at unsafe drinking levels instead and more importantly, changing our drinking culture to a more relaxed one and making drunken behaviour socially unacceptable and also educating people to know their limits.
I personally believe that the demonisation of alcohol does more harm than good. There are rarely any positives about alcohol in the media but a small daily consumption of alcohol does have a number of proven health benefits including but not limited to:

  • Reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease
  • Possibly reduce your risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow)
  • Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes
  • Help prevent gallstones
As with everything in life, moderation is key. Even water is toxic if too much is consumed. Keeping to one or two standard alcoholic drinks per day is the key to a healthy and balanced alcohol inclusive lifestyle. In fact, the moderate consumption of alcohol has actually been proven to be more beneficial to one’s health than total abstinence.
Remember that a standard drink is a half pint of standard strength (about 4.5%) beer or a pub measure of spirits. Be careful with wine because there are almost no circumstances where one will receive a 100ml measure of wine. The standard measure in a pub or restaurant is more likely to be 187ml which is almost two standard drinks. has a number of tips to help you stay in control. I would add stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water to that list.

·         Set limits for yourself and stick to them
·         Start with a non-alcoholic drink (especially if you’re actually thirsty- get a glass of water into you first)
·         Try having a ‘spacer’ – alternating non-alcoholic drinks with alcoholic drinks, especially if you’re feeling the effects
·         Drink slowly – take sips not gulps
·         Try a low-alcohol alternative to a pre-mixed drink
·         Eat before or while you are drinking, but avoid salty snacks, they make you thirsty
·         Avoid rounds
·         Finish one drink before you start another
·         Avoid knocking drinks back and playing drinking games
·         Stay busy – walk, dance, don’t just sit and drink
·         Be assertive – don’t be pressured into drinking more than you want to

There is almost pride among some Irish people that we have such a high consumption of alcohol in this country but the good news is that overall alcohol consumption has been declining in Ireland from a peak of 14.22 litres of pure alcohol per person per year in 2002 to 11 litres in 2014 and the trend seems set to continue with Ireland looking to reach the OECD average of 9.1 litres in just a few short years and that’s without any government intervention.
This drop is despite the fact that alcohol prices have actually decreased in the last 10 years due to the abolition of the groceries order in 2006 which had set a de facto minimum price on alcohol as well as other goods in supermarkets. On the other hand, between 1987 and 2006, there were two main duty increases on alcohol in 1989 and 1994 and each time, alcohol consumption the following year increased, not decreased. This led to a situation of 9.77 litres of pure alcohol per adult in 1987 to a peak of 14.22 litres in 2002.

Neo-prohibitionists believe that increasing the price of alcohol will lead to a lowering of consumption and therefore a reduction of alcohol related harm. The problem is, even just taking Ireland as an example, this has been shown to be fundamentally flawed. In fact, the whole concept is flawed. Supporters of minimum pricing or reduction through taxation point to the Sheffield report which was a flawed theoretical computer model which showed that heavy drinkers would reduce consumption after a price rise. This has been shown to be false with heavy drinkers being the least receptive to a price change. Low to moderate drinkers on the other hand did reduce consumption after a price increase but they are not the problem. The Wagenaar et al. (2008) and the Rand Report to the European Commission have shown this to be true. In fact, while some heavy drinkers might reduce consumption, many tend to keep up the same consumption levels and just switch to a cheaper brand. The tactic of increasing tax on alcohol is clearly a pointless revenue generating exercise and serves little benefit to public health.

Since a reduction in consumption through pricing doesn't work, what can we do? Education and social change should help. We are already reducing our consumption as a nation so all we need to do is keep up with the education and initiate a shift in the public attitude towards drinking to excess. The problem here is that education costs money whereas bluntly increasing tax generates money so we also need an enlightened shift in political thinking.
If we can do that, we can decrease the level of nanny statism we find ourselves in at the moment and perhaps someday we will have as relaxed and civilised an attitude to alcohol as many Mediterranean countries.

Friday, 1 April 2016

The Twits - #TheSession 110

The topic for today's Session is Twitter, an interesting topic to say the least. Our host, Beer Search Party wants us to do something involving Twitter. They recently announced the end of the 140 character limit. This is something that has fundamentally made Twitter what it is and differentiated it from other social media. I have often said that I don't like the 140 character limit but I do like the limit. Increasing it a little to 240 characters would be my preference. Likewise, removing anything with a # or @ so tags and mentions aren't counted would go a long way to making things easier, as long as there is some mechanism to limit the number of # and @ mentions.

There are a few approaches we are asked to take to this article and one is to talk about a series of tweets by Ray Daniels, founder of the Cicerone program, the US equivalent of a Beer Sommelier.

The points are valid not only for the US but worldwide. In fact, Ireland is a much smaller country than the US, smaller than many US states even and as a result, we can see this sort of thing happen a lot easier. 
We are approaching market saturation in Ireland. Tap space is increasingly hard to come by and the only way small breweries can continue to grow is to tap in to the export market. Ray makes a good point though, getting your beer in to the US might be an increasingly difficult task due to their own market saturation. That means tapping new markets like China and India.

There was also mention of using twitter for an April Fool's day prank so here's mine. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Claiming Whiplash

On Friday, I headed to the new Rye River Brewery in Celbridge. I was invited by head brewer Alex to try his new personal venture. He has launched as a gypsy brewery called Whiplash and when you are the head brewer for a good sized microbrewery, you might as well rent tank space and brewing time on equipment you already trust.

The first beer he launched a few weeks ago is Scaldy Porter. It's a 5.5% porter with lots of chocolate and a little coffee, There's a slight chalky thing going on, something I get from Porterhouse's plain porter and then there's a bitter chocolate finish. This was a homebrew beer that I judged in a BJCP competition once. I don't recall what score I gave it at the time but it must have been good enough to warrant commercialisation. One thing I would say is that at 5.5% it's not the most sessionable of porters on the market.

I have to say, I do love the artwork. Alex has a talented girlfriend, Sophie. I also like the clean fonts used and Alex is responsible for that and the overall label designs.

The real reason I was there on Friday was to try Surrender To The Void which had just been canned that day and was as fresh as possible. Wayne and Janice from IrishBeerSnob and Ian - 11PM Somewhere along with his lovely wife were also there for a tour and tasting. Since I was driving, I could only have a few small samples but of course Alex provided a couple of cans and bottles to take home for a proper going over.

Artwork from the other side of the can.

The contents of this unassuming can are an 8.5% DIPA. He's going for more of a clean aromatic DIPA rather than the intensely bitter and chewy sort. This is all about the hop aromatics and flavours as evidenced by the massive mango, passion fruit and mandarin bouquet going on. It's not particularly bitter for a DIPA and is rather clean.

It's absolutely delicious and won't last long due to its limited release at the moment. I would say a substantial dent was made to stock levels after the Franciscan Well's Easterfest over the weekend where it was officially launching.

His beers will change as he is developing his own yeast strain which he hopes will do interesting things for his beers.

I also took deliver of a new beer from the mad "Drawda" goats at Jack Jody's. Hibernicus is a dry hopped IPA at a relatively sessionable 5.2% ABV. 
The spiel on the back is "The Romans called this place winter. This beer celebrates sh*te Irish weather. Embrace winter - Embrace Hibernicus!"
That doesn't really describe the beer though. It reminded me somewhat of an amber lager with fresh grassy hops, clearly going for an English style IPA rather than American. There was a slight hint of diacetyl as the only flaw I could detect and didn't detract from the beer and is acceptable in low levels in an English IPA. Either way, it was a rather lovely beer and got the thumbs up from Pauline too.

Friday, 25 March 2016

How Goes The Mancave / Brewery?

I'm not too sure where I left off on my post about my Mancave / Brewery build but I suspect it was back in July. The space is now mostly usable for brewing. The extractor fan works and I even have a gym on the far side.

I have my hoses hanging up, they will need to be cut shorter once I am ready to use them with the pumps. 

The problem of course is finishing off the brewery itself. All of these stainless steel bits add up in cost and then I always seem to be missing something. There was catastrophic failure a few months ago when I tried a test run outside. There were leaks everywhere. Apparently, all that white stuff that I took for packaging was there for a reason. I discovered it was plumbers tape so I had to go off and buy some and wrap all of my connectors in it again.

They look lovely though. This one is the kettle with two elements. One of them kept shorting out. I hope it's just because water got into it during the test but it could also be faulty. 
The plastic tubing on the sight glass was also a challenge. I kept breaking one of them until it was no longer useful. I decided to go for a metal/glass combo as it must surely be more robust. Unfortunately, the connector that the tube screws into was out of stock at the time. I was offered a refund or half off for just the tube. I went for just the tube on the off-chance it fit in to my current connector. It didn't of course and I couldn't get a separate connector so I bought a smaller gauge just to get and use the connector.

Queue the next mess, I also needed to increase the size of the hole in my pot to take the new connector and without thinking about it, I used my hole punch. That was a mistake because I used the larger one for an element instead of the 1/2 inch one for a tap. So, now I need to stick a new element in that kettle to fill that hole. No big deal, it's just the HLT and it might be useful to have a second element in there to speed things up. 

I have now ordered that element as well as one of these nifty temperature control units for my chest freezer so I can turn it in to a fermentation chamber. I do have a couple of STC1000 units but I simply can't be bothered wiring them up DIY when I can get a ready to go unit that will do the same thing.

For now, I can still brew using my old plastic equipment and plan on doing so this weekend.

Oh and it's not plumbed yet either so a hose through the window and a bucket under the sink is the best I can do at the moment.

This brewery is a never ending work in progress and money pit!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

A Radical Brew

I'm a bit late to the party on this one. I received a bottle from the hands of Alain, the brewer to get my opinion. It has been sitting in my fridge for a few weeks waiting for an opportunity to get cracked open. It was too cold when I took it out of the fridge so I left it out and had a Dungarvan Helvick Gold instead. This particular bottle of Helvick was a little yeast heavy so I decanted it in to a second glass after the yeast had settled, really I was just biding my time while the Radical Brew got closer to cellar temperature.

One delicious and refreshing bottle of Helvick Gold later, it was time to try the Alain's beer. First, I had to move the two cats that were occupying my lap. This was much to their distress and protestations but needs must.

Radical Brew is a sort of collaboration between RadikAle and the Blackwater distillery. Specifically, the beer uses gin botanicals from one of the Blackwater gins. They use these botanicals in place of late aroma hops. The beer was called Curious Brew when it launched late last year but a cease and desist was issued by a small UK brewery. You can read more about this and about the collaboration itself on Peter Mulryan's excellent article on the Blackwater Distillery blog.

Moving along, how's the beer?

Well firstly I should admit that I don't like gin very much. The reason for this? Well, it's something about the botanicals, perhaps I just don't like juniper very much. That's not a great start when we consider that the main selling point of this beer is the use of gin botanicals.
On the other hand, Radical Brew is quite strong at 6.6% so it grew on me. Underneath the plethora of juniper and something peppery, there was a pretty decent beer. The use of rye added a sweet and spicy dimension but there also must be a load of hops because it was quite bitter. In fact, a look at the deceptively informative label showed an IBU of 55 so a fair but more bitter than the likes of Sierra Nevada pale ale.

As it warmed up, so did I. This increased my appreciation of the beer and by the time I was half way though, I was really starting to enjoy it. More than that, perhaps I was learning to appreciate gin botanicals too. I'll have to put that to the test and try some more gin some time. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Hail, Glorious Saint Patrick

Not being Catholic, or even religious* for that matter, the name of Jack Cody's latest beer was initially lost on me. I Googled the name to see if it meant anything and sure enough, it's a hymn. The lads sent me a nice box with the beer and a new glass to sample. Feedback is important to a lot of brewers so here it is.

The first thing about Hail Glorious Saint Patrick is that it's not your average extra stout like the label clearly says. In fact, they could be doing themselves a disservice. There are vanilla pods and espresso beans added in here. These are listed in the ingredients but really should be made more obvious on the front label. A Coffee and Vanilla Extra Stout is much more purchasable by beer geeks. This is a different beer to last year where they released a 5.4% imperial stout under the same name.

Packaging aside, what's it like? On the nose, there's plenty of coffee and vanilla with a sweet milky thing going on. When I tasted it, I was reminded of a milk stout with hints of coffee and vanilla. I love coffee but I haven't had any in about 15 years. As such, coffee stouts aren't generally my thing. This is mainly because brewers tend to go overboard with the coffee and forget about the beer underneath. Thankfully, this beer doesn't do that. The coffee is ever present but lashings of thick, vanilla milky goodness keeps it in check. It's a little on the sweet side for my normal sensibilities but you know what? It works here in the same way that a sweet Belgian beer just works.

For now, it's a limited release and looks to be priced at about €2.70 after a brief check on the Martin's website. For a 6.3% stout, that's not too bad for a limited release.

I would actually love to see what this would be like if they added some oats to increase body and re-branded it as a breakfast stout. Perhaps that's something they might consider if they decided to bring it back after its initial run. In that case, simplifying the name to Glorious Breakfast Stout or something might be better.

* I actually used to be very religious until I was 17 or so. I still never came across that hymn though as it's probably a Catholic thing.