Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Some Of The Beer From #EBBC14

The European Beer Bloggers Conference was a resounding success for showcasing Irish beer this year. As always, there was a lot of different beers available and while the majority were Irish, not all were. Here's just a very small sample of the beer available. Most of the Irish beer I have had before so have already mentioned them at some point. I'm not really reviewing these beers I should point out, I made no notes during EBBC14 on any of the beer. I refuse to make notes at big beer events as it lessens my enjoyment and I also can't do the beers justice. So the following is just my mental recollection.

I'm going to start with a side by side comparison of three versions of Pilsner Urquell. On the left we have the new canned version, in the middle the regular kegged version and then on the fight is the unpasteurised, unfiltered wooden cask version. I found the new canned version to be quite lemony with a dry finish and quite lactic. A very different experience and I'm not sure I liked it. The kegged version on draught was crisp and clean with a great noble hop profile. The cask on the other hand was sweeter with a bigger hop nose in the foam. Not as crisp due to the lower carbonation. Personally, the cask version is my favourite but I was very keen on the kegged version. I have always been a Pilsner Urquell fan, except in bottles and I guess I am now not a fan of the cans either. That said, the cans were far superior to the bottle. I believe they are going to switch to brown bottles soon so that might be better.

Maisel's Chocolate Bock is a beautifully rich chocolate flavoured bock. It was woody and had a real chewy toffee body. There was even a hint of spice mixed in with the massive cocoa hit. A lovely beer and I personally found it easier going than most bocks.

The limited edition Progress from Black Sheep was a stunning 10% old English ale. It's basically a barley wine in my opinion. Thick molasses, figs and various other dark fruits. There was also a lot of vanilla and a nice grassy bitterness. Awesome beer!

13 Guns is salute to the American IPA from Thwaites and while it is an excellent IPA, it seems more subdued than the brash American versions. It just seems more reserved, more English. That's not to say anything about the hops because they are all American. The result is very tasty but never overbearing. It has everything you want in an IPA without being loud-mouthed about it.

Night Porter, I mentioned it already. This is the internal Guinness competition winning beer that is only available in the Guinness storehouse. If there is one reason to go to the Guinness storehouse, this might just be reason enough. It's an outstanding beer that can stand beside any craft beer and be confident that it's in the right company. In a way, it is craft beer. It was brewed on their 100 litre pilot system. It's the kind of beer that would earn Guinness some of the respect it lost with beer aficionados after stunts like covering rival taps on Arthur's day and just Arthur's day full stop.

Now to me on the Irish scene was the first beer  from Black Donkey. In fact, this might have been its first public appearance. The beer is called Sheep Stealer. I know one or two bloggers might not have questioned the branding but I like it. It's an incredibly tart saison that just resonated with me as one of the best summer thirst quenchers I've had in a while. I'm not sure when it goes on sale yet but hopefully it will be pouring at the ICBCF in September.

One of the unexpected highlights at EBBC14 was finding Stuart Howe personally manage the Sharp's stand. Stuart knows what bloggers want (he's one himself) so he prominently placed the specials in front of the regulars like Doom Bar and encouraged us to try them. I doubt anyone in the room hadn't had Doom Bar before so I think that ended up being pushed aside to make room. Single Brew reserve 2013, pictured above is phenomenal in its simplicity. There's a single hop at play here called Premiant. Think Saaz on steroids and you have an idea what to expect. The beer is dry hopped for two months using said hops and the result is a very complex but also sessionable (4.5%) blonde ale. Lots of grass, citrus (lemon and grapefruit), tropical fruits and a fair bit of caramel too.

I was intrigued by the Honey Spice IPA as I was curious to see if it's the kind of beer my wife would enjoy. Ever the fan of Fullers Honey Dew, I suspected she might be. This is a 6.5% American style IPA that employs local Cornish honey and black peppercorns to add a little honey and spice to the overall beer. Notes of lychee, grapefruit and lemon with a big malt body. Hints of honey, not overpowering and then the pepper cuts through the heavy malt. The result, a beautiful and interesting beer and one I intend to try again if it appears over here.

Of the three Sharp's, the 6 vintage blend was the biggest and most complex. They basically take 5 aged beers and blend with a standard base beer to create this wonderful beer. When I say blend, I don't mean they take the same style aged for various lengths of time. Everything from IPA to Belgian dubbel is included. It's a stunningly complex beer and I'm just sad I didn't nab a bottle for consumption in my own time. 

And lastly, a fairly new beer to the Irish market. Four provinces is a new Dublin based brewery which is great because Dublin has been left behind in the brewery stakes due to the higher cost of premises in Dublin. The Hurler is an American hopped copper ale. I like what they are doing here, they avoided the Irish red pitfall and made a compromise. A "copper" coloured ale packed full of hops. The result is an extremely bitter beer but with an ever present malt backbone to balance it out. It's a fantastic beer and I look forward to having it again.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Brown Paper Bag Project - Keeping It Interesting

The launch of two new beers from Brown Paper Bag Project was nicely timed to coincide with the fourth birthday (give or take a few days) of L. Mulligan Grocer. 

The launch was brilliant. Somehow we managed to stay dry with the sun beaming down upon us for a few hours in the beer garden. It had been raining just minutes before the launch as well as within minutes of it ending. We tried the new beers and had a big feast of succulent chicken and pork on the BBQ. L. Mulligan Grocer is known as a foodie heaven as well as a craft beer mecca and that meant the BBQ was outstanding.

The first beer we got at the launch was called Vlad The Baker. It was named after a local baker named Vlad who provides bread to the pub. The beer tasted a little Vienna lager like at first. It's nowhere near as big and heavy as Trouble Brewing's new version of Kill lager which TheBeerNut deftly wrote about yesterday and is in fact a Vienna style lager. No, this is a 4.8% India Pale Lager, perhaps not a term I like as a style but as a description of what to expect, it does the job. Think Williams Brothers' Ceaser Augustus and you are on the right track. There's plenty of citrus hop juiciness with a lovely bitter finish along with the crisp but decent malt body in the middle. I warmed up to Vlad during the day and was very sad when the keg ran dry and all the bottles disappeared. I might go so far as to say that this would be a beer I could drink many pints of.

The second beer of the day was Shmoake. It's a 4.7% Grätzer which is an old and almost extinct Polish style of beer with a hint of smoke. Orange peel and smoked bacon on the nose. Tasting it, I was initially overwhelmed with strong smoke. I'm pretty sensitive to that in beer so it's a good thing I love smoked beer! Lots of mandarin in the body and it's pretty bitter. Overall I found it very easy drinking and a lovely beer. I can't really say how it compares to other Grätzers because it's only the second one I have had with the first being a homebrew by a Polish friend.

Later on, Colin (owner) introduced the main brewer from BPBP to the crowd. Brian Short from the US. He is a passionate and experienced brewer and gives a good speach. We had him at the Beer Bloggers Conference a couple of weeks ago talking about Keg and Cask as dispense methods.

After the event, we moved in to the pub for some more drinks and a chat before moving to The Black Sheep to try the new Galway Bay - Table Beer.

The Table beer is made from the second runnings of the iconic Of Foam And Fury, Ireland's best example of a DIPA and perhaps even world class in my opinion and that of many of the beer bloggers from around the world who tried it two weeks ago. For those that may not know what a second running is, I will explain it quickly. When you brew a large beer (OFAF is 8.5%), there will always be residual sugars left over in the grain when you are finished with it so you simply add more water to flush everything out (sparging) and you have the base for another smaller beer. In this case, it's a 3.5% session beer or as some people might call it, a session IPA. Small beers are economical because most of the work has already been done so the brewery just has to pay for more hops, the electricity to boil the wort and perhaps water if that's something they are charged for. The result? Galway Bay can serve this beauty for €4 a pint in Dublin (their regular beers are over €5). What's even better, if you are a Beoir member and have one of your vouchers, it comes out as €3.50 which is supreme value in a pub in Dublin. I didn't take any notes as I only had time to suck it down and head for the last bus home but TheBeerNut describes it in the link above.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Dublin Conference Highlights #EBBC14

This is an odd situation for me. For the last 3 beer bloggers conferences, I have simply been an attendee. This time around I was basically an organiser in all but name. Oh, I attended as an attendee but I led the pre-conference pub crawl, I hosted a panel of Irish brewers on Friday afternoon and was responsible for all of the Irish craft brewers who attended as sponsors and completely blew the attendees from all over the world completely away.

I didn't receive the stipend since I didn't pay in the first place so I'm technically not obliged to write any blog posts about the event but I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't write at least one! Since I was so busy, I didn't take many notes so one will have to do. I will write about some of the newer Irish beers (even to me) that I had during the conference.

The reception on Friday was similar to in previous years except for one thing. The volume of beer was insane. We basically had a mini beer festival on our hands with more beer on tap than bottle. The upside here was just the sheer craic we had talking to brewers, sampling their beer and getting to know other bloggers. The only possible downside was because there were not too many bottles, bloggers probably didn't walk away with a suitcase full of samples to bring home. In London, I brought home 28 bottles of beer of which 26 survived the trip intact.

One of the highlights of the event was walking through the tunnel that runs from the Guinness storehouse in to the brewery a block away. We saw the new brewery codenamed Project Phoenix, after an old Dublin brewery that Guinness bought. It may even be the original site of the Phoenix brewery, perhaps someone can comment on that. I'm not posting pictures of the new brewery as we were asked not to but I did post them on twitter before I was told so they shouldn't be too hard to find. It's large, shiny and new.

A highlight was a beer not for general sale called Night Porter. I actually have the inside track on this beer because I was partially involved in its creation. In a very indirect way of course. I might as well tell that story because I only found out how I was involved on that Friday night while I was talking to some of the Guinness employees. A couple of years ago, my boss put me in contact with his wife who used to be a brewer at Guinness before she left to have a family. From time to time, former Guinness employees have a competition for charity. They design and market a beer and brew on the pilot brewery. It's an internal thing and the beer is never actually released as such. After giving some criticism the first year, I was asked to actually brew a beer on my kit so the Guinness brewers would know how it turned out. I was handed an old Smithwicks recipe for a spiced ale and when I scaled it down to a 30 litre boil, I found the recipe made no technical sense. The amount of spice was in the half a gram range, something I can't even measure. It was also a little boring with basically just pale malt and some spice. I couldn't brew anything so boring so I upped the malt profile with some Munich, crystal and possibly some sort of dark malt like roast barley or something. I used 20g of coriander, some other spices and I think two cloves. I don't have my recipe to hand but you get the idea. I brewed the beer, fermented it and force carbonated. It was a 6 day turnover. I then provided some bottles of the beer along with the recipe which I had sized up to 100 litres for them. 
They all thought it was great and then got carried away on brewday. For some inexplicable reason, they decided to up the clove content significantly.
The result when they tasted the finished beer a few weeks later was undrinkable. It was basically a clove bomb and left a very strong stench of clove in the room for a few hours. Needless to say, that team lost the competition. I even got a sample bottle of the winning beer a few years ago. I forgot all about that beer until last week. It was the Night Porter team that won and this was the finished and packaged beer I was drinking two years later. It's a fantastic beer that could stand up well alongside the likes of Trouble Dark Arts. It's the sort of beer that I wish Guinness would actually brew. I don't have much time for the parent company but I have the utmost respect for Guinness as a brewery and especially the staff that work there. Fergal Murray, brewmaster of Guinness was the one of gave us the tour. I thought it was funny as we walked around and I stood beside him and pointed out Vaclav Berka (pictured below) and asked him did he know who that was, he didn't so I told him he was his counterpart in Pilsner Urquell. That piqued his interest and he said he would have to have a talk with him. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation. Two brewmasters with over 400 years of brewing heritage between them.

Later on that evening, Vaclav Berka tapped his world famous casks of unfiltered, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell. I could only manage one before I had to go home. I was stuffed from the wonderful food and beer pairing that Guinness put on and here was Pilsner Urquell trying to feed and water us again! 

It is a wonderful sight and a wonderful beer but I was content in the knowledge that they were hosting a BBQ the next day and I would drink my fill then.

So that's precisely what I did the next day. Tapped a cask and drank lots of Pilsner Urquell.

It wouldn't be a beer bloggers conference without posing for pictures with Mt Berka. I have one regular pour and a fresh milko (all head) pour. If you are not familiar with milko, people order it in the Czech republic because all of that fresh saaz hop aroma is contained in the head. I prefer a regular pour with a big fluffy head though.

I was so glad that Shane Long from Franciscan Well was so eager to be involved when I contacted him. Not only did his word secure the Molson Coors involvement, it meant that the stipend they so generously provide was back and was probably a big deciding factor in many of the attendees participation, especially those that travelled. I know that Franciscan Well beers impressed people, especially the Chieftain IPA and Jameson Barrel aged stout. Shane gave a great speech about his long experience in the Irish craft beer scene up to the point he joined Molson Coors. Some people might say he sold out but all he did was secure the financial security of his brewery. He now has time to help emerging Irish breweries and help them develop and grow by providing training and advice. What other industry would you get that in? Would Apple or Microsoft provide emerging rivals with free training and advice in how to succeed?

Another highlight for everyone was the Beer Ireland social evening where we had another chance to try beer from Ireland's newest brewers and from reading other blogs about the weekend, everyone was seriously impressed. More importantly, there are conversations on facebook with bottle shops looking to import some of the beers that everyone was raving about. Those mentioned specifically were Black's, Mountain Man, N17, Rascal's, Trouble and Black Donkey. Take note guys, you need to brew enough beer to satisfy a UK population thirsty for Irish beer. That sounds like a mission accomplished. Irish beer showcased, beer writers impressed, now they want to get said beer in their own countries. A win for the Irish breweries.

It's a good thing that Carlow Brewing already exports because they also blew people away that evening, especially the barrel aged Leann Folláin and Barley wine. Amber Adventure also went down very well with many people from what I heard.

So that's it, I encourage people to read the other blog posts for EBBC14 and you might as well start with Wayne: The Irish Beer Snob and then here's a few more:

I'm sure there are more and others will appear in coming days/weeks. If anyone has any links to add, feel free to add to the comments box.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Brewdog - Vladimir, The Fake

Thanks to Steve Lamond for giving me these bottles the last time he was in Dublin. Sometimes Steve suffers from "too much beer" syndrome. A wonderful affliction to have, especially to the donor that receives the excess.

Fake lager, well at first I thought this was a pseudo lager, a blonde ale that is very much like a lager. I was wrong though, it's a real lager and it refers to all the other fake mass produced lagers of today. Brew Dog claims to be a real Bohemian Pilsner that's brewed the way Pilsner used to be brewed. Adjunct free and full of flavour. I wonder did they do a tradition triple decoction mash then? How is this real fake lager then? It's rather excellent believe it or not. among many craft beer fans, lager means tasteless yellow fizzy stuff. It doesn't need to be though. Some of the best beers I have ever tastes were lagers. They claim it's packed full of citrus and that's no lie. It's clean and crisp with a big citrus hit up front and a bitter finish. I was pleasantly surprised to find a little peach in there too. A lovely summery lager, perfect for a day like today with temperatures in the mid 20s in Dublin and not a cloud in the sky.

In contrast, Hello My Name Is Vladimir is fakery incarnate. It's named after a make believe character named Vladimir, a rainbow hating man who wrestles bears and for whom shirts are optional. I think they based the character on Matthew McConaughey. Wait... that can't be right, he's real? He's the president of one of the most powerful countries in the world? How did that happen? And twice for that matter? Moving on, how is the beer? It's delicious, that's what it is. I have had better double IPAs in my time, even from Brewdog. I recall I hardcore you being a little more interesting. This one is your typical DIPA but typical among the better ones out there. It has a big chewy body and a massive hop aroma and flavours. There's a fair bit of orange pith and enough bitterness to keep me happy. Apparently, there are limonnik berries berries in it which are said to be an aphrodisiac. I'm not sure I noticed any effect so perhaps I need to drink more of the beer.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Normal Service Resumes

It has been three weeks since I simply wrote about beer I have tasted. I needed to go back to my April notes to pick up where I last left off. I was at a tasting session with TheBeerNut and a few other non bloggers. Here are some of the beers we had that night, the ones worth mentioning. They are in reverse order of drinking.

I was very dubious about this Mikkeller beer. Any beer that claims 1000 IBU can't be taken too seriously. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, humans can't detect anything over about 100 IBU so 1000 IBU is just pointless,  we don't even have to get that far because about 100 - 130 IBU is the maximum hop utilisation possible through conventional means. There might be some fancy way of getting more in but not with a typical boil/hop addition method. Perhaps distilling some hop juice or something. So, 1000 IBU is therefore the theoretical maximum via calculations and not what's actually in the beer. That means, there's a lot of wasted hops here. It's probably why the beer is so expensive. We are paying for hop wankery.
How's the beer? Well, it's not bad but there's very little going on. It's very bitter (which I love) and that hides any real flavour compounds. It's a little catty and citrusy, that's about all I can say. I wouldn't say it's overpriced cat piss though because I did really enjoy it. I just wouldn't buy it again as it's a gimmicky beer. It was also €7.80 for a 330ml bottle. That sounds like about €5 worth of wasted hops in that bottle alone.

From Alameda in Oregon, we have Yellow Wolf DIPA. This is far more my kind of thing. No hop wankery, just plenty of hops, fresh hops at that. A big chewy lemon citrus body that somehow manages to stay crisp and refreshing at the same time. I've had better double IPAs but I wasn't disappointed here.

Kasteel Cuvée du Chateau is an immense beer. 11% worth of rum cake and many different dark fruits. There's a lot of sweetness here and I don't go for sweet beers but somehow this just worked. Big, complex and delicious. What more do you need to know? 

Quite possibly the most expensive bottle of beer I have ever bought. I let myself be talked in to it by the guys at drinkstore. I asked them to convince me and they did, they then said they could close early! This 750ml bottle of Epic Epicurean Coffee & Fig Imperial Oatmeal Stout cost €25. I bought it as much to support the drinkstore guys as to drink it. I don't drink coffee so it was always one to share. The glass I got was more than enough. The description says it contains caramelised dried Turkish Lerida Figs. Caffe L’affare Ethiopian Sidamo coffee whole beans and Philippine toasted coconut. If I take it just as a beer and not as a beer I paid €25 for, it's pretty good. The coffee is very impressive but not too overpowering. I got a hint of coconut but I couldn't get the figs. The rest of the flavours are normal imperial stout flavours. It's a good beer but not worth €25 a bottle.

And the beer that started our session was of course Black's The Session. It's a 3.5% session pale ale that's packed full of hops. There's an impressive amount of fresh hop, citrus and orange pith. I thought the aroma was very similar to Beoir#1, in fact I haven't written about Beoir#1 itself yet, only the brewday. So I will mention Beoir#1 in a moment. The Session is lovely beer, a hint of cattiness but that's fine in a beer like this. I reckon there's plenty of citra hops in this.

So here is Beoir#1 (brewed at Black's) alongside Galway Bay's Of Foam and Fury. Beoir#1 was to be the first DIPA produced in Ireland but when O'Hara's and then Galway Bay got there before us, OFAF became the one to beat.

Beoir#1 (9%):  Tropical fruit, huge malt body and great balance. Lovely beer.

OFAF (8.5%): Much bigger hop oil aroma and flavour. More citrus. It's a little sweeter. Some hop aroma may have been lost due to the bottle being weeks old.

Both are great beers but I'm not sure which one I prefer. They are both dangerously drinkable and beautiful beers. I decided to skip the decision and I did a blind taste test on my wife. I didn't even tell her what she was drinking, not even the style. I Just handed her the beers and asked her which she preferred. It was Beoir#1 for her, she found OFAF a little too sweet.

Beoir#1 is not available in bottle, that was only for us who brewed it. The general public has been enjoying it on tap at certain pubs around the country for the last couple of months. There might even be some left if you are lucky, though I doubt that very much.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reuben for Chairman of Beoir

As some of you might know, I'm running for Chairman of Beoir again. This post will only mean something to Beoir members who primarily are based in Ireland but feel free to give it a tweet.

I'm currently away on holiday and notice that my opposition has launched a campaign on his blog, twitter and facebook page. I feel I would be doing democracy a disservice by not following suit. Wayne is a great guy and I wish him all the best.  Here's his manifesto. 

Apologies for any mistakes. I'm using my phone on a slow internet connection in Croatia.

My manifesto remains the same as last year. I have copied it below.
In the last year, I have achieved most of my goals. I set up a series of member perks, most notably, your member fee worth of vouchers for use in Galway Bay pubs. This helped increase membership from 210 to over 375.

I have also started the process of publishing our first magazine aimed at tourists and the general public. It should go to print in a number of weeks. It will inform people of where to find craft beer in Ireland.

There's a lot more that goes on in the background. I would hope that my actions speak for themselves.
The below manifesto is from last year but still applies.


My name is Reuben Gray, also known as Saruman on Beoir. I'm a founding member of Beoir having been involved since 2008 when it was still known as Irish Craft Brewer.
Around the same time, I started writing a blog about beer which has become quite popular and has grown over the years to where I now average 15000 visitors per month. Through this medium as well as through Beoir, I believe I have spread the word about Irish Craft Beer and I have seen it grow from a fledgling industry in 2007 to an almost phenomenon around the country and I am glad to have been a small part of that. I have, on a number of occasions, held talks on beer, brewing and even beer history to some degree. Some of these talks are due to my blog but I always host them as a Beoir representative, wearing a t-shirt and have people download our app. I also appeared on the Sean Moncrieff show a few years ago to talk about beer and got a plug in for ICB at the time. I am an attendee at the beer bloggers conference in the UK three years in a row now, where I do my best to talk up the virtues of Irish Craft Beer.

So that's who I am, as to the direction I would like to see Beoir go, I think there's a little too much emphasis on the forum and not enough reality. A lot of that might be logistics but I would like to see regional community members step up to be representatives and organise Beoir events. We do this in Dublin which is easy enough but it should be something done all over the country, at least where there are enough active members. Something as simple as arranging a pub crawl with the added agenda of distributing Beoir stickers and beer mats.

I also would like to publish a quarterly newsletter with info, news, upcoming events and so on. This would start out in email format and be posted on the front page as an article but not ever member is an active forum member so a newsletter might keep them interested. At some point in the future, there might even be a call for a printed version like the Camra quarterly magazine although that would require a major increase in paid members and sponsors so it's way off if it's even necessary or wanted.

In addition, and this might be a little pie in the sky, I would like to arrange a beer festival. I believe it's something we can do, especially if we could combine our resources with the National Homebrew Club who have proven adept at organising a stunning event for their homebrew competition. Nothing on the scale of the RDS of course but something that could be held on a licensed and hopefully donated premises that would simply be a showcase for Irish Craft Beer.

One other thing I would like is to see if we can host certain events that would yield a profit for Beoir and that money can then be put to good use as part of our campaign. There's only so much we can do with word of mouth.
In a lot of ways, it's almost mission accomplished for Beoir, or so it might seem but I see a lot of possibility for growth. Irish Craft Beer is still only getting off the ground but it's at least gaining wide recognition now and we are the source of most information for potential breweries and potential Irish Craft Beer consumers alike so rather than grow complacent with the status-quo, we should drive forward and match the pace being set by emerging breweries and indeed keep ahead of them.

Anyway thank you for reading and above all, thank you for your consideration.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sixpoint Beer In Ireland

I was sent these samples by Wetherspoon's recently. They are stocking them in their UK pubs but they will also be bringing them to Ireland when they start opening here very soon.
I had these in reverse order of how they are shown.

Bengali Tiger is bitter but still balanced IPA. It's slightly on the watery side, lacking the chewy body you get in many American IPAs but this doesn't detract from the beer, it simply makes it easier to drink. Expect a lot of orange, pine resin and a little tropical fruit.

Sweet Action is the younger brother to Bengali Tiger. It's 5.2% versus the 6.4% of Bengali Tiger. It's a very similar beer with the same orange, pine resin and tropical fruit notes. The only real difference is a little less aroma.

The Crisp is their 5.4% lager. It's a peachy little number but slightly lacking the promised "crisp". In fact it was a much bigger bodied beer than I was expecting. Slightly watery but big bodied at the same time. The result is a very pleasant and easy drinking lager with hints of peach and lemon.

So there we have it, three decent American beers will be available from Wetherspoon's in Ireland when it opens. Not quite the best American beers out there but I certainly wouldn't say no if the price is right and that's supposed to be the deal with spoons, the price is supposed to be right. We shall see how that goes.