Sunday, 9 August 2015

Asheville Breweries

We kicked off our tour of Asheville at Hi-Wire brewing. It was a short stroll from our hotel, the Downtown Inn and Suites which was pleasant and not the nightmare some of the reviews seemed to indicate.


Interesting design

The brewery and tap room are laid out open plan and you could easily see the action when they are brewing as there's not even so much as a barrier let alone a glass window fencing you off.
It's worth pointing out that they are building a larger facility nearby. The regular beer production will move there allowing them to brew small batch seasonals at the tap room site.

How was the beer though? I'm happy to report that it was all pretty much excellent. There was a phenol issue with their strawberry hefeweizen. Myself and Velkyal got it straight away but our lovely wives were immune to it. Not everyone is sensitive to phenols./ These were wet band-aid type so pretty off putting.

Overall, I really loved the atmosphere Hi-Wire and a special kudos for putting on a more than acceptable English bitter on cask.

Around the corner is Wicked Weed brewing. This place was pretty packed and really loud both with music and people noise. It was actually a little uncomfortable because we found it hard to talk to each other.

We ordered a couple of flights and everything was excellent. They had a lot of Belgian style sour beers on so a lot of what we ordered were along those lines.

I was impressed with the beer but the noise put us off staying any longer. It was also really difficult to order beer due to how busy it was so we decided to move on. I reckon Wicked Weed is worth going to on a quiet afternoon and exploring their vast number of aged beers.

Directly across the road was Twin Leaf brewing. We were hoping to get some food there along with beer but we were disappointed on that front. With no food on offer, it was going to be a short stay.

What we found was a spacious open plan tasting room with a small brewery at the front. I loved the layout. It was like Hi-Wire but brighter and cleaner.

I did of course order a flight of beer to try. In the meantime, we were entertained by a tiny little dog on the bar. It was a Maltipoo and it was smaller than a cat and very affectionate.
The need for food was paramount however and we were directed to a bar that was still serving food at this time and also had some good beer on tap.

The next morning, we parted ways after a hearty Brunch at Tupelo Honey Cafe which had Two Hearted on tap. We also had time for a few pints at The Bier Garden. This had an impressive number of taps and bottles. VelkyAl was heading to South Carolina and we would be collected by family and brought to Georgia for a family event so we said our goodbyes that afternoon.

We still had a few hours to kill before meeting up with family so when it was time for another beer we found the only brewery open was Lexington Avenue Brewery or LAB if you prefer. 

We were only killing an hour so I had a flight and a pint of The Knuckle stout as it was what I was in the mood for and it seemed to be the best of the bunch. All too soon, it was time to go.

I really liked Asheville and would have loved to spend more time there. We left on Thursday afternoon and the Beer Bloggers Conference was taking place there the next day. Talk about bad timing.
There was nothing beer wise in Georgia for the few days we were there. We did come across a a brewpub called Satulah Mountain Brewing but it was closed, despite the sign with opening times clearly showing it should be open.

Next destination was Michigan and then Chicago.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Virginia Breweries

I'm just back from spending two weeks in the US. It was a bit of a flying visit to a number of states. My first port of call was Virginia where I spent a few days with my good mate VelkyAl from Fuggled. One of the first places we visited was Devil's Backbone. We really went there for lunch and some beers. I didn't go exploring the brewery, although I did meet up with the head brewer on the way back to the car. UK and Ireland readers might be familiar with Devil's Backbone American IPA which is available at Wetherspoons pubs. We know that it's not brewed in Virginia of course. It's contract brewed at Banks' in the UK. I was curious to see how it compared to what you get in Virginia though. 

As you can see, they don't have anything similar, or didn't at the time anyway. The closest would be 8 point IPA but this is a higher ABV and higher IBU beer than the UK beer. All of the beer was excellent and in particular, the Vienna and Schwarzbier. Al explained that Jason has a lot of experience brewing lagers. apart from time spent in Europe, he spent over 6 years brewing a Gordon Biersch who specialise in German style lagers in the US. 

We also popped in to South Street in Charlottesville for a few beers. It's a handy location in downtown Charlottesville.

Apologies for the image quality, my phone didn't quite focus correctly for some reason. The beer was good, although if I remember correctly, one of the beers in the flight was a shandy. That's just wrong because in Ireland, a shandy is half a pint of cheap lager and then lemonade. In the UK, it tends to be half a bitter and lemonade but the result is the same. Having a 5% beer with added lemonade after fermentation is just wrong. This practice should be discouraged at the highest level as the result as an alcopop.

Starr Hill is the brewery where Al spent over 5 years working in the tap room. It's also a brewery that did the recent collaboration with the Carlow Brewing Company when they released Foreign Affair. I believe that Starr Hill is Virginia's largest craft brewery.

I actually brought a bottle of Foreign Affair over for Al to try. He might share it with some of the Starr Hill people who have yet to taste the finished product. I also managed to get a further 18 bottles of Irish beer in my luggage for Al to try.

Starr Hill had a great tap lineup when we arrived. Dark Starr was immediately ordered as it's a beer that Al has banged on about for years on his blog and you know what? It's a fantastic beer on tap and I enjoyed it immensely. It may be the best American brewed stout I have ever had. Perhaps I should clarify, this is an Irish style dry stout and it's the closest to this most beloved of beer styles that I have had in the US.

Of course, no brewery visit would be complete without a flight of beer to try so that's what I did next.

Out of the beers presented on the flight, all were excellent but Jomo, their Vienna style lager stood out above the rest. I went back to Dark Starr, my favourite of the beers I tried there. Another favourite was King of Hop so I bought a 6 pack of that before leaving. 

The lighting in the tap room was excellent so I had fun with my DSLR and took some nice images.

I did get a look at the brewery itself. It's rather expansive and spans a number of rooms. While the brewkit itself isn't all that impressive, there is lots of fermenting space. I did notice that the ceiling is pretty low so there's little room to put in larger fermenters. They do have a lot of space though.

Starr Hill Taps

Apparently this is a thing, people taking pictures of the light and trying to match it in size to the starr hill sign in the background. Looks like I was a little off. More time was needed but unfortunately we arrived an hour or so before closing. I could have spent all day here actually, I really loved the tap room.

One of Al's favourite breweries is Three Notch'd. Al actually did a brew with them called Session 42, a recipe he designed using a lot of inspiration from the iconic Timothy Taylor Landlord.

Inside is a  basic rectangular shaped tap room. We were lucky in that it was pretty early so the place was pretty quiet but I suspect it fills up at weekends and later in the evening.

Wall Art

I had my picture taken, a rare occasion as I'm generally the one taking the pictures. Of course I rarely get a serious picture taken so I pretended to be as 'Murican as fuck. I actually made this in to a meme on Friday as I was bored in work.

The obligatory tasting tray was tried after a pint of Session 42. All were excellent but I was particularly impressed by Session 42. Such a drinkable beer and that's quite rare in the US.
40 Mile was an excellent IPA 

That's it for Virginia. We did visit a cidery called Bold Rock but the cider wasn't worth mentioning. The place itself is stunning though. If you like sweet cider, it's worth a visit. We also visited a couple of wineries and bought wine and mead but that's not worth mentioning here as this a beer blog. I would have liked the spend more time in Devil's Backbone, Starr Hill and Three Notch'd. Perhaps on another visit some day.

Asheville, North Carolina was next so that will be the topic of the next article.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Just In Time For Summer

The next collaboration brew from O'Hara's is Foreign Affair. It was brewed in Carlow along with the good people from Starr Hill in Virginia. Funnily enough, my mate VelkyAl from Fuggled worked there for years. The brewery is based near his home. I'm visiting Al next week so will be visiting the brewery too. I have a spare bottle to bring over for him to try. The idea here is that Starr Hill provided the American hops and O'Hara's provided the Irish malt. What did they choose to brew? A red IPA. That's right, it's a made up style but breweries can call their beers whatever they like. When they do, it becomes a thing. Sierra Nevada have a Red IPA so why not O'Hara's and Starr Hill? 

So how is the beer? It's pretty much exactly what you would expect. Take your typical Irish red and whack a load of American hops in to it. The base beer is pretty similar to the regular O'Hara's Red except it's a little stronger at 4.8% versus 4.3% but otherwise, it seems similar. That's not a bad thing mind, I'm rather fond of O'Hara's Red. The hops used are Falconers Flight, a blend of different Pacific northwest hops. This gives the beer plenty of citrus and pine resin notes mixed in with the rich caramel from the malt. Surprisingly, the beer is much dryer than expected. There's a long dry bitter finish with a little caramel to balance it out. It's a good beer but I feel it could have done with a little more oomph in the ABV department. 4.8% is simply too low to call anything an American IPA, no matter the colour. This beer should really have been over 5.5% to really make it's mark. Buy and enjoy this beer like the hoppy Irish red ale that it is and you won't be disappointed.

Sticking with the Carlow Brewing Company but changing to a cider now. Falling Apple is a 5% thirst quencher of a cider. It's a medium sweet cider which puts it in the category of "too sweet for me". I'll be honest and say that I can't really review a cider. The most I can muster here is that it was thirst quenching, tasted like cidona and had no hint of alcohol from it. That makes it incredibly easy drinking. I couldn't finish it myself but my wife certainly could. She thinks it's great and enjoyed a number of bottles over a few days.

A rather unusual collaboration brew now and one I suspect we might see more of. McHugh's is an off-licence (liquor store) in Dublin. There's one in Artane and another in Kilbarrack. I've never been in either if I'm honest. McHugh's decided they wanted their own branded beer to celebrate 20 years in business so they took a road trip to Donegal and brewed a beer with Kinnegar and called it Roadtrip. It's a great idea because the only way to get the beer is to either go to one of the shops. or order it from their website. They have an extensive catalogue of beer and other drinks available to be delivered anywhere in Ireland.

The question then becomes, is it worth obtaining? The answer I am happy to say is a resounding yes. This is a real American style IPA and not just because it says so on the bottle. For one thing, Rick from Kinnegar is American. For another, Kinnegar are well known for making excellent beers that use lots of hops. At 6.2%, the ABV is bang on and exactly what I expect from an American IPA. On the nose is orange pith, grapefruit and pine with a little pepper and some grass. You can just about get a hint of malt under the hops. On tasting, there's some malt up front and then grapefruit, orange some of that peppery note. There's a long lasting, lingering, resiny bitterness. Overall, it's a lovely beer and I would go so far as to say that it's probably one of the best American style IPAs brewed in Ireland.

One last thing I wanted to say. All three of these were samples sent from both O'Hara's and McHugh's respectively. As always, I give an honest opinion and never give a good review unless it's deserved. I would hope this article show this to be true.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Beery Detritus 101 - #TheSession

For the 101st session, Jack Perdue asks us not to talk about the beer itself but rather about the packaging and paraphernalia that comes with it. Bottle caps, boxes, holders, anything that is considered the packaging of the liquid.

I can't use the word Detritus without a nod to the recently deceased Terry Pratchett. Detritus was one of the characters in his books. He was a troll in the city watch.

Moving along, what can I say here? Most bottles or cans of beer are pretty basic. A logo, some info about the beer and usually a bar-code. Some go a little above and beyond.

PBR for instance have playing card symbols on the under side of their bottle caps. All 52 are represented and the idea is to encourage people to buy enough PBR to have a set. They have even spawned groups of traders to help build their sets. Theoretically, you could play card games using the bottle caps but I imagine it would be difficult. Here's a post from a few years ago with a bottle of PBR and a bottle cap stuck to my forehead.

In Ireland, the Porterhouse uses grenade style pull ring caps on their 330ml bottles. Here's a random link to one of their beers so you can see it. It's a novelty but it makes it easy to open the bottle if you happen to lack a bottle opener.

Some brands put a lot of effort in to their packaging. Beavertown goes all out with their cartoon story branded cans.

Some people collect this sort of stuff. I don't as such but I do collect beer mats. Not seriously, I just keep them for two reasons. One is to actually use them. Also, at some point in the future, I suspect I will decorate a wall with them. Maybe if I ever have my own bar/brewery, my beer mat collection will get some use, Otherwise, the home bar will get it. My current home bar isn't suitable for it as it's in the kitchen. I could use them in the mancave of course.

Speaking of which, here are some images of where I am with it. It seems like a never ending work in progress but it's nearing usability in terms of brewing. Once the extraction system is in place, I can brew some beer.

I put the extractor hood up yesterday and cut a hole for the fan.

I used galvanised corrugated roofing for the walls on the brewery end.

This image is after I got the vinyl floor down but before I plastered the walls. That's a treadmill folded down.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Taking It Too Far - Down With @BringBackLager

On Saturday, I spent a wonderful afternoon and evening at Kavanagh's bar and venue for #CraftBeerUnLaoisD2 and for those that don't understand that hashtag, it's the second local craft beer festival in Laois, Ireland. The festival was organised by Wayne and Janice Dunne, The Irish Beer Snobs.

It was a lot of fun with some great beer and entertainment. At the end of the night, I purchased 4 bottles of White Gypsy beers. They are lovely 750ml bottles that I intended to share with my wife. I had already purchased one bottle earlier that evening and put it in my back pack. My back pack is split in two so I got 4 bottles in the main area and one in the smaller section.

When it was time to get the bus back home, nothing out of the ordinary happened. We just went home and had a good time on the bus talking to another group who had been to the festival.

The next morning, things took an unexpected turn when we discovered that my 4 bottles of white gypsy had been replaced with 6 smaller, empty Bulmers pint bottles. When it emerged it wasn't a prank by anyone in the house, I tweeted:

This was followed by:

And then:

The picture was brilliant. The game was on, what were the demands?

Hah, should I do it? Sure why not. It's a pretty funny request and I can have some fun with it. Not everyone will be familiar with Dutch Gold. It's a really cheap lager, one of the cheapest before you get to supermarket own brands. It's not the worst lager in the world by a long shot. It's just bland and boring.

Here's the problem. The prankster wasn't going to be content with just the blog post.
Here was demand #2:

Now this one was too far. I'm the Chairman of Beoir and it would be unethical of me to use Beoir resources for a private issue like this. There's also the technical issue of doing what was asked. It could involve days or even weeks of work by Andrew to update the code, adding in a new section of the app. It's not like it's a tick box. This would then likely be downloaded by thousands of people when they get the update notifications. All of this to satisfy one pranksters amusement? To me, that was just too far.
So I ended it and said I'm not playing any more. I simply consider it theft of property now.

Here's the thing, 4 bottles of white gypsy beer will €34 to replace. They are €8.50 each in drinkstore. The thief/prankster has essentially stolen €34 from me.

Kudos to White Gypsy who have actually offered to replace the beer for free. I thanked them but refused their kind offer as the theft of my beer isn't their fault and why should they be out of pocket?

I know that the prankster uses an iPhone and I believe they are either on the O2 or perhaps the Three network. That one is hard to tell because Three bought O2 but a baited link for the prankster revealed that info and I could confirm it because tweetdeck shows the device/app used. The prankster favourited my bait tweet at the same time his device IP address (O2 network) and device type was logged.

So, the real question now is. Does the prankster have the guts to come forward, admit they took it too far and return the beer to me? If returning the beer is too much hassle, I will take a paypal gift of €34 which is the cost of replacing the beer that was taken.

CCTV footage of the event will be checked, if it shows what happened, the culprit will be named and shamed if they don't come forward. If they do come forward, I will not use the CCTV footage but they must publicly apologise on twitter and accept their mistake. It was funny at first but then it just became tiresome and boring.

In the meantime, I can at least enjoy the fifth bottle that they missed.

Edit: This was just tweeted so I guess I will be doing a Dutch Gold review after all. Am I being a baby about this by refusing to give in to the second demand?

Edit2: This took another turn. The asshole demanded the empty Bulmers bottles back which I no longer have so has demanded the Dutch Gold review anyway. This person just doesn't know when to quit. They have admitted to theft, blackmail and are essentially cyber bullying / harassing me at this stage.
They might not even have my beer, I have no proof that they do, only that they posses at least one bottle of White Gypsy beer to take a picture of.
It's not worth it.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Being Adventurous

James Brown Brews is contract brand produced at the Brú brewery in Trim. It's produced by the young James Brown from a tried and tested homebrew recipe he developed. His first beer is a chocolate orange stout but don't let the name fool you, this is not a liquid version of a Terry's chocolate orange and perhaps that's a good thing. 

It was recently crowned the Beoir Champion Beer of Ireland after beating off over 80 other entries at the Killarney Beer Awards during the Killarney Beer Festival. It also won a bronze medal at the Dublin Beer Cup in February. So how does this multi award winning beer taste?

It tastes like how an excellent 5% ABV stout should taste. On the nose is chocolate and coffee with a little caramel. No orange though. On tasting, there's a bitter, burnt coffee bean hit and then it smooths a little with some vanilla. There's a long and lingering bitter finish with a mouth coating oily finish. No real orange appears but as I understand it, he's going for subtlety. You would miss it if it wasn't there but it's not the main thing about the beer. Personally, I would prefer it if the beer had a bigger body, as it's just a little on the thin side. That makes for easy drinking though which some people prefer. I would also like it if the orange was a little more pronounced, not too much, just enough that you don't question its existence.

A great first beer and fantastic result for the young brewer. The next beer is to be a tart rhubarb IPA and that just sounds like it will be brilliant. With luck, he will be able to open his own brewery in the near future.

O'Hara's are releasing a new series of single hop beers called Hop Adventure so they sent me some to try. The first one is Sorachi Ace, a Japanese hop that is often described as being a little weird. In fact, the hop was developed in the 70s and quietly boxed away for being a bit too odd even for the 70s! I would have thought it would fit right in. 

Sorachi Ace hops are known for herbal and lemon flavours and aromas and that's exactly what it brings to the first Hop Adventure. A big lemon hit followed by what I can only describe as some sort of lavender perfume. For me, the perfume overpowers and I don't enjoy it. My wife on the other hand loves it.

Single hop beers are often hit and miss. There's a reason why most beers use a blend of hops to compliment each other. Some hop strains can be a little too in your face on their own. Citra and Sorachi Ace are two prime examples of hops that are best mixed with something else. That said, I do love single hop beers as a showcase for hops. In some ways, this is better than the Brewdog IPA is dead series because they are keeping the ABV at 5% which means you get all the hop characteristics and none of the big malt body from a 7+ % beer.

I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with the next release. Mosaic would be a good one I think.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Roundup Time - #TheSession 100

A big thank you to the people who participated in the 100th Session last week. I hope this is everyone but if I am missing someone, apologies for that, just let me know and I will add you to the list.

It looks like the 101st session is open so if you want to get involved, just scroll down to the bottom of this page and follow the instructions. It basically just involves sending an email.

Alan - A Good Beer Blog - Found an interesting quote from 1842 which lists many ingredients one may not put in to beer, many of which I have never heard of.

Lars - Larsblog – Wow, Lars schooled us on a beer style I've never heard of. Less of a style and more of a practice I suppose. Raw Ale is basically beer that’s not boiled, unlike pretty much all beer on the market. I’m curious now and might do a homebrew version out of curiosity.

JohnTheBeerNut – Always reliably turns a session article in to puntastic beer review. A new Irish hemp beer was his topic of choice and the conclusion was, add more hops, I mean hemp.

DerekRamblings of a beer runner – A look at why Gose is so popular in the US. It sort of looks like one brewer releases one, another decides “sure why not” and then all of a sudden, it’s the beer style of the moment.

RogerBottled Roger’s Beers – Brilliant, a beer style I haven’t heard of. Tiswin is basically a beer brewed by Native Americans but uses corn or saguaro (cactus) instead of barley as the main fermentable. He even provides a recipe for us to try.

AlanGrowler Fills – Alan took it to heart and went on a personal journey around Spokane, WA to see what he can find. He discovered the inevitable Gose but he also discovered Grisette, something I wrote about last year in an article with a similar theme. Sounds like he had fun discovering beer.

SeanBeer Search Party – An almost philosophical look at the topic. Let the lost stay lost. From a technical standpoint, he’s correct. A recreated beer from today can’t possibly be the same as back then due to differences in hops and malt and even processes.

JonThe Brew Site – A local brewery has recreated Sahti using almost entirely wooden vessels other than the boil in the kettle, though technically, it should be one of Lars’ “Raw Beers” and not boiled. I’d like to try some of this though.

VelkyAlFuggled – I’ll be visiting Al next month. He’s always interested in old beer recipes. Al hosts the International Homebrew Project each year where we re-create old recipes. For the session, he talks about something called pumperkin, which isn't just a cute name for a pumpkin beer. It sounds a lot like fermented pumpkin juice but includes persimmons, hops and maple syrup.

JayBrookston Beer Bulletin – One of the founders of The Session, Jay says he doesn't like “beer styles” as such but then goes on to list 100 little known or lost beer styles. Many of them actually do still exist outside of the US but in small numbers. Almost as interesting are the readers comments which go on to list even more obscure beer styles.

JackDeep Beer – Oatmeal Stout is the topic here, sure oatmeal stouts are everywhere these days but for a while, they all but disappeared. Jack explores the style and history as well as lists some of the highest rated versions and even includes food pairing ideas. An intriguing look at one of my favourite styles of beer.

Boak and Bailey - Boak and Bailey's beer blog - A pre-authorised shameless plug for their book. It's a long snippet about Porter, not something you might consider to be lost but apparently, unbeknownst to me, it did spend a bit of time all but forgotten.

Killian The Drunken Destrier - A look at a style called a Münsterlander altbier or Adambier. He goes on to review an interpretation of the style from Vormann. It sound intriguing actually, even if he didn't like it much.