Monday, 23 May 2016

The Perfect Marriage - Teeling Whiskey and Galway Bay's 200 Fathoms

Surprisingly, I had never been to the Teeling distillery in Dublin until last week. I was invited along to take a look at the distillery and try the recently released version of Galway Bay: 200 Fathoms, despite the beer having launched in early March. This was the media launch I guess.

Our energetic and informative guide brought us around the distillery and explained everything. For the most part, it's the same as any brewery. I was surprised to see them use wooden fermenters in such a new facility but it lends something to the finished product I'm told so that's okay with me. They look beautiful.

For those that don't know, the Teeling family has been involved in whiskey since 1872 on and off. The original distillery was in Dublin back when Ireland was the capital of the world in whiskey exports. A number of events occurred to end our reign as the top whiskey producer in the world. Prohibition in the US, World War 2 and our own war of independence and civil war. Our export options were now gone and our own population wasn't enough to justify the number of distilleries in operation.

In 1985, John Teeling bought a former state potato schnapps distillery in Louth and set up Cooley, Ireland's first new distillery in decades. It remained as Ireland's only independent distillery until late 2011 when it was sold to Jim Beam which has since itself been sold. Cooley is now part of Beam Suntory. It's worth noting that Cooley also owned the old Locke's distillery in Kilbeggan which is located 10 minutes down the road from me. It's an excellent tour and well worth visiting. 

Locke's Distillery - Kilbeggan

I would imagine that the proceeds of this sale allowed the Teeling family to consider opening up a distillery in their ancestral home of Dublin again. The site of the original distillery was gone with apartments in its place so they selected a nearby area near the Guinness brewery called Newmarket. It's a cool spot that has long been neglected but the addition of the Teeling distillery could see it become like a smaller version of Smithfield. 

Will Avery, head brewer at Galway Bay Brewery and Alex Chasko, master blender at Teeling Distillery had a discussion about the development of 200 fathoms. Each talked about the beer and the whiskey and then were let in on a little treat. It turns out that the barrels used in 200 Fathoms were then used to age a small batch of whiskey, similar to the Jameson and Franciscan Well Stout Barrel collaboration. 

I don't think it was planned to let us taste it but we all got a small sample of it. I'm not 100% sure if it has been released yet as I haven't seen it. It's pretty tasty and you can get the stout somewhat. That said, I did find it a little syrupy for my tastes. It was just a little too viscous unlike the Jameson version which is surprisingly good. Unfortunately, I neglected to take a picture of the bottle. 

The end result is here. A glass of 200 Fathoms and a little of the Teeling Small Batch whiskey. 200 Fathoms was aged in the same ex-rum barrels that are used to age that whiskey. It's a beautiful marriage of imperial stout and whiskey notes. I have a number of bottles of 200 fathoms from the last few years cellaring at home. I'll have to do a comparison one of these days. 

Thanks to Teeling and Galway Bay for the invite. It was a great event that ended up with a load of us walking to The Beer Market for afters.

If you don't want to read a bit of a rant, best stop reading here.

Since I'm writing about Teeling, it might be worth bringing up a slightly touchy subject and my own opinion on it. It was brought to my attention on Facebook a few weeks ago that there's some controversy with the barrels that Teeling use. They are ex-rum barrels from Nicaragua, specifically from the producers of Flor de Caña rum, or so I was told. Apparently, the company that owns that brand owns the sugar cane fields used to produce that rum and a number of other sugar based products. 

It would seem that at least 20,000 people have died of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in Central America in the past two decades. A number of those would have worked in fields used to produce the sugar used in said rum. The disease is said to be caused by overwork,  lack of shade, lack of water etc although no scientific study has proven that. If you want to know more, here's an article in The Guardian.

The Facebook post was pretty heated with people calling for Teeling Whiskey to be boycotted until they stop using those barrels. Someone said the barrels needed to be ditched. I stepped in with what I hope was some voice of reason.

If I can take a step back and look at this dispassionately.
All Teelings did was buy old barrels from a rum producer or perhaps a 3rd party. Would that be accurate? Or are they in some sort of ongoing deal with Flor de caña?

Can they really be blamed in any way? They are essentially recycling the barrels. Should they be expected to destroy them and buy different ones because of harsh working conditions among sugar farmers?
Can Teelings really be blamed? Even indirectly?
I'm not familiar enough with Teelings or how they produce their whiskey to be outraged by this yet.

This got some interesting comments, one of which was that no one suggested destroying the barrels. That's true, no one did but by default it amounts to the same thing. I replied:

it's just someone else suggested they need to ditch the barrels and to suggest that means they would need to ethically destroy them. To pass them on or sell them would be hypocritical if they are ditching them on ethical reasons.
I won't mention where any of these comments came from but my point was that Teeling shouldn't be held responsible for the treatment of workers in sugar cane fields just because some second hand barrels they use can be linked indirectly to their plight.

It's all very well for us to sit behind our expensive computer screens in one of the richest countries in the world and be up in arms over the plight of the those in less well off countries. The problem is, if you look hard enough, you will find many everyday products have some sort of link to some sort of injustice. The computer, phone or tablet you are reading this article on was likely manufactured or has many components manufactured in a country with questionable labour conditions. You might as well boycott everything mass-produced and just produce everything yourself while living off the grid. You would probably have to build your own tools while you're at it, just to be safe and of course spin your own fibres to produce clothes after you have built your own loom because the manufactured ones probably contain materials of questionable origin.

This has turned into a bit of a rant on the proliferation of PC craziness that has been sweeping across richer countries in recent years.

I'm a realist myself so will not be put off by this and I certainly won't be boycotting Galway Bay because their 200 Fathoms was also aged rum barrels. Can we apply a little common sense to this PC crap please?

Rant over.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Black's - Discovery IPA Series

Black's have been living the dream since 2013. You may recall that I helped crowd-fund them a few years ago when I organised Beoir members to raise €2000. This resulted in us brewing a limited release beer called Beoir#1. You can watch the video above if you like.

Always up for being innovative, Black's have just released an experimental series and sent me some samples to try. Their Discovery IPA Series features different hops. Unlike other ventures, the base beer isn't a standard affair. Each beer is different and designed to highlight the hops being used. At least that's what they would have us believe. I reckon that they are just using it as an excuse to have a bit of fun and try new things.

The first up is EXP 431 and it's perfect timing for summer. A 4.3% session IPA using hops called exp431, themselves an experimental strain. The result is fruity and bitter with citrus - grapefruit and orange pith. There's not much depth to it but it's very easy going. An excellent lawnmower beer.

A little more up my street is the Mosaic. This 6.5% West Coast IPA has intense tropical fruits and citrus with plenty of fresh pine resin. There's a  pervasive bitterness but there's also some malt body to balance it out. It's absolutely delicious. 

Not content with the other two, Sam literally went Overkill with the next one. A 9.5% Imperial Black IPA. There are notes of molasses mixed in with citrusy grapefruit and pine. This is a bit of a beast with more going for it in the malt department than the hops. Big, chewy and bold. There are plenty of hops there of course but they struggle with their identity. It's incredibly smooth and at no point did I think I was drinking a 9.5% beer. 

Why call it overkill? Pretty much because it has all the feckin hops in it. Mosiac, Exp 431, Citra, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Vic Secret and Equinox. That's overkill to me, especially since the same results could probably have been achieved with just one or two of those hops but then again, the overuse of hops gives the beer its whole identity so fair play to Black's for the ballsy move.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

A Sour Note

I have had these knocking about in the fridge for a couple of months so I decided to make the best of the warm weather and see how refreshing they are.

From Chorlton Brewing in Manchester is a Citra Brett pale ale. It's only 4.5% so I figured it would be a good one to start off with. I actually had two of these and the other one I had a few months ago but I didn't write about it. The reason was because the can had expanded and looked deformed. The interesting this is that I noticed a few cans like that when I picked it up at the off-licence so the beer is clearly a little over-active in the can. The beer is fermented entirely using Brettanomyces which while not unique, is certainly not the norm. It's also first and foremost a pale ale and uses citra and waimea hops, always a good combination. All of this leads to a bitter and tart beer that has a sort of rosemary, herbal thing going on. It was very dry and bordered on astringent. A fair bit of lemon sherbet kept it from being overpowering. All in, it was a really satisfying beer on a warm and sunny evening. 

Sur Amarillo from To Øl is similar in that it's another sour pale ale but this one is a 7.5% beast in a much larger can. This was much more extreme in the tart and bitterness end of the spectrum. This is a purely amarillo hopped beer hence the name. Lemon and a slight straw grassy and tropical note with some orange pith help to keep the bitter and tart extremes in check.
Another refreshing sour beer to end the evening on.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Banging Out The Hops

The O'Hara's sample fairies were out and about on Friday and dropped me in two of their latest beers to try. 'Opsession IPA and the in the latest Hop Adventure series.

'Opsession IPA is a session IPA at a mere 4% ABV. To make up for the lower alcohol level, I suspect they whacked a load of hops in and mostly of the bittering kind. On the nose I got some floral grassy notes with a little grainy and some honey-like sweetness.

I was very surprised on tasting to find it was very bitter, quite intense actually. There was a little malt sweetness but it was very muted. Quite a pithy bitter orange thing. Hiding in there is a little grapefruit but it's fighting through the bitterness.

It's quite dark which would usually indicate some use of crystal malt but there's almost no trace of any caramel notes. This beer is bitter. TheBeerNut talked about it yesterday but he attributed it to a sort of tannic astringency. I didn't find that myself and I do rather enjoy high tannin levels in certain styles of beer. To me, it was simply a load of bittering hops but the aroma was distinctly lacking.
As well as the hop bitterness, there was also a bitter orange pithiness and the barest hint of grapefruit but again, not evident on the aroma.

The next hop to be visited on the Hop Adventure series is Aramis from France. It's not a hop I'm familiar with so I just did a search and apparently: It has sweet, spicy notes, with hints of citrus and herbs.

From the aroma, I got next to nothing from the hops. I got a slight vinous quality and some toast. Despite its French heritage, it tastes like an English pale ale. It's bitter but not overly so, some toasted grain and a fresh cut grass note with perhaps a little spice. 
The aroma is again lacking here.

Both beers were very enjoyable but I suspect they are missing a trick here. Since the idea here is to portray the hops, the filtering is stripping all that essential aroma out of the beer. The results are some enjoyable beers that many will enjoy but just that little bit on the dull side if you are after fresh hop aromas.

My advice is to dial back on the filtering or even better, invest in a centrifuge to clear the beer and forget about the filtering altogether.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Getting Crafty - The Crafty Brewing Company

The latest in the range of Lidl's own-brand craft beers. These are produced at the Rye River brewery in Celbridge, who have really started pushing the boat out when it comes to hops. Liam Tutty, their head of digital marketing dropped a couple of bottles to my house for me to sample. It would be rude not to mention them.

First up was the Irish Pale Ale. A 4.5% little beauty of a beer that's eminently sessionable. There's a real grainy malt base with a touch of caramel which is then balanced by the bitterness and fruity bouquet of the Ella hops. It was excellent and at €1.89 is a complete bargain. Pauline was particularly enamoured with it and commandeered the second bottle.

At 6%, the Irish IPA is like the big brother of the pale ale. This one is a little more expensive at €2.45 I believe but is it worth trading up for? That depends entirely on your own taste and the situation. It's fruitier than its little brother. The Vic Secret hops are shining through with a more intense bitterness but also bitter orange pith and a hint of tropical fruits. There's still a little caramel to balance it but little sign of the graininess in the pale ale. Overall, this is a better beer, more rounded and grown up than its baby brother. There's certainly little evidence of the higher ABV however stick me in the garden on a sunny day and it will be the sessionable 4.5% pale ale I'll be reaching for.

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.