Friday, September 5, 2014

My First Belgian - #TheSession 91

It takes an Irishman living in Ghent to bring the first topic on Belgian beer in general to The Session. Sure, plenty of session articles have been written about Belgian beer. The second session topic in 2007 was about Dubbels but we have never been given carte blanche to write about Belgian beer as a topic.
In The Session 91,  Breandán at Belgian Smaak asks us write about our first Belgian beer experience. That can take any form we like and may not even be about your first experience with a beer from Belgium, perhaps you have been drinking it for years and suddenly you discover something new.

I could take the topic literally of course but if I did that, it would go something like this.
My first Belgian beer was Stella Artois. The end.

I could write about my first lambic experience of course but then, I already have. It was Cantillon Kriek on cask in Rome and I was very confused. How things change!

What I've decided to do instead is to concentrate on the first Belgian beer I wrote about on this blog. That involved delving back to my first few articles and back into a world of old post cringeworthiness. In February 2009, I wrote an embarrassing post* about how Caledonian 80 was better than Duvel. This was my first experience with Duvel and if I'm honest, I haven't had that many since. The problem is that it's so prevalent I just never think of it. So what do I think now? It's over 5 years later? My tastes have changed completely during that time so I must have a different opinion of Duvel now.

There's a fresh cut straw, honey and caramel and pilsner malt in the aroma.
On tasting I find it very fizzy, that's to be expected in a Belgian blonde. Honey and pils malt with a crisp mouthfeel. Alcohol is obvious but it's not sickly sweet like other Belgian blondes. There's a slight sour finish that's barely perceptible. It finishes chardonnay dry.

Do I like it? Sure, it's a great beer. I still don't quite get why it's on such a high pedestal? Maybe because it's hard to make such a big beer as refreshing as a pilsner, dry as a chardonnay and as effervescent as champagne. Either way, it's a worthy beer to mention for this months session. It's not quite my first Belgian beer, but it looks to be the first one I wrote about over 5 years ago.

*I say article these days but this was definitely just a post.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Combining the #ShaveOrDye And #icebucketchallenge Campaigns For Charity

I don't really like internet trends and I was nominated for an Ice Bucket Challenge by Wayne the IrishBeerSnob and refused. I don't like a number of things about the challenge but it's in aid of a good cause.
I did say I would do something else and this is what I came up with.

I decided to do the Shave or Dye campaign and combine it with the Ice Bucket Challenge. On Sunday September 7th at the Irish Craft Beer And Cider Festival in Dublin, I will tally the donations. Those that donate online can include a note to say Shave or Dye. Those that personally give me money can specify and at the beer festival itself, there will be collection boxes. One for Shave and one for Dye.
Whichever gets the most money in the end will be publicly performed at the beer festival and I will also do the Ice Bucket Challenge while I'm at it. If I'm going to publicly make an arse of myself, I might as well do it properly.

Money will be split between Cancer and ALS going to:
1. Irish Cancer Society
2. Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association

If you're heading to the beer festival, please pop some money in the collection box of your choice or else give whatever you like online and specify what you want done to me.
It will be put on youtube for your viewing pleasure.

Donate Here

Friday, August 22, 2014

Excuse My Tardiness - Here's A Competition To Make Up

It's one month to the day since I last posted an article on this blog. The reason for that is I have been busy finishing off the Beoir magazine. It was a mammoth undertaking which started around April. A lot of time was spent designing the layout, writing articles, trying to get sponsors and then trying to get their artwork. Then also rounding up other articles by contributors. Finally, putting it all together and going over it hundreds of times to look for mistakes.

The magazine finally went to print at the weekend and should be delivered in time for the Irish Craft Beer Festival at the RDS in two weeks time. Here's a picture of the cover for those that are interested in a quick look. If you would rather read the whole thing digitally, then you may do so here.

Hopefully I will have more time to write on the blog now that the magazine is finished.

Competition time!

I have two pairs of weekend passes for the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival to give away. As usual, please only enter if you can actually attend the festival so they don't get wasted.

Answers in an email to: competition at (I assume you know what to do there). Closing for entries are Monday at 1pm GMT. The two winners will be randomly chosen in the afternoon.

  1. What is the title of the article on page 6 of Beoir magazine.
  2. The organisers of the ICBCF organise two other beer festivals. The Irish Craft Beer and Food Festival in Dublin over the St Patrick's weekend and Doolin Irish Craft Beer Festival. When is the Doolin festival?
  3. What's the name of the newly appointed membership officer for Beoir? (hint: membership menu)

All answers can easily be found using the links in this article.

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.