Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Spanish Beer - Part One

I got through a fair bit of the beer I brought back from Spain and France over Christmas so here's a taste of some of them. I didn't take notes for everything as sometimes I just want to enjoy my beer and not be a beer geek about it.

First up from Barcelona is a contract brewery called La Pirata. I got two of their beers, the first of which is Súria, an American pale ale with plenty of orange and lemon but not a great deal of depth. Not bad, and one of the first Spanish craft beers I have ever had. Perhaps it was a little old because there wasn't much hop aroma.

The second one from La Pirata is Viakrucis, this is supposed to be an IPA but to me, it tasted like a hoppy saison. lots of funk and lemon citrus notes. I quite enjoyed it but I wonder was it supposed to taste like that? A quick glance at ratebeer seems to indicate otherwise.

Still from Barcelona, some Local Beer now from Fort Cerveza Artesanal. Agua de Oasis is an odd one. A green tea infused gose of sorts. This may just be the most refreshing and sessionable beer I have ever come across. For a start, it's only 2.9% and that makes it an interesting case if sold in Sweden. Anything below 2.25% is basically a soft drink and can be sold anywhere to anyone. If it's between that and 3.5% as this beer is, it's considered a light beer and can be sold in supermarkets etc and anything over must be sold in the government owned Systembolaget. Anyway, I'm digressing away from the beer. There's a load of lemon sherbet throughout but it's also quite spicy/peppery. It's not complex or even all that interesting and at 2.9% it's quite watery as you might imagine. Don't let that put you off, it's astoundingly refreshing.

From Art Cervesers comes Fosca, which literally translates to dark I believe. It's a 5.8% oatmeal stout. I found it very thin on body for an oatmeal stout. Some coffee and caramel are really all that's going on here. The label is far more impressive than the beer I'm afraid.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Easing In To 2015

Apologies for the delay, my first post of 2015 has been hampered with being extremely buzzy and laziness when not. Here's a couple of random beers I had over Christmas. My next few articles will be based on the Spanish and French beers I brought back from my roadtrip in September.

To Øl Black Malts and Body Salts is an imperial black IPA with a 9.9% ABV. A strong strong malt aroma with some sweetness and coffee. Slight fruity hops but not too much. On tasting, plenty of bitterness. Some burnt coffee bean but not overpowering. Plenty of citrus with a bitter coffee finish that lingers. A very interesting beer with little sign of the alcoh until near the end.

BrewDog / Weihenstephan India Pale Weizen is one of those stupid style names people like to invent. It's really just a strong wheat beer hopped like an IPA. We already have a style name for this beer, it's a hopfen-weisse and we really don't require another one. Style gripe aside, on the nose ,there's a lot of banana and clove as you might expect. Plenty of caramel sweetness with hints of lemon but no obvious hops.
On tasting, the hops are there with a pronounced bitterness and lemon citrus notes along with a little and banana bubblegum. Not bad but a little on the dull side. Mouthfeel is a little watery. This is not as good as the way I recall the original Schneider Weisse / Brooklynn Hopfen-Weisse when it first came out, which reminds me, I must get more of that. It's now called Tap 5 but I haven't seen it in Ireland for a very long time.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Golden Pints Awards - 2014

It's that time of the year again. The time of year where I get to give my own personal review of the past 12 months and pick some of my favourites. 2014 was probably the busiest year in Irish Craft Beer history with a record number of new breweries opening, multitudes of new contract brands appearing and a plethora of awesome Irish beers hitting our shelves and bars.

Best Irish Cask Beer: 

Ireland is not known for cask ale but it has made a comeback. Unlike the UK, cask ale in Ireland is a premium product. It often costs the same or more than its kegged counterpart. Only a few breweries do regular cask ale and then others do specials from time to time, usually at beer festivals. For me, the best cask beer which was consistently good throughout the year was the Barrelhead pale ale. Brewed at the J.W. Sweetman's brewpub in Dublin, it never lasted much more than a day or two whenever it appeared which meant it was always fresh and delicious.

Honourable mention to Dungarvan's Black Rock stout, one of the best cask stouts I have ever tasted.

Best Irish Keg Beer: 

This is where it gets a lot more difficult. There are many excellent kegged beers in Ireland, almost too many to pick from. I'm going to go with one that stood out to me as just being absolutely stunning no matter where I had it. Black's of Kinsale's: Black IPA. There are more interesting beers out there but this ticked all the boxes which included the ability to drink it all night but remained complex enough to keep me interested.

Honourable mention to Goodbye Blue Monday from Galway Bay, I love this beer but availability meant I could only get hold of it a few times during the year.

Best Irish Bottled or Canned Beer: 

While Metalman is the first Irish brewery to have a canning line, the first cans will not be available commercially until the new year. The best bottled Irish beer for me has to be the one that I drink the most of. There are more interesting beers but when it comes to drinkability, flavour and the fact that it's the one beer I would gladly drink if it was the only beer left in the world, O'Hara's: Leann Folláin is just pure drinking pleasure and wins it for me.

Honourable mention to Beoir#1 (Black's). It wasn't available commercially in bottles, only on draught but those of us that got the bottled version are very happy with our investment.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: 

How do you pick the best overseas bottle or can? Everything outside of Ireland is overseas and the world is huge! Of the many hundreds of beers I had during 2014, perhaps one that I can still remember in anticipation of trying it again, Cantillon Gueuze 2006 vintage. Sitting in the Cantillon brewery and drinking this alongside their regular gueuze was mind blowing because I already consider regular Cantillon gueuze as the pinnacle that all others try and usually fail to achieve.

Honourable mention to La Folie from New Belgium, just a stunning beer that I wish I had a full cellar of.

Best Collaboration Brew: 

Beoir#1 of course! Not just because I put the endeavour together or was one of those brewing it on the day. It was the best collaboration because here was 40 beer consumers for Ireland's Beer Consumer group, pooling their money together to raise €2000 for a new brewery. While Beoir#1 might not have turned out quite the way we envisaged, it was literally a mind blowing beer and a complete one off, never to be brewed again. For a brief few months, we walked around with big grins pointing at our beer on tap. Yes, we will do other collaborations very soon but this was the first and this one helped launch a brewery. That kind of special only happens once.

Honourable mention to

Best Overall Beer for 2014: 

This is never one that I can pick with ease. Last year it was easy. Of Foam And Fury (Galway Bay) just blew everyone's mind and it still does. Beoir#1 was similarly excellent. Where Of Foam and Fury was all about the hops, Beoir#1 was a little more about the body with the massive hop levels balancing that out. Was there a better beer than Of Foam And Fury in 2014? I have no doubt that there was but it still stood out for me as being a world class beer without equal.

Honourable mention to Brown Paper Bag Project: Gose, a wonderful beer of almost unequalled thirst quenchability.

Best Irish Brewery:

How does one pick a Best Irish Brewery? I didn't even bother last year. What sort of criteria does one use? Is it the brewery that produces the best beer? Or simply has the best people working for them? Or maybe they just do a lot for the Irish Craft Beer Scene? There are so many to choose from. In order to make my decision, I have combined as many elements as I can and decided that the best Irish Brewery of 2014 was the Galway Bay Brewery. There are a number of reasons for this. Their beer has pushed the boundaries of Irish brewing and in doing so, forced other breweries to up their game. Their bars have provided a gathering place for craft beer fans to crowd together and enjoy great beer, be it their own or someone else. They are a great bunch of people, are intelligent in running their business but still know how to have a good time.

Honourable Mention to The Carlow Brewing Company who have done so much for raising the profile of craft beer by running large beer festivals each year. They have helped turn beer festivals from small gatherings in beer gardens in to massive events with thousands of attendees.

Best New Brewery Opening 2014:

I don't even have to think about this too much. The White Hag Brewery stormed on to the scene with a bang. First, there was the outrage and indignation following the FleadhGate scandal. Then they boldly showed up at the RDS in September with a whopping 6 beers pouring. To top it all off, they had the audacity to be pouring outstanding beers! This was a  brand new brewery, how did they do it? That was easy, they had a little money behind them and imported an American brewer with 10 years experience. They are joining the ranks of Irish craft breweries exporting to the US, this will help increase demand for Irish beer and help drive the export market.

Pub/Bar of the Year:

Ireland has seen a great range of pubs and bars opening in recent years. Some of my favourites are Brewdock and Black Sheep, both Galway Bay Bars. I love the Norseman for daring to have a massive craft beer range in the middle of Temple Bar and being great people. The bar I'm picking is about 15 minutes walk from Christchurch Cathedral. It's 57 The Headline and was actually my best new bar choice last year. The reason is simple, they have 20+ taps dedicated to local Irish beer. There might be bars with more taps but few, if any, are dedicated to Irish Craft Beer and for this, I applaud them. It's why Beoir decided to have our Christmas party there. Where better for consumers promoting Irish Craft to go? Since last year, they have started serving food and have opened up the upstairs as a restaurant area. 

Best Food and Beer venue:

I don't go to many restaurants if I'm honest. I prefer going to pubs that serve good food and while there are many of these around the country, a few stand out. I'm going to pick L. Mulligan Grocer as my favourite. They have a very busy restaurant area at the back of the pub and booking is often essential. For good reason too, critics have been raving about this spot since it opened up, even as far afield as the New York Times! At first glance, the menu might seem a little limited but it's inventive and somewhat unique in how it approaches many dishes and each dish has a recommended beer to pair with it.

Honourable Mention to The Bull and Castle, still an amazing place to eat after all these years. Steak lovers can still rejoice and pair with some of the best Irish and international beer available.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2014:

Alfie Byrnes opened its doors at the beginning of 2014. Unlike other Galway Bay bars, this one is spacious and has a large outdoor area. It's located in the Conrad hotel complex, though is separately run. It varies from almost empty to completely packed but I love it at any time, especially if it's warm enough to sit outside.

Beer Festival of the Year:

The Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival in the RDS in September. There isn't much more to say about it. The biggest beer event of the year.

Honourable mention to the Alltech Brews and Food in February which was also brilliant.

Supermarket of the Year:

Supervalu has upped their game when it comes to craft beer. They took over the Superquinn chain last year and probably have the largest range of craft beer of any supermarket chain. That said, this is from a very small pool of candidates. Sometimes, Tesco increase their range but it's always short lived and never impressive, I have no idea what goes through the minds of whoever makes ordering decisions and I'm not just talking about beer. Do we really need shelves of Batchelors or Heinz baked beans? No black beans? Rarely any pinto beans, it's very odd.

Independent Retailer of the Year:

Drinkstore is again possibly the best independent retailer for me. They still somehow manage to pack an enormous range in to a tiny shop.

Online Retailer of the Year:

We don't have too many of these but again wins it for me.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label

I'm going to go with a non Irish one here. I think the Beavertown branding is just brilliant on their new can range.

Honourable mention to Trouble Brewing for their inventive cartoon bottles.

Best Beer Book or Magazine:

Book: Sláinte – The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider. Ireland finally has a decent book on craft beer and cider. It's aimed more at those new to beer but is entertaining and informative enough to keep the experts happy too and not to mention accurate.

Magazine: Beoir magazine of course. That reminds me, I have to start thinking about the next edition after Christmas. Note to self, print more than 7000 copies.

Best Beer Blog or Website:

I don't get to read too many beer blogs regularly these days but The Beer Nut is one that I make time for.
Honourable mention for for keeping me informed of the goings on of a cask starved Scottsman in Virginia and for getting me in to this whole beer writing thing back in 2008.

Best Beer App:

BeoirFinder as it's the only one I use really.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer:

The Beer Nut (@thebeernut) again this year for me. His quick wit and informative tweets are always a pleasure to read.

Best Brewery Website: 

8 Degrees have a new one and you can even order beer from it, a first for any Irish brewery.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

A Shock In Wexford - Jack Doyle's Brewery

Last weekend, I visited my Dad in Enniscorthy. The day before I was set to go down, I did a quick check on the BeoirFinder app as I was sure there was an up-and-coming brewery nearby. Called Jack Doyle's, it was about 25 minutes away from Enniscorthy so I shot them a mail to see if anyone would be around on Saturday afternoon. sure enough, there would be. 

The brewery was actually in a large house. It turns out that Liam, the owner was in construction until the recession and he built that house along with a couple of others in the area. The brewery is named after his son, Jack.

Walking through the door however, I emerged in to what I can only describe as a pub. This could be any country pub in Ireland and it's more spacious than some. The plan is that it will be a tasting room for visitors. The bottles on the shelves are empty and for only for display. They catalogue the "research" that was undertaken before they started brewing. The only two taps are for the two beers that they currently brew. There was actually no finished beer on site because they had just sold it all.

In a little room, just behind the bar was their little microbrewery. It was about as large as I expected from a small start up brewery that looked to be a brew pub of sorts. It's a 3 barrel kit, a unit of measurement I never understand so converted, it's a little under 500 litres. I've seen smaller kits used commercially but it is really tiny and only suitable for a brewpub scenario unless you have lots of fermenters, something this little room was lacking. I was told they would bring me out to see the rest so I figured they had a separate fermenting room. It turned out they didn't.


They had a great big brewery in what I can only describe as the best use for a swimming pool I have ever seen. It cost so much to run during the recession that they just couldn't justify it. Potential brewers should take note, find an old swimming pool and stick a brewery in it! I don't recall the kit size but I think it was a 2000 litre kit with plenty of fermenters and conditioning tanks. It hasn't been used yet, or at least not commercially. They were planning on starting to brew this week or maybe next so I imagine that the reach of Jack Doyle's beer will soon extend beyond the local towns of Wexford. They will be moving the small kit in to the main brewery to act as their pilot brewery.

The swimming pool idea serves a duel purpose. The gentle slop down to the deep end provides the ideal drainage but they put rails around it so when they have tours, they can simply walk people around in safety while brewing is going on, without having to worry about someone slipping or falling. They can then head back to the tasting room to try the beer.

I said that there was no finished beer available but I was treated to the beer straight from the fermenters. The stout was 5 days and the pale ale was 9 days in the tanks and they were pretty much ready to drink in my opinion. In fact, having them that way meant I could see what the beer would potentially be like if they ever decide to cask condition. The two beers are ideal for this. 

They have barely started producing beer and already, they have received an honourable mention at the Brussels Beer Challenge. I can't really review the beer as I haven't had the finished product but both were fantastic from the fermenter. Especially the stout. It leans more towards the sweeter chocolate end of the scale rather than the bitter roast end so think more Murphy's and less Guinness. 

I didn't write anything down so I hope I got the details correct, if anything is in error, I will correct it later.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Little Known Beer Styles - Resurrected

There are a number of little known beer styles. By little known, I mean to the general population. Serious beer geeks will likely have heard of them if not actually tried on. An obvious example that has been resurrected in recent years is Gose which is something like a salty witbier in many ways. Another is Grätzer or Grodziskie, a sort of a smoked wheat beer. I won't describe them in any detail but both have made comebacks recently.

Two I had never heard of until recently were Grisette and Kentucky Common. I love exploring new things so as soon as I had the chance, I gave them a try.

The plain white label doesn't give much away on the front, so I took a picture of the back instead. This is Fuck Art - The Heathens Are Coming from To Øl. This is a grisette but what exactly is a grisette? That requires a little googling but here is what I discovered.
Oral accounts of those who remember the old grisettes say the were low alcohol, light bodied, saison like golden ales of no great distinction. Indeed the intention was to was to be dry and refreshing as is the case with saison. According to Leon Voisin, grisettes were relatively clean blond ales of 3 to 5% alcohol content that mimicked the refreshing character of saison (only hops were the source of "refreshing" character as opposed to lactic acid sourness of old saison). 
From Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski 
From the same book, it appears to have been the drink of coal miners in Belgium's  Hainaut province. The difference between a saison and a grisette seems to be more about who drank them. Farmers drank saison, mines drank grisette. The beer styles themselves seem to be very similar in description. Modern saisons are much higher in alcohol than they used to be. The biggest difference between them seems to have been lactic acid. Grisettes didn't have that lactic sourness according to Phil. Did To Øl release a genuine grisette then? At 5.4% it seems to be a little higher than expected but not by much. There's lemon sherbet and citrus on the nose, a beautiful aroma that promises a refreshing beer. It was very bitter and with lots of late hops. It reminded me of some sort of bitter lemonade. The mouthfeel was somewhat watery. There was a slight sourness at the end and the finish was dry. So, we can tick the "refreshing" box as well as the "light body" box. Colour was fine, a golden amber colour. The sourness and bitterness is where we have a problem. So where does that leave us?

The official description says: Twisted with a smack load of hops and fermented with brettanomyces. So clearly, they took an old style and twisted it a little to produce what I can only describe as an awesome beer. Then, that's the point of the Fuck Art series. To take a style of beer and fuck with it a little.

So what about a Kentucky Common then? Recent Irish brewery, Wicklow Wolf have released one. I tried it last night. I was surprised by the colour, I wrongly assumed that a Kentucky Common was probably a little like a California common and expected a lager like beer. It poured like a porter or brown ale.

Here's a great PDF on the BJCP website that goes in to a lot of technical and historical detail but if you don't want to read it, here's a condensed description of the beer from wikipedia:
It was usually made with barley, approximately 25 to 30 percent corn, and a percentage of rye with some artificial coloring, caramel, or roasted malt to give it a dark color. It had an original gravity of 1.040-1.050, an average bitterness of 27 IBU. Brewers basically inverted a bourbon grain bill, conducted a sour mash (similar to bourbon) and instead of distilling the mash, they ran off the sweet (and sour) wort and boiled it with hops. When cooled, brewers yeast was pitched and within a few weeks they had a very interesting beer style. When made properly, the beer is an easy-drinking, slightly sour brown ale.
So, the expectation is a brown ale that's not very bitter and has a slight sourness. It would appear that the wikipedia article is a little wrong in that according to the historical brewing records, no sour mash was used and instead the beer was essentially infected with a lactobacillus bacteria strain.

How was the Wicklow Wolf version? As I recall, it was a very tasty beer and essentially a nutty brown ale with an ever so slight sour note. I will be having this again at my earliest convenience. I didn't take any tasting notes as it was the last beer of a very long night and it was kicking out time in The Norseman, one of the best pubs in Dublin for Irish Craft Beer and certainly the best in the Temple Bar area.

Friday, 5 December 2014

What's My Role In The Beer Scene? - #TheSession 94

For this December Session, I don the Christmas version of the session logo I did last year and deal with an entirely non festive theme. Adrian Dingle at Ding’s Beer Blog asks us to puff up our chests and announce how important we are to the beer scene.
Well, I can do that. My chest requires little puffing to stand out.

Any long time readers will surely know how I have changed since I first started my blog in December 2008. My first real article was in January 2009 when I wrote about my homebrew attempts and beer travels.
I don't write about homebrew very often these days, I sometimes just post up my recipes for others to try. Back then, I was very new to the craft beer scene but I quickly became well known in Ireland and to a less extent in the UK.

When I first started out, I was just a beer blogger. I wrote beery stuff personal to me as a record of what I was drinking and didn't care who read it. My blog these days is a little less about beer notes and more about beer related stuff that's going on. One thing I notice is that I have gone from an article every couple of days to a situation where I often go a week or more without writing something. The reason for that is I tend to be too busy doing other beer related things.

Over the years, I became more involved in the Irish beer scene through Irish Craft Brewer which later became Beoir, Ireland's beer consumer group. We basically shout from the rooftops about independent Irish breweries and act as a source of information to the beer consumer. In July 2013, I was elected as Chairman of Beoir and have seen my time to write articles diminish as a result. I have also branched out and I write occasional articles for The Journal and a monthly column for FFT magazine. As a beer writer and probably more so as the Chairman of Beoir, I am often quoted in newspaper articles both in Ireland and sometimes even abroad on the Irish craft beer scene. I sometimes give talks to pub groups as well as the public.

Clearly, my place in the Irish beer scene has evolved immensely over the last 6 years but where do I see myself? Well, due to the nature of my role in Beoir I would have to say I see myself at the forefront of the craft beer scene in Ireland. Even though my position is consumer based, many people see me as an authority on an industry level when in fact I have no real place in the industry at all. I'm an IT guy by trade though my heart lies elsewhere it seems.

I don't expect to always be where I am. I will not be Chairman of Beoir forever and anything might happen in my life personally that requires taking a step back but I will always be a cog in the wheel in the beer scene wherever I am. Even if it's just as a consumer but then again, the consumer is the most important person in the beer industry world. Without the consumer, there is no industry.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Getting in the Winter Spirit

I was recently sent some beer by two breweries to write about. I happily accept beer for an honest opinion when I write an article about them. For the second year, Smithwicks have released Winter Spirit. I was at the launch last year and learned that it's basically normal Smithwicks with extra roast barley. Is it an inspiring recipe? No, of course not. It's not trying to be. You drink with your eyes and typically, people prefer lighter beer in summer and darker beer in winter. A Smithwicks drinker might prefer a darker version of their favourite tipple in winter. Winter Spirit in my opinion is like Smithwicks how it should be and quite possibly more like it used to be. I have nothing to base that statement on but anecdotally, modern beer from large producers has had ingredients reduced to save money and make them more assessable to the masses.
Winter Spirit has a large malt forward body with hints of fruit cake and a nice bitter finish. It's inoffensive but has enough flavour to keep you interested for the duration of the pint. One thing worth mentioning, and nothing whatsoever to do with the beer is the lovely looking bottle opener pictured above is useless.

A few weeks previously, I was sent some of the Franciscan Well's new pale ale aged in Jameson barrels. This follows on from their very successful Jameson barrel aged stout series. I'm not 100% sure how well this marriage works in this case however. The ale itself is a nice sticky orange marmalade affair with a hint of hop bitterness and oak from the barrel. There isn't much in the way of whiskey itself, so don't expect Innis & Gunn here. I had quite a lot of this on tap at the ICBCF in September and it seems different to me. In the bottle, it's more subtle and old ale like. It was more carbonated and quicker drinking on tap. At 6% you can expect this to provide a little warmth on a cold winter evening.

Personally, I think whiskey barrel ageing works better with stouts but that's just me perhaps. My advice is to try it for yourself. In the meantime, I'm ageing all of the different releases of their wonderful barrel aged stout for a vertical tasting sometime soon.

It's also worth noting that Jameson have recently released a whiskey aged in stout barrels. Essentially, the barrels that Jameson sent to the Franciscan well for their stout were returned to Jameson and whiskey was aged in these barrels. They are calling it caskmates, a fitting name. I have no idea if it's any good but it's an interesting idea all the same.