Tuesday, 8 September 2015

After 5 Years #EBBC15

For 2015, the Beer Bloggers Conference was re-branded to be the Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference. We have always had non bloggers attend the conference, people who wrote about beer in magazines and wrote books about beer but more importantly, in the years that the conference has been running, many bloggers have gone on to also write books or get published in magazines and newspapers. The name change simply reflected the evolution of the humble beer blogger.
Personally, I think the name is a little redundant. All bloggers are writers so the Beer Writers Conference would have been easier and to the point.

I have written a separate overview of the conference that will appear on the Beer Bloggers Conference website so I won't do the same thing here. Instead, I wanted to mention a few things about the conference as it has become. I am one of only a handful of people who have attended all 5 conferences and that includes from the organisers camp so I think I am in an almost unique position to look back at them all.

The first three years were in the UK and followed the same format. They were all a lot of fun and informative with the first one in London being the most memorable. How can one top walking the streets of London behind people in Victorian garb, while on stilts, laying down a bed of hops in our path? The main reason it was so memorable was simply because it was the first conference and the content was fresh while the bloggers were young.
After this conference, some bloggers started to go pro and were less inclined to go the the following conference. The content sometimes was a little similar at times but since we usually had newbies, this was fine. I  always learned something useful in at least one or two of the sessions.

The fourth one was where I was directly involved in bringing it outside the UK to Dublin. Ireland is familiar territory for UK bloggers so they wouldn't be too far out of their comfort zone and there was something for everyone. The conference had needed to leave the UK in order to survive and Dublin was a natural stepping stone.

Dublin was probably the smallest in terms of attendance but we still had about 60 or 70 people. This conference was more about the beer than content. A mini beer festival to open the conference at registration time. Most beer was served from keg and there was even a cask of oatmeal stout. There was something satisfying about walking about with a pint in your hand. Added to that, having fantastic weather and a massive beer garden at our disposal. Drinking Pilsner Urquell from a wooden cask while eating a BBQ feast in the sun was a particular highlight for me. It's rare to even have beer garden weather in Dublin.
This showed the conference could survive after Ireland but it needed to get to mainland Europe to continue to thrive.

Queue the announcement that it would be in Brussels. Awesome! I was ready to sign up there and then but when I read the agenda and saw how epic it was going to be, I was just in awe. To do everything would require the best part of a week. I flew in on Thursday and flew home on Tuesday.
In terms of content, we were also back on track. Friday saw the return of live beer blogging, something that many (but not all) missed from the previous year. We were also treated to a press conference, something that was a first if I remember correctly.

Saturday is always the main day of the conference and after a soft opening from WordPress, where they explained some fantastic improvements in the latest version of their free software, we then had an engaging and thought provoking, not to mention heated debate on beer marketing. This was just the thing to wake people up on a Saturday morning after a late night. Matt Curtis wrote in depth on that particular session so I suggest reading his article and enjoying his excellent images.

After a fantastic beer and food pairing lunch, it was back to business. I hosted a talk with Bo Jensen of the EBCU representing the beer consumer (all of us) and Simon Spillane from Brewers of Europe, representing the industry. I can't comment on how the session went over but I hope it was at least somewhat interesting and enlightening. I put my foot in it when I paraphrased a colleague with breast cancer. She said that if she had a choice of which cancer she would get, this would be the one to go for. That provided some amusement to a few and probably facepalms from others. This was in relation to an article that scientists have said that one drink a day can increase the chances of breast cancer by 15% and the media translated that to alcohol causes cancer. I challenged those present to educate people on the many benefits of alcohol and beer in particular. The benefits outweigh the possible negatives when consumed responsibly. Everything in excess is bad for you, even water is toxic if too much is consumed and we need that to live.

I particularly enjoyed the next session where 8 bloggers each gave a 5 minute report on themselves or their country. Wayne, the Irish Beer Snob did Ireland proud. Jeff told us all about biking around the world, including biking across Europe to get to the conference. Carol talked about Florida and the Baron and Chris talked about their beer reviews, especially they audio ones. Matt challenged us to think about the pictures that we use and try to tell a story with the picture. I'll admit that even though I'm an amateur photographer, my blog pictures are often not particularly interesting. Pedro told us about Brazil and Peter about San Diego. I would hope that this session will be repeated next year.

Next we had some Petrus sour beers and were encouraged to make our own blend. It was a lot of fun and incredibly tasty too. I loved the Petrus labels, they were full of information but lacked ingredients? Since that's an EBCU issue and we had been talking about it earlier, I had to point it out on twitter.

The conference ended and we were treated to dinner and respectable ABV beer from Pilsner Urquell with Thirsty Brewer: Vaclav Berka and his team. This year, they brought unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell in a tankovna. It was delicious and appreciated after so many strong Belgian beers. We even got or own personalised glasses engraved there and then.

My name is etched in the glass
So that was the conference part of EBBC15 but what could have been changed to make it better? For the first time, we had a proper auditorium but this created an issue. Space was limited and when someone inevitably had to get up to use a restroom, everyone in the row needed to get up and move their equipment and glasses. Our usual tables and chairs system is less formal but works better so we should go back to that.

Following on from Matt's 5 minutes on photography, I would like to see an entire session devoted to it with practical advice and even an exercise to be performed. A little friendly competition using our smartphones and twitter would be a lot of fun and would engage the attendees.

Perhaps a session on podcasting would be fun and informative, in fact a live podcast during this session would be great! It could be a short podcast that is processed, uploaded and made live right there on stage.

With a few years in a row of WordPress with similar content, perhaps a change on their end is warranted. Since their goal is to get people using other systems like Google's Blogger to transfer, perhaps they should hold a workshop demonstrating how to do just that. Migrate a dummy blog from blogger to WordPress live on screen. Those with laptops could possibly follow along and do the same thing as long as they have created a dummy blog on blogger in advance. That's assuming the migration can be completed in an hour of course.

Really, any session that engages the audience is better than just being talked at with some questions at the end. Physical interaction is the best way of learning so anything that gets people doing things works brilliantly.

There were rumours of Berlin next year. Prague has been rumoured for years too. We shall see as nothing official has been announced yet. The American conference will be in Tampa, Florida next year.

A big thanks to Zephyr Adventures for organising things and to all of the sponsors for helping put it together.

I'll be writing a separate article on some of the stuff we did outside the conference on the optional excursions.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Belgium Images #EBBC15

I just wanted to write a quick article with some images from the European Beer Bloggers / Writers Conference in Brussels. I'll be writing a few stories about it but for now, enjoy some the images.
The General Conference Highlights

Post Conference Excursion - West Flanders

Pre Conference Excursion

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.