Monday, 25 May 2015

A Visit to Brewdog

I was invited to the Brewdog brewery recently along with a number of other beer writers for a media day. I had actually been invited to go last year in August but it was the same weekend as my 10 year anniversary so that wouldn't have gone done very well with my normally understanding wife. It was great to get a second chance.

In the European craft beer world, Brewdog is big. They have grown to be a similar size to many regional UK breweries though perhaps not as big as the the large American craft breweries like Sierra Nevada or Samuel Adams. The most impressive thing about them isn't how big they are now, it's how quickly they have grown. There's may be a correlation between the rise of craft beer in the UK and the rise of Brewdog. I would say that while the craft beer scene in the UK would have happened anyway, I reckon Brewdog played a role in making it as big as it is. People talk about Brewdog, perhaps not always in a positive light but the point is, they are talked about. Kegged beer in particular got a lot of media attention as a result of the numerous Brewdog PR stunts.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Brewdog is their equity for punks scheme. This is one of the reasons they have become so big. There are many perks to being a Brewdog punk, especially if you have a Brewdog bar near you. Dublin doesn't have one, at least not yet. I have it on good authority that it's on the list though. One of the things Brewdog says on their prospectus (page 23) is: 
If enough people in Dublin sign up as an equity punk, it might help speed up the process. Looking at the little chart now, Ireland is in green which means we have between 50 and 99 equity punks. Actually, I just joined up a few minutes ago so that might help.

Brewdog has a referral program so I contacted a friend I knew to have shares and got his code. I think you get some free beer after 5 referrals and they then stack with other rewards as they increase. The top one is 40 referrals where you get an all expenses paid trip to the brewery and brew a beer and stuff like that. There's a chart on the site that shows that 1st place so far is someone with 26 referrals so there's a bit to go for that guy but it seems achievable.

Now that I have become an equity punk, I have my own referral code. If you are thinking of investing, make sure to get a referral code from someone you know so everyone benefits. Or just use mine if you like prefer.

I almost feel dirty posting it but that's what the code is for, for sharing and growing the community. Let's get a bar in Dublin! You know you want one.

Brewdog has a tiny Sabco pilot kit for doing testing and also inviting the public to brew one off batches. They might even bring it to a brewdog bar for a brewday if you ask nicely from what I can tell. It's a 50 litre kit so enough for a single keg of beer at your local brewdog bar.

This is the real pilot kit and it's as big as many microbrewery kits I have seen and bigger than many in Ireland. This pales in comparison to the size of the main brewery though.

The image above might look like a pile of fudge but it's actually mash run off. The day before our media day, a few beer writers were brewing on the main pilot kit. You can just see Matthew Curtis in the image above. He and Adrian Tierney Jones along with The Craft Beer Channel were there to brew a peach and apricot tripel. The initial mash didn't go quite according to plan as you can see from the fudge run off but that was sorted out with a second mash.

 We were also brought down the road to their barrel warehouse where we had a tasting direct out of some of the barrels. Most of these are simply ageing with no end goal in mind. The guys will decide to do something with them as time goes on. Some might be blended, others released as special batches. It's a very impressive sight.

I brought a shiny new can of dead pony club across the road with me. It looks a little out of place on the barrel but it made a great palate cleanser in between the barrel aged beers we were trying. The can of dead pony club is one of the first off their new canning machine. This will also see 500ml cans of punk IPA being released soon.

Fresh off the line, not even released yet.
Another first was the new born to die. An 8.5% DIPA with a short date on it. You drink it before that date which in this case is the 4th of July. You don't get fresher than a bottle lifted off the bottling line and it is delicious.

I put together a couple of videos of the brewery. The first one is a general look at the brewery, especially the packaging machinery and the second is an interview session with James and Martin where we just asked a bunch of questions over a beer tasting session.

Feel free to take a look. Apologies for any camera shake, I didn't have a tripod with me.

You can also take a look at all of my images on my Flickr page. Here's a direct link to the Brewdog images.

This short video contains a look at the brewery and specifically their bottling and canning line. It's fascinating to see it in action.

This much longer video is just a questions and answers session with James and Martin. It might be of interest to some.

A big thanks to Brewdog for arranging the media visit. It was a lot of fun and at the end of the day, James and Martin are really nice guys who just love making the best beer that they can.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Announcement - #TheSession 100 - Resurrecting Lost Beer Styles

I have the great honour of hosting the 100th session. That's 100 months of Beer Blogging Fridays.
What is The Session though? Most readers will know but if you are just joining us for the first time, it's quite simply this: On the first Friday of every month, a beer blog hosts a session. There's an announcement like this one which gives a topic and perhaps some guidelines for bloggers to ignore.

It was thought up by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer in 2007.
The list of session articles both past and present are kept by Jay Brooks at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

If you want to participate in The Session, you just view the announcement, write your article based on the topic and let the author know so they can include you in the round up. The round up is a sort of readers digest version with snippets of everyone's article. It's the best part of the session for many people.
If you want to host, just look at the list and find a free spot. Then email Jay or Stan and they will put you down for it. The details to do so are found on that list page.

That bit out of the way, I wanted to do an interesting topic for the 100th Session and looking back over the other 99 topics, none have touched on lost or almost lost beer styles. There are many of them that have started to come back in to fashion since in the last 10 years due to the rise of craft beer around the world.

If you have a local beer style that died out and is starting to appear again then please let the world know. Not everyone will so just write about any that you have experienced. Some of the recent style resurrections I have come across in Ireland are Kentucky Common, Grodziskie, Gose and some others. Perhaps it's a beer you have only come across in homebrew circles and is not even made commercially.

There are no restrictions other than the beer being an obscure style you don't find in very many places. The format, I leave up to individuals. It could be a historical analysis or just a simple beer review.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Mine's A Mild - #TheSession 99

I'm a week late it seems but my good mate VelkyAl over at Fuggled is hosting the session this month. He organised American Mild Month and managed get nearly 50 breweries involved. Attempts to do something similar in Ireland didn't work out very well. Brewers are too busy I suppose.
Since it's American Mild Month, that's the topic of the month or more to the point, local versions of a mild.

Ireland doesn't really have much in the way of milds, at least little branded as that style. One or two pop up every now and again. To my knowledge, we only have two using that as a style name. One from Donegal brewing and the other from Rascal's. I haven't had either but if I manage to try one this weekend, I'll update the article to reflect.

What's a mild? That's the first question you need to ask. The full BJCP description is here but the main point might be the following.
Overall Impression: A light-flavoured, malt-accented beer that is readily suited to drinking in quantity. Refreshing, yet flavourful. Some versions may seem like lower gravity brown porters.
Comments: Most are low-gravity session beers in the range 3.1-3.8%, although some versions may be made in the stronger (4%+) range for export, festivals, seasonal and/or special occasions. Generally served on cask; session-strength bottled versions don’t often travel well. A wide range of interpretations are possible.
History: May have evolved as one of the elements of early porters. In modern terms, the name “mild” refers to the relative lack of hop bitterness (i.e., less hoppy than a pale ale, and not so strong). Originally, the “mildness” may have referred to the fact that this beer was young and did not yet have the moderate sourness that aged batches had. Somewhat rare in England, good versions may still be found in the Midlands around Birmingham.
One of my favourites is Thwaites Nutty Black which won two gold medals and was crowned World's Best Mild 2014 at the World Beer Awards. That on cask is pure heaven.

On the question of localisation, how would we localise a mild in Ireland? The closest thing to a unique style of beer that we have is the Irish Red. Some would argue that this isn't a style, it's the same as an English pale ale or bitter but there are differences. It's more malt forward, especially in the caramel department and has little in the way of hop aroma or flavour, Bitterness is almost non-existent in most. They tend to be over the 4% mark so perhaps a little on the high side for a mild.
They are similar to some Scottish ales except not quite as caramel forward and a little dryer due to the use of roast barley.

If we were to take an Irish Red, lower the ABV and serve it young, then it might pass as a mild.

We could also use local ingredients native to Ireland. We have lots of bogs here so bog fauna like heather and bog myrtle could be used to compliment or even replace hops since hops are not native to Ireland and are not commercially grown here any more other than in small cases by a few breweries.
The White Hag brewery does a couple of these but they are 7.5% and 8.2% so perhaps the second runnings of their heather ale or bog ale might work as a localised mild?

I'm a fan of milds and would like to see more of them in Ireland.

One last thing, I find myself hosting next months session. You can expect an announcement in a week or so but to get prepared, the topic will be about lost / almost forgotten beer styles.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Grafters - New Brand From Rye River Brewing

Rye River is one of those brewing companies that I reckon is going to grow significantly in the coming years. It was founded in 2013 in a little Kildare commuter town to the west of Dublin called Kilcock. In fact, Kilcock had a rich brewing heritage with 3 breweries and 2 malthouses. There were also 6 distilleries in 1776 taking full advantage of the Royal canal. Rye River is housed in what was once Kelly's bakery from 1700s to the 1980s. It's a prominent industrial building in the centre of the town. It would appear that there had been plans to demolish the old building and create a new town centre development in 2006. Thankfully, the recession put an end to that madness and Rye River made it their home 7 years later.

So, why will Rye River go places? It's all about the staff. Most microbreweries in Ireland are set up by beer enthusiasts. People with a passion for good beer and usually with a home brewing background. The trio of Niall, Tom and Alan come from big beer. They know how to market beer which already gives them an advantage. With experience in the likes of Molson Coors, Guinness and Heineken under their belt, the founders have plenty of experience in the industry. They also employ talented brewers like Alex Lawes to keep things interesting.

Rye River has a number of brands under their belt. There's the marmite brand of McGargles. You either love it or hate it. Personally I'm pretty ambivalent towards it, the problem is the branding rather than the beer itself. McGargle's isn't really aimed at die hard craft beer drinkers. It's a much more accessible brand and quite literally, the bread and butter of the brewery. I quite like the Knock Knock Ned's IPA but it wouldn't be top on my list. Some of the other brands are Solas, The crafty Brewing Company and also Colgan's. They briefly released some extraordinary beer at recent beer festivals under the Rye River brand. A wonderful American brown ale, Berliner Weisse and DIPA.
They now have another brand of beer called Grafters and has just been released. A bottle of each beer was left at the brewery for me to collect and give my opinion.

Grafters IPA is a 6.5% IPA with plenty of grapefruit on the nose. On tasting, there's a real caramel. body hit along with citrus. It's quite bitter but there's a nice sweetness to keep it balanced. Easy drinking and clean. There's not much aroma but it's tasty enough. It's a little bit like a starter IPA. It won't scare the hop sensitive like a big American IPA of the same ABV.

Grafters pale ale is the baby brother at a sessionable 4.5% and you know what? It's a much better beer in my opinion. An aroma of caramel, grapefruit and toasted malt. The flavour is where it really shines. Bitter up front, more so than the IPA. Then, a little caramel sweetness. A burst of citrus follows, grapefruit and orange. It's a little thin but that's just making it really refreshing and an excellent session beer. There's a slightly sea salty bitter finish? I can't be sure about the salt, it wasn't there in the IPA and I used the same glass so I'm not sure where the salt came from. It was just the barest hint and it actually worked really well with the beer but it could have been anything and may not have been in the beer at all.

So, two new beers from Rye River and they are pretty decent to boot. I just hope they release the 3 stunning Rye River branded beers I mentioned earlier. It would give them some serious street-cred among some of the more snobbish beer drinkers. I count myself among that crowd sometimes.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

1860 Truman's Double Stout #IHP2015 - The End Result

This year, the International Homebrew Project hosted by Fuggled was selected as a Truman's Double Stout from 1860. Here's the recipe that we were to brew. Mine was a little different because I didn't have the exact ingredients needed. The grain bill was the same but I used different hops and yeast. I doubt it made much of a difference though. My recipe is below.

I had a small hiccup on brewday because my first 10 litres of water for the first sparge went right through the mash tun in to the boiler. I had left the tap open and didn't realise. I reckon this messed up my efficiency somewhat as my original gravity wasn't as high as it should have been.

I tapped the keg 2 weeks ago and it came out as pure foam so I spent a week releasing pressure and pouring pints of foam. You needn't fear, the foam settled in to beer and was all consumed with pleasure. The beer is now pouring correctly so I was finally able to take some notes.

On the nose is dark chocolate and a little coffee. There's no real hop aroma, perhaps a little grass.
On tasting, there's an intense bitterness straight away and then a little roast coffee. It then morphs in to chocolate syrup and a little toffee before a dry bitter finish. A little bit like Wrasslers XXXX actually.

I'll be bringing some along to a homebrew meet tomorrow so people like The Beer Nut can give it a go and perhaps comment on here with what they think.

Apologies for the sparse articles of late, I'm in the middle of publishing the 2nd edition of Beoir Magazine so that takes priority.

IHP 2015 Truman Double Stout 1860

13-D Foreign Extra Stout
Author: Reuben Gray (Saruman)
Date: 15/02/2015
BeerTools Pro Color Graphic
Size: 18.72 L @ 20 °C
Efficiency: 59.1%
Attenuation: 58.1%
Calories: 212.52 kcal per 12.0 fl oz
Original Gravity: 1.062 (1.056 - 1.075)
Terminal Gravity: 1.026 (1.010 - 1.018)
Color: 52.45 (59.1 - 78.8)
Alcohol: 4.74% (5.5% - 8.0%)
Bitterness: 131.3 (30.0 - 70.0)


5557 g (82.3%) Maris Otter Pale Ale Malt - added during mash
1003 g (14.9%) Brown Malt - added during mash
194 g (2.9%) Black Malt - added during mash
36 g (25.4%) Pilgrim (10.2%) - added during boil, boiled 90.0 m
36 g (25.4%) Pilgrim (10.2%) - added during boil, boiled 60 m
70 g (49.3%) East Kent Goldings (5.0%) - added during boil, boiled 30 m
1 ea Danstar Nottingham

16.5l water mash

Mash in: 73c
Sparge 1: 74c - should be 80c - Tap was open so it all went straight though to kettle.
Sparge 2: 85c
90 minutes boil
16.5l water mash
OG should be 1.079 but actually 1.062
Results generated by BeerTools Pro 1.5.24

Friday, 3 April 2015

Cans or Bottles? Does It Matter? #TheSession

In this 98th edition of The Session, Nathan over on MicroBrewr asks us to discuss beer packaging. Cans or Bottles specifically. Which is better? Does it matter?

Well, who actually cares and why? For that, we have to go back a bit. When the craft beer scene around the world was really picking up in the late 90s and early to mid 00s, there was a clear perception that any beer that came in a can was rubbish. Why? Because it was the packaging of choice for most macro breweries and they didn't produce anything worth drinking for craft beer drinkers. Sure, most of these macros also produced bottled beer but that was overlooked.

Craft beer only came in bottles, probably because canning lines were more expensive at the time. They probably still are actually.

Things started to change when Colorado brewery; Oskar Blues produced the first craft beer in a can. That was in 2002 I believe. In 2004 I married a girl from Michigan and I discovered craft beer in the form of Bell's Oberon while visiting so craft cans have been around longer than I have been drinking craft beer.

It took a long time for this side of the Atlantic to catch on but a number of UK breweries have since started to can. Brewdog were possibly the first and since then Beavertown and Adnams among others have made the change.

In Ireland, we got our first Irish micro-brewery canned beer from Metalman just a few short months ago.

The can itself looks brilliant, it makes use of their logo and style brilliantly. It might not stand out quite as much as the brilliant Beavertown artwork but it does stand out. Up until they got the canning line, Metalman was only available in draught. I'm not going to talk about the beer inside the can because it tastes the same as the draught version, just slightly less carbonated in the first batch, something that will be addressed and it really doesn't detract from it anyway.

I'm going to list some Pros and Cons of canned beer.

Lighter, stackable, safer, whole area can be used for info rather than what fits on a label, can be placed in a recycling bin*, unaffected by light, better seal=fresher product, cheaper shipping.

Misplaced stigma, probably not advisable to age beer in**.

Well, that looks very positive for cans. If I do the same for bottles?

Aesthetically pleasing, can be re-used by home brewers, good for cellaring beer**.

Cons: Heavy, dangerous (breakable), stack-ability is limited, more expensive shipping, cap seal can fail, light can get in to varying degrees depending on the colour.

Reading it like that, it sounds like the can is the clear winner. It has more pros than cons but it's not that simple. If you note the asterisks, I have some things to say on those ones in particular.

* Recycling: Cans are easier to recycle for the consumer because they can be placed in your recycling bin. Glass bottles can't in Ireland, they must be brought to the bottle bank. This usually means driving unless you live a few minutes walk from a recycling area. Driving to a bottle bank uses fuel and so on.

** Metal lining: cans are either made out of aluminium or a mix of steel and aluminium. Exposing liquid to these metals would result in oxidisation the materiel itself. This in turn wouldn't be much good for the contents. To get past this, cans are lined with a plastic coating. This plastic coating does not last forever and can fail entirely. This usually ruins the contents. Also, the coating is made of toxic materials. Usually it's in such a small dose that it's harmless but it's something to be aware of and over time, exposure could be problematic.

So, where does that leave us?
Possible health risks aside, I still think cans are the better form of packaging for fresh beer. Lagers, pale ales etc are fine from a can. Just consume as soon as possible. They are especially good for fresh hop forward beers like IPAs as the hop aromas and flavours will be as fresh as possible if consumed within a couple of months of packaging.

One other thing, you might wonder about bottle conditioning. Can you condition in a can? Yes you can. I have had New Belgium's Fat Tire in the can and it's can conditioned. The bottled version isn't and it's not as good either.

Old ales, imperial stouts or pretty much anything you might like to cellar for a few months/years should only come in a bottle and not a can in my opinion.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Little Bullies?

In my last article, I wrote about alleged bully like activities among the big three brewers in Ireland towards small independent Irish breweries. I wanted to look at it from the other side today.

Craft beer has taken off all over the world and the big drinks companies are taking notice. Some of them buy small breweries to add to their portfolio. Others release new products either under their own brand or a new faux craft brand. The big 3 in Ireland are no exception. Here's the thing, two of the big 3 are foreign based multinationals. One is Irish and known more for cider than beer but has recently started to get more involved in the Irish beer market.

All of them have new products that they have started pushing heavily recently. Could it be in retaliation? Craft brewers have been nibbling at their feet for the last few years and maybe they have decided to fight back.

Consider this. In 2010, the island of Ireland had 27 pubs serving Irish craft beer. A tiny number of pubs out of the thousands. By 2014, that number was in excess of 600 that we know of and that number was growing all the time and still is. While many of those pubs might only sell bottled Irish craft beer, plenty of them had draught. Those lines had to come from somewhere as tap space tends to be finite in pubs. In some cases, new lines would have been run but in others, something had to go and that meant that a well known brand was taken out and an independent local beer served in its place. For the most part, the beer that was taken out was probably not selling so it makes sense for the publican to try something new.

In the last couple of years though, new brands have emerged from the big 3 in response to the craft beer movement. To give an example, Diageo first brought out the new Smithwicks beers like the pale ale, winter spirit and so on. That was a number of years ago. More recently, they released Guinness branded beers such as Dublin porter, west Indies porter and the new Hop House 13. These taps need to go somewhere and I doubt they will want existing products of theirs taken out of pubs so that leaves a competitor's tap space.

Heineken have just announced that they are launching a new cider in Ireland from May. I don't know if this will be draught or bottle at the moment but if it's draught, things will get interesting. There's really only one major cider brand in Ireland on draught in every pub so will they be targeting that or craft cider taps?

So, what's the difference between a craft brewery replacing a big brand in a pub with a big brand replacing a small one? Is it all just business?

The way I see it is that a craft brewery can only replace a big brand in a pub if that big brand isn't making the pub enough money or if the publican wants to give consumers what they want. They also can't offer the publican any special deals of free kegs or the like. Their margins are already too tight.

When it's in reverse, the same can be true yes. Perhaps the craft beer isn't selling and the publican knows that people want the big brands products instead. It's more likely that the craft beer was selling just fine but the offer of a golden egg laying goose is too good to refuse.

Craft breweries have been buzzing around the big boys like flies for a few years. It sounds like they have started to reach for the fly swatter.