Thursday, October 16, 2014

What I did On My Summer Holidays

It's one of those titles that every child in school has to write an essay about at some point. It has been many years since I did and I thought I was long overdue.

This year, I stayed in Europe. I had already gone diving in Croatia at the beginning of summer and at the end, I went to France and Spain. I'm cheating here somewhat because it was technically autumn when I went as it was mid-September when I went but a little creative licence never hurt anyone.
This was a road trip and while not quite as epic as my original grand plan, it was still a lot of driving.

After we got off the ferry at Roscoff, I drove to Bordeaux and arrived sometime in the evening. Once we checked in to our hotel, I went off in search of beer. I had looked things up beforehand and my options were limited. There was a beer bar somewhere called Lucifer but I realised it was a longer walk than anticipated so we switched instead and went to the Frog & Rosbiff, one of many brewpubs in this French chain. Thankfully, the beer was very different to what I have previously experienced and it was all excellent. A worthy stop if you are in the area.
I would say that the servings are hit and miss. Most of them included a lot of extra foam so weren't full measures. The French speakers got the same treatment and as it turned out, it was just the norm the further south I went.

The next stop was Barcelona where we spent 3 fantastic nights. All research indicated that BierCaB was the best place to be and it was indeed our first stop. They have this awesome digital beer board that if configured correctly will not only display what's on tap, it will also show the levels of the kegs and any social media happenings. The keg fill levels didn't look to be working but the social media part was. You could see untapped checkins and twitter action. It did rotate old data as the next day we were in, we also saw tweets from the day before. It also automatically updates the website with the current tap list so if you are sitting out of view of the tap list, you can use the free Wi-Fi on your phone to view the list while waiting for a server to come and take your order.

One of the many beers I had in BierCaB was De Molen's Mühle & Bahnhof. It's a Gose and really smelled like a margarita with prunes and other dark fruit, salt and quite a toasted malt aroma. It tasted like a mix of salt and booze. Which is to say, a lot better than my description. Lots of prune, very salty. Perhaps a little over the top on the salt actually. Doesn't seem 9.2 though, I downed it pretty quickly.

Fellow blogger Beermack described BierCaB as one of his top 5 bars in the world. Personally, I thought it was excellent but I didn't even think it was the best bar in Barcelona and I have been to many bars that surpass it in every way.

There are many things to like about BierCaB. The décor, the beer selection, the atmosphere to some degree and even the food. The food is awesome. It's not cheap but a lot of care and effort has gone in to the menu. The best patatas bravas in Barcelona perhaps. There were also things I didn't like. Just like in Bordeaux, there was a lazy attitude to serving measures where two beers of the same size measure arrived with vastly different beer to head ratios. That aside, we had a great time both nights we were there and will be back. In fact, I believe my wife is heading there next year with some friends and I know she will be heading there.

A quick lunch pit stop on of the days and a random find with our tapas. The brewery is Barcino and there was a pale ale and a wheat beer so we tried both. Gotico Pale Ale & Bogatell Wheat. Both were tasty enough but not exciting in any way. Still, it's always great to drink local when rambling about a foreign city.

My absolute favourite place was Ale & Hop in a quiet, unassuming part of town. We initially got there too early so we went back to the hotel for a couple of hours to freshen up before returning just after opening time. It was already full at the bar so we went in back because it was time to eat.

Ale & Hop has an all vegetarian menu. I'm not a vegan and would never become one but I have dabbled with vegetarianism from time to time and do like interesting vegetarian dishes. You just can't argue with some good humus and something to dip with. It makes a great starter.

We both ordered burgers and sweet potato fries. My wife went for a sort of Mexican style burger made from various beans.

I went a little more adventurous and tried a beetroot burger. Sure enough, it turned out to be purple. It tasted interesting, very earthy as you might expect. My friend Brendan is a home brewer and brews a beetroot ale that's basically an English pale ale with beetroot. It's a pink beer and the beetroot adds the same earthiness to the beer. I reckon they would be a pairing from heaven. The only issue I had with the burger was that it didn't hold together very well and broke apart very easily.

One of the highlight beers on tap was Nomada Royal Imperial Porter. It's a 10% beer imperial stout. I found it incredibly sweet and it seemed like it finished at a very high gravity. There's more than a fair bit if lactose/milk to it. Bitter burnt and caramel finish. Great desert beer but I wonder is it really better classified as an imperial milk stout (porter)?

Now, this is why Ale & Hop was my favourite place in Barcelona. Firstly, the music. It was awesome! Whoever was in charge of the playlist had a very similar taste in music to myself and my wife. Lots of 80s rock. That just created a cool atmosphere though. Was there as many taps as BirCaB? Not even close as we are talking 10 taps versus 30. Both had a great bottle selection but I didn't even try and compare them so in terms of range, Ale & Hop isn't a patch on BierCaB but you know what? I would drink in Ale & Hop over BierCaB any day. The reason is simple. The staff give a crap! The bar man was very busy and perhaps he spent a little more time serving a very pretty girl but here's where it mattered. He served the beer with precision, attention to detail and professionalism. Every pour was measured, the head whipped off with a knife and then topped up as needed. There was no laziness, no glasses with 4 inches of head. Every beer had exactly the same beer to head ratio. This was the only bar during the entire trip where I found this to be the case.
Ale & Hop, I fully expect to be back there some day.

On the way back to Ireland, I picked up a rather large and expensive pop up tent for €99. It's French made and unlike other instant tents, this has been designed to be camped in, not for beer festivals. Dual layer, Waterproof and windproof up to hurricane levels, tested in wind tunnels etc. Quechua tents are innovative and with a little practice, quite easy to fold back down. The reason I had to buy a tent was that on the way back, I had the Beoir camping weekend. I arrived back in Rosslare on Saturday morning, dropped my wife at the bus stop in Arklow where she would head in to Dublin to meet friends and stay the night. I then drove to Redcross and pitched my tent in moments at the Rivervalley camp site.

Rivervalley camp site is home to Mickey Finn’s Pub and more importantly. to the Wicklow Brewery which was only open a few weeks. The beer was ready so we sat down at the bar and ordered some pints and were told we could head in to the brewery. Our scheduled tour wasn't until later but myself and Kevin who had arrived the same time as me were treated to a private tour by the brewer.

The brewery is a very impressive piece of kit. Everything is precise and clean. It's easy to operate. It's actually the most impressive Irish brew kit I have seen. Many Irish breweries have been using old kits from older breweries who either closed down before the craft beer boom set in or else from larger breweries that have traded up. This was a custom designed piece of German engineering and was recommended by Shane Long from the Franciscan Well brewery. Shane spends a lot of time helping new breweries get set up. His own brewery is financially secure as part of the Molson Coors family now so it's great that he shares his time and experience with the new guys.

Each batch can be 15HL and there are 4 fermenters. Three are 30HL with one smaller 15HL down the back. There are already plans to expand and perhaps start selling beyond their own premises.

How's the beer? Well, it's all very well made. The brewer is also German so it shows in his beer. It's all clean and well made but is never going to excite. The IPA needs more hops and will probably receive said treatment. It is the first batch after all so I imagine some tweaking will occur.

Some people did have a bad time when a shift change saw an old cranky bar man take over. Apparently, he started screaming abuse at his younger colleague in front of a packed bar and was acting like it was the customers fault that he was serving craft beer, something he seemed to disdain.
I missed all this because he had kicked me out when I brought in food from the on site chipper. I had been directed there for food by the brewer? I wasn't too bothered as it was a lovely night and I enjoyed my chips outside but everyone else had enough of him and left so we ended up going across the road for Guinness in a more relaxed setting. It was a shame to leave and I will not let it put me off going back.

We made up for the Guinness by sitting outside the tents tasting many craft beers and some homebrew under the stars until about 2am. We could still hear the live music in Mickey Finn's until just before we went to bed. It sounds like everyone had a great time.

So that's it, how I spent my "summer" holidays. I believe I will be in Florida for Christmas and then Iceland in January. For now, be content that I brought a load of Spanish and French beer home in the car along with many cases of wine and a mass of credit card debt that I am still recovering from.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Belated Homebrew Recipes - Brews 62 - 64

I'm brewing today for the first time since I moved back to Westmeath. In fact, for the first time since April. The reason it has been so long is that when I was living in the tiny house in Blanchardstown, there was nowhere I could ferment with temperature control. Even in the winter it was hit and miss as room temperature was often far too high and in the summer, the room would often be 30c or more. This resulted in a couple of highly phenolic beers.

I have two things going for me back in Westmeath. First is the spare room which never gets direct sunlight and stays cool almost all year round. Unless it gets very hot outside. It is usually cellar temperature and easy to warm with a low power heater.

The second is that I'm building a brew shed and gym out the back. You might have read my last article which mentioned it. I suppose I can add a third thing to the list. The water is much more beneficial to brewing.

There are 3 recipes below. One is my standard stout, Dark Stranger. The 5th version of that name, although the 6th version of my original Cloaked Stranger recipe. As a recap, Dark Stranger is my award winning dry stout. It doesn't quite fit in to the normal BJCP definition of a dry stout because it purposely finishes at a quite high gravity. This is down to the stupid levels of dark malts in the beer. Version 5 wasn't the best version but this might be down to the high fermenting temperature rather than the tweaked recipe.

Mildly Nuts was a bog standard British Mild, a lovely sessionable beer.

The beer I brewed today (Sunday) was another version of Hopping Mad, an American Amber with a stupid amount of hops. It is dry hopped as per the recipe but will be dry hopped again when kegged. My hope is that it will be the the last beer brewed on this kit in my kitchen and the next beer will be brewed in my brew shed, preferably on a larger scale kit that I'm in the process of putting together.

If you are keeping count, there's a brew missing. That was the international homebrew project beer for 2014. You can read more about IHP2014 here.

So, below are the recipes which bring me up to date as of today. I'll try my best to post my homebrew recipes in a more up to date fashion. I suspect that will be easier from now on,

Dark Stranger Stout 5

13-E American Stout
Author: Reuben Gray (Saruman)
Date: 26/01/2014
BeerTools Pro Color Graphic
Size: 22.08 L @ 20 °C
Efficiency: 74.57%
Attenuation: 60.7%
Calories: 194.29 kcal per 12.0 fl oz
Original Gravity: 1.057 (1.050 - 1.075)
Terminal Gravity: 1.022 (1.010 - 1.022)
Color: 83.78 (59.1 - 78.8)
Alcohol: 4.55% (5.0% - 7.0%)
Bitterness: 47.3 (35.0 - 75.0)


3590 g (60.2%) Maris Otter Pale Ale Malt - added during mash
1063 g (17.8%) Brown Malt - added during mash
230 g (3.9%) Amber Malt - added during mash
500 g (8.4%) Black Malt - added during mash
582 g (9.8%) Roasted Barley - added during mash
16 g (19.5%) Brambling Cross (7.3%) - added during boil, boiled 60 m
40 g (48.8%) Perle (7.3%) - added during boil, boiled 30 m
26 g (31.7%) Perle (7.3%) - added during boil, boiled 15 m
1 ea Danstar 3767 Nottingham

Mildly Nuts

11-A Mild
Author: Hilary Gray
Date: 20/04/2014
BeerTools Pro Color Graphic
Size: 23.04 L @ 20 °C
Efficiency: 75.0%
Attenuation: 75.0%
Calories: 125.94 kcal per 12.0 fl oz
Original Gravity: 1.038 (1.030 - 1.038)
Terminal Gravity: 1.010 (1.008 - 1.013)
Color: 44.59 (23.64 - 49.25)
Alcohol: 3.73% (2.8% - 4.5%)
Bitterness: 17.4 (10.0 - 25.0)


2800 g (69.1%) Maris Otter Pale Ale Malt - added during mash
500 g (12.3%) Crystal Malt 250 - added during mash
250 g (6.2%) Amber Malt - added during mash
100 g (2.5%) Belgian Biscuit - added during mash
100 g (2.5%) Munich Malt - added during mash
100 g (2.5%) Vienna Malt - added during mash
100 g (2.5%) Black Malt - added during mash
100 g (2.5%) Chocolate Malt (pale) - added during mash
20 g (66.7%) Brambling Cross (7.3%) - added during boil, boiled 60 m
10 g (33.3%) Brambling Cross (7.3%) - added during boil, boiled 5 m
1 ea Danstar Nottingham

Hopping Mad 2

10-B American Amber Ale
Author: Reuben Gray (Saruman)
Date: 12/10/2014
BeerTools Pro Color Graphic
Size: 23.43 L @ 20 °C
Efficiency: 75.0%
Attenuation: 70.4%
Calories: 229.59 kcal per 12.0 fl oz
Original Gravity: 1.068 (1.045 - 1.060)
Terminal Gravity: 1.020 (1.010 - 1.015)
Color: 24.22 (19.7 - 33.49)
Alcohol: 6.32% (4.5% - 6.0%)
Bitterness: 111.9 (25.0 - 40.0)


6500 g (90.3%) Maris Otter Pale Ale Malt - added during mash
500 g (6.9%) Amber Malt - added during mash
200 g (2.8%) Wheat Malt - added during mash
39 g (18.4%) Nelson Sauvin (12.6%) - added during boil, boiled 90 m
40 g (18.9%) Cascade (7.0%) - added during boil, boiled 60 m
27 g (12.7%) Cascade (7.0%) - added during boil, boiled 30 m
27 g (12.7%) Cascade (7.0%) - added during boil, boiled 15 m
20 g (9.4%) Nelson Sauvin (12.6%) - added during boil, boiled 5 m
29 g (13.7%) Nelson Sauvin (12.6%) - steeped after boil
30 g (14.2%) Nelson Sauvin (12.6%) - added dry to primary fermenter
1 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) - added during boil, boiled 15 m
1 ea Fermentis US-05 Safale US-05

Friday, October 3, 2014

Home Brewing My Way Through Life - #TheSession 92

In The Session 92, Jeremy from Pintwell asks us to write about how homebrew changed your view on beer. At least, that's what he asks the homebrewers among us and that's the category I fit in to.

The thing about brewing beer at home is that it gives you not only an appreciation for how a beer is made, but also what it's made of. For instance, a beer drinker might enjoy a stout and would likely be educated enough to know that it contains roasted barley. However, short of having the odd taste at a brewery tour, it's unlikely that said beer drinker would know what roasted barley really tastes like other than anecdotally. Now, roasted barley is a fairly common malt but what about the more obscure? Brown malt is less common these days or how about rye? And then we move on to hops. The homebrewer has a ready supply of hops and can sometimes learn to distinguish them by aroma alone. Personally I don't hold to that level of geekery and almost never try to identify a hop by aroma.

Homebrewing gives you an appreciation of not only ingredients but also process. An advanced homebrewer might brew the same recipe using different mashing techniques to see how the beer changes. While single infusion mashing is the most common and easiest to perform, will your Bohemian Pilsner really change for the better by trying a triple decoction mash? Only a brewer who has tried it will really be able to tell because the beer drinker usually only tastes the commercial end result and not the experimental in house stuff.

When I first started writing about beer, it was a more homebrew themed blog. That has changed over the years and I don't often write about homebrew any more. I occasionally post my recipes but I am way overdue to do that now. That's probably because I don't use my big PC which contains my recipes all that often these days so I never think of it but certainly in the beginning, my blog was about my journey through homebrewing and all the new beers I was trying along the way.

I believe that if I hadn't been homebrewing, I might not have become as involved in beer as I am now. It has also resulted in career change thoughts. I'm in IT professionally and I used to really love my job. Now, it's just a job to pay the bills and my dream is to run a brewpub some day. It's unlikely to happen but one needs a dream to keep going. I don't think I want to run a commercial brewery but a brew pub would be just right for me.

Where am I now with homebrewing? Well, I haven't brewed since about May. That's because I can't brew in the summer due to lack of temperature control as well as time to do so. I have since moved back to my Westmeath home and am in the process of building a man cave which will be a brewery and gym. Here's a picture of the outside. I'm currently insulating and drywalling the inside. Once complete, I plan on doubling my brew setup to 50 - 70 litre batches up from 25 - 30.

It's a lot of money and effort considering I only hope to be living there for 3 years and try and sell the house then but I am hoping it will increase the value of my house to have a pretty high quality external concrete building come with it. I could have simply got a shed and used that.

I'm fixing 50mm insulated plasterboard to the concrete interior using pinkgrip adhesive which is designed for that sort of thing.

I have insulated the roof with reflective bubble wrap stuff and will also be using the insulated plasterboard screwed in to the rafters. I should be finished the walls this weekend all going well.

When I'm finished, I will have an insulated room with full electric hook up. I'm not putting in plumbing as I can simply run a hose through the window on brewday.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pesky Beavers

Sorry for the lack of articles recently. I have been building my man cave/brewery/gym as well as being generally busy.

I'm a little later to the Beavertown party in Ireland. I've had Beavertown beers in the UK and indeed met the owner once if I remember correctly. That was before the re-brand though. Everything from the logo to the packaging format has changed. Beavertown have jumped on the can bandwagon in a big way. The can artwork is nothing short of spectacular and in many cases, quite funny.

I enjoyed all of these beers on the balcony of our hotel during our 10 year anniversary at the Monart. I had to bring them with me of course. I left our beer and bubbly sitting outside in the shade where it was kept chilled at night and somewhat cool in the day.

Neck Oil is a session IPA (also known as a pale ale) and is 4.3% ABV. There's lots of lemon and grapefruit with a little bitter orange pith at the end. It's a Lovely beer with a lingering bitter finish. I could drink a lot of it and that's the way it was designed. To be sessionable but packed full of flavour.

Gamma Ray I found to be very similar to Neck Oil except that it was a little more bitter and a little less refreshing. This is described as an American Pale Ale and is 5.4% ABV. Personally, if I was given a choice between this and Neck Oil, I would pick Neck Oil for the drinkability factor. Otherwise, the flavours are pretty much the same.

Next up was 8 Ball, a rye pale ale that's 6.2% ABV. I found this to be sweet but at the same time it was also bitter. This tends to be something that rye does to a beer. It's a little ryvita like, not all rye ales remind me of ry crispbreads but this one did. There's not much citrus going on which surprised me. There was some tobacco on the nose and I found it had a sort of sticky orange fudge finish. Quite odd and not sessionable but it is tasty indeed. I think it's one to revisit for me. I suspect there's a little more there than what I garnered in one can, especially after the first two hop bombs.

Black Betty is their Black IPA offering. It's a staggering 7.4% ABV. I say staggering only because Black IPA or Cascadian dark ales, whatever you want to call them, they don't tend to go that high. That's almost double IPA territory. There was plenty of chocolate and a little coffee. It's stupidly bitter though, something I love but know many others might struggle with. There's a little ash in the middle along with a slightly wine like finish. A very good beer.

And lastly, Smog Rocket. It's a smoked porter that brings the alcohol levels back down to a more sensible 5.4% ABV. After the others, this seemed a little tame but the other 4 were hop forward and this is a different kettle of fish. It's essentially a malt forward porter with plenty of smoked malt. I found it tasted a little like iodine, something you get in some heavily smoked Scotch whiskies. Even though these beers weren't chilled, by the time I had this, the ambient outside temperature had plummeted so it had chilled right down. Perhaps a little warmer next time.

Some great beer from Beavertown and while they aren't cheap, with Black Betty costing about €4.50, they are pretty good value. They also look like one of the few beer cans I would happily keep and display on a bar.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

€800 Raised For Charity - Cancer And ALS

Three weeks ago, I mentioned that I was doing both the Shave or Dye challenge as well as the Ice Bucket Challenge.

That all came to a head on the last day of the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival in Dublin. The results were vastly in favour of shave which was met with boos from the few who voted dye,
If you missed it, I doing the "Shave or Dye" campaign for the Irish Cancer Society as well as the Ice Bucket Challenge for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA).

I got most of my donations on-line and then during the beer festival I received a few hundred euro from attendees. I had two buckets. One for shave and one for dye. Everyone who donated on-line or in person mentioned if they wanted me shaved or dyed.

It was pretty straight forward. Towards the end of the beer festival, I went on stage and was publicly shaved. I then went outside to have icy water (and beer) poured over me.

You can watch the head shaving and ice bucket experience on the newly created BeoirTV YouTube channel.

So the tally at the end was €800 which is split evenly between both charities. There was a few euro in small change which I didn't bother counting and will simply pick a charity box and pour it in.

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.