Thursday, 26 November 2015

SuperValu: Raising The Bar

For the last few years, SuperValu and Superquinn were the best supermarkets in Ireland to get craft beer. Since the Superquinn re-brand as SuperValu, things have become a little more interesting around the country. None more so than the newly re-furbished store in Blackrock.

It all kicked off at the #GoodFoodKarma Christmas Extravaganza on November 11th. The red carpet was literally rolled out for media types to attend. I went straight to the beer section and was blown 
away by what I saw. In the middle, they have what appears to be a bar. You can just see some Christmas gift packs from Black's of Kinsale on the shelves. They have an extensive beer fridge and then plenty of shelving dedicated to craft beer, much of which is Irish but they have plenty of imports to keep things interesting. To top things off, they also had a growler station where you can pour your own draught beer to take home. The lads from Wicklow Wolf were there on the night.

While I'm mainly interested in beer, they also have an impressive wine selection and are exclusive distributors of Graham Norton's wine. The best part is, it's a bloody good wine too!

And then we come to the whiskey collection. I had always meant to write about whiskey on this blog but I never really did. You will find some incredible whiskey in the new style shop, including the beautiful but spendy Middleton: Barry Crocket Legacy. It's a little over €200 but you know, it might just be worth it.
I had my first taste of the Caskmates, the whiskey aged in former Jameson barrels used to age Franciscan Well barrel aged stout. The barrels have come full circle and are being used to age Jameson whiskey again. I was pleasantly surprised by this and might have to pick up a bottle.

The shop itself reminded me of some of the upmarket supermarkets in the US like Wholefoods. I heard a comment that this new SuperValu looks how everyone thought Superquinn looked but actually didn't. 

I'm not sure about groceries but it's worth popping in to for the beer section alone if you find yourself in the area.

Friday, 23 October 2015

In a Galaxy Far Far Away

I received some beer from the lovely people at O'Hara's recently. It was the next in their Hop Adventure series featuring Galaxy hops. It's basically a beer brewed to try and showcase specific hops. The first one was Sorachi Ace and you can read my thoughts here.

What you need to understand here is that these are hop showcasing beers. They are not trying to make the best IPA. It's a similar concept to the Brewdog: IPA is dead series. They don't use as many speciality malts as their regular pale ale.

This release is all about Galaxy hops. Beer geeks love Galaxy hops. The aroma is clean with some citrus. It's not in your face hops though. There are hint of tropical fruits and some malt sweetness but otherwise, it's a very clean aroma. On tasting, the clean theme continues, It's similar to the normal IPA, much more so than the Sorachi Ace release. There is a far more pronounced bitterness that lingers and coats the mouth though. If I was disappointed, it was because there's not a major amount of hop favours coming through and I think it's because it has been filtered too much. The tropical fruits and citrus are a little muted.

Again, this beer is only to showcase the hop variety. The secret is in the numbers. Both Galaxy and Sorachi Ace were hopped to 38 IBU (bitterness units). In contrast, the regular IPA is 50 IBU. Get a bottle of this and try it alongside the regular IPA and you will probably notice the hop difference. There's more going on in the regular IPA due to different hops but the Galaxy brings its own characteristics to the beer. Galaxy hops have a pretty high alpha acid (what makes it bitter) of 12-16% and it does show in the rounded and persistent bitterness. Despite the lower IBU, I found this more bitter than the regular IPA because there are no other distractions to the beer.

Single hop beers are rarely great because hops are better blended to bring their respective characteristics out. In the same way that single malt beers are rarely as good as their mixed malt counterparts.
If this was a regular beer, I would say it needs more hops (and less filtering) but for what it is, I think they hit the nail on the head here.

I'm looking forward to the next edition. I vote for Polaris but in my last article, I suggested Mosaic so I will be happy with that too.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Journalism 101: Craft Beer Does Not Equal Hipster

Sloppy and lazy, two words to describe many an article that mentions craft beer when printed or published by what one might term established media. Too often have I read things like craft beer is just a fad or passing phase and far too often have I read that craft beer drinkers are hipsters. That last one is insulting both to craft beer drinkers and probably hipsters too. I don’t think I even know any hipsters and I'm one of the biggest craft beer supporters in the country.

There has been many an article following this lazy journalistic approach but the latest one was published on Tuesday on by Nick Webb. This isn't a personal attack on Nick but it is an attack on the completely lazy approach to journalism that seems to have encroached on what was once a respected media. It’s not an attack on the independent as such either because I know journalists that work for the independent that do understand the craft beer scene and do have journalistic integrity. Nick is just unfortunate to be the latest journalist to piss me off with sloppiness and cynicism.

This is going to be a bit of a rant and contain profanities. If you don’t like rants or profanities, here’s a picture of fluffy bunnies being cute.

The article in question can be found here and the title is: From truckers and brewers to builders and the tax payer - the winners and losers from Budget 2016. Sounds good so far, it’s a business orientated look at Budget 2016.

OK so I move down to the bit that interests me. The paragraph on the drinks industry:
Drinks Industry: Apart from the hipsters running the craft beer sector, the drinks industry – publicans and major brewers and importers – got no relief. Super high excise duties on booze weren’t touched, which means that Ireland remains one of the most expensive places in the Western world to buy a bottle of Montepulciano.

I have underlined what I have a problem with. Hipsters running the craft beer sector? I don’t know of a single hipster running anything of note, let alone anything in the craft beer sector. They certainly don’t own any breweries and it’s the brewers/brewery owners he is phrasing this towards as they are the only winners in the budget. Not only is this an ignorant, derogatory remark which shows a clear cynicism on his part, it also shows a complete lack of understanding of the word hipster. If you don’t know what a word means, use a fucking dictionary or at least Google it.

I also have a problem with the word booze. Another derogatory term for an alcoholic beverage that’s enjoyed responsibly by the majority of the population, in moderation. When consumed in moderation, is beneficial to one’s health but it’s the word booze is not as insulting as hipster so let’s stick with that.

According to the Collins dictionary, a hipster is the following:
a person who follows trends that he or she regards as being outside the mainstream

According to Wikipedia: 
The hipster subculture is one of affluent or middle class young Bohemians who reside in gentrifying neighbourhoods, broadly associated with indie and alternative music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility (including vintage and thrift store-bought clothes), generally progressive political views, organic and artisanal foods, and alternative lifestyles. The subculture typically consists of white millennials living in urban areas. It has been described as a "mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behaviour".
Personally, I think Urban Dictionary gets it right here

What’s my point? None of these definitions include the word brewer, brewery or even the term craft beer. Hipsters in the US have been known to drink PBR. They like irony and I think they find it ironic to drink a mainstream beer that no one else drinks. It wasn't marketed like other big beer so hipsters were drawn to it.

Getting away from brewers and brewery owners then. What about the consumer? Are craft beer drinkers actually hipsters? Fuck no! We are normal people who like two things about what we term craft beer. We like that it has flavour and isn't watered down fizzy liquid. We also like that it’s usually an independent, small business. We don’t drink it to look cool or stand out from the main stream. We just think it’s a better product and if the big boys start making better products, many craft beer drinkers will happily drink those products. It’s that simple.  Some of the more zealous among us will still look to drink beer from an Independent brewery over a mass produced beer, even if the mass produced beer is just as good. That doesn't make us hipsters. Is anyone who prefers Irish cheese over imported cheese because it’s Irish a hipster? Of course not, that would be a ridiculous line of thought.
OK so if it’s clear that craft beer drinkers are not hipsters, why label us as such? Well, many so called hipsters do drink craft beer in Ireland but here’s the thing. Hipsters often like things that aren't popular and craft beer is popular these days so perhaps they are all drinking something that’s not popular, something no longer advertised. The ideal hipster drink in Ireland isn't craft beer, it’s a pint of Harp and they are welcome to it.

One can only assume that the dismissing use of derogatory terms to refer to craft beer drinkers is because the journalists in question believe that craft beer is a phase, a fad, something that will go away when people get bored. This again shows a complete lack of journalistic integrity because all it takes is a little historical research and just a bit of common sense.

Take this little infographic here. I'm sure you have seen similar statements floating around Facebook.
Commercial beer as we know it only really started during the industrial revolution. In fact it was the commercialisation of beer that helped make it such a success. Many modern inventions, right down to the production line can be directly attributed to brewing beer but I'm digressing a little.

Is it a fad? 

I wrote about this very subject on The Journal last year. This was in direct response to an attack on craft beer in a courtroom by the VFI.  Feel free to read it if you like but the gist of it was this. Craft beer has many definitions but one main theme seems to be that it’s produced in small batches by an independently owned brewery and not on a massive industrial scale by a drinks company which owns many such breweries around the world.

Before the industrial revolution, all beer was craft beer. It was produced locally using local ingredients and sold to local people. After industrialisation and the amalgamation of most breweries in to large brewing conglomerates, craft beer persisted in a small regional way in some countries but was wiped out entirely in most, Ireland was one of those countries. By the 1980s, only the big three remained and it wasn't until the late 90s that we saw our first independent breweries start to open again.

Since big beer only started a few hundred years ago, but humans have been brewing beer for at least 5000 years and probably longer, which brewing process do you think is actually the fad? The 5000+ year old small scale, small batch, independent brewing or the 200 year old industrial scale brewing? Getting back to the infographic: Compressing the earth’s history in to 46 hours shows commercial beer is 1 minute old and craft beer is a few hours.
It’s not bloody rocket science people!

And when the zombie apocalypse comes, and all industry falls, we will still be brewing locally produced beer in small batches. That's right people, craft beer will survive a fucking zombie apocalypse! On that day, we will use the hipsters as canon fodder to protect the beer.

So, for any journalists or aspiring journalists reading this, please show a little bit of journalistic integrity when you write an article. Not just for the benefit of readers but for your own reputations also.

That’s the end of my rant. Thanks for reading if you got this far. I think I might dress up as a hipster for Halloween because I will find it ironic….. Either that or a journalist.

If you want to read on craft beer in the independent, just stick to journalists like Gavin McLoughlin. He checks his sources and does so often. I know because I'm one of them.

If there are any mistakes in this piece, sorry but I'm not a journalist. I'm just a writer. I'm a person who likes to drink beer and write about it.

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.