Last year, I attended the Alltech Brewing and Distilling convention. This year it was a slightly different set-up with more emphasis on the expo which was basically a beer and food festival with over 30 breweries in attendance. The conference part was smaller and more compact but I think a little more focused than last year and since there was less going on, there was a lot more time to visit the expo downstairs.
My one job this year was hosting a talk to nearly 300 publicans on the Thursday morning. Things were running a little late and in the end I had the distinct honour of following Dr Lyons himself after his rousing speech. Of course, he is a tough act to follow but I believe I acquitted myself quite well. The point of my talk was to explain to publicans how to get involved with craft beer and exactly what craft beer is. It was also meant to be beneficial to existing publicans with tips and pitfalls to be aware of. I'll tell you, it's a wonderful sensation being on such a large stage and seeing 300 people scribbling notes and an even better one when you get to the end and the questions keep coming until ones time is way over and you are shooed off the stage to an applause. I gave that talk as Chairman of Beoir rather than as a beer writer and our app developer wondered had I mentioned the app (I did) as there was a massive spike in downloads that morning.
One of the highlights of my talk seems to have been my chart which mapped the rise of pubs serving craft beer over the years. The data from 2014 was as of two weeks ago and will be increasing. It's also only pubs/bars being shown and not restaurants/night clubs or venues (unless also a public bar). In reality, I reckon there are more than we have listed as the data we have requires a Beoir volunteer to list it or the owner. Those that escape our notice might not be on there yet. It's clear that 2011 saw the biggest rise but it has been steady since then. It's not 100% accurate but it's a good indication of where we have come from, where we are now and where we are going.
It was also great to see that other speaker at the pub series were later on talking about the great work that Beoir does in raising awareness of Irish Craft Beer and giving links to our website. It makes it all worthwhile given that we are an organisation of volunteers and do it for no other reason than the love of good beer.
I wasn't personally at the pub series, I just popped in while on a break from the sensory short course I was doing. This involved sitting around and drinking beer as well as learning about brewing issues, off flavours and stuff. I have done all this before many times but it's always great fun and besides, I had my BJCP tasting exam on the Saturday morning so a refresher wouldn't do any harm. One thing that might interest readers is that Gordon Strong himself, the number one BJCP judge in the world and BJCP president was the exam proctor along with Ali Kocho-Williams of Seren brewery in Wales. Ali was also at the Alltech event showcasing a number of Welsh beers including his own. Gordon brought a box of his books over for sale for only €13 and he signed them for us. Both Ali and Gordon were great and down to earth guys. I'll have to wait a few months for my results.
We were given beer flavoured jelly bellies to try and while I love jelly bellies, I think it's back to the drawing board here as they don't taste in any way like beer. By the way, I recommend doing the tour of the factory. It's almost Wonka like.
One of my favourite stands was Redwell. They had some awesome beer but their IPA and California Common stood out for me. Redwell were sued by a certain energy drinks manufacturer for use of the word red. That was stopped after a massive public outcry of bully tactics on twitter so the little guy won. They were a great bunch of guys with a lot to say so I spent a lot of time there chatting and drinking.
Emma and Cathal of the new Rascal's brewery were on hand with their ginger porter. They were also doing the BJCP exam with me on Saturday. I'll be honest, I didn't take enough pictures of brewery stand as I was too busy enjoying myself. Isn't that the point of a beer festival?
One of the problems last year was the sensory lounge. It was near the stage and we couldn't hear people doing the talk. This year they moved it to the far end of the hall and surrounded it with a partition which didn't do a whole lot as there was no roof or door. Hopefully that will be fixed next year but at least the presenters had a microphone so it wasn't too bad. I was in for two sessions during the rugby and in a great position as I could see the screen. Every time we scored against Wales, the roar was deafening and admittedly some of the shouting came from inside the sensory lounge too. I was meant to be hosting some talks but in the end I wasn't needed so I could just enjoy the show.
The overall winner of the Dublin cup out of a pool of 12 gold medallists was Coisbo for their Imperial Stout. All of their beer was excellent, in fact they won 3 bronze, two silver and 1 gold for all of their entries. A lot of Irish breweries won various medals and it was great to see that 3 of the 12 gold medals went to Irish breweries. They were Galway Bay with of foam and fury, Rascal's with their chocolate ginger porter and O'Hara's for their double IPA. You can see a full list of Irish medal winners in this Beoir article and a full list of medal winners in this Alltech article.
While every beer I tasted was world class, there was at least one that is a complete mystery. Burning hell from Salm-Bräu is like drinking Tabasco sauce. Vinegar and heat are all I could get. I wonder if it's an infected beer? It's certainly very un-helles like.
Other breweries worth mentioning this weekend but lacking pictures are N17 and their oatmeal stout. It was beautiful and a bronze medal winner too.
Black's Black IPA was also fantastic as was Windsor and Eton's conqueror black IPA as well as their conqueror 1075 version imperial version.
Birra and Blues and Molta Birra both had some outstanding stuff as did the Welsh stand with Otley Oxymoron, the beer I picked to start the kick off of the Ireland / Wales rugby match. There's a bad pun in there somewhere.
There was so much beer that I didn't even get to all the brewery stands to say hello. I did my traditional stint behind the Galway Hooker bar while Ronan went off for a break. It wouldn't be a beer festival if I didn't jump behind a bar to lend a hand.
Another worthy mention is for an Alltech product. I'm a fan of their whiskey and bourbon and on Thursday I was treated to some of their new Rye. It's not even for sale yet! It was the first time I have had a rye and I have to say, I was blown away and I want more! I have been growing fonder of bourbon the more I drink it. I still think it's a little too sweet to replace a good Irish or Scotch but it has its own character that I'm growing fond of.
The great news is that Alltech have announced they will be back in 2015 and hopefully it will be even better next year, assuming that's possible. The Alltech International Craft Brews & Food Fair was close to perfect this year.
|Infographic condensing the stats of the festival.|
Next up we have the Winter Ales and Cask Festival in Cork this weekend and then over St Patrick's weekend the Irish Craft Beer And Food Market at the IFSC, this time at the CHQ building in Dublin. This will make for a far more civilised event I would say.