It’s coming back – Alltech Craft Brews & Food 2015

It’s coming back! The Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair, Ireland’s largest international craft beer festival, will make a welcome return to Dublin’s Convention Centre for three days from Feb. 27 through to March 1, 2015. This will be the third time Alltech has hosted the event, which this year welcomed more than 6,000 visitors who tasted a range of craft beers from more than 45 brewers from 18 countries around the world. This is one festival that I make sure I take time off to attend. The launch party took place last week in Sam’s Bar and it was great to be asked to be involved.

Pumpkins featuring prominently at the launch event
Pumpkins featuring prominently at the launch event

“For years Ireland has been synonymous for brewing and rightly so,” said Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder and president of Alltech. “Budget 2015 has seen an increase in the annual excise relief production ceiling for Irish microbreweries from 20,000 to 30,000 hectoliters. Craft beer in Ireland is paving the way by providing local employment and it continues to make inroads into foreign markets. There is a craft beer revolution going on right here in Ireland and what better way to highlight that than by showcasing some of Ireland’s finest local craft beers side by side with some of the world’s finest?”

The event also includes the prestigious Dublin Craft Beer Cup competition, which allows craft brewers to showcase their beers. After two days of blind tasting by a panel of independent industry veterans, top brewers will receive gold, silver and bronze medals in eight different categories of beer, establishing the best examples of each style. The Dublin Craft Beer Cup boasted more than 300 entries last year, and it is expected that 1,000 beers from around the world will be entered into the competition this year. International brewers are invited to enter their craft beers for The Dublin Craft Beer Cup on the fair’s website. Closing date for entry is Feb. 15, 2015.

Hilden's Twisted Hop & the Russian Imperial Stout won the first 2 Dublin Craft Beer Cups
Hilden’s Twisted Hop & the Russian Imperial Stout won the first 2 Dublin Craft Beer Cups

Winner of the 2014 Dublin Craft Beer Cup, Anders Coisbo from Coisbo Beer in Denmark, received phenomenal success following his win at the 2014 Fair. “It has been a fantastic year for us. Winning seven medals at the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair, including the overall winner, and a further nine medals in the United States. I am very proud that our beers are being so well received, both at home and abroad.”

Craft brewing and distilling is a rising trend not only in Ireland but the world over. According to Aidan Sweeney, Ireland’s only independent beer sommelier, “we are in the midst of a craft beer revolution here in Ireland. I’m excited to see Alltech Craft Brews return in 2015, and by the time the third incarnation of this event arrives in February 2015, I predict the craft brewing landscape will be flourishing.”

Tickets are now on sale from €15 from the Fair’s website. All tickets will include four free drink and food tokens, a souvenir glass, and free entertainment. They’re available online via the fair website, eu.alltechbrewsandfood.com, ticket agent Entertainment.ie and can also be purchased at the door. Doors open to the public at 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27 and at noon, Saturday, Feb. 28 and Sunday March 1, 2015.

Be sure to join the conversation on Twitter using @alltechbrews. At this year’s event, I circulated my top tips for enjoying a beer festival. It’s a useful source for finding out what’s coming up (ahead of the festival) but also finding out what’s happening when you’re at the festival and what beer’s you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

The 9% VAT rate doesn’t apply to alcohol but should still be supported

In 2011, the Irish Government introduced the special 9% VAT rate on a range of goods and services within the tourism and hospitality sector. It was a temporary measure that was extended for a year in Budget 2014. To date, it is estimated that this has contributed to one in four new jobs being created in the economy. It benefits not only tourists but also Irish consumers. However, today SIPTU called for the removal of the 9% VAT rate. What particularly annoyed me about the coverage of this pre-budget news item was the pre-occupation of media sources with using alcohol to illustrate this news item. The 9% VAT rate does not apply to alcohol. It continues to be subject to the standard VAT rate of 23% and let’s not forget that it is added after the application of excise duties. I took to twitter on this and to their credit within a few short minutes RTÉ had changed their photo (this wasn’t just confined to the website as it was on the RTÉ News Now channel). A growing sign of organisations monitoring social media channels and responding when required.

Regardless, hopefully the Minister for Finance will announce the retention of the 9% VAT rate for another year in his Budget 2015 speech next week.

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More coverage of beer for the right reasons but quality issues remain

On Saturday 16 August, the Irish Independent carried a piece titled ‘Nine of the best Irish craft beers’. A headline like this generated a lot of interest amongst those in the beer community because it’s great to see beer receiving attention in the mainstream press for the right reasons. However, beer lists can be tricky things. They’re entirely subjective. The likes of books by Roger Protz can include a wide range that will keep the majority happy whilst still leaving ample room for debate. The Independent piece on the other hand featured list of nine beers only that were supposedly the “best” of independent brewing in Ireland. This was possibly an overreach by an enthusiastic sub-editor because the beers featured were solely IPAs.

There was debate in social media circles on the list. A lot of people were unhappy about the list because of the focus on the single style, misleading title and also the inevitable debate on the beers selected. I decided to take it old-school and resort to sending a letter to the editor (this was a favoured tool of early CAMRA activists and I believe they’re still at it and in their very own publications as well). The following letter was published on Thursday 21 August.

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There was even a small, somewhat disjointed history of IPAs in the same piece, which appears to be merely a ‘pick and mix’ summary of the Wikipedia entry for IPA. It does not inform readers of what this style is actually about. This wouldn’t be tolerated by oenophiles so why is it expected for beer drinkers. It’s good to see beer getting coverage but it’s time to see it getting quality coverage beyond popular tokenism.

I’ll have a coffee & an IPA… same glass though

So the third IPA Day has come and gone because for many out there everyday is IPA day. I must admit that my first beer yesterday was a Pilsner Urquell but not just the one that is popping up on taps around Ireland. Instead, the SAB Miller-owned company is doing a big promotional push and offering people the opportunity to try the famous unfiltered and unpasteurised version served directly from an oak barrel. This is pilsner in its rawest form and I like the pleasant slightly sour bitterness that comes across. It was great to try this in a pub beside my house even though it wasn’t the same as having a pint of it with head brewer Vaclav Berka during the European Beer Bloggers Conference in June.

Nothing like having a pint with Vaclav Berka
Nothing like having a pint with Vaclav Berka

I suppose that given the day that was in it, I had to have an IPA. It was a nice evening and I wanted something that would be somewhat more a sipper than a refresher. I went with Mikkeller’s Koppi IPA. This version contained Citra© and Ethiopian Michiti coffee. It was produced by De Proef Brewery, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø’s go-to Belgian laboratory, not far from Ghent. Dirk Naudts runs the “trial brewery”, a commercial spin-off from a university brewing school (perhaps UCC might take note), which specialises in the architecture of beer and brewing for third-parties. It’s no surprise then that a successful partnership with legendary “gypsy brewer”, Mikkeller was to flourish.

Mikkeller’s Koppi IPA packed with Citra© and Michiti coffee
Mikkeller’s Koppi IPA packed with Citra© and Michiti coffee

Now back to the coffee IPA. Even before you start to decant it into the glass you’re struck by rich orange aromas. It pours a thick caramel and orange colour complete with a head that bubbles like sugar as it boils & caramelised. It has an aroma of orange citrus peel and only the slightest vanilla coffee note. On tasting it’s somewhat reminiscent of a chocolate orange. It’s a case of burnt orange notes with an espresso-like bitterness that continues long into the finish as the citrus notes subside. It did the job for the evening that was in it.

 

Better late than never, thoughts on the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014

It’s been some time now since I last posted and it certainly hasn’t been a case that I’ve been ignoring the beer scene. It has just been insanely busy and given that the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014 is taking place in Dublin this weekend, there’s no time like the present to get back into it. The conference, only in its fourth year, takes place for the first time outside of Britain (previous host cities were London, Leeds & Edinburgh) and it’s shaping up to be a great event.

I go to conferences a lot for work and they can be tedious affairs. You encounter people who are always looking down at name-badges checking out if there are more important people they could be talking to. However, the best conferences undoubtedly are beer related and I attend them in a personal capacity. Although, I did do a beer tasting for conference attendees in Brugge last week that certainly livened up proceedings for delegates. Ian over at 11pmsomewhere.com has put together a guide for attendees for the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014.

This conference will be different because I certainly need to brush up on my social media and blogging skills (once described as “criminally under-publicised”) so the Saturday sessions will be for me. No disrespect to those speaking on the Friday on the Irish craft beer scene keg v cask and bottle v can and whatnot, they’re interesting topics and will prompt debate (hopefully on the future of organisations such as CAMRA). However, it is looking increasingly unlikely that I’ll be able to make most of the Friday sessions. I’ll certainly be there for the trip to the Guinness Storehouse and this brings up an interesting issue. There was a lot of discussion on blogs and other social media platforms on the subject of sponsorship by Big Beer. Sadly a few conscientious beer objectors felt they couldn’t participate in an event with such sponsors. This is a shame because most events need sponsors and surely as bloggers they didn’t have to feature the sponsors if they didn’t want to (not suggesting a breakaway European Craft Beer Bloggers Conference).

The best feature of course will be to meet the fellow attendees, many for the first time but those we’ve been chatting with or slagging on twitter. Some of whom have written some fantastic books on beer. It will also be an opportunity to catch-up with the Irish brewers attending due to being panellists or presenting their wares at a reception hosted by Beer Ireland. Sarah Roarty’s promised delegates something special and she’s bringing her award winning Oatmeal Stout on cask – happy days! A big shout out has to be given to the irrepressible Carlow Brewing Company which is not only sponsoring the final reception (following the Franciscan Well Dinner hosted by Shane Long) they’re giving the attendees the opportunity to collaborate on a new beer.

The pre-conference Trail of Ale led by Reuben (www.taleofale.com) will give delegates a opportunity to explore some of the finer beer bars of the city. J.W. Sweetman’s, the Palace, The Porterhouse, The Norseman and  two of the Cottage Group estate (the Black Sheep and Brew Dock) because like in most cities, specialist beer bars tend to come along in groups. The Porterhouse will be a familiar name to those attending from London but what is often overlooked is that when it opened up its Covent Garden pub back in 2000, it was only the second specialist beer bar in London, after the Mark Dorber’s re-imagining of the White Horse in Parson’s Green. The re-emergence of the London beer scene is very much like the transformation that has taken place in this country over the past decade.

There’s certainly going to be a lot of drinking and socialising being done of the course of the next few days. This is all the more fitting in a week where a report published by the Health Research Board branded almost a third of the population as “harmful” drinkers. It’s time for a change in thinking on what constitutes binge drinking. The role of beer bloggers will become even more influential in combatting the fact that beer is always singled out by the anti-drink lobby. We can put forward the facts because the anti-drink lobby, whatever their objectives, tend to ignore the facts such as in Ireland consumption is now 25% lower than 2001 and is back to pre-1990 levels and average consumption fell by 7.6% between 2012 and 2013.

Beer Bloggers Conference