Judgement day, good works and a measure of comedy thrown in

The final week in February proved to be a busy one for me in beer terms. This followed on from a trip to London for beer; drinking with film producers following the first test screening of an excellent new documentary on Christina Noble; and an opportunity to try out the new pub in the Cottage Group empire, Alfie Byrnes.

The week began for me travelling down to Galway for a charity beer tasting to raise funds for a rugby tour to London for the youth team of Oughterard RFC. Organised by Paul Fogarty of Probus Wines, the beer tasting was to take place alongside a comedy set by impressionist Sean Clancy (more on him later) ahead of the England-Irish rugby match. Given the result, it was better that we had gotten this out of the way ahead of the match. I had about 10 minutes or so to introduce the art of beer tasting, styles and the 5 beers they were going to try. Did I mention that I did this Shane MacGowan-esque style on stage in The Boat Inn with a mic in one hand and a beer in the other. I’d like to think though that I was slightly more coherent.

The tasting line-up ahead of the England-Ireland match

The beers to be sampled (kindly donated by Premier International and the breweries themselves) were the Five Lamps Lager, Dungarvan Copper Coast, Galway Hooker, Boom from Stone Barrel and Kinnegar’s Yannaroddy Porter. Lager drinkers were impressed by the Five Lamps naturally but it was introducing other beer styles that really got them thinking that there’s something to this craft thing, that it’s not just hype and the lot. Copper Coast showed what an Irish red could be and I must admit I had a bottle or two during the match, which apart from Rob Kearney’s try was the only real highlight during the 80 minutes. Many had seen and heard of Galway Hooker with only one or two actually having tried it. This gave them a flavour of what was available on their doorstep. However, they loved the session IPA that is Stone Barrel’s Boom. Yannaroddy has been reintroduced since it first emerged as a Christmas seasonal in 2013. The coconut has been toned down, giving the ruby porter a pleasant, dryness with a fuller body. It comes complete with espresso and chocolate notes.

The following Wednesday saw a special booking for a beer tasting for a work outing. This had the added bonus in that there were predominantly non-Irish so it was another opportunity to show the great beers on offer in this country. All of them were scientists and some had serious sensory training behind them due to their work in the cosmetics industry. I decided to stick to the virtually the same line-up as in Galway. I also used it as an opportunity to try the Red from Independent Brewing Company. The tasting was good fun because many were wine drinkers and they were impressed how some of the beers matched up to the food on offer.

Time for #BPBPBT

Thursday saw the usual tasting session at Probus Wines, except this was different. First, there was the opportunity to try the new beer from the Brown Paper Bag Project in a blind tasting (started elsewhere at 6.45pm but ours started 15 minutes later, phones were banned until then). Second, Sean Clancy made an appearance in what proved to be his Dublin debut. This was novel, a comedy routine in an off licence. We were treated to the musings of Francis Brennan (which featured a cocktail made from Dutch Gold, Buckfast & polo mints, which melted the plastic cup it was served in), Enda Kenny, George Hook, Jose Mourniho and a whole host of other Irish and international notables.

Michael Healy-Rae putting in an appearance during Thursday’s tasting
It’s not a proper performance without a poem recital by Michael D.

Some of the beers tasted on the night included Hop City Barking Squirrel Lager (pleasant Vienna red), Trooper from Robinsons (always enjoyable), O’Hara’s Barley Wine aged in Irish whiskey barrels for 90 days. This was the third annual edition of a barrel aged beer from Carlow Brewing Company. This worked because the barley wine was quite dry to start with so it picked up warming notes from the whiskey barrel with a more-rounded and refined sweetness. This works and might win over those often put off by sweeter versions of the style. Of course the raison d’être of the beer tasting was the explosive new release (the bottles literally erupted everywhere) from the Brown Paper Bag Project. Tasted blind, there were citrus notes with a slight sourness on top of a hazy wheat body. On tasting, salt became clearly detectable and pointed to the beer as a Gøse. As the beer opened up (it wasn’t over chilled in the first place), a subtle sweetness took over. Some people viewed this as a take it or leave it beer, which was good for us that enjoyed it (and also that given the hype around #BPBPBT, there aren’t too many bottles still floating around.

The anticipation is mighty, the mood is tense
And the beer is…

Finally, the week ended being asked to judge at the National Homebrewing Competition Now in its second year, there were almost 400 entries from 140 brewers. The competition was held in The Church (venue for the forthcoming European Beer Bloggers Conference) and it was an early start for judges, who were asked to be there by 9.30am on a Saturday morning. I had to be good the night before because I didn’t want my palate to be shot so I limited myself to a couple of post work pints and an opportunity to catch up with Bo Bristle who were doing a tasting in Baggot Street Wines. I was asked to judge the American Amber and American Brown Ale categories. Judging at a competition is fairly intense as each beer is ruthlessly scrutinised and there’s a lot of form filling. It is a great experience and really gives you a sense of the wider beer movement in Ireland and the talent that is out there.

So that was the week that was, for me at least…

Missing keg happily reunited with owner, cheers twitter

Recently I came across a stray keg on the lane where I live. The natural reaction was to ignore it but this keg was unusual because it belonged to Bo Bristle. Baggot Street is fairly barren in craft beer terms (not counting Baggot Street Wines of course), except for the odd pint of Galway Hooker and O’Hara’s. So I tweeted the brewery to see if they were starting selling in the pubs in the area or if this was a keg that had gone walkies.

The keg was indeed missing and after some inspired sleuthing by John aka @thebeernut, it was deduced that it could have contained Carrig Lager (produced under licence by Bo Bristle) via Doheny & Nesbitts. So within a few minutes, Carrig Brewing Company had got in touch regarding this wandering keg. Turned out the beer is no longer being sold in Dohenys, Baggot Street has lost another craft beer but they made the arrangements for its safe return.

The image that the twitterati not only located but faciliated its return to its rightful owners

Why is this important you ask? Well, we tend to forget the sheer cost of purchasing kegs, all the more acute for small, independent breweries. Apparently over four hundred thousand beer and cider kegs have been stolen or gone missing in Ireland since 2007, costing producers approximately €40 million, according to research by the Irish Brewers Association. So if you see a keg abandoned, check the labels and at the very least tweet the owners.   

The keg was recovered last week after a brief soujorn staying in the back garden and of course there was nothing else to do but to enjoy a couple of beers from Bo Bristle to toast it’s safe return.

Logistics-ace Denis reclaims the keg & made sure it got safely home

The brewery from Bannagher, Co. Offaly has come along way since first emerging on the scene back in 2010 as Breweyed, with a Blond Pale Ale and Lager in tow. However, owners Morgan Smyth and Andrew Horn felt that the brand as it stood could not break into the mainstream and thus Bo Bristle was born in time for the second All Ireland Craft Beer and Cider Festival in 2012. This renewed approach saw them rejig the beers in their portfolio and adopt an interesting approach to market. They signed a deal with large multiple Marks & Spencers to stock their beers under the Bo Bristle name (not like some of the other beers produced exclusively for M&S under different names but by reputable producers).   

At present there are two beers in their core range: an amber ale (4.5%) and an IPA (5%). Hopefully their American Brown Ale, which debuted at the 2013 edition of the beer festival will hopefully make a more regular comeback (it’s a serious brown ale that has the characteristic sweetness perfectly blended with American hop oomph).   

Bo Bristle Amber Ale pours as if it’s not just a clever name. It is polished amber in colour complete with a thick frothy head. There are summer fruits and juicy berries on the nose. Tastes initially sweet but develops a slight bitterness, which is balanced by a biscuit body. It has an extremely pleasant finish.

The IPA on the other hand has a distinctive orange hue to its appearance, topped by a creamy head. Again there’s fruit on the nose but perceptively lighter than the amber ale. Instead, the bitterness comes through pleasantly in the flavour yielding at pace to a dry bitter finish.  

Both beers are enjoyable and strongly reminiscent of English-style ales, perhaps the hand of English-native Andrew Horn. They are enjoyable session ales and I can’t wait to try them on cask again because this brewery is getting better and better. I must admit I wasn’t that taken by them when tried almost eighteen months ago but these beers have come along way and so too has the brewery.

Absolutely a brewery to look out for and perfect beers to have on hand for Sunday lunch or that microwaveable meal (did M&S spot something here?) when you’re feeling that mid-week laziness.    

Super Bowl Sunday picking a winner

This is one of those in the sporting calendar which has a lot of traditions attached to it. The FA Cup Final used to have some of it, when we’d hear about how many kettles were boiling and toilets flushing at halftime. I have never experienced “Super Bowl Sunday” first hand in the US. Most of what I associate with it comes from various TV shows which have a Super Bowl themed episode. My experience tends to come from trying to stay awake and wondering if It’s worth the trade-off in terms of having to go to work the next morning, usually tiredness wins out regardless.

One of the most intriguing aspects besides the whole concept of the “halftime show”, is the excitement generated for the big budget ads shown during the countless interruptions to the game (again something we don’t get during our coverage of the game). It was an ad break during Super Bowl XXIX that the infamous Budweiser frogs first appeared and let’s not even go near “wassup” (an ad during Monday Night Football). Needless to say YouTube will have each one available shortly after broadcast and we can see for ourselves what the creative agencies pushing the macros have come up with this year.

Today’s match up sees the Denver Broncos with the best offence facing off against the best defence in the form of the Seattle Seahawks. I toyed with the idea of doing a sort of beer Super Bowl but it was hard to get some of the great beers from Colorado that were around last summer and autumn particularly those from Odell (who could forget deconstruction), Oskar Blues and Left Hand. I could have perhaps turned to Flying Dog, which has its spiritual home in the Rockies before escaping to Maryland. Rather unfortunately we also have a distinct lack of great beers on this side of the Atlantic from Washington State. I would have had to turn to Redhook, which would have courted some controversy from beer aficionados for its “Budhook” connotations. Perhaps we could’ve hand a Redhook v Blue Moon (if we took some of the seasonal collection) shoot-out.

So with time running out, I decided to opt for one beer only and one that reflects the game for me. This year’s game has an added twist because of the weather factor. It’s being played out doors for the first time in 42 years and the venue being New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, the successor to Giants Stadium which of course was home to one of the greatest days in Irish sport. So much talk during the two weeks leading up to the game was about the cold snap (polar vortex anyone?) and the potential for snow. The most interviewed person was not Peyton Manning but the NFL’s official Super Bowl weatherman. Taking all this and the fact that I’m picking Denver for no other reason but having seen more of them this season, I have opted for Accumulation from Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery.

I really like this brewery and am a fan of their iconic Fat Tire (amber ale) and their black lager 1554. They can really brew and perhaps like Sierra Nevada they’ve become a little bit of a victim of their own success in that people see them as too familiar. Just wait until they try their Rodenbach-inspired La Folie and other Belgian interpretations. They haven’t called themselves New Belgium just to be clever. I hope that they will soon follow their neighbours and also family-owned brewery from Fort Collins (i.e. Odell) to this part of the world. This may be sooner that we think, they’re expanding like Sierra Nevada with a new East Coast brewery in North Carolina.

Accumulation was the brewery’s winter seasonal and it’s a white IPA. Sure why not? Apart from the classic and black IPAs, Uncle Sam would be proud we now have the red and the white and all we need now is a blue IPA (A step too far? I once worked at the International Food Expo, which had a tribute to “blue” food). Now back to Accumulation, it pours a hazy light straw colour that was topped with a vibrant creamy white head that gave way for a thick band around the rim. There’s fresh citrus and pine on the nose. Amarillo and Mosaic are the workhorses here. It is initially bitter but allows some sweetness to come through. A mild and pleasant bitterness remains in the aftertaste of this 6.2% brew.

The brewery chose Accumulation for their winter seasonal to demonstrate that not all winter beers need to be dark. It might not be too your taste or you might prefer other styles, but in many ways it reflects our approach to American Football. Regardless both are increasingly popular at this time of year.

Post-game follow-up: Well that was a surprising result, no one expected the Seahawks to completely dominate the game and for the Broncos to capitulate like they did. Another surprise was the weather apparently was a balmy 7ºC at kick-off. The ads involved at one time Arnold Schwarzenegger playing table tennis, Anna Kendrick plugging Newcastle Brown Ale (still so popular Stateside), a puppy and a clydesdale (guess who?), as well as Don Cheedle and a llama because why the hell not?

I may have gotten it wrong about the result of the game but I watch it more out of curiosity than anything else but I still think Accumulation was worth the punt.

Beer for breakfast (on a Tuesday night, of course)

Difficult to work out if smoke is coming from the pan or the beer

A Tuesday night in January just has that dreary feel to it. Tuesdays are not that great and January is one of those months we hope to get out of the way as fast as possible. I did however use a recent one to conduct another experiment of beer and food matching, this time beer to go with breakfast.

Objectivity and rigour are important in conducting any such experiment so I would like to point out that I conducted this in the evening time (health and safety of course necessitated this). The idea came to me by looking in the fridge and deciding that all I felt like for dinner was a fry. This got me wondering what beers would match and this of course would be applicable for those who avail of all-day breakfasts (or brunch if you want to be posh) as well.

A number of beer books feature beers to go with breakfasts as part of general guides to food matching but I haven’t had the opportunity to try them. Besides a few early houses, we really don’t have a culture of early morning drinking (probably for the best). When I was working in Brussels I went to grab a coffee and a pain au chocolate in a café under the Berlaymont (aka European Commission HQ). I didn’t stand just stand out because I wasn’t wearing a grey suit, I was the only person not partaking of a beer at breakfast (it was 7.45am or in Brussels 07h45). Observing this scene, it wasn’t some romanticised scene portrayed in many a beer book, it was simply something that was done and they were drinking cheap lager straight from the can.

So with the pan on the hob and the sausages frying away, I selected the beers to be used. With such a meal we overload on fatty foods. A crisp lager to cut through such food would be too easy a choice. A Mild Ale, breakfast in a glass in its own right, could be a runner but I had none at hand. I was thinking of beers that contain flavours that our brains would easily make the connection with breakfast time. Unfortunately I didn’t have Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast to hand, so I focussed on wheat because of our familiarity with cereal, bread etc. With a fried breakfast, we have an unbelievable ability to consume a wide array of pork products so why not try and match it with a smoked beer. The two beers selected were these: Weisser Hirsch, a Hefeweizen by Privatbrauerei Höss der Hirschbräu and Schlenkerla’s Aecht Rauchbier Märzen

The two contenders

First up, Hirschbräu’s Hefeweizen poured extremely pale with a good head and remarkable lacing around the glass. The aroma was an incredible blend of ripe banana and clove. It had a pleasant body with an off-dry finish. Frying the sausages resulted in some caramelisation occurring, which clearly allowed the food to really emphasise the sweetness in the beer, reminiscent of Weetabix. It also matched perfectly when the toast was taken into account. This beer was refreshing in the finish and gave me the impression, like I had a fresh juice alongside my meal.

The second beer being possibly the most iconic of smoked beers. I must admit that I do enjoy Schlenkerla’s Aecht Rauchbier Märzen once in a while (and I also mean no more that one at a time as well). This is a beer that needs food for it to be truly enjoyed. I’ve read how well this goes with German sausages and now its time to see how well it goes with an Irish fry. It pours a rich caramel colour that’s on the point of turning burnt. There’s no head and the beer itself has a transparency to it that you wouldn’t expect in such a dark beer. On the aroma front, it is pure smoke, so much so that you don’t know if it’s the beer or that you’re burning the pan. Besides intense smoke, bacon and leather aromas (what a combination) come through. This beer is clearly enjoyable with food. It works, don’t get me wrong but I feel that it was not the right match on this occasion as I did not have the ingredients on hand that would really allow it to shine.

Difficult to work out if smoke is coming from the pan or the beer

The Aecht Rauchbier Märzen deserves real quality ingredients, from the type of sausage to the type or rasher. Smoked meats would come into their own alongside this beer. How I wished I had one alongside a fantastic breakfast that I had in the Loveless Café during a recent trip to Nashville. The pit-cooked pork barbeque & eggs could be the ideal match for this beer (although it was smoked with hickory wood, unlike the beer which has malts kilned above beech).

The Loveless Café’s famous pit-cooked pork barbeque & eggs is just crying out to be served alongside Bamberg’s finest

This was certainly a fun experiment for a Tuesday night. I would be leaning on the hefeweizen as a good match, although if I had a breakfast roll and was consuming everything at once, the rauchbier might win out. I doubt, however, if I will be reaching out for a beer anytime soon alongside my breakfast and will most likely be sticking with coffee. That is not to say that you can’t match beer with breakfast.

Worst pint of 2014….what, already?

As bloggers out there have recently published their Golden Pints for 2013 (big shout out to Beermack for recognition of this blog), I sadly missed the boat on this. However, last Saturday allowed me to gain a march on this year’s awards as I had a pint that hopefully is the worst that I’d experience all year, which was barely 4 days old at the time.

McGargles Irish Family Brewers has attracted a lot of criticism on the web because of its Alan Partridge-esque “oirish” feel, compounded by suspicions over its “product of the EU” badge of honour and not much else. Cynicism centres on who or what is it?

Apologies for the poor quality but the pub wasn’t one to be taking photos of the bar

Money has been put behind building this brand, the website, glasses and bar taps are case in point. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to establish a brand nor do I have a problem with contract brewing, I understand those that dare to aspire to following in the footsteps of Jim Koch’s Boston Beer Co. However, it misses one of the strong attributes of the craft beer scene, a certain localism or sense of place. Apparently the US is a target market for the company but it forms a market of 3000+ breweries all trying to carve out a identity for themselves that cheap paddy whackery will find it hard to overcome:

“The McGargles are a legendary brewing family on the island of Leannclann…It’s too small to spot on the map, but Leannclann still has room for the cantankerous auld ones, swearing dwarves, ambiguous Lotharios, flirty daughters, and out-of-control hippies that call it home….They’ve come a long way from brewing in the family bathtub. Their beers are thought to have fuelled the famous works of many great Irish writers, as well as a few battles and revolutions in between” (source: www.mcgargles.com)

So not to be unfair, I opted to sample a pint (as I would with any new Irish beer) and give them the benefit of the doubt while on a mini-pub crawl of Dalkey. The brewery currently has 3 beers on offer, each complete with names that any grown-up would voluntarily use to order a pint: Granny Mary’s Red Ale, Gravy Maevey’s Pilsner and Knock Knock Ned IPA. My cynicism was aroused however when after ordering a pint of the IPA, I was informed by the girl behind the bar in McDonagh’s that it was her favourite as it was quite sweet.

The infamously sweet IPA

The pint itself was produced in its own mason jar crossed with a tankard. It was dark amber in colour with a good head. But once I smelled the beer, there was no hop aroma. It smelled sweet, sickly sweet, butterscotch sweet. Was the beer afflicted by diacetyl? Surely an IPA couldn’t have been produced to this standard if it wasn’t. It’s perhaps unfair to judge this beer on the basis of the off-flavours in my opinion it contains (I checked the other reviews on ratebeer.com, all two of them and they both state how sweet this IPA is). Although, I do hope this is the low-point of my beer tasting in 2014.

Belated happy new year everyone!