Five Lamps and a lantern

Do you know the Five Lamps? This is the earliest slogan of the Five Lamps Brewery and the correct answer at the time was Amiens Street. However, as friends were to discover the brewery has moved from its base on the North Strand to a fully-fledged brewing facility in the Liberties. The famous street light of the same name remains in Dublin 1. Confused? So were they!

William & Brian proudly showing off the new brewery I’m Dublin 8, not Dublin 1

The Probus beer club had the opportunity to visit Five Lamps recently and as luck would have it, the tour was to take place on Halloween night. Paul had chosen “Tarts and Vicars” as the theme so Brian Fagan (Chief of the Five Lamps) and William Harvey (Brewer) were slightly bemused by a handful of visitors turning up in costume (I went as a son-in-law of a preacher man). Most people reserved the right not to dress up and as someone said left a handful of us looking slightly awkward á la Bridget Jones.

William and his brews (& a lantern for good measure)

The Five Lamp brewery first came to prominence a little over a year ago through well designed branding appearing at several prominent pubs in the City Centre, namely McDaids and The Duke before spreading out to other well known pubs. It was interesting to see a craft beer focussing on what could be dubbed “non-specialist” beer pubs (I hope I’m not offending anyone and I know Carrig Lager had been available in The Duke since the early days). The lager itself was a departure for fans of highly carbonated and slightly bitter variations. It was definitely malt forward and has been refined over the past year. It is reminiscent for me of some of the Bavarian lagers, with a rich biscuity flavour. As a distinctly Dublin-branded beer, it was amusing to think that it was only until recently contract-brewed by Eight Degrees down in Co. Cork.

Got to love their branding

Brewing is now taking place in Dublin but in Dublin 8, which has caused problems for their identity because their next brew was named in honour of their new home – Liberties Ale. This was debuted at this year’s Irish Craft Beer & Cider Festival and is a pleasant pint indeed. It has a certain dryness to it with the slightest hop bite. Both the lager and ale were able to be sampled on the night.

Where better to enjoy a pint of Liberties Ale than at its source

Unfortunately, we were too early to try their latest release Honor Bright Red Ale, which was conditioning away in the bright tank. It was bottled this week and should be in shops over the coming days (as I was writing this, the first batch was delivered to Probus). Bottling is done manually and takes approximately seven and a half hours to complete (when I heard that I wonder why they would even bother and opt solely for kegs).

Manual bottle filler – 2 bottles at a time

The key to their beers according to William is accessibility both in terms of alcohol and bitterness levels. They’re in the business of session beers and have a capacity to brew approximately 650 litres per week. So alond with desires to do some special brews, they’re sticking with the tried and trusted “usuals” – a lager, a red, a golden ale and a porter. Following on from their red ale, the next release will be Blackpitts Porter, which was currently fermenting away. It’s great to see brewing up close in the centre of the city and their new brewery is further proof of the craft breweries re-establishing local brewing traditions . For example, the Blackpitts Porter Company existed over on Fumbally Lane in the Liberties in the late eighteenth century.

A brand spanking new brewery

Rounding off the visit was a selection of meat and cheese, along with homemade salsa and sauces prepared by Paul Fogarty of Probus fame. This has probably to be a first. A gourmet buffet selection and pints in a brewery, with costumes!

Most of us had gotten a little bit embarrassed by our costumes by this stage

It’s great to have seen the progress that the lads have made and I’m looking forward to trying their red ale and porter upon their release. No doubt they will be ones to have during a future beer tasting. Hopefully they will be coming to a pub near me soon.

Woohoo, craft beer can still sponsor what now?

In the wake of Budget 2014 with 10 cents added to the pint (before VAT being applied) and the announcement that minimum pricing is to be introduced, Government also decided to put off the banning on alcohol advertising at sporting events. Various sporting bodies and associations breathed a sigh of relief because it removed the risk of losing a valuable source of income. This will of course be of little benefit to Ireland’s craft breweries but the growth in independent breweries elsewhere have seen them encroach into the previous taboo area of mainstream  sports advertising and sponsorship.

Take for instance that the second-tier of English rugby is the Green King IPA Championship. Marston’s Pedigree is the official beer of English cricket and its English Pale Ale is a big seller at Lords. The Kent county cricket team is sponsored by Spitfire. The best craft beer sports sponsorship link-up has to involve newly arrived to Irish shores Dale’s Pale Ale from Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewing. It holds the honour of being the very first Nascar-branded beer.

Source: www.oskarblues.com

With the Heineken Cup seemingly in disarray and a new competition structure in the offing, might we see some interesting sponsorship deals? For example, the Cork County teams being sponsored by Franciscan Well? Singha is now the official beer of the 2015 Rugby World Cup but if Ireland hosts it in 2023, will one of our existing independent breweries provide the official beer? Unlikely but I’d settle for more choice at sports venues. However, they’d limited to draft or taking a page from US craft breweries, cans. I don’t think too many Irish breweries would want to produce beers in plastic bottles (although maybe the technology will improve over time) because they’ve left that behind in the early home-brewing days.

So in short the wasn’t too much to cheer the Irish independent brewers in the Budget, except for the fact that the 9% VAT rate is retained and we have seen the growth in pairing good food and beer. Also, there were positive measures introduced to support entrepreneurs such as changes to the Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme and Capital Gains Tax. The ‘Start Your Own Business’ scheme grants a two-year exemption from income tax to founders  who have been receiving social welfare for fifteen months or more (up to a limit of €40,000). This could be an opportunity for Beer Ireland and the Taste 4 Success Skillnet to really make a difference because those already on the live register availing of their courses/network could be really encouraged to go out and start their own brewery. Let’s hope these measures work.

Oktoberfest better late than never

It’s great how traditions have built up over the years and Oktoberfest is one of them. Bars and breweries the world over clamour to carry out their own commemorations of the annual 16-day celebration of beer (could go on for a 17th day due to a technicality) that takes place in München. However, most are caught out by one thing, the majority of the actual Oktoberfest celebrations take place in late September. Apart from the occasional bar or two (where one was greeted by the sight of Alan & co in the Brewdock decked out in lederhousen) and the IFSC pop-up Erdinger extravaganza, it seems most bars wait until October to break out the Bauhaus.

I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the Porterhouse’s Oktoberfest earlier this month and in keeping with the Irish approach to “die Wies’n” I waited until now to blog about it. Not all the beers offered during the festival would be considered beers allowed to be served in Munich (6% beers brewed within the city limits by Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Spaten, Hofbräu or Löwenbräu). While the only “official” beer was Paulaner’s Oktoberfest Bier, the two weeks in the Porterhouse was more a festival of German brewing generally.  The always excellent bitterly and austere Jever Pilsener (shows that not all austerity emanating from Germany is bad) was available on draught, as was Weissenoher Bonator, Wieninger Helles and Schlenkerla Weizen. In bottles, there was Augustiner Helles, Tegernseer Spezial, Wieninger Guidobald Gold in bottles. I had the opportunity to do tastings of most of these beers in Probus over the course of the year thankfully because precious few were in the country over the past few weeks.

For the festival, the Porterhouse brought back its seasonal brew Hersburcker Oktoberfest. While it is based on the standard Hersbrucker Pils, it doesn’t have the same level of bitterness and the same level of floral aroma. Instead, it has become a malt-forward beer dominated by its malt bill of Vienna, Caramalt and Munich. It’s malt on the nose and in the taste. The body is golden/amber thanks to the addition of Vienna malt and perhaps is closer to the true Oktoberfestbier/Märzen style. The beer was matured in the brewery for 6 weeks prior to release. The sweet caramel flavour belies its 6% abv. For me the taste is reminiscent of a waffle cone. It has a dry, sugary flavour with the vaguest hint of gingerbread.  It is strongly reminiscent of beers from Hall & Woodhouse’s Badger range such as Tangle Foot and Fursty Ferret.

Of course no respectable Oktoberfest would be complete without out an Oompah band. There’s something fantastic about brass bands attempting to belt out popular tunes – the kitscher the better.  And every so soften for them to belt out Ein Prosit followed by “Schenkt ein, trinkt aus, schenkt ein, trinkt aus”, which gets steadily more raucous as the night wears on. There’s a great one on youtube of a band playing Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5. An Oompah band is really the ultimate party band (if the Saw Doctors are unavailable) so forget the DJ and the karaoke.

Prost!

Pliny the Employer

The presence of so many multinational companies in Ireland has, besides much publicised economic impact, brings  benefits to the quality and range of beers in Ireland. Incoming staff after trying the obligatory pint of Guinness in (insert name of traditional pub experience) soon long for the broad range of beers available at home and find themselves seeking out the many specialist beer bars and off licences. Irish staff spending time at company locations overseas have the opportunity to explore new taste beer sensations. I know several people in the tech sector that this is a key perk of the job! Indeed, some companies arrange craft beer Fridays for their staff. However, a further benefit presented itself over the past month. We all know that multinational companies also are vital sources of job creation and one of the newest MNCs to arrive in Ireland just went and hired @Beermack_ The final round of interviews took place in San Francisco (read the adventures of the Frisco Kid here http://beermack.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/san-francisco-beering/). Alex of course found space in his luggage to bring back some rare beers on this side of the Atlantic, which means for yours truly I got to try one of those fabled beers that features on many a beer “bucket list”.

Pliny the Elder is the creation of Vinnie Cilurzo, the man credited with crafting the first Double IPA during his days at the Blind Pig brewery back in the early 1990s. He didn’t brew his second DIPA which was Pliny the Elder until 2000, shortly after he acquired Russian River Brewing from the owners of Korbel Champagne Cellars in 2002. Vinnie had been brewing there since it opened five years earlier. It was under his ownership that this Sonoma brewery was going to make its mark on the beer world.

Defining itself as a DIPA, it was going to have a higher alcohol strength then the traditional IPA (Pliny is 8% ABV) and of course a higher degree of hopintensity, comprising Simcoe, Centennial, CTZ and Amarillo. Pliny was one of the beers that made Simcoe famous. It was also a beer that showed craft brewers that hop extracts were not the products of Satan. Instead the use of extract results in a smoother bitterness. It’s backed up by a balanced malt backbone that’s not overly sweet. The balanced nature of Pliny sums up the skilled craftsmanship that’s gone into this beer. In short this beer can be summed up as

  • Hop aroma  CHECK
  • Hop flavour CHECK
  • Hop bitterness CHECK

Pliny for me was marked by citrus (a blend of orange and grapefruit), pine and slight peppery flavour. Unapologetically, I don’t have more photos because I was simply enjoying the beer. The beer was sublimely balanced and it is up there as one of the finest beers I’ve had. Now for those that are used to DIPAs and newer stronger or more aromatic hops, this may not be a favourite. However, remember that 13 years have past since this beer was first brewed. Hops such as Citra were only in the development phase at the time. Things are called classics for a reason!

Short of working for a MNC, I’m going to have to make do with paying for my own beer pilgrimage to the West Coast to visit Russian River and others. Thankfully Aer Lingus is reintroducing its direct Dublin to San Francisco flight from Spring 2014. So I would be lying if I havent already been checking out the fares and hopefully looking to take advantage of increased competition on the Atlantic.

Revolution in Red, White & Brew

The week being in it, there’s nothing more appropriate than to start with the country where the revolutionary beer war began. Ever since that lunch in the original Spaghetti Factory back in 1965 where Fritz Maytag learnt of the impending closure of his favourite brewery and purchasing a 51% shareholding the very next day, the slow re-introduction of choice and taste into the American beer market began.

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Fritz Maytag has to be viewed as one of the original authors of the declaration of independent choice. It was his original vision of “small is beautiful” along with the 1975 tax breaks then effectively defined the term of “craft” beer. The Brewers Association defines such breweries as “small, independent and traditional” and that was Anchor Steam to the core.

Aspiring brewers such as Ken Grossman, who would go onto found Sierra Nevada, paid pilgrimage to the brewery to see how it could be done, as well as searching out sage advice from another early revolutionary, Jack McAuliffe. The New Albion Brewery was the first “new” brewery to be established from the ground-up, unfortunately it was to close in 1982 but its legacy lives on. Boston Beer Company recently produced a beer dedicated to this founding father.

Jim Koch started what was to become the largest US independent brewery (along with DG Yuengling and Sons) in 1984, with Boston Beer Company’s Sam Adams being brewed in Pittsburg. On the night of Paul Revere’s famous ride to warn people that the British were coming, it was to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams that there were to be arrested. They were in Lexington at the time and so began the American War of Independence. Revere’s actions to warn Sam Adams and co was to be commemorated by Maytag through the special release of Liberty Ale on the the bicentennial of the event in 1975. There was no more appropriate beer to pay homage to this historic event as the beer itself was to create history in the craft beer movement. It was the first beer to be brewed using the Cascade hop, which was only developed in 1970. While the beer itself disappeared soon after and not to be released again until 1983, it changed history. Sierra Nevada took note and the Cascade hop was to be the backbone of its Pale Ale, which was released in 1981.

Tasting Liberty Ale on 4 July, I was met by what is now the familiar floral, citrus and pine aromas imparted by Cascade. What is striking is that it does also give an extremely pleasant bitterness to the beer. This is overlooked these days due to high- and super-alpha hops. We forget that this hop helped define “hoppy” beers and it became the ubiquitous hop to be used in practically all subsequent American pale ales. I can only imagine what it must have been like to taste this beer in comparison to the other beers that were available almost 40 years ago.

liberty-bio

Of course there were other factors at play that helped sow the seeds of the revolution. At the beginning of the 1970s on the west coast beginning in California and expanding northwards, there existed some of the key elements that contributed to growth of the of the craft beer movement. These included a young population that had experience of beers from Europe and the motivation to do something different, a spirit of bending the rules by home-brewing when it was still illegal, a sense of place and pride in locally produced food etc. Let us not forget that the American wine industry was beginning to flourish at this time and in the similar locations. The University of California – Davis employing Michael Lewis in 1970 as America’s first full time professor of brewing science. Lewis would go on to train a vast army of brewers, as well as conducting key research and sharing his wisdom amongst aspiring beer entrepreneurs. The craft beer movement became identified with a strong spirit of fraternity because brewers new the odds were stacked against them.

By 1979, there were only 89 breweries remaining in the US. Prohibition and increasing consolidation along with rapid growth in the middle class hooked on drinking light and adjunct packed lager at home had all contributed to this decline. Thankfully today there are 2,403 working craft breweries across America with another 1,528 in planning stages (May 2012). When Maytag sold his brewery to the Griffin Group (one of the backers of BrewDog) in 2010, he was safe in the knowledge that choice in the beer market has been well and truly established.