Craft Beer and Spirits festival by the Porterhouse

On 10 April, the Porterhouse Brewing Company kicked off its Craft Beer and Spirits festival. Over the course of a seventeen day period, people paying custom to any of the Porterhouse bars will be able to enjoy a fresh look at Ireland’s craft brewers and distillers. It’s increasingly common to see beer and spirits events being twinned. Of course the Porterhouse has a significant foothold in both the beer and spirits markets. One also couldn’t fail to notice that the launch event coincided with the publication of research by the newly established Irish Whiskey Association showing that its sector alone will invest over €1 billion in Ireland in the next decade.

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On the beer front, the festival incorporates both draught and bottled beers from across Ireland’s craft scene. One can expect to see breweries such as Rascals, N17 Brewery, Kinnegar, Metalman, Hilden, Galway Hooker, O’Hara’s, Trouble Brewing, Mountain Man and Kinsale making an appearance at different times during the festival. Punters can take it old-school and check the blackboards on the walls of the bars or the individual ones under the row of guest taps for what’s pouring. There will be limited edition offerings too (not necessarily festival exclusives, however). I got to try Unite Pale Ale, the Irish version of the collaboration brew for International Women’s Day. Brewed down in Metalman, this 4% session ale had a good citrus bite to it.

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Naturally, the Porterhouse had its own offerings for the festival. Making a welcome return is Peter Mosley’s excellent Chocolate Truffle Stout and timely too, given that the festival straddles Easter. This drinks like one of those very expensive and luxurious hot chocolate drinks. There’s a rich powdery taste, reminiscent of the dusting around Belgium chocolate truffle (suppose it’s not just a clever name). It has a smooth finish, with dark chocolate notes being restrained by the richness. Also on draught will be their Celebration Stout, a 7% stout matured in whiskey casks, and matching the overall theme of the festival, available on draught. I must admit that I still have a few bottles of this in my beer cellar, put away for a special occasion.

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The festival will be occurring right across the by seven pubs in the Porterhouse family:  Parliament Street, Temple Bar, Nassau Street, Glasnevin, Bray, Cork, Covent Garden, London and Financial District New York. There will also be beer and spirits tastings held throughout the festival and to find out more, it’s best to check out their social media channels.

Top tips for enjoying a beer festival

Beer festivals are fantastic for discovering new beers and breweries. I’ve put together the following advice based on experience of attending festivals.

  1. Develop a plan of attack: Festivals can vary in their size and approach, some may be banks of taps manned by enthusiastic volunteers or others may be stands with the brewers themselves, either way there could be 100s of different beers that could be sampled. Have a look at the festival guide and get a sense of the breweries present and the types of beers on offer and target breweries that you want to try or particular styles that you may like.
  2. Don’t ask, don’t learn: Confused about beer, don’t know what a IPA is or what hops do? Ask. Beer festivals aren’t just for beer nerds like me (don’t worry there’ll be plenty of us at the festival) and don’t feel intimidated by other people asking fairly intense questions. Brewers are more than happy to talk to you because they want to win you over and gain new customers. Feel free to tell them what styles you like and let them suggest beers to try. You might like them and when the festival returns, you might be the one asking those tricky questions
  3. Leave the darker, heavier beers to last: A simple Belgian rule is starting with the lighter beers first and move in ascending order of alcohol strength before moving gradually darker. It’s basically about intensity of flavour, try a hoppy beer before a lager for example and you may not be able to detect little else but carbonated water. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule – lambics, anyone?
  4. Sample before you buy: Festivals are a time to discover something new as well as reacquainting yourself with old friends. It’s not in the breweries interest if the only beer you try from them is not for you (they may have plenty of other that do) so don’t be afraid to ask before you buy. It’s also a great way of getting to learn about different styles and tick off a number of the beers at a festival.
  5. Take notes: This can be as simple as noting down the beers you like, you can quickly forget otherwise. I’ll leave it up to you how best to record what you tried, some guides have notes sections under the beers or others can be simply recorded on the back of beer mats etc (I use my iPhone for instance). However, I must warn you that this can quickly become addictive and and you could be in danger of becoming a “beer ticker” like the rest of us.
  6. Talk to the brewers: Get to know their story, their inspiration and where the beer comes from, it can give you an added appreciation of the beer in your glass. Who says that wine can be the only one with terroir!
  7. Visit breweries making their festival debut: New breweries are popping all over the place. Festivals are often the first time outside select venues or localities that the general public get to sample them. Stop by and see them and give them some encouragement. It’s a good feeling when you see a start-up brewery that you first met at a festival starts becoming available over the months in off licences and bars. It gives you a sense of belonging to a movement.
  8. Take to social media: Festivals can feature limited runs or rotating taps of beers that you might want to try. Also, some beers may be even more popular than expected and run out early. Twitter can be a great way of finding up to the minute information on latest developments, so get learning the hashtag for the festival. If you like a beer or brewery, take a photo and tell the world. Following a brewery that you like is a great way of finding out if they’re coming to an outlet near you.
  9. Food: Beer and food matching is a real thing. Check out if they’re food stands and use it as an opportunity to try first hand what styles of beers go with particular foods. Who knows you might be doing the food vendor a favour!
  10. Look for water stations: This is my version of the “Surgeon General’s Warning”, you can easily pass more than a couple of hours at a beer festival, so hydration will be an issue (especially as the venue heats up) as it is with drinking in general but it also helps cleanse the palate and will assist you moving from beer to beer and appreciating each one on their merits.
  11. Go to more festivals: It’s like when your holiday’s over, the advice is to start planning for the next one. It’s the same with beer festivals and there’s plenty of them out there and can be a great idea for planning a weekend break away or getting a gang of friends to come to the next one. They’re in the large part fairly chilled affairs and enjoyable experiences, you’ll be hooked. Check out sites like www.beoir.org for a list of festivals upcoming in Ireland (the next one is never that far away).

 

Festival goers taking advantage of the weather at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival


Beer festivals are a great place to try beers from exciting places, in this case Revolution IPA from Spain’s Molta Birra brewery

 

Great British Beer Festival – One of the largest out there


Brewing up new business, the sequel

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With the publication of last week’s report of the Sean O’Sullivan-chaired Entrepreneurship Forum the second annual Alltech International Craft Brews & Food Fair (6-8 February in the Convention Centre Dublin) couldn’t come at a better time. Last July’s event featured an enterprise pillar because let’s face it Ireland needs to do more in terms of new business start-ups. Renewed attention is being put on getting growth back into the domestic economy and craft beer is clearly bucking the trend.

A key focus of this year’s event will be on supporting and expanding an essential part of the craft beer industry – the pub trade. A dedicated conference will be held over a day and half discussing measures at reinvigorating the sector, principally through craft beer and ultimately greater choice for the consumer. We have seen a lot of media attention given to the pub trade, which has not just focused on closures but also on those that are turning around distressed pubs, new high profile entrants to the market such as Wetherspoons and those hoping to redefine the distribution business to pubs through a dedicated craft beer focus. Given the importance of pubs to communities and the part they play in our overall tourist offering, it is heartening to see that approximately 300 pubs have registered to attend. Changing the model for the Irish pub through an expanded beer range, quality Irish food or for the more ambitious, prepared to brew onsite will further reinforce the overall Irish craft beer industry.

The mainstay of the event will be “Craft Brews and Food Fair” itself featuring over 50 breweries from around the world paired with 15 of Ireland’s finest artisan food producers. It will be open to the public on the Friday (5pm-9pm) and Saturday (12pm-9pm), as well as there being set trade sessions during the event. Tickets are €15, which include four free drinks and there will be lots of food to sample as well. They can be purchased on the door or in advance here.

There will be a number of sensory sessions throughout the fair in which participants will get the opportunity to learn about tasting beers, matching beer to food, whiskey and gin tastings, as well as of course learning more about Alltech’s very own Kentucky beers from head brewer Ken Lee. For those more enthusiastic, Tim O’Rourke will be back and along with a panel of beer experts will be running a separate day-long Alltech Academy Sensory Class on 6 February with the opportunity to take an exam to become an “Alltech Certified Beer Taster”. This course has to be booked separately here.

Small smaple of beers announced, including new entrants on the Irish beer scene

It will be interesting to see the beers that will be on offer during the fair. I’m looking forward to trying beers from new Irish breweries such as N17, Independent Brewing Co and Rascals Brewery. Also, the fair will feature a number of international breweries (such as Coisbo Beer from Denmark) that soon could be featuring on shelves of off licences or on draft around the country. Last year, attendees had the good fortune of encountering Hardknott’s Queboid and Beavertown’s Gamma Ray. Hardknott have an excellent array of beers on sale in Ireland and Beavertown thankfully are due here momentarily.

The Dublin Craft Beer Cup will be awarded for a second time, with the trophy making the short trip down the M1 from Lisburn, home of Hilden Brewery. The inaugural winner was of course Twisted Hop. The number of entries in the Dublin Beer Cup 2014 is expected to be 200 beers from at least 100 breweries in 16 countries, which goes to show that there’s prestige to being successful in such competitions and there’s a real opportunity to establish this as one of the premier competitions out there. The calibre of the beer entered last year was exceptional so it will be interesting to see the full list of entrants and the medal winners at the conference. Judging is expected to get underway on Tuesday 4 February with the winner being announced at lunchtime on Saturday.

Thinking back, it was at July’s event that I met Sam Black of Kinsale craft brewing fame and the lads from Brú brewery, as well as hearing about plans for a new brewery in Wicklow. I wonder by the time the third incarnation of this event comes around not only what the brewing landscape will look like but also what changes pubs will make on foot of what they will discover next week. All anyone will have to do is to heed Dr. Pearse Ryan’s three-day pep talk.

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!

Musings on the best Irish beer fest yet

The All-Ireland Craft Beer and Cider Festival has attracted a lot of attention online and save from repeating a previous post, I have opted to provide a series of short observations on the festival. Oh and did I mention that I attended all four days because where else would I be!

Packed house on Festival Saturday

In no particular order:

  1. Biggest festival yet! Huge crowds over the four days (over 10,000 according to Ruben @TaleofAle). It was packed on the Friday and many had made their way up from the Aviva after the Ireland-Sweden march but Saturday was something else. The crowds simply kept on coming with a queue to get in and an even bigger one at the token stand.  if keeps growing like this, it’ll probably have to move into the main hall next door.
  2. Two collaboration brews can be best described as sweet. The O’Hara’s/JW Sweetman’s version containing honey. There’s a story to be told about it but can be best summed up as there’s a group of people out there nerdier than beer enthusiasts – honey people! Troubled Hooker from guess which two breweries (see my previous post if you can’t for the life of you work out who it is) was a mistake gone well. It was supposed to be a Double IPA but became almost a sweet Belgian Tripel, even sweeter than Kwak.
  3. Dry-hopped Irish reds, what’s the point? The malt sweetness is there for a reason. Leave the hops for the “Irish” pale ales & co.
  4. The Hop Randall festival goes to try the Kinsale Pale Ale with added Simcoe, Citra and Nelson Sauvin. The Hop Randall  has now been introduced by the Bull and Castle and the Bierhaus in Cork . Has it already been condemned to the realm of gimmick?
  5. Franciscan Well wasn’t picketed by members of the craft purist front and the casks ran dry fairly early on. Punters weren’t put off by this big beer-owned concern.
  6. In previous years Dungarvan trialled their seasonal beers for the following year (Comeragh Challenger and Mahon Falls). Cormac brought six variants with him, including a Saison, Amber Ale, Mild, session DIPA, Wit IPA and an IPA. I  still don’t know which or if any are scheduled for release  in 2014.
  7. Every time the show the All-Ireland Hurling Final On festival Sunday, it ends in a draw.
  8. In past years people flocked to the White Gypsy stand to imbibe on the stronger beers available. However, I don’t know what is happening down in Templemore as a string of very fine session beers turned up at this year’s festival.
  9. Did every band at the festival do a cover of The Lumineers’ Ho Hey? Don’t get me started about the Johnny Cash covers!
  10. Two barley wines at the festival and two were duly sampled. I know barley wines are known for their port/sherry like comparisons but I’m not going to go into how one was sweet (Porterhouse) and one was dry (O’Hara’s). That’s just going too far!
  11. Putting the newer breweries in one corner (although Brú was across the way) grouped in one corner was a great way of concentrating interest in them. One thing noticed is that the newer breweries have fantastic branding and T-shorts for sale (in the past this sort of behaviour was confined to Metalman and the Porterhouse).
  12. Beers to look out for include Eight Degrees’ Amber Ella (might give Howling Gale Ale a run for its money in the popularity stakes), Kinsale Pale Ale (a great beer to show to festival novices that Ireland can match Sierra Nevada et al), Mountain Man’s Hairy Goat (nice copper ale for the autumn) and hopefully Five Lamps will release the darker version of their Liberties Ale (they have a lager so why put out a golden ale?).
The fantastic branding from some of the newer breweries at the festival