Brewing up new business, the sequel

abf-entertainment-1

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.

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!