Could a rise in tensions lead to all out macro-war?

There’s a perceptible rise in tension between some of the large breweries in Ireland. This goes beyond the normal uber-competitive nature to retain or grow market share. The aggressive stance being taken by breweries appear to be a result from the determination of Molson Coors to establish itself within the Irish market.

Not just content with its acquisition of Franciscan Well, Molson Coors already holds 10% of the Irish lager market and is determined to raise its influence with the on-trade. This includes independent licensed premises being offered up to 30% saving on their Sky TV commercial subscription when combined with stocking drinks from Molson Coors’ portfolio. It has also invested heavily in launching Molson Canadian in Ireland, with a large advertising spend and drinks promotions. One particular ad was subject on the Joe Duffy Show because it featured the statue of Jim Larkin, anti-capitalist and noted teetotaler.

Big Jim was always know for being a corporate sell-out & love of drink, oh wait...
Big Jim was always know for being a corporate sell-out & love of drink, oh wait…

C&C Gleeson has a remarkable slice of the on-trade market in Ireland, no doubt built on the back of Bulmers and a large distribution business. Clearly not happy with potential threat of Molson Coors, the company is taking note of new offerings offered by their rivals. It would seem that Smithwicks Pale Ale has seen off the threat of Caledonian Smooth. The new front this time is the lucrative lager market and clearly focused on Molson Coors. First, was the roll-out of Heverlee, a premium Belgian beer that recreates a “classic bygone taste” (i.e. before craft beer). They followed this up with the launch of Irish-made lager, which was launched on 31 July 2014.

Clonmel 1650 is being billed as “a Pilsner-style lager with an ABV of 4.3%, this medium-bodied lager delivers the key attributes expected from a Pilsner, but with a particularly memorable taste which hovers between slightly fruity, estery and subtly hoppy”. All of this is code for yet another inoffensive lager (except when perhaps presented with the price for it). The poignancy of the name should not be ignored. The Siege of Clonmel took place in 1650, where 2,000 inhabitants held out for 5 weeks against Cromwell’s foreign army of 8,000 strong. According to the press release and ignoring the origins of pilsner, this beer wants to be hailed for its “Irishness”.


The advertising and branding for this beer is clearly targeting both Molson Coors and Diageo. It’s being billed as “Irishness” v “Foreigness”. They’ve borrowed some of the popular lines of attack from the craft beer movement.

Wonder which brewery has been pushing beer from west of the Rockies?
Wonder which brewery has been pushing beer from west of the Rockies?



Just remember that the next time you visit the pub that the Macro Cold War is once again in danger of going hot…

On the radio talking about beer and “various things like that”

It’s been quite some time since I was on the radio for an entire show. Well gone are the days when I hosted a Saturday morning music show on Dublin Weekend Radio. So it was a nice to have been invited onto Food Talk on 103.2 Dublin City FM on Tuesday 5 August by the show’s host, Margaret Scully. The subject of the show was what else but beer and “various things like that”. I must say it was an enjoyable experience (especially finding out that the previous interviewee was Michelin-starred chef, Kevin Thornton) and the 30 minute chat just flew by, covering everything from beer sommeliers to how to taste beer to the vibrant craft beer scene in Ireland.

You can listen back to the show:


Check out Food Talk, which is broadcast on 103.2 Dublin City FM every Tuesday at 1pm.

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.


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.

Football & beer is a balancing act

The new football leagues across are kicking off during the month of August (Sheffield Wednesday thankfully started with a win) and the new English Premier League season starts this weekend. This is not going to be a post about beers and their local teams but rather an emerging trend afflicting both beer and football, the lack of balance.

I had the opportunity to attend a tasting given by Doug Odell recently (more on that later this month) and his family-owned business produce wonderfully balanced beers out of Fort Collins, Colorado. This got me thinking about a number of beers, seasonal or otherwise, that are simply lacking in something. A fair few were using hop assertiveness as a sort of masking-agent in a similar manner to over seasoning a pasta sauce to cover up or more likely to compensate deficiencies. Now, this is where the comparison with football comes in.

Over recent seasons there’s been a rise in the number of goals scored in football matches (see below). In the Premier League for instance, the average has risen from approximately 2.5 goals per game to 2.8 since 2006. In the past three World Cups, it has been a rise from an average of 2.3 to just under 2.7 goals per game. More goals are being scored and worryingly less of premium is now placed on defence. The imbalance within teams can be seen. Take for instance Robin Van Persie and his £24 million transfer to Manchester United back in 2012. The club appears to have calculated in some sort of Moneyball-esque fashion that his 26 goals that title-winning season would more than offset the deficiencies in their back four.



Beers can go one way or the other. They can be too sweet or eye-wateringly bitter but what makes a good beer is balance, a true skill and craft brewers often refine this through trial and error. We can see some of our favourite beers evolving over time but sadly the obverse is also true, how often can we read how some perennial favourites of old are no longer the same (Duvel anyone?). Balance in beer can be subjective of course. Hopheads for instance go looking for the bitterness, although they don’t want to search to hard; they’d rather be hit up front and have it continue right through to the end.

Balance in both beer and football depends on its constituent components. One doesn’t have to sacrifice itself for the sake of another however. A team that can score a shed load of goals and defend well can be a force to be reckoned with. The art of defending is not the same of playing defensively.  It can be the same with beer. Hops, malt, yeast and water can work together in harmony. Take a superb IPA like Magic Rock’s Cannonball, which has got the much desired hop aromas, flavour and bitterness in abundance but is importantly balanced by a sweet malt base. It brings out the sweet citrus flavours. Some of the newer European IPAs are swapping caramel and/or biscuit bases of their American cousins in favour of clean bodies that emphasise the freshness of the hops used. The same rings through with the use of other additions to beer (e.g. herbs, spices and fruit) and their respective impact on other ingredients. Too much coriander in a Belgian Wit for instance and that’s what dominates.


So last week I finally cracked open a bottle of Vote Sepp from BrewDog, a single hopped wheat beer with hibiscus flower. It’s the latest in their line of beer satirism and Ryanair-like tendency for self-promotion. Their target this time is “tireless football führer, Mr Blatter”, particularly due to the farcical awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar (not just because they’re in the brewing game).

The beer is apparently “best served from brown paper envelopes to aid drinking with greased palms” but I only had a trusty tasting glass at hand. It poured like sparkling rosé, which raised some eyebrows from fellow customers. The head can be best described as a dollop or two of cream. The aroma consisted of floral notes. Thanks to the use of the Motueka hop, it drank dry and flowery. There were lemon and lime flavours too. However, it lacked the anticipated tartness and was more watery than flavoursome as one would hope from the addition of wheat. It was a beer that was lacking and thankfully trying this in Probus Wines, Paul suggested trying it with a squeeze of lemon juice to see how it would be with a higher level of tartness and it undoubtedly improved.

The beer is far from the promised “perfect balance of tartness, bitterness and body”. Was this the final satirical poke from the BrewDog boys?  Fifa, the Blatter-headed organisation, which manages the beautiful game is intensely disliked due to accusations of bribery, fraud and the like? Is it similar to watching the Premiership on Sky Sports that tells us the very game was a cracker even though we watched it with our very eyes and came to a different conclusion? If it is, then fair play to Fraserburgh’s finest for pulling it off, otherwise this beer is simply living off their hype. Some of these releases, while small batched, put me off their better balanced beers in terms of Punk IPA, the often under-appreciated 5am Saint and of course Hardcore IPA.

But with the new season upon us, one can only hope the quality of the football and the beer will improve through achieving better balance…

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.