It’s coming back – Alltech Craft Brews & Food 2015

It’s coming back! The Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair, Ireland’s largest international craft beer festival, will make a welcome return to Dublin’s Convention Centre for three days from Feb. 27 through to March 1, 2015. This will be the third time Alltech has hosted the event, which this year welcomed more than 6,000 visitors who tasted a range of craft beers from more than 45 brewers from 18 countries around the world. This is one festival that I make sure I take time off to attend. The launch party took place last week in Sam’s Bar and it was great to be asked to be involved.

Pumpkins featuring prominently at the launch event
Pumpkins featuring prominently at the launch event

“For years Ireland has been synonymous for brewing and rightly so,” said Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder and president of Alltech. “Budget 2015 has seen an increase in the annual excise relief production ceiling for Irish microbreweries from 20,000 to 30,000 hectoliters. Craft beer in Ireland is paving the way by providing local employment and it continues to make inroads into foreign markets. There is a craft beer revolution going on right here in Ireland and what better way to highlight that than by showcasing some of Ireland’s finest local craft beers side by side with some of the world’s finest?”

The event also includes the prestigious Dublin Craft Beer Cup competition, which allows craft brewers to showcase their beers. After two days of blind tasting by a panel of independent industry veterans, top brewers will receive gold, silver and bronze medals in eight different categories of beer, establishing the best examples of each style. The Dublin Craft Beer Cup boasted more than 300 entries last year, and it is expected that 1,000 beers from around the world will be entered into the competition this year. International brewers are invited to enter their craft beers for The Dublin Craft Beer Cup on the fair’s website. Closing date for entry is Feb. 15, 2015.

Hilden's Twisted Hop & the Russian Imperial Stout won the first 2 Dublin Craft Beer Cups
Hilden’s Twisted Hop & the Russian Imperial Stout won the first 2 Dublin Craft Beer Cups

Winner of the 2014 Dublin Craft Beer Cup, Anders Coisbo from Coisbo Beer in Denmark, received phenomenal success following his win at the 2014 Fair. “It has been a fantastic year for us. Winning seven medals at the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair, including the overall winner, and a further nine medals in the United States. I am very proud that our beers are being so well received, both at home and abroad.”

Craft brewing and distilling is a rising trend not only in Ireland but the world over. According to Aidan Sweeney, Ireland’s only independent beer sommelier, “we are in the midst of a craft beer revolution here in Ireland. I’m excited to see Alltech Craft Brews return in 2015, and by the time the third incarnation of this event arrives in February 2015, I predict the craft brewing landscape will be flourishing.”

Tickets are now on sale from €15 from the Fair’s website. All tickets will include four free drink and food tokens, a souvenir glass, and free entertainment. They’re available online via the fair website,, ticket agent and can also be purchased at the door. Doors open to the public at 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27 and at noon, Saturday, Feb. 28 and Sunday March 1, 2015.

Be sure to join the conversation on Twitter using @alltechbrews. At this year’s event, I circulated my top tips for enjoying a beer festival. It’s a useful source for finding out what’s coming up (ahead of the festival) but also finding out what’s happening when you’re at the festival and what beer’s you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

Pipeline politics of the good kind

I know a few people who used to slag me off about “pipeline politics” and the like but what has just been announced in Brugge (or Bruges if you’re that way inclined) is an interesting development. Those familiar with the city or a certain movie for that matter know that its medieval majesty does not lend it easier to get around by vehicle. This makes transportation of good into, around and out of the city difficult. So De Halve Maan, the only brewery operating within the city walls, has come up with a novel solution: a beer pipeline.


Funded by De Halve Maan itself, a 1.8-mile polyethylene underground pipeline will transport 6,000 litres of beer every hour between the brewery and its bottling facility located on the outskirts of the city. The journey is expected to take 15 to 20 minutes. The local council has backed this initiative as it will remove trucks from the city streets, easing congestion and carbon emissions, whilst ensuring production will still occur at the brewery site that attracts over 100,000 visitors per annum. Also, not having to contribute financially to the project is a significant bonus.

Could this happen in Dublin for instance? Think about the issues Guinness have transporting its products from St. James Gate right across the centre of city to Dublin Port. The famous barges are gone and trucks are the order of the day. A lot of movement takes place at night but it’s an expensive process and obviously not the most environmentally-efficient one (Guinness does have an ambitious green strategy).


The brewery’s solution is to use the Luas track (which runs to the entrance of the port) track during the night. This would require a small piece of track running from the brewery to join the line at Seán Heuston Bridge and a new track running from the entrance of the port to the dock. Guinness would provide the investment. However, the plan needs the backing of Dublin City Council and no doubt others such as the National Transport Authority. Sadly, due to the nature of our local government system it’s difficult to get ambitious and creative plans off the ground.

It’s amazing to think that it’s easier to get things to happen in a UNESCO World Heritage Site like Brugge.

The 9% VAT rate doesn’t apply to alcohol but should still be supported

In 2011, the Irish Government introduced the special 9% VAT rate on a range of goods and services within the tourism and hospitality sector. It was a temporary measure that was extended for a year in Budget 2014. To date, it is estimated that this has contributed to one in four new jobs being created in the economy. It benefits not only tourists but also Irish consumers. However, today SIPTU called for the removal of the 9% VAT rate. What particularly annoyed me about the coverage of this pre-budget news item was the pre-occupation of media sources with using alcohol to illustrate this news item. The 9% VAT rate does not apply to alcohol. It continues to be subject to the standard VAT rate of 23% and let’s not forget that it is added after the application of excise duties. I took to twitter on this and to their credit within a few short minutes RTÉ had changed their photo (this wasn’t just confined to the website as it was on the RTÉ News Now channel). A growing sign of organisations monitoring social media channels and responding when required.

Regardless, hopefully the Minister for Finance will announce the retention of the 9% VAT rate for another year in his Budget 2015 speech next week.


Hey porter, hey porter

October sees the two new Guinness products being sold in Ireland. Officially launched at the beginning of September, the Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter have been available to purchase in the UK for an entire month. I was invited along with a handful of other bloggers to take a peek inside Guinness’ Pilot Brewery and be one of the first people to try the two new offerings but have waited until now to post about them. The reason being not only did bottles hit the shelves this week but so too did the draught version of the Dublin Porter in selected pubs.

The preview evening was hosted by Nick Curtis-Davis the Head of Innovation for Guinness, along with ‎Pilot Plant Manager Luis Ortega and Master Brewer Gearóid Cahill. Marketed under the Brewers Project, the beers mark a new departure for the company because they’ve adopted the “freedom to fail” approach to innovation. They took a conscious decision that no market research be taken prior to releasing these beers. There’s apparently no plan or future roadmap for the series.


Critics were early to accuse them of copying the likes Shepherd’s Neame in releasing historic recreations. However, the Brewers Project is not a case of “beer archaeology” because of the extremely limited appeal this would have. The beers are “influenced” by historic recipes, not historic recreations. Take for instance West Indies Porter, it is inspired by brewery logs of 1801 for the first purpose-brewed export porter, using twice the amount of hops, by Guinness. The original recipe itself has evolved over time into Foreign Extra Stout. The 1796 reference on the Dublin Porter relates to the fact that year was the earliest record of porter being written down in the company diaries.

When Guinness lends its brand to new products people are quick to remember high profile failures. Breó anyone? Guinness drinkers have proven to be remarkably brand resilient over the years even treating the likes of Foreign Extra Stout with suspicion. So why re-attempt this now? The explanation lies in the explosion of craft beer and the role it has played in educating the consumer and reviving the interest in beer. It doesn’t pretend to be craft. These products aren’t aimed at the beer enthusiasts (they’ll try it once and tick it off the list) but rather an acknowledgement to the fact that some drinkers are now more likely to stray into the unknown and try something new. This benefits the overall beer market as it helps grow potential consumers for craft products. Part of the battle is always trying to get people to try new things.

So what are they like? First, up was the Dublin Porter (3.8% abv) that pours a dark mahogany colour. There’s roast coffee notes on the nose. It drinks dry with a little chewiness. For me it felt as if it was a tad over-carbonated. There’s a wee kick of bitterness in the finish.


This week I got to try the draught version of the Dublin Porter. It was interesting that they opted to serve this via CO2 and not with the assistance of nitrogen. This clearly differentiates it from draught Guinness and lacks the smoothness people have come to expect. This is no bad thing and helps to pick up on the various flavours and textures within the beer. I got more chocolate than coffee on the nose and on tasting but giving way to a dry nuttiness on the finish. The head dissipates fairly quickly and the beer itself comes across a fairly light in body. I would love to think that drinkers after becoming familiar with this on draught would reach for the excellent Dark Arts Porter by Trouble Brewing as time goes on.


Finally, the West Indies Porter at 6% abv is available in bottles only. It’s a beer that people will draw immediate comparisons with Foreign Extra Stout. Perhaps this is a little unfair. The beer pours dark brown and its aroma is reminiscent of a milky coffee that subdues notes of roasted coffee. There’s a slight chocolate hit on first taste. It’s initially creamy with vanilla sweetness but succumbs to a chewy bitterness on the finish.


For me, these beers aren’t remarkable in the way Guinness Special Export is. They’re grand and were interesting to try in a been-there, done-that sort of way but that’s not the point. These beers are not aimed at drinkers like me and nor should they be. Their importance can be in helping convince people loyal to a brand to try one or two variants. Hopefully, some of them will go on to discover the exciting beers available out there in a way that O’Shea’s Traditional Irish Stout (aka Carlow Brewing Company) in Aldi has done. Only time will tell.