What the European Central Bank has done to beer

In order to boost the Eurozone economy, the European Central Bank finally announced its plan for quantitative easing (QE), much to the chagrin of the Germans. Between now and September 2016, the ECB is to print some €1.14 trillion in new money to buy government bonds from banks and other investors. So what has all of this to got to do with beer?

Well quite a lot actually, the value of the Euro against other currencies has taken a significant dive over recent weeks and is expected to remain weak during the course of the QE initiative. This will make exports from Ireland cheaper. There’s a real advantage for Irish breweries (and indeed those from other Eurozone countries) to export to the likes of the UK and the US at seriously competitive prices. The likes of O’Hara’s, the Porterhouse and recent exporters to the US like White Hag and Rye River could really extend their reach in the US. But our near neighbours in Britain will also be a market that Irish breweries can be competitive in terms of price to match the flavour. We just have to ensure that craft breweries get the support they need through access to credit and support from enterprise agencies to take advantage of this.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel not happy with the ECB and taking the glass-half-full approach Photo: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
German Chancellor Angela Merkel not happy with the ECB and taking the glass-half-full approach Photo: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. Ignore that fact that Britain, the US and non-Eurozone countries will be now more expensive for beer trips. Imports from these countries will also become pricier. This is also potentially bad news for those that like beers from Northern Ireland. It’ll be hard for the brewers to absorb the exchange rate differences so they’re not passed on to customers. Will they forget exporting to the rest of the island in favour of focusing on Ulster and Britain?

Separate to the import and export of beer, are there any other things we should be aware of that could affect the price of beer and the craft brewing industry generally? Well the cost of imported raw materials will increase. Ireland is a small market and generally sources a lot of raw materials through the larger suppliers in the UK and elsewhere. However, this could be a further fillip to the indigenous grain industry. On the other hand, fans of West Coast or other US hops could be in for a shock as some are expecting the dollar to reach parity with the Euro in a few short months. Will brewers absorb these increases into existing prices or will we even see changes to offerings in the form of producing more European-style offerings using German hops for instance?

Only time will tell what the effects of Mario Draghi’s efforts will be. One thing for sure is that it will give a boost to Ireland and other Eurozone economies. This will boost consumer demand at home and no doubt help the further growth of the craft beer sector.

Beers from Atlanta in honour of the city’s famous son

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the U.S. Whilst it takes place on the 3rd Monday of January, Dr. King’s actual birthday is 15 January but for the purposes of this post, I thought it prudent to feature two beers from a brewery in the city of his birth.

Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewery was founded back in 1997 by Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerny, roommates at University of Colorado in Boulder (obviously a place to discover craft beer). Firmly embracing the importance of “localism”, the brewery takes its name from Sweetwater Creek, which flows off from the brilliantly named – and easier to say after a couple of beers – Chattahoochee River (any Alan Jackson fans out there?). The brewery’s motto is “don’t float the mainstream”, and it features prominently on all the packaging for its brews.

Sweetwater was one of the craft brewing outliers in the South. When I first started going to Nashville almost ten years ago now, their beers were one of the few regional beers regularly available, with their 420 Extra Pale Ale becoming an early favourite of mine. At 5.7%, it had enough fresh hop bitterness to be pleasant on those hot southern summer days.


The most recent beers I had from the brewery were Georgia Brown and LowRYEder IPA. Billed an “easy drinkin’ back porch ale”, Georgia Brown is “as smooth as a Bill Clinton apology”. According to the bottle, I was to “enjoy it some southern hospitality” so it was a bottle I cracked open during a trip to visit the in-laws. There’s chocolate and demerara sugar (or as they call it down there, sugar in the raw) on the nose. It’s colour can be best described as a fine amber syrup. It’s got what you’d expect from a brown ale – low bitterness (30 IBUs and is hopped with Columbus & Willamette) and some bready characteristics. There are also bold coffee notes on the finish, though, to keep you guessing.


Next up is LowRYEder IPA, described as “a flame trowin’ IPA ignited by a 25% shot of rye malt and capped by a booty hoppin’ blast of Mt Hood and Centennial hops that make this IPA bounce”. Rye’s a common ingredient in beers across the South. It can be sourced easier than hops and can help give that desired spiciness. The beer pours orange with amber highlights topped by vibrant head of foam. The beer’s hopped with Columbus, Mt Hood and Centennial. Whilst there was initial fresh citrus notes on the noses, the rye bill (plenty of brewers find 10% rye creates the desired spicy backbone) resulted in an aroma of dried fruit. This beer’s balanced, though, and the dry, bitter finish is not over-powering. It belies its 6.2% abv and cries out for a good burger to have alongside it.

Jack Cody’s Puck Pilsner, my choice of a beer for 2015

Back in November Breandán Kearney asked me to suggest an Irish beer that I think “people should try in 2015 (something new or old)”. He was putting together a post for his excellent website www.belgiansmaak.com on 30 Fantastic Irish Beers You Have To Try in 2015 (As Suggested by Ireland’s Beer Geeks and Experts), which he published earlier this week.

Check out Breandán and Elisa's excellent site on adventures in beer & chocolate (www.belgiansmaak.com)
Check out Breandán and Elisa’s excellent site on adventures in beer & chocolate (www.belgiansmaak.com)

The only stipulation was “that the beer be Irish”. This was no easy task as it’s a bit like choosing your favourite film etc. It got me thinking about whether to suggest a completely new beer to look out for in 2015 without having tried it. Also, I was up against 29 others in the race to get dibs on the beer choice as Breandán was operating on a first-come, first-served basis.

The beer I chose was Puck Pilsner from Jack Cody’s in Drogheda for reasons outlined below. There have been a few really good lagers produced in Ireland in recent years. Bo Bristle has an excellent pilsner and Eight Degrees Barefoot Bohemian goes down well in tastings. Of course there’ve been bad examples as well, sometimes from the same brewery. Does the Porterhouse really need to persist with Chiller? Surely it could free up a tap and confidently push one year-round lager in the form of Hersbrucker (okay I know Temple Braü is a big seller for them).

No doubt 2015 will see a range of new beers to try. No doubt many won’t just have a name but also many will not have even been dreamt up by the brewers themselves. I’ll be looking out for some of the new ones around festival time (and there’ll be a fair few of them over the year). Hopefully some of the beers from the Irish Craft Beer and Cider festival will be released during the year, particularly for me anyway some of the saisons.

Can't wait to try the beers coming from their new Dublin brewery
Can’t wait to try the beers coming from their new Dublin brewery

It won’t be just a case of new beer but also new breweries, with Killarney’s Torc Brewing becoming the first born of 2015. Look out for the brewery’s Wheat (Belgian Wit) and Amber ales. Other beers I’m looking to try in 2015 will be coming from Niall and Kev in Stone Barrel. They’ll be brewing their beers on their own kit (well a communal one) in Dublin that was the old Galway Hooker kit and Emerald before them. They’d been contract brewing before that and split production between Ireland and England. I can’t wait to see what the lads will come up with when using their own kit.


So my rationale for Jack Cody’s Puck Pilsner (4.5% ABV) as a beer to look out for in 2015 is a follows and is as appears on Breandán’s site:

With the growth in craft beer set to continue, a lot of attention is placed on the more unusual, stronger or hop-forward beers (or even a combination of all three). We can all too easily lose sight or even under-appreciate the beers that win over new fans to craft beer, perhaps even more so when it comes to lagers.

Jack Cody’s Puck Pilsner can please ardent macro-lager drinkers but is complex enough for real beer fans. It pours a clean straw-like in colour, with earthy and subtle honey notes on the nose. The earthy notes continue on tasting before yielding to a cracker-dry, bitter finish. It’s not overly carbonated (enough to clean the palate) and at 4.5% ABV it comfortably fits into the session beer realm. Puck Pilsner along with Bo Bristle’s Pilsner are two excellent versions to look out for in 2015 but are also perfect to introduce craft beer newbies to.

Three from Eight

First post of 2015 and it’s about three beers released in time for Christmas (there I said it and it’s after the 6th of January). Well the beers in question were brewed by Eight Degrees and make up its Very Imperial Winter 2014/15 collection. Craft beer and the seasonality is becoming bigger in Ireland. It’s as if we eagerly await the launch of spring/summer collections.

Eight Degrees followed up 2013’s Back to Black series with three different brews to “tempt and warm you over the cooler season”. There’s Double Irish, a double IPA (so not just a clever name at 9.0% abv, Belgian Dubbel at 7.2% abv and finally the survivor from the previous year, Russian Imperial Stout at 9% abv.

I had tried these beers after their release in the fourth week of November but things were so manic since then, I’m only getting time to post about them now. I had even used the dubbel in a tasting the day after they appeared in the shops for the first time to a group who’d been lucky enough to sample it in Mitchelstown before its release. A dubbel is a great food beer and it’s perfect for roast dinners so it was good to be able to use and Irish version for a tasting.


The Belgian Dubbel pours with colour similarities to Rodenbach. It has a distinctly bright reddish-brown appearance and certainly more vibrant than more characteristic dubbels out there. It’s also extremely clear and given the right glass, it could pass for a brandy (the head dissipates quickly). There’s banana and dark fruits, mainly plums on the nose. On tasting, there’s some initial carbonation but quickly disappears. In terms of flavour profile, there’s a hit of plums and a dash of spice up front before being taken over by sweet notes that continue into the finish.


Earlier this year, Eight Degrees released Full Irish, a single malt IPA at 6% abv. It was packed full of big citrus flavours with a malt bill that wasn’t going to get in the way. Double Irish is this beer’s big brother. It pours a rich bronze colour with a hazy amber hue. The aroma is a total immersion in tropical sweet fruits. There’s a tangy freshness of orange and pineapple. Sticky fruit on taste, with some caramel before yielding to a pure and chewy dry finish. At 9% abv, there’s a warming bitterness on the finish that’s similar to a strepsil in its warming sensation on the throat.


The final beer is the Russian Imperial Stout. The previous year’s version featured as my choice for the desert beer for my 2013 Christmas Dinner Menu. It pours jet black, with a thick creamy caramel head (perhaps reminiscent of a coke float). It has plenty of vanilla and chocolate notes on the nose. On first taste, you can pick out sweet vanilla, bourbon and espresso characteristics. While it continually hints at its alcohol strength, the beer takes on a bitter, dark roasted espresso finish.

While these beers may not be standard-bearers for a given style in their own right, they achieve what Scott and Cam set out to do, namely to be winter sippers. What’s even more remarkable is that they all come in around the €3 euro mark. The brewery has had remarkable success over the past five years but they have consistently been able to maintain the prices at the lower end.

Big things can be expected to come from them in 2015 as they expand production. A second-hand kit, with funding secured via Linked Finance, is on its way from Mauritius. Hopefully we’ll see some of the seasonal and once-off beers released in 2014 becoming regularly available. The brewery even featured this week on the first broadcast of UTV Ireland’s Ireland Live at 10 programme.