Back for a fifth year – Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair

The Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair is coming back for a fifth year. How time flies! This festival has undergone a remarkable evolution since the first event held in the summer of 2012. Forget Paris in the springtime. February in Dublin has become synonymous with rugby and this beer festival. The folks at Alltech even try to combine the two. Visitors will once more have the opportunity to sample more than 300 of the latest craft brews while watching Six Nations Rugby on three if the biggest screens in Dublin.

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The festival takes place once more in the Convention Centre Dublin from Thursday 23rd – Saturday 25th February 2017 and tickets are on sale now from Eventbrite. The event runs over three days, and opening hours as follows:

  • Thursday, 23rd February: 5pm – 11pm
  • Friday, 24th February: 5pm – 11pm
  • Saturday, 25th February: 12.30pm – 11pm

The Dublin Beer Cup will also be awarded during the weekend. Will anyone be able to take the mantle away from McGargle’s Francis’ Big Bangin’ IPA? Can the Kildare brewery follow Coisbo completing a two-in-a-row? We will just have to wait and see.

The full line-up of music and exhibitors will be announced in the New Year. If anyone doesn’t believe the organisers have big, big plans – think again. Last year, they only went and beat the previous Guinness Book of Records’ mark for the world’s largest beer tasting.

For further information visit alltechbrews.ie or join the conversation on Twitter by following @alltechbrews.

New Year’s resolutions – How to become a beer sommelier

I was asked by the fantastic folks at Alltech to put together the following post for their Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair blog on becoming a beer sommelier. You can visit the festival blog here

Some people can be incredibly difficult to buy presents for. Getting an idea of what they want can be akin to pulling teeth. I myself am guilty of such elusiveness. This causes problems for friends and family alike. They know I’m into beer: so bottles, cans, books, t-shirts and even brewery tours are common presents. Thankfully, the range and quality of beer gifts available improves year on year. However, the best gift I received was a voucher for a two-day course with the Beer Academy, yes there is such a place. This was the beginning of my journey towards becoming an accredited beer sommelier, and yes there is such a thing.

I don’t work for a brewery nor do I distribute beer, so the opportunity to learn alongside those that do was a fantastic experience. I took two years to complete the training. There are two compulsory elements before the final exam. It’s a fairly lengthy interview but there’s beer involved, lots of it. It may sound daunting but you’ll surprise yourself in how well you can taste beers blind and talk about them. Whilst the training can be completed faster, I wanted to really develop my knowledge of beer, through running tastings, hosting beer and food matching sessions and judging beer competitions. The certificates issued at each stage of training are cherished more than any academic accomplishment of mine. They also give you a badge too, which can make up for failing to get one from Blue Peter.

I know that any time someone mentions training or study, it can sound off-putting. But, this involves beer. Think of the possibilities. It’s true that you may get an odd look every now and then when you’re caught reading a book about beer at 8 a.m. but just remember – you’re studying! It’s also a great excuse to go into a pub or off-licence to try one or two new beers in order to broaden your horizons. And it’s not like you don’t do this already. You’ll broaden your knowledge of beer and food pairing, as well as cooking with beer – either enjoying a glass or two, á la the late-great Keith Floyd or adding beer to the recipe or possibly even both.

The snobbishness towards beer has lessened in recent years. It’s no longer just wine and whiskey. Increasingly beer is being recognised for its localism, and the sheer diversity of the different styles on offer. There are now 100 craft breweries on the island of Ireland and over 10,000 worldwide. It wasn’t that long ago that it was difficult to get a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in this country, but now you can easily buy beers from there too. Similarly, the offerings from California/Washington/Oregon outnumber the types of wine available from these regions. Know a whiskey drinker? Well there are barrel-aged beers which emphasise different nuances of whiskey-styles; of course Kentucky Bourbon Barrel ale is one of the best-known and popular examples.

Education can improve and round out one’s knowledge of any subject. Learning about beer is mostly trial and error. The education part helps gives you new tools and approaches to appreciating and evaluating beer. There’s a reason why your beer may look, taste or smell like that. It’s important that those in the trade up their knowledge of beer. While this is happening, it’s happening slowly. And it shouldn’t stop there. There’s room for consumers to develop their beer knowledge. Craft beer recommendations are often spread by word-of-mouth, through social media and blogs. It’s important that people get to know the beers they like, why they like them and just importantly if a beer could be “off” due to a brewing hiccup or a fault with the bottle or tap.The added bonus from doing an accredited training course is that you get to judge serious beer competitions. It’s important for the brewers that they have their beers judged to common criteria by people trained in how to assess them. I was invited to judge the Dublin Craft Beer Cup in 2015 and tried approximately 140 beers over two days. Beer judging can be a wonderful test of endurance. You’re writing detailed notes and scoring each beer. It’s hard work but also you get to meet great people.Tasting and judging beers are only part of the story. There are opportunities to meet brewers, visit their breweries and try their latest releases, some before they go on sale. You can use the accreditation as much or as little as you want. I’ve recently returned from visiting 20 breweries in the U.S. over a ten day period. You can expect to be invited to judge beer competitions overseas and to attend international beer festivals. I’ve even received invitations to attend a couple of hop and grain harvests.

Becoming an accredited beer sommelier should be just a start. There is almost no end to the beers out there. This year alone, I’d say the number of beers I’ve tried is in the high hundreds. I keep a running total through the notes I keep and photos taken. There’s always a beer festival on the horizon, like the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair, so tickets to these can become a present for the craft beer enthusiast too.

The Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair takes place in the Convention Centre Dublin, 5-7 February 2016. Tickets from €15.00 online (excluding booking fee) or €20.00 at the door . You can also purchase tickets from participating Centra & SuperValu stores.

Opening Hours:

  • Friday, February 5th: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 6th: 12.30 p.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Sunday, February 7th: 12.30 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Crafty ambitious to be among the the top 50

“We want to be one of the top 50 craft brewers in the world,” said Dr. Pearse Lyons. It’s as simple as that for one of Ireland’s most successful entrepreneurs. His ambition knows no bounds. It’s been a busy few years for Alltech in terms of growth. The company has sold off particular business units that were no longer of key focus and has also acquired a number of other companies to accelerate its growth. However, last week’s announcement was the first time that it purchased a brewery or two for that matter to boost its beverage division.

The ever-ambitious & entrepreneurial Dr. Pearse Lyons
The ever-ambitious & entrepreneurial Dr. Pearse Lyons

Alltech announced on 21 July that it has acquired The Station Works Brewery in Newry Co. Down and Cumberland Breweries Ltd, in Great Corby, Cumbria, England. The two breweries had been operating under the same ownership and had been positioning itself in the Irish market over the past number of months, on foot of its Finn Lager brand. Station Works had invested well on the branding and big hopes were being placed on its new Foxes Rock ale.

Station Works at the 2015 Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair
Station Works at the 2015 Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair

So what’s in it for Alltech? It gives them a foothold into Europe in terms of production and adds a few more beers to their portfolio. The distribution chain for Alltech is quite strong in Ireland but this deal potentially opens up the British market too. The Finn Lager could even be an attractive brand State-side. Foxes Rock could prove popular with the horsey-set (e.g. Leopardstown Races), which fits in with Alltech’s sponsorship strategy. More importantly it gives them two breweries with a combined output of 40,000 hectolitres. This gives them a platform to develop a new range of products or brew existing ones in Europe that could be sold to the local market as well as exporting further afield.

Station Works at the Irish Craft Beer & Whiskey Festival in March 2015
Station Works at the Irish Craft Beer & Whiskey Festival in March 2015

Some craft beer enthusiasts may find it difficult to accept Alltech as a “craft brewery” due to the fact that it’s part of a very large company. They’d point to the typical caveats of small, independent and traditional. As far as I’m concerned the brewery is craft. Yes, it may have corporate leanings but it’s also part of one of the biggest Irish family-owned start-ups. It’s a company that follows a path of increasing organically and through acquisitions, it’s the latter that mightn’t sit easily with everyone.

He literally wears his ambition
Literally wearing his ambition

The big question is where next for Alltech? In order to achieve the target of being in the top 50 of craft breweries worldwide, surely more take-overs can be expected. Wonder if any will come from those that have participated in the Alltech Brews and Food in recent years? There were more than a few of them that came from far and wide.

Irish Beer & Whiskey Fest

The Irish Beer & Whiskey Fest kicked off yesterday and for five days I’ll be referring to the RDS as a second home. It would be rude not to when it’s taking place practically around the corner.

Even beer festivals cannot escape the Global Greening initiative
Even beer festivals cannot escape the Global Greening initiative

This festival marks the evolution of the Irish beer festival that took place around St Patrick’s Day in the IFSC over the past few years. However, those festivals were more of a large craft beer bar where breweries sent kegs rather than be present themselves.

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It’s by the organisers of the excellent Irish Craft Beer and Cider festival that takes in the RDS every September. This time it takes place in the Main Hall, a space that’s considerably bigger than the Industries Hall. The Main Hall may bring back memories for some of participating in the Young Scientist Exhibition (even as far back as when Aer Lingus used to sponsor it).

Whiskey always had a place in the September edition but it has gained more prominent billing for this festival. 7 cider makers are also represented and the food offering is the biggest yet.

19 breweries are present. Yes, this is a drop in the number of stands when compared to the last two editions of September festival. However, it’s been a fairly packed calendar for beer events of late with the Alltech Craft Brews & Food just a fortnight ago. Brewers have had to choose what festivals to focus on, how much beer to have on hand to attend them etc. Don’t worry there’s plenty of good beer to be had at the festival.

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Some to look out for include Mountain Man’s Sneaky Owl; Searbh Rua (Imperial Sour Red) and Coffee Rocket by White Hag; Enigma and Polar Vortex from Eight Degrees; and Buck It by Black Donkey. There’s cask beers on offer too so be on the look out for O’Hara’s Leann Follain and three from Station Works (stout, blonde & brown). These are of course those that I tried on day 1 of the festival. There’s plenty of good beer on offer from Trouble Brewing, Independent Brewing, Alltech Lexington Brewing, Rye River (also pouring Innis & Gunn and Coisbo), Porterhouse, Franciscan Well, Rising Sons, O’Brother Brewing, White Gypsy, Wicklow Brewing and Wicklow Wolf.

So far it’s shaping up to be a great festival. The new hall has given it a more spacious feeling, somewhat reminiscent of the early years of the September’s festival. It’s €2.50 for a half pint though above 7% beers are served in thirds. Some stands will give you a pint but not in the official festival glass. If you want a pint, you’ll have to make do with plastic.

Hopefully you get the opportunity to drop in in this festival.

Things even peachier for US craft beer

Had to get the right glass to try this beer from, a mason jar of course.

At the beginning of July I posted a piece on the US craft beer industry and the healthy state it was in. I based this on data available from the Brewers Association (BA). Since then, however, new data was released by Internal Revenue Service covering breweries operating at the end of June 2014 in the US and was published by the BA. There are now 3,040 breweries across the US. This is represents a 7.7% increase in breweries since 2013 and the number of breweries operating is at the highest level since the 1870s.The BA estimates that 99% of breweries are craft and that the majority of Americans are no more than 10 miles away from a brewery. The figures aren’t fully analysed and I’m looking forward to reading them when they’re released.

In the same piece, I mentioned that the Kentucky Peach Barrel Wheat from Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. was going to be available in limited quantities in Ireland. I had the opportunity to taste it this past weekend. You’re immediately hit by an aroma of sweet peach and vanilla oak. There’s also a nose tingling effect resulting from the bourbon warmth. With the head clinging to the side of the glass, it pours extremely pale, a light gold and is filtered clear.

You get the peach up front but the bourbon takes over, matches with the sweetness though. However, you’re hit by the aroma on each sip; similar to a tropical shampoo taking over your senses when washing your hair. It’s drinkable, dangerously so when compared with the snifter sipper that is the bourbon barrel ale. This beer has also spent six weeks in used casks.

I’m not one for cocktails (I prefer the Bellini with just the champagne) but I can see that at 8% ABV this beer is aimed at those who do. On the other hand, when you take into account the popularity of fruit wheat beers out there and in particular Sweetwater Blue (with blueberries and at 4.9%) out of Atlanta, this beer could perhaps be lower in alcohol and still achieve the same impact. Doing something like that could prove to be a big seller (even on a seasonal basis) if they wanted to re-release it on a more regular basis.

Had to get the right glass to try this beer from, a mason jar of course.
Had to get the right glass to try this beer from, a mason jar of course.

It would be good to see some more lower alcohol bourbon-inspired ales on the market. Take for instance BrewDog’s Bourbon Baby at 5.8% ABV. It’s a scotch ale aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. There’s rich, sweet fruits on huge nose. The beer pours dark and topped by a frothy head. There’s the expected vanilla woody notes on huge taste and sweetness continues into the finish complete with a warming sensation. According to Fraserburgh’s finest: “This is light. This is dark. This is Bourbon Baby”.

There's certainly room in the market for lower (albeit not too much) bourbon barrel aged beers
There’s certainly room in the market for lower (albeit not too much) bourbon barrel aged beers