Into the West, beer could be safer than the water

What’s in the water in Galway? Jokingly one could link the emergence of Galway brewing to the fact that beer could be safer to drink than the water. This would of course be doing a disservice to the breweries themselves. First, with Cork and now with Galway, Ireland has its second significant cluster of breweries. Buoyed by the success of Galway Bay and Galway Hooker (yes it’s brewed in Roscommon but it’s very much Galway in all it’s maroon and white). Now there’s Independent Brewing and N17 on the scene, both joining the ranks in 2014.

Galway City is renowned for good times and they’ve a thriving craft beer scene to boot. Of course you can pay one’s respects by having a pint of Guinness in Freeney’s but you can move along High Street and have a pint of Bonaparte’s Stout in Tigh Neachtain’s by Galway Hooker. Then of course you can do the trail of the four, I repeat FOUR, Cottage Group (aka Galway Bay) pubs, two of which are out in Salthill along with Chris’ brewing laboratory (I deem it a lab because of the brilliant concoctions that have betwixed Ireland’s beer drinking fraternity). Just wait until he gets an even bigger facility!

Before I set off down the M6, I spent the previous evening in the newest member of the Cottage Group family, Alfie Byrne’s under the Conrad Hotel. This allowed me to try two new beers, along with the 2014 Beoir Beer of the Year “Of Foam and Fury” in all its tropical fruit glory and pith. Their new American Amber had a glorious auburn body topped with a good head. There was plenty of fruit and pine on the nose, with slight sweetness detectable as well. Full-on bitter citrus was flavour profile for this brew, which pushed on into the aftertaste.

American Amber by Galway Bay
American Amber by Galway Bay

The second beer was also product of their pilot facility and was a Cascadian Dark ale at 6.8% and it was available on cask, happy days! The Cascadian Dark Ale versus the Black IPA dispute aroused so much animosity that it was the beer equivalent of the east coast/west coast rap wars of the early 1990s, both in querying it’s very origins and the name itself. While I agree the BIPA moniker doesn’t really fit, I will declare my hand now by saying that I believe its roots are back in Burlington, Vermont. Galway Bay’s version of a black IPA had an aroma of tropical fruits and a hint of pine, which poured rich chocolate brown in colour topped by a creamy head. When tasted your were immediately punched by ripe pithy fruit. It was slightly cloying but gave way to a creamy finish. What was remarkable was almost the complete absence of dark malt flavours, which is a skill of only good brewers of this style.

Cascadian Dark Ale on cask
Cascadian Dark Ale on cask

Cousins Aidan Murphy and Ronan Brennan started a Galway Hooker back in 2006 and the name came from a competition. Rumour has it that their glasses rank amongst the most stolen and smuggled back to the US with a titter. The iconic pale ale at 4.3% is settling in nicely as one of the best session beers out there. Their draught pumps are becoming an increasingly familiar sight in non-traditional craft beer pubs. I must admit that I’m quite partial to this and have used it in several beer & food tastings. The use of cascade backed up by Irish malts give it a pleasant tanginess on a biscuit base. It’s a beer that’s fantastic in batter as well. Hard to come by their other offering (i.e. the Stout; they did have a dark wheat at one stage too) outside select locations and festivals.

A perfect session ale (glass the author's own and acquired responsibly)
A perfect session ale (glass the author’s own and acquired responsibly)

Carraroe in the Gaeltacht is home to Independent Brewing Company, under the stewardship of Kevin O’Hara. Given the all clear by the revenue commissioners around the third week of January the beers starting appearing in off-licences and bars the following week. Indeed I hosted a tasting of their Gold Ale and Pale Ale that week, the Red Ale was released a couple of weeks later. I tried it during the week and it has a wonderful aroma of caramel and dry-roasted peanuts, with the classic red appearance and a head of thick foam. It was dry and bitter on the initial taste that gradually became more refreshing, although it finished a little thin. The Pale Ale and Gold Ale proved very popular during January’s tasting, both under the influence of C-hops (although a fair bit more in the Pale Ale).

The initial offerings of a Gold Ale & Pale Ale from Independent Brewing Co
The initial offerings of a Gold Ale & Pale Ale from Independent Brewing Co
The Red Ale followed a few weeks later
The Red Ale followed a few weeks later

Back across the county where there’s “stonewalls and the grass is green”, we come across N17, the brainchild of Tuam-native Sarah Roarty. Launched at the Alltech Brews & Food Fair, N17 has two beers currently lined up for distribution (brewed at the moment down in Kinsale), a rye ale and an oatmeal stout. Both are fantastic according to the brewery’s self-proclaimed biggest champion in the shape of Tim O’Rourke. They were both It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how this brewery develops over the years and the inevitable tweets that will no doubt take place to the recipes, along with new additions of course. The brewery’s also attracting a lot of attenton due to Sarah’s determination to sustainably re-use a lot of the waste from brewing process. So far she has found potential in developing a mushroom business, in fish farming and production of dog biscuits. This is not only a way of promoting sustainable production but also a mechanism for realising additional revenue streams (I know of one brewery in the US who is also in the soap business). So look out of N17 winning awards for its sustainable consciousness in addition to brewing (won a bronze medal for the Oatmeal Stout in the Dublin Cup). Forgive me for a second reference to some other well-known natives of Tuam, the Saw Doctors but these beers could have someone no longer wishing they were on that N17 but rather can they have a pint of something from N17.

One of the coolest logos out there
One of the coolest logos out there
N17's Sarah Roarty with Leo Moran of the Saw Doctors
N17’s Sarah Roarty with Leo Moran of the Saw Doctors (image courtesy of N17)

There are a number of other breweries surrounding Galway (e.g. couple in Mayo and one in Clare) which clearly shows that the West is clearly fast becoming a major brewing cluster in its own right. It will be interesting to see how the region develops along with Cork and of course a nod to Waterford (with Dungarvan and Metalman) over the years. Such information can provide useful lessons for how Ireland can inculcate not only small producers but also start-up businesses general. Each of the regions have the added benefit of having vibrant local food producers, presence of specialist pubs and restaurants. Hopefully Dublin will be next with the opening of new brewing facilities byRascals and Stone Barrel alongside those already brewing.

But for now it’s into the west with you!

Judgement day, good works and a measure of comedy thrown in

The final week in February proved to be a busy one for me in beer terms. This followed on from a trip to London for beer; drinking with film producers following the first test screening of an excellent new documentary on Christina Noble; and an opportunity to try out the new pub in the Cottage Group empire, Alfie Byrnes.

The week began for me travelling down to Galway for a charity beer tasting to raise funds for a rugby tour to London for the youth team of Oughterard RFC. Organised by Paul Fogarty of Probus Wines, the beer tasting was to take place alongside a comedy set by impressionist Sean Clancy (more on him later) ahead of the England-Irish rugby match. Given the result, it was better that we had gotten this out of the way ahead of the match. I had about 10 minutes or so to introduce the art of beer tasting, styles and the 5 beers they were going to try. Did I mention that I did this Shane MacGowan-esque style on stage in The Boat Inn with a mic in one hand and a beer in the other. I’d like to think though that I was slightly more coherent.

The tasting line-up ahead of the England-Ireland match

The beers to be sampled (kindly donated by Premier International and the breweries themselves) were the Five Lamps Lager, Dungarvan Copper Coast, Galway Hooker, Boom from Stone Barrel and Kinnegar’s Yannaroddy Porter. Lager drinkers were impressed by the Five Lamps naturally but it was introducing other beer styles that really got them thinking that there’s something to this craft thing, that it’s not just hype and the lot. Copper Coast showed what an Irish red could be and I must admit I had a bottle or two during the match, which apart from Rob Kearney’s try was the only real highlight during the 80 minutes. Many had seen and heard of Galway Hooker with only one or two actually having tried it. This gave them a flavour of what was available on their doorstep. However, they loved the session IPA that is Stone Barrel’s Boom. Yannaroddy has been reintroduced since it first emerged as a Christmas seasonal in 2013. The coconut has been toned down, giving the ruby porter a pleasant, dryness with a fuller body. It comes complete with espresso and chocolate notes.

The following Wednesday saw a special booking for a beer tasting for a work outing. This had the added bonus in that there were predominantly non-Irish so it was another opportunity to show the great beers on offer in this country. All of them were scientists and some had serious sensory training behind them due to their work in the cosmetics industry. I decided to stick to the virtually the same line-up as in Galway. I also used it as an opportunity to try the Red from Independent Brewing Company. The tasting was good fun because many were wine drinkers and they were impressed how some of the beers matched up to the food on offer.

Time for #BPBPBT

Thursday saw the usual tasting session at Probus Wines, except this was different. First, there was the opportunity to try the new beer from the Brown Paper Bag Project in a blind tasting (started elsewhere at 6.45pm but ours started 15 minutes later, phones were banned until then). Second, Sean Clancy made an appearance in what proved to be his Dublin debut. This was novel, a comedy routine in an off licence. We were treated to the musings of Francis Brennan (which featured a cocktail made from Dutch Gold, Buckfast & polo mints, which melted the plastic cup it was served in), Enda Kenny, George Hook, Jose Mourniho and a whole host of other Irish and international notables.

Michael Healy-Rae putting in an appearance during Thursday’s tasting
It’s not a proper performance without a poem recital by Michael D.

Some of the beers tasted on the night included Hop City Barking Squirrel Lager (pleasant Vienna red), Trooper from Robinsons (always enjoyable), O’Hara’s Barley Wine aged in Irish whiskey barrels for 90 days. This was the third annual edition of a barrel aged beer from Carlow Brewing Company. This worked because the barley wine was quite dry to start with so it picked up warming notes from the whiskey barrel with a more-rounded and refined sweetness. This works and might win over those often put off by sweeter versions of the style. Of course the raison d’être of the beer tasting was the explosive new release (the bottles literally erupted everywhere) from the Brown Paper Bag Project. Tasted blind, there were citrus notes with a slight sourness on top of a hazy wheat body. On tasting, salt became clearly detectable and pointed to the beer as a Gøse. As the beer opened up (it wasn’t over chilled in the first place), a subtle sweetness took over. Some people viewed this as a take it or leave it beer, which was good for us that enjoyed it (and also that given the hype around #BPBPBT, there aren’t too many bottles still floating around.

The anticipation is mighty, the mood is tense
And the beer is…

Finally, the week ended being asked to judge at the National Homebrewing Competition Now in its second year, there were almost 400 entries from 140 brewers. The competition was held in The Church (venue for the forthcoming European Beer Bloggers Conference) and it was an early start for judges, who were asked to be there by 9.30am on a Saturday morning. I had to be good the night before because I didn’t want my palate to be shot so I limited myself to a couple of post work pints and an opportunity to catch up with Bo Bristle who were doing a tasting in Baggot Street Wines. I was asked to judge the American Amber and American Brown Ale categories. Judging at a competition is fairly intense as each beer is ruthlessly scrutinised and there’s a lot of form filling. It is a great experience and really gives you a sense of the wider beer movement in Ireland and the talent that is out there.

So that was the week that was, for me at least…

Enjoy the Founders 5 in Ireland

Michigan is one of those States that does not necessarily have strong connections with Ireland. It’s heavily influenced by Germanic immigration. Known because of the American auto-industry, Motown and Detroit is the home town of 8-miler Eminem and its most famous son, Beverly Hills Cop Axel Foley.  However, beers from Founders Brewing Co. from Grand Rapids have made it over this side of the Atlantic and they can create a new affinity with the Great Lakes State. In the brewery’s own words it has “been lucky to evolve into one of the highest recognized breweries in the United States” and has been “ranked in the top four breweries in the world by for the past four years in a row (4th in 2010, 2nd in 2011 and 2012, 3rd in 2013)”.

I have had the opportunity to spend some time visiting my wife’s family in Michigan and it quickly became apparent that this is a State that is serious about its beer. I suppose it would have to be the case because it’s bloody freezing there (I would like to point out that I didn’t visit in the summer and it was snowing when I was there at the beginning of October). Big, bold and hoppy flavours abound (Shorts Brewing Co. up in Bellaire, Michigan is a great example – it also has ballroom dancing if you’re that way inclined). Michiganders are a hardy bunch all the more so because of the hardships the State has endured over the slow decline of heavy industry and naturally, they needed the beers to match.

American craft breweries are famous for having a “philosophy”. They’re held in the same reverential awe like Jerry Maguire’s “The Things We Think and Do Not Say: The Future of Our Business” mission statement. In the case of Founders, the company’s “simple” philosophy is:  “We don’t brew beer for the masses. Instead, our beers are crafted for a chosen few, a small cadre of renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that pushes the limits of what is commonly accepted as taste. In short, we make beer for people like us.”

Five beers from Founders’ core range have made it to Ireland and they give a great insight to Michigan beer. Unfortunately, due to a beer tasting that I was hosting I was unable to attend the event in Dublin on 10 October where Drogheda-native Niall Little who from the Founders’ sales team (coincidentally he worked with one of my wife’s cousins in a previous distribution company) introduced the beers to a Dublin audience. Apparently they’re obsessed with drinking beers as fresh as possible over in Founders and you can read an excellent piece by @Beermack_ on the event. So having all five beers at home, I naturally decided to have a little tasting by myself. I also got into the spirit by watching some of the chat between my Michigander relatives about the college football games (they seem to be equally split between Michigan State and the Wolverines). Interestingly, Michigan got beaten in overtime by Penn State, who will be playing in Croke Park next August.

All-day IPA (4.7%)

Plenty of pine and orangey citrus aroma with a tangerine-sweet flavour. Certainly not full bodied and as it says on the tin (or label in this case), it can be enjoyed all day long. Labelling hints at outdoors and the pine aroma recreates this in a glass. Perfectly sessionable with a bitter kick to boot. What’s great is that this beer adds the the growing number of fantastic sub-5% abv hoppy beers on sale in Ireland (e.g. Brewdog’s Dead Pony Club and Continuum by Hardknott).

Dry hopped Pale Ale (5.4%)

The ale with plenty of Cascade hops. Expecting the usual citrusy grapefruit traits but certainly not the sweet like aroma this beer displayed. Do you remember Trebor Fruit Salad? If you do, that’s the type of pinapple perfume you get on this beer. The beer’s freshness gave the aroma a strong reminiscence of recently harvested red fruits particularly strawberry and cranberry. Extremely dry tasting, the fruit flavours try to break through at first but they quickly surrender.

Centennial IPA (7.2%)

Can be summed up as sweet peach and pineapple in a glass. Founders may upset hopheads because they like to focus on balance and they back up their beers with a sweet malt body. The initially a sweet taste makes a swift but smooth transition to a dry, bitter body. Pleasantly bitter for a straight-up IPA.

Founders Porter (6.5%)

American brewers brew some remarkable porters and serious breweries all have at least one excellent porter in their repertoire. Founders is no different and theirs is extremely rich with a sweet velvet full-body. It has the hallmarks of a good Belgian Dubbel but not as sweet as a barley wine. Vinous notes on the nose. Everything signals chocolate from its tan head to its black oil appearance to its flavour of course. There’s s smoky aftertaste and sharp dark chocolate bitterness – a combination from the black malts and the copious amount of hops added.

Dirty bastard (8.5%)

I’m not a whiskey drinker but this beer has those familiar vanilla notes that you would find in Jameson. I do however like Scotch Ales but recognise that they are an acquired taste. This is very much in the category of sipping beers, much like McChouffe. Sweet notes coming through upon tasting but the vanilla flavours remain throughout. The ale is chewy in keeping with its toffee-like flavours but thankfully it is not overly sweet. There’s a tiny lacing for a head and a ruby reddish/ruddy brown appearance. Apparently this is their flagship beer.

Music to my beers

There are few things in life that are impervious to fashion trends and beer isn’t one of them. We’re seeing more and more trends emerge beyond merely hopping beers to the nth degree and seasonal brews. This year for instance we were promised more single hop beers and wet/green hop beers on the market, as well as more Belgian-inspired beers from the US. Let us not forget the increasing range of beers that have been aged in whiskey, wine, cognac and virgin-oak barrels. However, one trend has been emanating from England and that has to be collaboration brews with musicians. Not content with brewing beers conceived by a myriad of writers and reviewers ranging from Roger Protz to Pete Brown and many more in between, breweries have latched on to this idea to reach out to new audiences as well as trying to achieve some sort of “coolness” factor.

Robinsons in Stockport has really kicked off this new trend (while there were a few music-inspired brews before hand) by rolling out across the UK a beer produced alongside Elbow, which was released in bottles and cask. The followed this up with the May release of Trooper, a beer produced by Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson (I don’t think Fuller’s will be too pleased as Bruce lives around the corner from their Chiswick brewery!). I wish I could tell you more about the bands themselves but I am terrible when it comes to music. All I can tell you about either is that growing up I thought Iron Maiden had the coolest stage show due to the presence of Eddie and their plane is cool. My musical knowledge thankfully is still being passed on by my older brother.


One of my all time favourite bands, Madness have also brought out Gladness, a beer produced by Essex’s Growler Brewery. In May 2013, Hanson released their excellently titled Mmmhops. Enter Shikari have also brought out one. Although I have to take it on good advice that they are actually a band because I have never heard of them and apparently they’ve little in common with Shakira. Madness’ brew is a golden ale produced to resemble a lager and perhaps there is no more fitting beer to sum up a London band that made it big in the 1980s. However, if you ask northerners like my Mancunian cousins, they would think it just sums up the softer inhabitants of southern England.


A recent musically inspired brew available in Dublin is Reverend and the Makers from Thornbridge. This is a fantastic summer ale that carries a fantastic aroma from a combination of potpourri strength aromatic hops of Amarillo, Galaxy and Cascade with Fuggles performing as the support act. The beer has a crisp and slight bitter finish. The recent warm spell of weather (long may it continue) of course helped as did the fact that I had this on draft in Probus Wines & Spirits. At 4.8% it is a pleasant session tipple and rumour has it that Reverened and the Makers are a band that I might like. I do like things from Sheffield such as Pulp and Sheffield Wednesday and I think the innovative brews from Thornbridge as some of the finest out there, especially in d’Engerland.


The number of music-inspired collaborative brews seems to be increasing by the day. Indeed as I was putting this piece together it was announced that Mumford and Sons have teamed up with Sussex brewery Harvey’s to produce Lewes Stopover Brew, a 4% “soft” golden ale made with Fuggle and Golding hops. While it is being brewed specially for the Lewes music festival (Idea for the Electric Picnic?), I wouldn’t imagine it will be too long until it is put into more regular production.

These beers can a bit of fun and do attract a lot of attention. Trooper has become Robinsons’ fastest selling beer of all time and reached a million pints within 6 weeks of its launch and six months ahead of target. Perhaps this will inspire some of Irish brewers to follow suit.  I can say is that I can’t wait for is a beer developed by the Saw Doctors (with Galway Hooker per chance?), the breweries down in Cork can look to the Frank and Walters or Sultans of Ping FC (or even Crystal Swing) and Trouble Brewing could link up with Bell X1, Damien Rice or even Christy Moore and Five Lamps and the Porterhouse have a number to choose from. I don’t think we will be seeing either Kinnegar or Donegal Brewing Company bringing out one with Daniel O’Donnell (maybe of it is brewed with a nice cup of tea or horlicks?), although maybe one of the Brennan’s might be keen.

Revolution in Red, White & Brew

The week being in it, there’s nothing more appropriate than to start with the country where the revolutionary beer war began. Ever since that lunch in the original Spaghetti Factory back in 1965 where Fritz Maytag learnt of the impending closure of his favourite brewery and purchasing a 51% shareholding the very next day, the slow re-introduction of choice and taste into the American beer market began.


Fritz Maytag has to be viewed as one of the original authors of the declaration of independent choice. It was his original vision of “small is beautiful” along with the 1975 tax breaks then effectively defined the term of “craft” beer. The Brewers Association defines such breweries as “small, independent and traditional” and that was Anchor Steam to the core.

Aspiring brewers such as Ken Grossman, who would go onto found Sierra Nevada, paid pilgrimage to the brewery to see how it could be done, as well as searching out sage advice from another early revolutionary, Jack McAuliffe. The New Albion Brewery was the first “new” brewery to be established from the ground-up, unfortunately it was to close in 1982 but its legacy lives on. Boston Beer Company recently produced a beer dedicated to this founding father.

Jim Koch started what was to become the largest US independent brewery (along with DG Yuengling and Sons) in 1984, with Boston Beer Company’s Sam Adams being brewed in Pittsburg. On the night of Paul Revere’s famous ride to warn people that the British were coming, it was to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams that there were to be arrested. They were in Lexington at the time and so began the American War of Independence. Revere’s actions to warn Sam Adams and co was to be commemorated by Maytag through the special release of Liberty Ale on the the bicentennial of the event in 1975. There was no more appropriate beer to pay homage to this historic event as the beer itself was to create history in the craft beer movement. It was the first beer to be brewed using the Cascade hop, which was only developed in 1970. While the beer itself disappeared soon after and not to be released again until 1983, it changed history. Sierra Nevada took note and the Cascade hop was to be the backbone of its Pale Ale, which was released in 1981.

Tasting Liberty Ale on 4 July, I was met by what is now the familiar floral, citrus and pine aromas imparted by Cascade. What is striking is that it does also give an extremely pleasant bitterness to the beer. This is overlooked these days due to high- and super-alpha hops. We forget that this hop helped define “hoppy” beers and it became the ubiquitous hop to be used in practically all subsequent American pale ales. I can only imagine what it must have been like to taste this beer in comparison to the other beers that were available almost 40 years ago.


Of course there were other factors at play that helped sow the seeds of the revolution. At the beginning of the 1970s on the west coast beginning in California and expanding northwards, there existed some of the key elements that contributed to growth of the of the craft beer movement. These included a young population that had experience of beers from Europe and the motivation to do something different, a spirit of bending the rules by home-brewing when it was still illegal, a sense of place and pride in locally produced food etc. Let us not forget that the American wine industry was beginning to flourish at this time and in the similar locations. The University of California – Davis employing Michael Lewis in 1970 as America’s first full time professor of brewing science. Lewis would go on to train a vast army of brewers, as well as conducting key research and sharing his wisdom amongst aspiring beer entrepreneurs. The craft beer movement became identified with a strong spirit of fraternity because brewers new the odds were stacked against them.

By 1979, there were only 89 breweries remaining in the US. Prohibition and increasing consolidation along with rapid growth in the middle class hooked on drinking light and adjunct packed lager at home had all contributed to this decline. Thankfully today there are 2,403 working craft breweries across America with another 1,528 in planning stages (May 2012). When Maytag sold his brewery to the Griffin Group (one of the backers of BrewDog) in 2010, he was safe in the knowledge that choice in the beer market has been well and truly established.