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.

Brewing up new business, the sequel

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With the publication of last week’s report of the Sean O’Sullivan-chaired Entrepreneurship Forum the second annual Alltech International Craft Brews & Food Fair (6-8 February in the Convention Centre Dublin) couldn’t come at a better time. Last July’s event featured an enterprise pillar because let’s face it Ireland needs to do more in terms of new business start-ups. Renewed attention is being put on getting growth back into the domestic economy and craft beer is clearly bucking the trend.

A key focus of this year’s event will be on supporting and expanding an essential part of the craft beer industry – the pub trade. A dedicated conference will be held over a day and half discussing measures at reinvigorating the sector, principally through craft beer and ultimately greater choice for the consumer. We have seen a lot of media attention given to the pub trade, which has not just focused on closures but also on those that are turning around distressed pubs, new high profile entrants to the market such as Wetherspoons and those hoping to redefine the distribution business to pubs through a dedicated craft beer focus. Given the importance of pubs to communities and the part they play in our overall tourist offering, it is heartening to see that approximately 300 pubs have registered to attend. Changing the model for the Irish pub through an expanded beer range, quality Irish food or for the more ambitious, prepared to brew onsite will further reinforce the overall Irish craft beer industry.

The mainstay of the event will be “Craft Brews and Food Fair” itself featuring over 50 breweries from around the world paired with 15 of Ireland’s finest artisan food producers. It will be open to the public on the Friday (5pm-9pm) and Saturday (12pm-9pm), as well as there being set trade sessions during the event. Tickets are €15, which include four free drinks and there will be lots of food to sample as well. They can be purchased on the door or in advance here.

There will be a number of sensory sessions throughout the fair in which participants will get the opportunity to learn about tasting beers, matching beer to food, whiskey and gin tastings, as well as of course learning more about Alltech’s very own Kentucky beers from head brewer Ken Lee. For those more enthusiastic, Tim O’Rourke will be back and along with a panel of beer experts will be running a separate day-long Alltech Academy Sensory Class on 6 February with the opportunity to take an exam to become an “Alltech Certified Beer Taster”. This course has to be booked separately here.

Small smaple of beers announced, including new entrants on the Irish beer scene

It will be interesting to see the beers that will be on offer during the fair. I’m looking forward to trying beers from new Irish breweries such as N17, Independent Brewing Co and Rascals Brewery. Also, the fair will feature a number of international breweries (such as Coisbo Beer from Denmark) that soon could be featuring on shelves of off licences or on draft around the country. Last year, attendees had the good fortune of encountering Hardknott’s Queboid and Beavertown’s Gamma Ray. Hardknott have an excellent array of beers on sale in Ireland and Beavertown thankfully are due here momentarily.

The Dublin Craft Beer Cup will be awarded for a second time, with the trophy making the short trip down the M1 from Lisburn, home of Hilden Brewery. The inaugural winner was of course Twisted Hop. The number of entries in the Dublin Beer Cup 2014 is expected to be 200 beers from at least 100 breweries in 16 countries, which goes to show that there’s prestige to being successful in such competitions and there’s a real opportunity to establish this as one of the premier competitions out there. The calibre of the beer entered last year was exceptional so it will be interesting to see the full list of entrants and the medal winners at the conference. Judging is expected to get underway on Tuesday 4 February with the winner being announced at lunchtime on Saturday.

Thinking back, it was at July’s event that I met Sam Black of Kinsale craft brewing fame and the lads from Brú brewery, as well as hearing about plans for a new brewery in Wicklow. I wonder by the time the third incarnation of this event comes around not only what the brewing landscape will look like but also what changes pubs will make on foot of what they will discover next week. All anyone will have to do is to heed Dr. Pearse Ryan’s three-day pep talk.