The Aldi Irish Craft beer Festival kicks off on Sunday, 2nd October featuring 30 beers from across the island. This is the first time that beer has featured exclusively in promotional campaign run by the German discount supermarket chain in Ireland. Newspapers will be carrying the usual Aldi brochure but today’s features a two-page spread on beer.
The beers offer a good introduction to the quality and range of Irish beers being produced today. Prices start at €2.49 per bottle and for this low price you can enjoy the likes of Carrig’s always quaffable Pilsner or its chocolate-laden Coalface IPA. The majority of the beers are on sale for €2.69 per bottle including Mescan’s Westport Blond and Westporter Stout. A few also come in at €2.99 per bottle, including Dungarvan’s Mine Head, the award-winning Francis’ Big Bangin’ IPA and Brehon’s Stony Grey IPA. It’s not all glass by the way. Luminous cans of Rascal’s Wunderbar IPA will be standing out, alongside the brewery’s Big Hop Red.
Supermarkets have tended to include beer as a bolt-on to their wine offers but this is slowly changing. SuperValu, for example, have featured craft beer in both print and broadcast ads. Craft beer sales are up with Aldi alone experiencing double-digit growth in sales over the past year. Indeed, its Irish beer has grown over the years with an accompanying drop in imports stocked, with the exception of the likes of Hobgoblin and the odd German, Belgian or French offering. However, a Marston’s exclusive range for Aldi may start appearing on shelves from November. This will be similar to the tie-up that the brewery-chain does for Tesco.
It tends to be overlooked that Aldi has long-been a supporter of Irish craft beer. Its O’Shea’s range produced by Carlow Brewing has won a loyal following with customers. These beers happily sit alongside the O’Hara’s range on the shelves and given people a solid introduction into the world of craft beer. Aldi has followed this up with commissioning Laois’ 12 Acres to produce the fruity-finishing Golden Harvest Pale Ale. It remains to be seen if this will be a once off or will it be an ongoing collaboration.
Some orthodox craft beer snobs might turn their noses up at the thought of the large multiples, believing instead that independent beer should only be sold in independent retailers. This ignores the choice and freedom for the brewers to decide where their beer should be sold, whether on-trade or off-, independent or chain etc. Of course, it’s important that prices remain sustainable and they don’t seriously undercut other retailers.
Yes, these beers (with the exception of those brewed exclusively for Aldi) can be bought elsewhere. Thinking like that misses the point. The opportunity to access the widest customer-base for their products is nothing to be sneered at. The Aldi promotion will run across all its 126 in Ireland until stocks last. The beers will also feature in its media-buy. For the craft beer sector, a large client such as supermarket chain can buy a certain-degree of confidence with the banks or others in attracting finance, capital and investment. Brewing is hugely capital intensive, with pressures on working capital and the need to expand to satisfy a growing customer base.
Regardless, it’s great to see more attention on the sector.
With the heatwave Ireland’s experiencing, I was invited on to the Ray D’Arcy Show on RTÉ Radio One on Friday 3 June to talk about beer… what else? The segment was dubbed BBQs, Beer and Sunny Weather! It was cool to be on with Ray finally as I never managed to make the Blackboard Jungle team back in school and this is still a sore spot for the quiz enthusiast that I am. I was on with the renowned chef Oliver Dunne and RTÉ’s very own Evelyn Cusack. If that wasn’t enough, Ray also had in studio, Hermitage Green to get us in the bank holiday spirit.
My brief was to suggest beers for someone dipping their toe in the ‘craft beer’ world over the long and sunny bank holiday. Accessibility was vital. The beers couldn’t be too high in alcohol, session beers were key. I was also asked to recommend a cider and a non-alcoholic beer. Each pick should be generally available across Ireland, not an easy thing when it comes to craft (even these days). It was also suggested that I tone down the “beer geek” speak. So here were the five beers and one cider that I chose to make up my Six Pack of Summer. All of these were sourced in Baggot Street Wines, the ‘National Off-Licence of the Year 2016’.
You can listen back to the show here: https://www.rte.ie/radio1/ray/programmes/2016/0603/793168-ray-darcy-friday-3-june-2016/?clipid=2196499#2196499
Six Pack of Summer
Victory Summer Love – This beer is as bright as the summer sun. Golden ales are transition beers, easing the path for lager drinkers to the world of ales. Oh, it’s another fantastic craft release in a can, perfect for outside drinking. The label features America’s favourite pastime with games lasting around three sun-soaked hours, an easy drinking beer is in order. At 5.2% abv Summer Love may be a tad on the high side but other ales like Brooklyn’s Summer Ale or closer to home, you could look to Dungarvan’s Helvick Gold but the brewery’s summer seasonal Comeragh Challenger (it’s gluten free as well) would hit the spot.
Black’s of Kinsale The Session – There’s a perception out there that craft is only about high alcohol beers but session IPAs and pale ales are gaining in popularity. Founders All Day IPA anyone? Well-made versions can pack in the hop bitterness, flavour and aroma at session strength. This one from Sam Black fits this bill perfectly and is only 3.5% abv.
Galway Hooker – This is a great beer to go with food. Use it in batter but it’s even better with burgers, sausages, really anything on a BBQ. It balances out the tanginess of ketchup. It’s one of my favourite go-to beers. At 4.3% abv this beer is to enjoy several bottles or pints on their own.
Black Donkey Sheep Stealer – This ‘farmhouse ale’ is perfect as this classic style was traditionally brewed in winter to give to farm hands in the Belgian fields in the summer. It’s effervescent, spicy, fruity, if you like wheat beers, you’ll like this. Also, try giving it to people who usually drink wine. They shouldn’t be disappointed. Sheep Stealer is perfect grilled food especially fish. Also, look out for Swingletree by Kinnegar for a higher but no less drinkable abv version.
Dan Kelly’s Cider – I’m not usually a cider drinker but then again my perception is based on developing a dislike for overly sweet mass-produced versions. This one isn’t and together with lower carbonation levels, it brings out more natural flavours grown on the McNeece family orchard. You pass through it on the Dublin-Belfast train-line.
BrewDog Nanny State – BrewDog appears to Ryanair of breweries. I’m not talking about low-cost but rather the fact that they like to annoy as much as they like to make beer. Seven years ago they got criticised for Tokyo*, an imperial Russian stout at 18.2% abv. Their response was to brew a beer at only 1.1% abv, not subject to beer duties and called it Nanny State. The beer has since been revised down to 0.5% abv. Thanks to the addition of four hop varieties and eight specialty malts, this dark ale has flavour and life to it. Too many non-alcoholic beers have little to them. It’s as if when they removed the alcohol, they also removed the taste. Many N/A lagers fall into this but wheat beers thanks to their ingredients fair better. Nanny State on the other hand can sate the taste-buds of hop heads should they need a quick and painless hit. It’s a little more extreme than other N/A beers out there.
Two weeks ago I headed to Belfast for the final of the Guinness Pro12. I hitched a lift with the Munster Rugby Supporters Club, who ran 3 coaches from Dublin. The day before, we were warned of Section 40 of Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. It states that “a person who knowingly causes or permits intoxicating liquor to be carried on a vehicle to which this section applies is guilty of an offence”. Apparently the fine if caught is £600. It was to be a largely dry outing – ironically through the pouring rain – and given the eventual result the Munster fans were in dire need of a pint. Inside the Kingspan Stadium (or Ravenhill to those that can remember as far back as 2013) Guinness and Harp were the two beers available. However rubbing some salt in the wounds, there was no cash machine near or indeed inside the stadium.
There may be good reasons for prohibiting alcohol on coaches in the North. I can only imagine the spirited hijinks that some supporters, let’s take Glasgow as a completely random example, may cause. That is the government’s prerogative. However, I personally have a problem with banning alcohol on coaches originating in a different jurisdiction. Surely it’s inhibiting our freedom of movement? Germany recently had to relent in its attempt to apply its minimum wage to truckers passing through from elsewhere. I understand that alcohol is a controlled substance and enjoys certain general exemptions but nevertheless its being effectively prohibited took away from many fans’ enjoyment of the day out.
As a Leinster fan, I couldn’t bring myself to wear red but I would’ve been more than happy for Munster to win. Having said that Glasgow have been unlucky not to enjoy more success over the past two seasons. They were though, deserved winners on the day. And how did I demonstrate my support for Munster? How else but to enjoy a pint of Mahon Falls by Dungarvan Brewing Company?
It couldn’t be more fitting. The bus was departing from Westmoreland Street, just around the corner from the Palace Bar. Yes, it has an iconic whiskey selection but it also has one cask pump, alongside some draught craft offerings. The Waterford brewery puts in a regular appearance thanks to Cormac O’Dwyer’s love of cask ale.
Mahon Falls is a rye, pale ale that has developed over the years. I first tried this at the 2012 Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival when it was billed simply as a Rye PA. But simple it wasn’t. I’ve sampled it (cos i’m a massive alkie) several times over the past few years, mostly in bottles and it has since become more refined. The first bottles released in spring 2013 finished extremely dry. They certainly had plenty of oomph to stand up to a curry.
So what does the 2015 cask version taste like? It still has aromatic spicy notes on the nose, this beer’s all about spice and that can be seen throughout the flavour which pleasantly cuts through the creaminess of a cask pulled pint. Of course, the rye’s influence is not lost in any way. It’s more expertly in line with an unctuous rye bread rather than merely being used to dry out the palate.
It was a beer that sent me happily on my way to Belfast. The spicy notes remain long, long after the beer’s disappeared. And I should know, as many an hour passed before I got to have another beer.
With the weather showing signs of summer and then not again, BBQ season is upon us. When I say BBQ, I mean grilling in the truest context and not slow roasting for 24 hours or longer. Lighting a BBQ can make it seem that way though. Think of all the hours of enjoyment standing over it trying to get the coals to catch fire. It’s made all worse by people sitting around watching and remarking on your every move. Comments such “did you use lighter fluid?” or the “quick fire bag of coal is brilliant” hitting you like accusatory daggers. Then eventually it lights, there may be an uneven heat across the grill requiring the frantic shuffling of burgers or whatnot around so they don’t burn too quickly. At least having beer on hand can take some of the edge off of the hassle of cooking al fresco.
Yesterday, I had an excuse to work through a whole range of red ales (sadly Bay Ale from Galway Ale had disappeared from the fridge by the time I got there). It’s interesting putting different reds, like other beer styles, together to compare variations. Red ale is much maligned by the craft drinker, all too easily dismissed as one-dimensional or worse. For someone who was a fan of Writer’s Red (aka Rebel Red) by Franciscan Well and who drank it by the pitcher full in The Gingerman, I will always have a fondness for the style. At times I have acted in a manner that can only be described as quite frankly a bizarre sense of patriotism in standing up for the style to some CAMRA members all too quick to tell you what they think of it – it’s too gassy, too sweet etc.
The style as we know it mightn’t be that old nor originating here but there’s no doubt that it has become associated with us. Classic reds may have similar flavour profiles to dry roasted peanuts, some may be too heavy on the caramel and others draw on bitterness for their identity. Who knows what the future holds for this style? It would perhaps be a stretch to see an attempt to adopt a Geographical Indicator status for the Irish red. The road is certainly open under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for more products to adopt such status. Imagine, the likes of George Killian’s Irish Red having to alter its name. This is notwithstanding its very own identity crisis being marketed one time as an Irish red ale and now as a premium lager.
It’s unlikely the Irish beer industry would look to adopt a GI for the Irish Red Ale. The industry doesn’t act like that, well not yet anyway. Of course, property rights have been a feature of the beer industry. Marketing rights have been a key driver so too has been use of proprietary productin techniques along with informal IP protection techniques. Look at the Trappist breweries distinguishing them from other abbey beers. However, as the market becomes more competitive, more friction can be expected. Thankfully a lot of this can be resolved through dialogue and in cases where it looks like such an approach will fail, public outcry has so far convinced brewers to keep things out of court. It won’t always be like that however. We’re already seeing whiskey producers refining the definition of what is Irish whiskey. Will Irish cream liquor be next?
Brewers are already making moves to protect what can be called “Irish”, a measure to stop “crafty” imports from the UK and elsewhere. They clearly want to prevent the somewhat duplicitous nature of labelling á la Irish smoked salmon v smoked Irish salmon happening here. A logo is but one small step. A GI for red ale may achieve little too. Beer styles are often products of many places. You may have to be fairly brazen to claim ownership of a beer style either collectively or individually. Look what Anchor Brewing did with “steam beer”, although it was important for lambic producers. I’d settle for a redoubling of the efforts to market craft beer and the people behind them by Government. This would match the enthusiasm of the brewers and consumers. Additionally, we have to give brewers the support to protect their IP, which dare I say it may include their brand, beer name and logos etc.
All of this may seem a fairly long train of thought but that’s what you get when you BBQ. Plenty of time to muse about all and sundry. At least I had a few red ales to keep me company.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.