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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A pint of independence please

The Scottish Independence Referendum comes to a head this week and by Friday, we’ll know the result. Either way, Scotland will be getting more power from Westminster (albeit not as much with a “No” vote). I’ve been heavily involved in referenda over the years and know that the most ethereal things can capture the attention and swing votes. There have been a few people out there in the blogosphere commenting on the referendum in the context of beer but are there beers out there looking to speak out themselves on the vote?

Famous (or infamous depending on your view) for speaking out on topical issues through their beers, BrewDog has chosen to remain silent on the referendum. They’ve even refrained from making any public statements on this vote. While this may be surprising for some and disappointing for others, it’s completely understandable. For a company in Scotland with significant presence across Britain (both in terms of staff and locations), it’s an extremely sensitive issue for them. Although a few people out there are joking that in the event of a “Yes” vote, BrewDog could be back at the Great British Beer Festival but on the foreign beer bar with kegs!

So it appears to have fallen to Ireland’s very own Eight Degrees to take the plunge and nail the Scottish colours to their latest limited edition brew. Alba Abú makes no secret what result is desired on Friday. Eight Degrees have been embarking on a single-hop series of late and they use plenty of Chinook in this Scotch ale, which also contains heather and pine. Scotch ales can be an acquired taste as some people are put off by darker, sweeter tasting beers but this beer proved to be an extremely popular choice at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival.

Alba Abú proved to be a big seller at the Irish Craft Beer & Cider Festival
Alba Abú proved to be a big seller at the Irish Craft Beer & Cider Festival

Earlier this week I was in touch with Scott Baigent, the kiwi-half of Eight Degrees. Scott kindly took timeout from his busy schedule to discuss Alba Abú.

Being Antipodeans living in Ireland did you come up with the name as a cheeky nod to Scottish Independence?

Our intention behind Alba Abú was not to make a statement as a couple of Antipodeans, but as an Irish business. We have been following the build up to the independence vote over the last year and felt that it had massive ramifications for Ireland both economically and politically. We were disappointed at the lack of public discussion on the vote, and in particular, the lack of solidarity from the political elite.  From Scotland, I can only imagine that from the silence across the Irish Sea, they must think that Ireland is largely indifferent to the vote.  We decided that as an Irish business we wanted to get off the fence and show some of that solidarity to the Scottish independence movement.

In terms of the beer itself, how did it come about?

The Alba Abú recipe was developed in collaboration with a local company to us, Ballyhoura Mushrooms. Ballyhoura Mushrooms specialise in growing fantastic gourmet mushrooms and also in wild foraging ingredients for great restaurants around the country. We played around with ideas for various locally sourced wild foraged ingredients, and felt that heather and Scots pine needles would provide a great floral and pine aroma to a beer and also a synergy with the story. The beer recipe itself was loosely based on a brown Scotch Ale and then enhanced further by substituting traditional Cara/Crystal additions with wonderful Weyermanns Cara Aroma malt. For hop selection, we went for multiple Chinook additions – primarily to form parallels between the pine aroma characteristics of the Chinook hop and the pine needle. We were anxious that Alba Abú would be a great beer and sell itself, irrespective of the political message behind it.

Are you surprised with the name generating a lot of media interest?

Our intentions with the beer name was to find a balance between making a bit of a public statement while not overegging it. Hopefully we struck that balance!

What do you say to people out there on social media saying beer has no place in politics?

We were interested in the sociological aspects of this campaign: Beer is a well known lubricant for political discussion – what would happen if the beer prompted the topic for political discussion? We are always pleased to see craft beer consumers highly engaged with us on social media – and to be honest we weren’t too sure what the reaction was going to be. We felt strongly enough about what we were trying say with Alba Abú, that we were willing to take any criticism on the appropriateness of a brewery making such statements on the chin.

Last year, the award-winning Amber Ella made its debut at the Irish Craft Beer & Cider Festival, will Alba Abu be merely a once-off or do you see it becoming a regular release or autumn seasonal? If the vote goes the other way, will you be considering a name change for the beer?

Alba Abú was conceived and developed solely for the independence vote. We such a great pipeline of limited edition and seasonal releases coming through in the next couple of months that we don’t have the capacity to do a repeat brew of it.

Wasn’t it the first beer of yours to sell out at the festival? Any comments from patrons on the name?

Yes, it sold out mid way through Sunday, and was probably our greatest seller at the festival. Based on people repeatedly coming back for it, this appeared to be because it was a great tasting beer rather than necessarily the story. We had a couple of patriotic Scottish friends resident in Ireland helping out behind the bar on Friday and Saturday. The beer gave them a great forum to talk with people and explain the importance of the vote for them personally, Scotland and implications for Ireland. As only people resident in Scotland are able to vote, it gave them a public way of expressing their strongly held views, although they won’t have the opportunity to do so at the voting booth.

Everything you'd want in a Scotch Ale & more
Everything you’d want in a Scotch Ale & more

Last Sunday, I had the chance to enjoy a pint Alba Abú in The Norseman in Temple Bar. It’s one to look out for if you haven’t tried it or better yet it’s one to have over the next few days to either celebrate or think what might have been.

Alba Abu's clearly the beer for the moment
Alba Abu’s clearly the beer for the moment

 

 

 

For the rest of July the outlook is bitter

The Porterhouse is back with its latest festival. This time it’s the IPA Festival, which runs over ten days in July starting on Thursday. With predictions of a heat wave on the way, what could be beer than a festival celebrating pale ales and IPAs.

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The festival will see many familiar beers putting in an appearance on their rolling bank of guest taps such as the erstwhile citra-packed Torpedo from Sierra Nevada, its archetypal Pale Ale and Ruthless Rye. Founders’ All day IPA, Centennial IPA and its Pale Ale will be there, along with Flying Dog’s Pale Ale and Snakedog IPA. England will be represented by Camden Town Brewery and Thornbridge. Camden, like Founders has been making inroads into the Irish drinking-scene in recent months and its Pale Ale will be served. Derbyshire’s Thornbridge will be represented by its black IPA Wild Raven, the stunning Jaipur, the Nelson Sauvin infused Kipling and Chiron, which is wonderful when fresh. Festival goers can also expect to taste Twin Peals, its collaboration brew with Sierra Nevada. Rumours are circulating that Hippocrates’ Purge, a summer ale with elderflower and Spanish orange blossom honey will be available on cask. Italy will be represented by much-acclaimed Birra del Borgo (My Antonia anyone?) and ReAle will be putting in an appearance. Irish variants will consist of Eight Degrees’ Full Irish (in the running for Beoir beer of the year) and Galway Hooker.

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Some of the most eagerly awaited beers will be from Yorkshire’s Magic Rock Brewing brewer of the excellent Cannonball (think pine, tropical fruits and some sweetness), their flagship IPA but also look out for their double IPA (Human Cannonball) and triple IPA Un-human Cannonball, which is released annually. During the Porterhouse festival, customers can experience the following beers from Magic Rock Brewery on cask: Ringmaster (3.9% original pale ale); Carnival (4.3%, golden summer ale); and Great Alphonso (5.6% Mango pale ale).

It wouldn’t be a Porterhouse festival without them launching a special brew. However, Dublin Pale Ale is not just a festival special but a new regular offering for their five Irish bars and their London and New York outlets.  It’s styled as an “Irish-style pale ale” (one of those descriptors that provokes debate amongst beer geeks). So what’s it like?

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Dublin Pale Ale pours clean and clear copper, an appearance that is very much at home in The Porterhouse Temple Bar. It’s earthy with light citrus notes on the nose. The carbonation is typical of kegged pale ales. It’s in the taste and the finish that this beer gets started. Notes of orange and lemon meld into a dry biscuit and an assertive bitter finish. At 4.2% this would be a good session full-bodied beer for hopheads looking for an Irish bitter equivalent of an All Day IPA (minus the pine). This beer is the sibling of Hophead, which is described as a beer “beyond the pale” and hopped with Cascade and Centennial. Dublin Pale Ale, however, is billed as a beer “within the pale” (even though it’s going to be available across the group) and it’s hopped with European varieties, namely Styrian Goldings and the high-alpha acid beast that is Admiral. Hopefully they’ll go on to produce a cask version of this beer.

No doubt this festival will prove popular. Let’s face it hoppy beers sell. I have no doubt the new beers on offer will be in high demand but also the festival will give us the opportunity to be reacquainted with old-favourites as fresh as possible.

 

Five Lamps and a lantern

Do you know the Five Lamps? This is the earliest slogan of the Five Lamps Brewery and the correct answer at the time was Amiens Street. However, as friends were to discover the brewery has moved from its base on the North Strand to a fully-fledged brewing facility in the Liberties. The famous street light of the same name remains in Dublin 1. Confused? So were they!

William & Brian proudly showing off the new brewery I’m Dublin 8, not Dublin 1

The Probus beer club had the opportunity to visit Five Lamps recently and as luck would have it, the tour was to take place on Halloween night. Paul had chosen “Tarts and Vicars” as the theme so Brian Fagan (Chief of the Five Lamps) and William Harvey (Brewer) were slightly bemused by a handful of visitors turning up in costume (I went as a son-in-law of a preacher man). Most people reserved the right not to dress up and as someone said left a handful of us looking slightly awkward á la Bridget Jones.

William and his brews (& a lantern for good measure)

The Five Lamp brewery first came to prominence a little over a year ago through well designed branding appearing at several prominent pubs in the City Centre, namely McDaids and The Duke before spreading out to other well known pubs. It was interesting to see a craft beer focussing on what could be dubbed “non-specialist” beer pubs (I hope I’m not offending anyone and I know Carrig Lager had been available in The Duke since the early days). The lager itself was a departure for fans of highly carbonated and slightly bitter variations. It was definitely malt forward and has been refined over the past year. It is reminiscent for me of some of the Bavarian lagers, with a rich biscuity flavour. As a distinctly Dublin-branded beer, it was amusing to think that it was only until recently contract-brewed by Eight Degrees down in Co. Cork.

Got to love their branding

Brewing is now taking place in Dublin but in Dublin 8, which has caused problems for their identity because their next brew was named in honour of their new home – Liberties Ale. This was debuted at this year’s Irish Craft Beer & Cider Festival and is a pleasant pint indeed. It has a certain dryness to it with the slightest hop bite. Both the lager and ale were able to be sampled on the night.

Where better to enjoy a pint of Liberties Ale than at its source

Unfortunately, we were too early to try their latest release Honor Bright Red Ale, which was conditioning away in the bright tank. It was bottled this week and should be in shops over the coming days (as I was writing this, the first batch was delivered to Probus). Bottling is done manually and takes approximately seven and a half hours to complete (when I heard that I wonder why they would even bother and opt solely for kegs).

Manual bottle filler – 2 bottles at a time

The key to their beers according to William is accessibility both in terms of alcohol and bitterness levels. They’re in the business of session beers and have a capacity to brew approximately 650 litres per week. So alond with desires to do some special brews, they’re sticking with the tried and trusted “usuals” – a lager, a red, a golden ale and a porter. Following on from their red ale, the next release will be Blackpitts Porter, which was currently fermenting away. It’s great to see brewing up close in the centre of the city and their new brewery is further proof of the craft breweries re-establishing local brewing traditions . For example, the Blackpitts Porter Company existed over on Fumbally Lane in the Liberties in the late eighteenth century.

A brand spanking new brewery

Rounding off the visit was a selection of meat and cheese, along with homemade salsa and sauces prepared by Paul Fogarty of Probus fame. This has probably to be a first. A gourmet buffet selection and pints in a brewery, with costumes!

Most of us had gotten a little bit embarrassed by our costumes by this stage

It’s great to have seen the progress that the lads have made and I’m looking forward to trying their red ale and porter upon their release. No doubt they will be ones to have during a future beer tasting. Hopefully they will be coming to a pub near me soon.