Craft Beer and Spirits festival by the Porterhouse

On 10 April, the Porterhouse Brewing Company kicked off its Craft Beer and Spirits festival. Over the course of a seventeen day period, people paying custom to any of the Porterhouse bars will be able to enjoy a fresh look at Ireland’s craft brewers and distillers. It’s increasingly common to see beer and spirits events being twinned. Of course the Porterhouse has a significant foothold in both the beer and spirits markets. One also couldn’t fail to notice that the launch event coincided with the publication of research by the newly established Irish Whiskey Association showing that its sector alone will invest over €1 billion in Ireland in the next decade.

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On the beer front, the festival incorporates both draught and bottled beers from across Ireland’s craft scene. One can expect to see breweries such as Rascals, N17 Brewery, Kinnegar, Metalman, Hilden, Galway Hooker, O’Hara’s, Trouble Brewing, Mountain Man and Kinsale making an appearance at different times during the festival. Punters can take it old-school and check the blackboards on the walls of the bars or the individual ones under the row of guest taps for what’s pouring. There will be limited edition offerings too (not necessarily festival exclusives, however). I got to try Unite Pale Ale, the Irish version of the collaboration brew for International Women’s Day. Brewed down in Metalman, this 4% session ale had a good citrus bite to it.

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Naturally, the Porterhouse had its own offerings for the festival. Making a welcome return is Peter Mosley’s excellent Chocolate Truffle Stout and timely too, given that the festival straddles Easter. This drinks like one of those very expensive and luxurious hot chocolate drinks. There’s a rich powdery taste, reminiscent of the dusting around Belgium chocolate truffle (suppose it’s not just a clever name). It has a smooth finish, with dark chocolate notes being restrained by the richness. Also on draught will be their Celebration Stout, a 7% stout matured in whiskey casks, and matching the overall theme of the festival, available on draught. I must admit that I still have a few bottles of this in my beer cellar, put away for a special occasion.

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The festival will be occurring right across the by seven pubs in the Porterhouse family:  Parliament Street, Temple Bar, Nassau Street, Glasnevin, Bray, Cork, Covent Garden, London and Financial District New York. There will also be beer and spirits tastings held throughout the festival and to find out more, it’s best to check out their social media channels.

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…

Missing keg happily reunited with owner, cheers twitter

Recently I came across a stray keg on the lane where I live. The natural reaction was to ignore it but this keg was unusual because it belonged to Bo Bristle. Baggot Street is fairly barren in craft beer terms (not counting Baggot Street Wines of course), except for the odd pint of Galway Hooker and O’Hara’s. So I tweeted the brewery to see if they were starting selling in the pubs in the area or if this was a keg that had gone walkies.

The keg was indeed missing and after some inspired sleuthing by John aka @thebeernut, it was deduced that it could have contained Carrig Lager (produced under licence by Bo Bristle) via Doheny & Nesbitts. So within a few minutes, Carrig Brewing Company had got in touch regarding this wandering keg. Turned out the beer is no longer being sold in Dohenys, Baggot Street has lost another craft beer but they made the arrangements for its safe return.

The image that the twitterati not only located but faciliated its return to its rightful owners

Why is this important you ask? Well, we tend to forget the sheer cost of purchasing kegs, all the more acute for small, independent breweries. Apparently over four hundred thousand beer and cider kegs have been stolen or gone missing in Ireland since 2007, costing producers approximately €40 million, according to research by the Irish Brewers Association. So if you see a keg abandoned, check the labels and at the very least tweet the owners.   

The keg was recovered last week after a brief soujorn staying in the back garden and of course there was nothing else to do but to enjoy a couple of beers from Bo Bristle to toast it’s safe return.

Logistics-ace Denis reclaims the keg & made sure it got safely home

The brewery from Bannagher, Co. Offaly has come along way since first emerging on the scene back in 2010 as Breweyed, with a Blond Pale Ale and Lager in tow. However, owners Morgan Smyth and Andrew Horn felt that the brand as it stood could not break into the mainstream and thus Bo Bristle was born in time for the second All Ireland Craft Beer and Cider Festival in 2012. This renewed approach saw them rejig the beers in their portfolio and adopt an interesting approach to market. They signed a deal with large multiple Marks & Spencers to stock their beers under the Bo Bristle name (not like some of the other beers produced exclusively for M&S under different names but by reputable producers).   

At present there are two beers in their core range: an amber ale (4.5%) and an IPA (5%). Hopefully their American Brown Ale, which debuted at the 2013 edition of the beer festival will hopefully make a more regular comeback (it’s a serious brown ale that has the characteristic sweetness perfectly blended with American hop oomph).   

Bo Bristle Amber Ale pours as if it’s not just a clever name. It is polished amber in colour complete with a thick frothy head. There are summer fruits and juicy berries on the nose. Tastes initially sweet but develops a slight bitterness, which is balanced by a biscuit body. It has an extremely pleasant finish.

The IPA on the other hand has a distinctive orange hue to its appearance, topped by a creamy head. Again there’s fruit on the nose but perceptively lighter than the amber ale. Instead, the bitterness comes through pleasantly in the flavour yielding at pace to a dry bitter finish.  

Both beers are enjoyable and strongly reminiscent of English-style ales, perhaps the hand of English-native Andrew Horn. They are enjoyable session ales and I can’t wait to try them on cask again because this brewery is getting better and better. I must admit I wasn’t that taken by them when tried almost eighteen months ago but these beers have come along way and so too has the brewery.

Absolutely a brewery to look out for and perfect beers to have on hand for Sunday lunch or that microwaveable meal (did M&S spot something here?) when you’re feeling that mid-week laziness.    

The most wonderful time for beer

The only bit of Christmas shopping I like is carefully selecting the beers to enjoy over the holiday period. The most important choices are the beers to be savoured alongise the Christmas meal itself.

Food and beer pairings can be a joy but also at times the attempts to get them right can be a real test of endurance. Christmas Day dinner can be one of those occasions where choosing the right beers can be a particular ordeal, simply because of the range of food and differing flavours being experienced. One caveat is that Christmas seasonal beers may not be ideal because of the strong flavours contained within. These can be perfect on their own (e.g. BrewDog’s Hoppy Christmas while decorating the Christmas tree) but depending on the specific profile of each beer, they can be tricky to match with food, particularly a Christmas menu.

Menus of course vary between households but a common thread exists – deep, rich and luxurious foods that will appeal to a broad range of ages and people around the table. Some may go with a 1970s style with a prawn cocktail to start and a trifle to finish but others may have soup or light starter finishing off with the traditional heavyweight Christmas pudding. At the heart of most menus will be a roast. An obvious choice given so many dishes to be prepared for one meal, taking advantage of a slow-cooking main course helps preserve the sanity of the chef.

Christmas Menu

Starters

Prawn Cocktail

The problem with this course is not necessarily being careful not to overpower the prawns themselves but the Marie Rose sauce. The tang of the ketchup is the key feature of this dish.

Verdict: Galway Hooker is a fantastic match (it would also be an excellent choice for a Christmas all rounder).

Smoked Salmon

This can go in many directions. A Weisse beer that has strong lemony-citrus notes such as Franciscan Well’s Friar Weisse would work here as could O’Hara’s Curim Gold. Belgian Wit beers would be okay but to be aware that not everyone likes coriander as much as one might think. Hitachino Nest’s Weisse is a stunning match for smoked salmon (tried it at a tasting earlier this year), after all Japanese independent breweries are making incredible beers that match fish perfectly. I’m also thinking of the smoke and some porters would work here (e.g.  Five Lamps’ Blackpitts porter would bring something to the dish). A light smoked taste with also a bit of body would be O’Hara’s Stout. While it has flaked oats in the beer, a wholemeal stout itself could be too filling. We’re not having a sandwich here and we have to leave room for the main course itself. For citrus aromas and flavour, it’s easy to go down the route of an IPA but you should air on the side of caution. We would need an IPA that doesn’t have too much heft in the body in terms of caramel malt. An interesting possibility to use a black IPA (e.g. burnt notes in Eight Degrees’ Zeus along with some citrus character but have already selected one of theirs for later).

Verdict: Estrella Damm Inedit, need I say more. The bottle brings a certain celebration to the proceedings. It just pairs like no other, after-all it was perfectly crafted to accompany many a dish at the now closed elBulli. Even with the subtle spiciness of the coriander, this wheat beer brings champagne-like joy to the drinker.

Pate with Cumberland sauce

This starter has been chosen to represent the “cold” course, which buys you precious time on the day to focus on the other courses (also it’s Christmas for the Chef as well).

Verdict: Crafty Dan’s Big Ben, which evokes bright red fruits and picks up on the cumberland sauce. It has slight notes on the aroma with nutty flavours, but the fruits with a light spicing making this an excellent pairing (especially with the bread on the table).

Main Course

Roast Turkey, all the trimmings etc

As we eat an usual array of food during one sitting, an easy bet would be an ale (especially a strong ale if you want to indulge) from the land of pie and mash. However, there’s a complete overload of flavours on the table from the roast turkey and ham to other meats (or vegetable roasts), the herbs and spices that permeate both the stuffing and the side dishes, the cranberry sauce and other condiments. Also in keeping with a little bit of luxury that is Christmas dinner, the bottle is also important. For this the large sharing bottles are required because they capture the conviviality of the meal itself. A Bière de Garde such as 3 Monts, pick up on the herbaceaous aspects of the meal as well as bring a welcome refreshment with each sip.

Verdict: Chimay Première (Red) is ideal. It is not as full bodied as the Grand Reserve but it interesting and would match the roast flavours, including the slight caramel sweetness that occurs. The fact that it’s a Trappist offering, it lends a certain reverential awe to the day itself. Belgian Dubbels and Tripels ideally match large and hearty meals.

Desert

Christmas Pudding/Chocolate/rich desert

After gorging on 3 courses, the pace starts to slow and conscious that the board games might make an appearance, it’s time to pair the desert and coffee course with what better than a strong stout that exudes coffee and chocolate notes that perfectly complement this course. Of course, if it was just the Christmas Pudding or cake, a barley wine like Louder from the Porterhouse or Belgian Quad would work here equally.

Verdict: Eight Degrees’ Russian Imperial Stout because it’s good to celebrate all the good things in life and what’s better than to toast another remarkable year for Irish brewing than an excellent strong stout. Forget the espresso, the kitchen’s now closed.

Post-meal simply enjoying Christmas night

This is for when people decamp to couches and the Christmas present DVD box-sets come out or a movie on the TV. This is time for a sipping beer that will also pair along with the moment that when you think you couldn’t eat any more, one feels the need to make a sandwich with the leftovers. For me, I’ve always been partial to Delirium Tremens because there’s a fair bit of pleasant complexity going on. This could the time to open the O’Hara’s Double IPA or if you have some relatively strong beer in stock.

Verdict: Brooklyn Local No.2 because I want to keep in with the dark Belgian strong ales. This is luxuriant in its spiciness with sweetness coming from of honey which compliments the dark fruit and chocolate flavours.

 

 

BrewsInternational is Alive!

After much procrastination, I finally got around to putting together my beer blog and website (thanks to Mick Rourke’s wizardry). It is an attempt to capture the emerging trends, features and profiles of beers & breweries of the world. It will cover the world of craft and micro-brews to the stuff you made in the bath as a student that made you blind for 3 days.

Due to being Irish and the exciting things happening in brewing in Ireland, who better than to launch the website than Ronan Brennan, co-founder of Galway Hooker. Thankfully he was more than obliging.