Better late than never, thoughts on the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014

It’s been some time now since I last posted and it certainly hasn’t been a case that I’ve been ignoring the beer scene. It has just been insanely busy and given that the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014 is taking place in Dublin this weekend, there’s no time like the present to get back into it. The conference, only in its fourth year, takes place for the first time outside of Britain (previous host cities were London, Leeds & Edinburgh) and it’s shaping up to be a great event.

I go to conferences a lot for work and they can be tedious affairs. You encounter people who are always looking down at name-badges checking out if there are more important people they could be talking to. However, the best conferences undoubtedly are beer related and I attend them in a personal capacity. Although, I did do a beer tasting for conference attendees in Brugge last week that certainly livened up proceedings for delegates. Ian over at 11pmsomewhere.com has put together a guide for attendees for the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014.

This conference will be different because I certainly need to brush up on my social media and blogging skills (once described as “criminally under-publicised”) so the Saturday sessions will be for me. No disrespect to those speaking on the Friday on the Irish craft beer scene keg v cask and bottle v can and whatnot, they’re interesting topics and will prompt debate (hopefully on the future of organisations such as CAMRA). However, it is looking increasingly unlikely that I’ll be able to make most of the Friday sessions. I’ll certainly be there for the trip to the Guinness Storehouse and this brings up an interesting issue. There was a lot of discussion on blogs and other social media platforms on the subject of sponsorship by Big Beer. Sadly a few conscientious beer objectors felt they couldn’t participate in an event with such sponsors. This is a shame because most events need sponsors and surely as bloggers they didn’t have to feature the sponsors if they didn’t want to (not suggesting a breakaway European Craft Beer Bloggers Conference).

The best feature of course will be to meet the fellow attendees, many for the first time but those we’ve been chatting with or slagging on twitter. Some of whom have written some fantastic books on beer. It will also be an opportunity to catch-up with the Irish brewers attending due to being panellists or presenting their wares at a reception hosted by Beer Ireland. Sarah Roarty’s promised delegates something special and she’s bringing her award winning Oatmeal Stout on cask – happy days! A big shout out has to be given to the irrepressible Carlow Brewing Company which is not only sponsoring the final reception (following the Franciscan Well Dinner hosted by Shane Long) they’re giving the attendees the opportunity to collaborate on a new beer.

The pre-conference Trail of Ale led by Reuben (www.taleofale.com) will give delegates a opportunity to explore some of the finer beer bars of the city. J.W. Sweetman’s, the Palace, The Porterhouse, The Norseman and  two of the Cottage Group estate (the Black Sheep and Brew Dock) because like in most cities, specialist beer bars tend to come along in groups. The Porterhouse will be a familiar name to those attending from London but what is often overlooked is that when it opened up its Covent Garden pub back in 2000, it was only the second specialist beer bar in London, after the Mark Dorber’s re-imagining of the White Horse in Parson’s Green. The re-emergence of the London beer scene is very much like the transformation that has taken place in this country over the past decade.

There’s certainly going to be a lot of drinking and socialising being done of the course of the next few days. This is all the more fitting in a week where a report published by the Health Research Board branded almost a third of the population as “harmful” drinkers. It’s time for a change in thinking on what constitutes binge drinking. The role of beer bloggers will become even more influential in combatting the fact that beer is always singled out by the anti-drink lobby. We can put forward the facts because the anti-drink lobby, whatever their objectives, tend to ignore the facts such as in Ireland consumption is now 25% lower than 2001 and is back to pre-1990 levels and average consumption fell by 7.6% between 2012 and 2013.

Beer Bloggers Conference

 

Smithwicks strikes back

While the independent or craft segment may still be relatively small beer (0.8% in Ireland, 6.3% in the US), macro-breweries are increasingly looking to shore up their market share through the introduction of new products. It is the rate of growth in the “craft” sector that has raised their eyebrows. We’re seeing new lines of beers being introduced alongside their core brands. We just have to look to the introduction of Smithwicks Pale Ale and Calendonian Smooth into the Irish market within the past twelve months. There may be a lot of merit in the “consumer is favouring choice” argument as there seems to be a move away from manufacturing innovation to product innovation. Take for instance the range of Guinness products targeted primarily at the US market – Black Lager, Generous Ale and Red Harvest Stout. Perhaps in the Irish case it is also a response to the threat of Molson Coors ramping up their standing in the Irish market.

Smithwicks recently launched a new offering in the form of Winter Spirit, a 4.5% abv ale. It has a rich, ruby body that is still in keeping with the traditional Smithwicks red. It has a slight blackcurrant aroma, which is even more reminiscent of a bag of wine gums or jelly.  The taste is initially sweet on but becomes toastier as you progress.  It is fairly dry.  It almost lacks something in the body and has not the complexity nor weight you’d expect in a winter seasonal. It is slightly cloying and sweet fruits definitely dominate. On the bottle, they say biscuit flavours so I suppose the closest would be Jam Dodgers. Of course with any good Irish red, there are hints of dry roasted peanuts and toffee nut towards the end. While it’s not a winter ale, it is nevertheless an interesting variation on the standard Smithwicks and not simply a slightly more alcoholic version.