In Kingstown for a taste of Old Empire

I was out at a conference in Dún Laoghaire recently to hear about initiatives to revitalise town centres. There are clearly a lot of ideas floating about in how they can be improved. Over the past few years it was easy to see the effects the recession, the opening of the Dundrum Town Centre, aggressive clampers and other issues has had on Dún Laoghaire itself.

The conference due attention to the role independent retailers, restauranteurs and publicans can play in urban regeneration. However, it was also stressed that it was important to get the balance right in terms of attracting the chains etc. The town has seen Starbucks take root alongside prominent retailers as well. One of the latest and certainly high profile openings was JD Wetherspoons second Irish venture, The Forty Foot. Sharing the site and name of the previous incarnation, the pub is a departure from the sort of “village feel” Wetherspoons and fits in with the more modernist and light-filled of the large “corporate” Wetherspoons.

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Spread over two floors, the 40 Foot has fantastic views over the harbour and across Dublin Bay. By all accounts it has a younger clientele to Blackrock’s The Tun Tavern, particularly at weekends. I only had time for a quick pint and of course opted for cask ale. Although it’s great to see Brú Brewery joining Eight Degrees in their Irish craft beer bottle range.

With the town formally being called Kingstown, I had the excuse to opt for Marston’s Old Empire, a 5.7% abv IPA. Martson’s is one of those breweries that lost a significant amount of charm over recent years. Yes, it’s still independent but it has grown through acquisitions. The Midland’s based company comprises the likes of Bank’s, Eversheds, Wychwood and has just acquired the brewing arm of Thwaites, including the Crafty Dan range. The brewery has embarked on a successful partnership with English cricket (more on that at another time). While Marston’s is firmly in the company of big independent brewers, it could suffer reputational damage along the lines of Green King.

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So out on the deck of the top floor of The Forty Foot, I tried Old Empire. The beer was a clear and bright copper colour. It was bronze almost and would leave those hooked on spray tans, satisfied. There was fresh orange and grapefruit on the nose but there was also a hint of toffee. On drinking, it was clear that this beer there was about chewy bitterness, little else. There was only the slightest sweetness on the back of the palate. It was slightly astringent in the finish. The toasted malt bill had too much burnt notes for my liking.

It’s interesting to note that the two outside areas of the bar are non smoking. Those wanting to smoke will find themselves confined to an area a safe distance from the main entrance. I will be back to the 40 Foot the next time I’m in Dún Laoghaire but I will opt for something else on cask.

Beers from Atlanta in honour of the city’s famous son

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the U.S. Whilst it takes place on the 3rd Monday of January, Dr. King’s actual birthday is 15 January but for the purposes of this post, I thought it prudent to feature two beers from a brewery in the city of his birth.

Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewery was founded back in 1997 by Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerny, roommates at University of Colorado in Boulder (obviously a place to discover craft beer). Firmly embracing the importance of “localism”, the brewery takes its name from Sweetwater Creek, which flows off from the brilliantly named – and easier to say after a couple of beers – Chattahoochee River (any Alan Jackson fans out there?). The brewery’s motto is “don’t float the mainstream”, and it features prominently on all the packaging for its brews.

Sweetwater was one of the craft brewing outliers in the South. When I first started going to Nashville almost ten years ago now, their beers were one of the few regional beers regularly available, with their 420 Extra Pale Ale becoming an early favourite of mine. At 5.7%, it had enough fresh hop bitterness to be pleasant on those hot southern summer days.

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The most recent beers I had from the brewery were Georgia Brown and LowRYEder IPA. Billed an “easy drinkin’ back porch ale”, Georgia Brown is “as smooth as a Bill Clinton apology”. According to the bottle, I was to “enjoy it some southern hospitality” so it was a bottle I cracked open during a trip to visit the in-laws. There’s chocolate and demerara sugar (or as they call it down there, sugar in the raw) on the nose. It’s colour can be best described as a fine amber syrup. It’s got what you’d expect from a brown ale – low bitterness (30 IBUs and is hopped with Columbus & Willamette) and some bready characteristics. There are also bold coffee notes on the finish, though, to keep you guessing.

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Next up is LowRYEder IPA, described as “a flame trowin’ IPA ignited by a 25% shot of rye malt and capped by a booty hoppin’ blast of Mt Hood and Centennial hops that make this IPA bounce”. Rye’s a common ingredient in beers across the South. It can be sourced easier than hops and can help give that desired spiciness. The beer pours orange with amber highlights topped by vibrant head of foam. The beer’s hopped with Columbus, Mt Hood and Centennial. Whilst there was initial fresh citrus notes on the noses, the rye bill (plenty of brewers find 10% rye creates the desired spicy backbone) resulted in an aroma of dried fruit. This beer’s balanced, though, and the dry, bitter finish is not over-powering. It belies its 6.2% abv and cries out for a good burger to have alongside it.

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.

 

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.