Travelling to Belfast with the taste of the Falls

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.

Irish Beer & Whiskey Fest

The Irish Beer & Whiskey Fest kicked off yesterday and for five days I’ll be referring to the RDS as a second home. It would be rude not to when it’s taking place practically around the corner.

Even beer festivals cannot escape the Global Greening initiative
Even beer festivals cannot escape the Global Greening initiative

This festival marks the evolution of the Irish beer festival that took place around St Patrick’s Day in the IFSC over the past few years. However, those festivals were more of a large craft beer bar where breweries sent kegs rather than be present themselves.


It’s by the organisers of the excellent Irish Craft Beer and Cider festival that takes in the RDS every September. This time it takes place in the Main Hall, a space that’s considerably bigger than the Industries Hall. The Main Hall may bring back memories for some of participating in the Young Scientist Exhibition (even as far back as when Aer Lingus used to sponsor it).

Whiskey always had a place in the September edition but it has gained more prominent billing for this festival. 7 cider makers are also represented and the food offering is the biggest yet.

19 breweries are present. Yes, this is a drop in the number of stands when compared to the last two editions of September festival. However, it’s been a fairly packed calendar for beer events of late with the Alltech Craft Brews & Food just a fortnight ago. Brewers have had to choose what festivals to focus on, how much beer to have on hand to attend them etc. Don’t worry there’s plenty of good beer to be had at the festival.


Some to look out for include Mountain Man’s Sneaky Owl; Searbh Rua (Imperial Sour Red) and Coffee Rocket by White Hag; Enigma and Polar Vortex from Eight Degrees; and Buck It by Black Donkey. There’s cask beers on offer too so be on the look out for O’Hara’s Leann Follain and three from Station Works (stout, blonde & brown). These are of course those that I tried on day 1 of the festival. There’s plenty of good beer on offer from Trouble Brewing, Independent Brewing, Alltech Lexington Brewing, Rye River (also pouring Innis & Gunn and Coisbo), Porterhouse, Franciscan Well, Rising Sons, O’Brother Brewing, White Gypsy, Wicklow Brewing and Wicklow Wolf.

So far it’s shaping up to be a great festival. The new hall has given it a more spacious feeling, somewhat reminiscent of the early years of the September’s festival. It’s €2.50 for a half pint though above 7% beers are served in thirds. Some stands will give you a pint but not in the official festival glass. If you want a pint, you’ll have to make do with plastic.

Hopefully you get the opportunity to drop in in this festival.

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 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 (
Check out Breandán and Elisa’s excellent site on adventures in beer & chocolate (

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.


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.

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