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

 

 

 

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