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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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