What the European Central Bank has done to beer

In order to boost the Eurozone economy, the European Central Bank finally announced its plan for quantitative easing (QE), much to the chagrin of the Germans. Between now and September 2016, the ECB is to print some €1.14 trillion in new money to buy government bonds from banks and other investors. So what has all of this to got to do with beer?

Well quite a lot actually, the value of the Euro against other currencies has taken a significant dive over recent weeks and is expected to remain weak during the course of the QE initiative. This will make exports from Ireland cheaper. There’s a real advantage for Irish breweries (and indeed those from other Eurozone countries) to export to the likes of the UK and the US at seriously competitive prices. The likes of O’Hara’s, the Porterhouse and recent exporters to the US like White Hag and Rye River could really extend their reach in the US. But our near neighbours in Britain will also be a market that Irish breweries can be competitive in terms of price to match the flavour. We just have to ensure that craft breweries get the support they need through access to credit and support from enterprise agencies to take advantage of this.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel not happy with the ECB and taking the glass-half-full approach Photo: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
German Chancellor Angela Merkel not happy with the ECB and taking the glass-half-full approach Photo: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. Ignore that fact that Britain, the US and non-Eurozone countries will be now more expensive for beer trips. Imports from these countries will also become pricier. This is also potentially bad news for those that like beers from Northern Ireland. It’ll be hard for the brewers to absorb the exchange rate differences so they’re not passed on to customers. Will they forget exporting to the rest of the island in favour of focusing on Ulster and Britain?

Separate to the import and export of beer, are there any other things we should be aware of that could affect the price of beer and the craft brewing industry generally? Well the cost of imported raw materials will increase. Ireland is a small market and generally sources a lot of raw materials through the larger suppliers in the UK and elsewhere. However, this could be a further fillip to the indigenous grain industry. On the other hand, fans of West Coast or other US hops could be in for a shock as some are expecting the dollar to reach parity with the Euro in a few short months. Will brewers absorb these increases into existing prices or will we even see changes to offerings in the form of producing more European-style offerings using German hops for instance?

Only time will tell what the effects of Mario Draghi’s efforts will be. One thing for sure is that it will give a boost to Ireland and other Eurozone economies. This will boost consumer demand at home and no doubt help the further growth of the craft beer sector.

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 www.belgiansmaak.com 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 (www.belgiansmaak.com)
Check out Breandán and Elisa’s excellent site on adventures in beer & chocolate (www.belgiansmaak.com)

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.

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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.

Drinking for a good cause: the role of charity beer events

Craft beer is getting in on the scene of charity events. Joining the ranks of pub quizzes and races nights are charity beer tastings. I’ve hosted a number of these over the past few years but it’s great seeing them increase in popularity. They’re definitely a break in the monotony of the usual charity events, although a good pub quiz is good fun as well (earlier this year we even had one in Probus Wines so it coincided with good beer too). Tasting nights are no longer the sole preserve of the wine drinker. In fact, to broaden the appeal a combination of both works fantastically well.

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So what’s the inspiration of the post you might ask? Well, recently I attended a Pop-Up Craft Beer night in the Inchicore Sports and Social Club. It was the latest fundraising event they organised for the renovation of the club’s roof. I really like the CIE Works and the surrounds so it was a great excuse the head down there. I had no idea of what to expect. Entrance was €5 and included a plate for the buffet (lots of artisan Irish cheese, bread and meat available). Of course, it wouldn’t be a craft beer event without Keogh’s crisps putting in an appearance too.

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Beers had to be purchased and it was less of a tasting and more of a bar, although there were tasting notes provided. O’Hara’s Pale Ale was the only beer on draught and the others from the Porterhouse, Carrig and 12th Abbey were available in bottle. All the proceeds went to the roof so one was drinking for a good cause. For those not willing to try them, there were two Irish ciders (Dan Kelly’s & Ballyhook Flyer), as well as 2 types of red wine but only one white wine could also be purchased. A lot of fun was to be had and the club’s atmosphere made it easy to get chatting to those attending and to get their thoughts on the beers being sold.

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While a given charity benefits an event like this, the ability of such evenings to introduce craft beer to a new audience shouldn’t be ignored. Take for instance people who show up to support the charity regardless of the event who go away with a new appreciation of a craft brewer or discovering a particular beer style. Charity beer tastings hit a wider audience than typically achieved through the usual craft beer channels and can be a good tool to win over new customers.


About Inchicore Sports and Social Club: It’s a community based organisation providing services and facilities for the people of Inchicore and surrounding areas. The Club provides a resource in a variety of ways to old and young in the Community. There is a bar, a lounge, a games room and a hall with a stage. Every week there are sing-along nights in the lounge. There is Snooker, Pool and Darts and we provide facilities for Community Festivals, Sports Days and local fundraising concerts, meetings, functions and a range of activities. The Club is open every week on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 7.30pm and on Tuesdays from 8.pm. We also open on other days and nights to facilitate bookings, functions, meetings and other activities. Annual membership subscription is €20 and €15 for senior citizens. For Up to date news about activities in the Club, check out its Facebook page: www.facebook.com/inchicoresportsandsocialclub

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.

 

The most wonderful time for beer

The only bit of Christmas shopping I like is carefully selecting the beers to enjoy over the holiday period. The most important choices are the beers to be savoured alongise the Christmas meal itself.

Food and beer pairings can be a joy but also at times the attempts to get them right can be a real test of endurance. Christmas Day dinner can be one of those occasions where choosing the right beers can be a particular ordeal, simply because of the range of food and differing flavours being experienced. One caveat is that Christmas seasonal beers may not be ideal because of the strong flavours contained within. These can be perfect on their own (e.g. BrewDog’s Hoppy Christmas while decorating the Christmas tree) but depending on the specific profile of each beer, they can be tricky to match with food, particularly a Christmas menu.

Menus of course vary between households but a common thread exists – deep, rich and luxurious foods that will appeal to a broad range of ages and people around the table. Some may go with a 1970s style with a prawn cocktail to start and a trifle to finish but others may have soup or light starter finishing off with the traditional heavyweight Christmas pudding. At the heart of most menus will be a roast. An obvious choice given so many dishes to be prepared for one meal, taking advantage of a slow-cooking main course helps preserve the sanity of the chef.

Christmas Menu

Starters

Prawn Cocktail

The problem with this course is not necessarily being careful not to overpower the prawns themselves but the Marie Rose sauce. The tang of the ketchup is the key feature of this dish.

Verdict: Galway Hooker is a fantastic match (it would also be an excellent choice for a Christmas all rounder).

Smoked Salmon

This can go in many directions. A Weisse beer that has strong lemony-citrus notes such as Franciscan Well’s Friar Weisse would work here as could O’Hara’s Curim Gold. Belgian Wit beers would be okay but to be aware that not everyone likes coriander as much as one might think. Hitachino Nest’s Weisse is a stunning match for smoked salmon (tried it at a tasting earlier this year), after all Japanese independent breweries are making incredible beers that match fish perfectly. I’m also thinking of the smoke and some porters would work here (e.g.  Five Lamps’ Blackpitts porter would bring something to the dish). A light smoked taste with also a bit of body would be O’Hara’s Stout. While it has flaked oats in the beer, a wholemeal stout itself could be too filling. We’re not having a sandwich here and we have to leave room for the main course itself. For citrus aromas and flavour, it’s easy to go down the route of an IPA but you should air on the side of caution. We would need an IPA that doesn’t have too much heft in the body in terms of caramel malt. An interesting possibility to use a black IPA (e.g. burnt notes in Eight Degrees’ Zeus along with some citrus character but have already selected one of theirs for later).

Verdict: Estrella Damm Inedit, need I say more. The bottle brings a certain celebration to the proceedings. It just pairs like no other, after-all it was perfectly crafted to accompany many a dish at the now closed elBulli. Even with the subtle spiciness of the coriander, this wheat beer brings champagne-like joy to the drinker.

Pate with Cumberland sauce

This starter has been chosen to represent the “cold” course, which buys you precious time on the day to focus on the other courses (also it’s Christmas for the Chef as well).

Verdict: Crafty Dan’s Big Ben, which evokes bright red fruits and picks up on the cumberland sauce. It has slight notes on the aroma with nutty flavours, but the fruits with a light spicing making this an excellent pairing (especially with the bread on the table).

Main Course

Roast Turkey, all the trimmings etc

As we eat an usual array of food during one sitting, an easy bet would be an ale (especially a strong ale if you want to indulge) from the land of pie and mash. However, there’s a complete overload of flavours on the table from the roast turkey and ham to other meats (or vegetable roasts), the herbs and spices that permeate both the stuffing and the side dishes, the cranberry sauce and other condiments. Also in keeping with a little bit of luxury that is Christmas dinner, the bottle is also important. For this the large sharing bottles are required because they capture the conviviality of the meal itself. A Bière de Garde such as 3 Monts, pick up on the herbaceaous aspects of the meal as well as bring a welcome refreshment with each sip.

Verdict: Chimay Première (Red) is ideal. It is not as full bodied as the Grand Reserve but it interesting and would match the roast flavours, including the slight caramel sweetness that occurs. The fact that it’s a Trappist offering, it lends a certain reverential awe to the day itself. Belgian Dubbels and Tripels ideally match large and hearty meals.

Desert

Christmas Pudding/Chocolate/rich desert

After gorging on 3 courses, the pace starts to slow and conscious that the board games might make an appearance, it’s time to pair the desert and coffee course with what better than a strong stout that exudes coffee and chocolate notes that perfectly complement this course. Of course, if it was just the Christmas Pudding or cake, a barley wine like Louder from the Porterhouse or Belgian Quad would work here equally.

Verdict: Eight Degrees’ Russian Imperial Stout because it’s good to celebrate all the good things in life and what’s better than to toast another remarkable year for Irish brewing than an excellent strong stout. Forget the espresso, the kitchen’s now closed.

Post-meal simply enjoying Christmas night

This is for when people decamp to couches and the Christmas present DVD box-sets come out or a movie on the TV. This is time for a sipping beer that will also pair along with the moment that when you think you couldn’t eat any more, one feels the need to make a sandwich with the leftovers. For me, I’ve always been partial to Delirium Tremens because there’s a fair bit of pleasant complexity going on. This could the time to open the O’Hara’s Double IPA or if you have some relatively strong beer in stock.

Verdict: Brooklyn Local No.2 because I want to keep in with the dark Belgian strong ales. This is luxuriant in its spiciness with sweetness coming from of honey which compliments the dark fruit and chocolate flavours.