Record Setting at the Alltech Brews and Food Fair – Friday February 5th 2016

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A Guinness World Record was set in at the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fare on the 5th of February for the largest number of people to participate in a beer tasting. It set of a series of thoughts in motion for me, which culminated in “Would the largest beer tasting have been any less large if the Guinness World Record people had said it didn’t meet their conditions, or weren’t present?” If a tree falls in forest, and there is no self-appointed sanctioning body to verify that it reached all of the conditions which previously recorded falling trees had adhered to…

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Upon entering the Convention Centre, it was clear that the organisers meant business – I assumed I would be too late for the record, but I was instantly accosted and directed to the registration area, and before I knew it, I had passed two Guinness World Record officials with state of the art record measuring equipment:

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I was now a number, and found my seat. It wasn’t long before people started talking about how long this was all taking.

SECOND IMPRESSIONS

After an introduction and some banter-based compering, the tasting was under way.

On offer were Alltech’s recently acquired Finn Irish Lager, and two beers from their Kentucky Branded beers – Kentucky Ale & Kentucky IPA.

The amounts were modest, but the notes offered from the stage by Gearoid Cahill were a nice touch! Stewards watched to ensure that everyone was tasting, and having a rule-abiding good time. It’s one thing to have your Guinness World Record beaten, it would be quite another to have it shamefully stripped like the Yangzhou Rice incident.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS

This was a really fun way to kick off the festival – in spite of my commentary on the nature of sanctioned record setting. It was a draw, and a reason for people to get in after work rather than wait for Saturday, and the event really benefitted from it. There was a lot of people around, with excitement to see what beers would get awards, which were announced later that evening.
It was a wise marketing move on behalf of the organisers – it was clear from the advanced press that they are keen for people to be aware that the Alltech Brews and Food Fair is the largest festival of its kind in Ireland. Setting a Guinness World Record for a volume of people drinking certainly helps to bolster this claim!

Galway Bay Brewery – Heathen – 3.5% ABV

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“He was a heathen, the only unbeliever on the island, a gross materialist who believed that when he died he was dead. He believed merely in fair play and square-dealing.” – Jack London, The Heathen

The Heathen in Jack London’s South Sea Tales is only once referred to by colour. The Heathen in Galway Bay Bars is a Black Berliner Weisse – a sour, session strength ale.

First Impressions:

I walked to Against the Grain today, hoping to get one of these, and the first thing to bowl me over was the price tag. If for a session beer in a 330ml glass, I was shocked to be handing over as little as €2.75 for any beer. The beer was half foam when it was first poured, but the barman diligently continued the pour until it was one finger of foam, and solid black the rest of the way through.

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Second Impressions:

The first mouthful is very much a sour cherry flavour, but quickly becomes bread-like on the aftertaste. A sourdough seems almost too obvious a specification. It is a very tart beer, with a vast variety of biting fruit coming through with each sip, always developing to the same bread.

Final Impressions:

I’m not sure if this beer is sold in 330ml because there is a limited amount, or if there is a fear that people wouldn’t enjoy a full pint. In the same way that the Eternalist arrived in a well thought out 375ml bottle, I assume some consideration went into the serving size of this beer too.

TO THE PINT – Carrig Brewing Co. – Coalface Black IPA – 5.5% ABV

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Carrig

Coalface Black IPA draws on the same history as the Black Donkey Arigna Series, which is why I decided to pick it up tonight.

It is a nice Black IPA, it pours like a porter with a huge tan head, which I wish I had timed. I poured the beer, left the room, came back and then took the above photo.

The flavor is strong, with coffee and dark chocolate complimenting the grapefruit bitterness.

The one disappointment which I felt was that the aroma was not as intense as I might expect – however I only noticed when I finished the beer that it was three months past its Best Before, which may have taken from the nose.

When talking about Arigna #1, I expressed an interest in aging beers, so maybe it is fate that a pre-aged beer landed in my lap!

Black Donkey Brewing – Arigna Series #1 – Bière de Garde – 7.5% ABV

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I have a tendency to buy one of every beer I can possibly get my hands on. If it is rare, I hold onto it until I have a chance to share it, but otherwise, my storage is minimal. Stashkiller by the Beer Nut and a few other signs have inspired me to start storing a little bit of beer.

One such sign was Black Donkey Brewing’s Arigna Series #1. A limited run of 1800 bottles, it is a dark Bière de Garde, which literally translates as “beer for keeping”.

Black Donkey Brewing are clearly historically aware, it’s evident in their styles, techniques and names like “Beyond the Pale”. The Arigna Series tips its hat to the local history of mining. Maybe the fact that it is a beer for keeping is a hint that maybe we shouldn’t use all of our limited resources, but rather save some for the future. Or it could be a coincidence!

First Impressions:

The art on the label is keeping with the Black Donkey tradition, although it uses a much darker palette. This pours a dark brown, almost black, with about a centimetre of off-white head.

The aroma is yeasty with sweet fruits.

Second Impressions:

The foam on top is minimal compared to Sheep Stealer, but the beer still has a very well carbonated body. This is a strong beer, and you can really taste the 7.5%. It takes a lot of its flavour from its yeast, and also has some fruitiness.

Final Impressions:

It is always great to see a style of beer on the shelves that not everyone is putting out. Black Donkey have expanded their core range gently and consistently, and so I am hopeful to see how they develop this series and future short-run beers.

 

Galway Bay Brewery – The Eternalist – 5.5% ABV

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The Eternalist is a named in honor of the protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut’s Sluaghterhouse-Five. Billy Pilgrim is disconnected from time. This connection is very appropriate for a beer which makes time one of its primary ingredients. The Eternalist has been fermented with wild yeast, cultured with bacteria, and aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with raspberries. This is a lot for one beer to go through. So it goes.

First Impressions:

Anticipation is very important. A beer which waits over 14 months before it is ready for you, knows a lot about expectation. The scene is set very impressively even by the vessel this beer moves in – a notably heavy, half-sized wine bottle (375ml).

It pours a hazy amber with a light pink hue and an impressive head. The aroma is sweet, both the raspberry and red wine contributions are evident.

Second Impressions:

The mouthfeel is smooth, and the flavour is challenging, moving from sweet, through to a yoghurty sour at the back end.

Final Impressions:

There are so many moving parts involved in this beer, it feels like a miracle that it came off so well. I had been quite disappointed by the In Bloom: Gorseflower Wit, so it was great to land on this.

The relative difficulty in getting hold of a bottle, the time invested in the beer, the presentation and the complexity of flavour all came together to make a beer worth talking about.

 

TO THE PINT – 8 Degrees Brewing – Millennium – Imperial IPA – 10% ABV

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Millennium is brew number 1000 from 8 Degrees brewing company, and comes in a celebratory gold-labelled bottle.

It pours orange, with an off-white head, and has a very pungent pineapple aroma. The flavour is predominantly a mandarin orange, with a steady bitterness the whole way through.

Final Impressions:

I think that this beer might be more accessible at 7.5%, although that is likely the point. Reducing the amount any one person will drink will give it a broader penetration into the market, so the celebration is witnessed.

The nature of the beer – orange in both colour and flavour in spite of many moving parts, along with a millennial ABV of 10.00% – demonstrates once more 8 Degrees Brewing’s wit and technical prowess.

Sierra Nevada – Narwhal Imperial Stout – 10.2% ABV

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I have developed a bizarre sense of patriotism when shopping for brews. I tend to find myself drawn away from a lot of the imported craft beers simply due to the mentality of “buying local”.

While there is a lot to be said for supporting local breweries it can sometimes mean you end up missing out on some really amazing beverages.

Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale was one of the first craft beers I tasted. It had become one of my go to beers. I didn’t pay much attention to their range, and the name Sierra Nevada became synonymous with a light, citrussy experience. That was until I encountered their Narwhal Imperial Stout.

CameraZOOM-20150905151751102  First Impressions

The first thing that I noticed is just how dark the bottle was. That combined with the almost completely colourless label clearly sets the tone of things to come. “Narwhal” is written large in white lettering with the unicorn-esque sea beast illustrated beautifully below.

The moment you pop the cap you are hit with a wonderful malty cocoa aroma and it pours about as dark as they come. Held up to the light there is not a chance of it getting through. Its head is thin and temporary, but has an extremely appealing caramel colouring.

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Second Impressions

The richness of flavour in the first sip is intense.

At 10.2% you can really taste the warmth of the alcohol but it is nestled comfortably between a sweet dark cocoa flavour and a bitter kick of roasted coffee beans. As with most Imperial Stouts I’ve tasted the carbonation is low but has a creaminess that really enhances the flavour. The smoothness also stops it from becoming over bearing. Even after my taste buds had acclimatized I found each sip never lost its initial intensity.

Final Impressions

This is a stout with a wealth of flavour, easy to drink despite its high alcohol content but rich enough that you’ll want to take your time. Sierra Nevada have created a genuinely impressive imperial – a great beer to start the night on, or to close an evening off in style. Easily one of the best I’ve tasted and definitely one I’ll be picking up again.

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Dave Cooney September 2016

James Brown Brews – Chocolate Orange Stout – 5% ABV

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I am a consumer. From time to time I buy things, but more often than not, I am sold them. I can be overtly, covertly or even accidentally sold just about anything. I heard about this beer back when it was announced that it had won the Beoir Champion Beer of Ireland 2015 award, and it instantly appealed to me.

My brain started to put it on a pedestal, and everything I read about it exalted it further.

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To say that my expectations were raised would be an understatement. I rarely buy more than one of any beer at a time, and I went as far as to DOUBLE that number with this beer. How could it possibly go wrong? Chocolate. Orange. Stout. The trifecta. A triple threat. The Holy Trinity.

First Impressions:

When I opened the first bottle, I wrote a lot of cruel notes. The last time I remember being quite so disappointed, I was about 6 years old. My mother had bought a food processor and my brother had a great idea. He mixed cooking chocolate and mandarins. Orange Chocolate was misrepresenting what he offered me, and over 20 years later, I went through the same heartache. Fool me once…

Aside from my dismay, it looked great – black with a thick tan head.

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Second Impressions:

The second bottle sat in the back of my fridge for weeks, serving as a warning that over investment can sometimes leave you with toxic assets. About a month after the initial anti-climax, I went for the second bottle. I felt like a scorned lover going back for more.

As you can imagine, with lowered expectations, I started to realise how melodramatic I had been up to this point. I still couldn’t taste any orange in the beer but there are some chocolate notes. It is well carbonated, but has a bit of a strange mouthfeel. If it was put in front of you with no preamble, I think you would enjoy it.

It certainly doesn’t evoke Chocolate Orange for me in the way that Galway Bay Buried At Sea Milk Chocolate Stout evokes Milk Chocolate.

Final Impressions:

I am clearly an outlier on the opinion market with this beer. It is an award winner, and it is a huge achievement for James Brown, who will certainly play a huge part in shaping the future of the Irish Craft Beer scene.

I think if I had been sold this beer as something like “Pilot Stout” or “Papa’s Got A Brand New Stout”, I would have been pleasantly surprised by it. I still don’t think I would be saying that it reminds me of chocolate orange, or even oranges, but we can never know!

Irish Craft Beer Festival 2015

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The Irish Craft Beer Festival 2015 happened this weekend, and it was a great exhibition of Irish beers and ciders.

There were a few non-Irish contributors, and a handful of spirits were on show too. A full list of participants is available here!

This was a great chance for Brewers to show their fans the specialties that they are able to pull off, and also show their core range to anyone who may not have had the chance to test their wares before.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I only had the time to visit the festival on the Friday evening, and as I approached I was afraid that I might spend half the night queuing! Luckily it was very well organised. There was a man holding what looked like a few months wages directing people to the appropriate queue, the other for tickets and his for cash.

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After 5 or 6 minutes of queuing, I am inside, and am instantly offered a map and a choice. You can have a shaker style glass for free or a tulip style glass for EUR 2, both branded with the festival logo. I am a terrible multi-tasker, and invest too much time and consideration into the choice. I successful make a choice I regret and forget the map. This failure led to a nice 15 minute stroll of the venue trying to find the money changers so that I could fill my glass!

I gave up, and asked a friendly looking man with a beer (he couldn’t have that beer if he didn’t know the solution). He pointed me in the right direction and said that he had had the exact same struggle.

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I walked right by the token sellers about 4 times previously, in spite of the fact that they were just inside the door. The horde of people marked by the line FIG A are the token queue. Many of them were holding beers and chatting, so I can’t be a complete fool for not figuring this one out. This was however the longest line of people inside the venue so I should have known that there was something good at the end of it.

FIG B is where there wasn’t a sign saying “TOKENS”, and FIG C is the sign which gave a little information on tokens.

SECOND IMPRESSIONS

Armed with “Beer Bucks”, I ventured through the festival. The choice was really astounding, and the atmosphere was electric. The music was perfect, not so loud that it was detracting from the general buzz.

In fairness to the festival organisers, the token system worked great. There is no minimum purchase, and every time I went to get a drink, it cost only one token, which was really perfect. There was no real transactions. A couple of times that I got high ABV beers, I expected to need to pay 2 tokens, but the glasses had a 1/3 pint mark, and were a half pint filled to the brim, so the dispenser could give you the appropriate amount.

There was plenty of different styles to try – IPAs, Stouts, Imperial Stouts, beers with randles, coffee injections, casked beers, sour beers, lagers. Still a man-sans-map, I was occasionally dependent on fellow festival goers for directions, and the directions nearly always came with a beer suggestion.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS

A festival on this scale is very difficult to put in place, and it is a testament to the brewers, the patrons and the organisers that it was such a success. The sheer volume of people in attendance over the three days just goes to show how vital a part of modern Irish culture the craft beer industry has become.

The passion was evident from everyone involved, and I am already excited for 2016!

 

Token Article

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Tokens have many benefits when it comes to a beer festival. Brewers don’t have to delve into the dirty world of cash handling, there are no complicated change arrangements, and all transactions are simplified.

My understanding of the relationship between money and beer becomes very unusual when tokening becomes involved, for three main reasons:

  1. I’ve already spent the money by the time I exchange tokens for beer, so the beer feels free.
  2. The ratio of real money to festival tokens is always fractionalised, which gives me an almost holiday-esque feeling. “Oh, one token is 5/4 euros? And you are giving me 11 imperial ounces at the half pint rate of 3 tokens? So how many apples does Mary have?” The day after the festival when you are working out your proxy-money spending against your real life spending, it feels a lot like coming back from a trip to London and realising that you just don’t get exchange rates.
  3. If there is a minimum purchase on tokens, it is like getting stuck in rounds with your parallel self. If there is no minimum spend, your unwillingness to queue frequently may cause you to buy more than you need. Tokens are easy to carry, and easier to spend.

The main advantage of the token is its drawback. It is very easily separated from real money, but it is more like a foreign currency. People have seen advantages to closed, private currency based transactions for a long time, requiring special money for special occasions. There is good money in changing money! Jesus was said to be so disgusted by the practice that he turned over tables – and he was known to be fairly laid back about most things.