2020 – good riddance ya filthy animal

2020 – good riddance ya filthy animal

So 2020 eh? What a year that was! Looking back to January, now seems like such a long time ago. Personally speaking for me, it was a new job in the new year, and sadly it wasn’t what I expected, and took the not to easy decision to move on from it after just under 3 months. Little did I think that Covid 19 would have such an effect on both my job hunting and of course our way of living.

It’s not my intention to write this post as a lament of 2020, but more so to highlight how it makes you grateful for the little things. Things we took for granted during our everyday lives, in the pursuit of professional and personal satisfaction. Yes. It would be remiss to say that 2020 wasn’t without its challenges, but I would like to think there has been some learning gleaned from it all.

It didn’t seem like I was out of the work force for too long, I picked up work in Logistics thanks to my Dad, a truly temporary gig, but it kept the lights on, even though it meant being in the UK three days a week doing the long run down from Holyhead to London Heathrow. This job allowed me a full reset and consider where I was going, and what I wanted professionally. It also allowed me to bring home copious amounts of Keller Pils.

Opportunity comes from the strangest places. It wasn’t long before I was having conversations with my new employers, the dance so to speak, and after a few zooms the deal was done. I’ve been there just over 6 months now, and it honestly has been like a breath of fresh air for me. It’s also helped me with my ennui, professionally, and to a certain extent beer.

Obviously the loss of keg volume has been catastrophic due to the continual lock down pretty much of hospitality, as well as loss of exports as much of Europe went into lock down. We’ve seen a massive pivot to small pack, cans especially, and also mini kegs from most breweries, but is it enough to keep the lights on? Some brewers embraced the B2C model, of engaging directly with their end customer, others kept the B2B model they’d worked with before, and in many cases for a long time. Some did a hybrid. From chatting to one or two brewers there was a huge demand earlier in the year while the weather was great and that people were stuck at home, and it went through peaks and troughs then for the rest of the year. But it was refreshing to see them up their game across the spectrum.

I thought the horse meat scandal a few years would have highlighted the need to know the provenance of what we’re buying. However, this was different, you weren’t able to travel far for food, so it put a renewed focus on local. We saw breweries across the country brew up different styles, sell multipacks and keep things ticking over. We saw one brewer become an off licence selling beer nationwide. Crisis breeds ingenuity.

Is 2020 the year that independent, small breweries finally make that breakthrough to mainstream consumers?

Anyhow, here’s a brief look back at some of my beery highlights of the year, in an abridged version of golden pints.

Beer of the Year 2020

Crushability, drinkability, flavour, sessionability, plus the fact that I bought loads of it, it has to be Ace of Haze by Black’s Brewery in Kinsale.

Honourable mentions to Four Provinces Dark Mild, Stone Barrel / Third Circle Conglomerate Centurion, Hope Beer Seasonal Red IPA.

Brewery of the Year

Third Circle / Stone Barrel / Third Barrel of Bluebell. I’ve bought a few cases of beer from them over the year, the quality and variety of their beers has shone to the fore. It also helps that they’re a sound bunch of lads too. Definitely doesn’t hurt they’re only 10 minutes from my office! My brewery of the year

Honourable mentions to Hope Beer, Blacks, Kinnegar and Whiplash.

Best Pub

Not that we’d been out a load of times this year, but I’ve popped into 57 The Headline for takeaway beers, or got them delivered. But for that brief period we could go out an visit, we had a lovely sunday lunch back in September, felt really safe, and the food was delish! Only needed a few Yorkshire puddings too.

Locally, we visited Larry & Nora’s and had a lovely dinner in the beer garden, they also serve Bru on draught which is a nice bonus too with some tasty food. We also visited Cross Guns Gastro Pub on the outskirts of Navan, for a lovely dinner. They also serve Bru in Bottles.

Best Off Licence (Bricks and Mortar)

Given the restrictions this year, we’re not blessed in Navan with a great variety of off licences, only really O’Brien’s carry any kind of range, so the majority of my spending this year was with The Winehouse in Trim. Roddy runs a lovely off licence, his staff are super helpful, and they have a great range of beers, wines and spirits. The range of beers mightn’t be as wide as others, but the range is always turning over, to ensure you’re getting fresh beer.

Best Online Off Licence

I can’t really award this to one over the other, having also ordered direct from breweries, we generally got most of our beer from the aforementioned Winehouse in Trim. However, kudos to Craft Central, Beer Cloud, and Martins of Fairview who all shipped us beer promptly and safely during the height of lockdown. They’re all doing a great job.

Best Beer Twitterer

I have to give this to Brian of Craic Beer Community. Brian started doing virtual beer festivals, with a curated box during the height of lockdown. Working so close with Beer Cloud made for a great event. He’s also started doing mystery beer tastings with Craft Central. But most importantly, he’s helping curate a community that has participants joining from outside the bubble, and this is what we need, to spread and champion our local producers. Fair play Brian.

Best Beer Blog

This has to go to The Beer Nut, I know the boak and bailey nod means a lot more, but John’s posts have been comforting in their business as usual with feck all pandemic talk. We were delighted to have John join us on a recent podcast where we discussed the merits of canned rheinbacher versus bottles.

Best Brewery Social Media

I’ve said it before, and i’ll say it again, I just love the Instagram feed of Ballykilcavan, it’s just gorgeously curated, and you feel like you’re truly joining David and his family on their journey of being a functioning barley growing farm to a working farm with a brewery on site.

Best Podcast

Ours! No no, I kid. You all know i’m a huge fan of Martin & Steve on Hopinions, but i’m going to give the nod to Eoin & DJ of The Snugcast who we had the pleasure of being on earlier this year. We had such a hoot, and the post session pints were awesome. But what swung it for me was their amazing Candemic Series. Well done lads and really looking forward to your output in 2021.

Over the next few months we are looking forward to bringing some new content to you via the podcast and the blog.

Gifts for the beverage lover in your life

Gifts for the beverage lover in your life

It’s a little bit late in the year for new years resolutions but i’ve got some great intentions to do some wonderful things with these pages here, and to kickstart this, i’m going to post a list of some suggestions for festive presents for people, but these don’t just have to be for Christmas, they could be a gift for any occasion.

2020 has been a strange year, due to Covid 19 our lives have changed, whether or not this is permanent will remain to be seen, but one green shoot of hope i’ve seen is there seems to be a very conscious effort to support local based businesses rather than large multinational conglomerates. There is no denying we will ultimately end up spending some money in these places, but if we choose to spend more locally it is simply money that stays in the local economy.

I’m a fan of twitter threads as being a good source of information, so people can reply with their suggestions, but the gifts below are some of the more stand out ideas i’ve seen.

Yellowbelly Beer Pack & Card Game

Ever the innovators, Wexford’s own Yellowbelly have designed a card game, in a gift pack with four of their beers, for the princely sum of €24.00. This would make a great stocking filler, and the game is a great way to kill the time. You can get them here, hurry though as this is a limited edition with only 100 packs available.

Beer Merch and Clothing

Many of the breweries have online stores now that sell their own merchandise, so start with seeking out your favourite brewery. However, there are a couple more bespoke and smaller folk like Irish Craft Tees and Craftgeek.co. On the brewery side, Kinnegar and Hope have some great merch available.

Trying something new

As a craft beer drinker, I’m always seeking out new things to try, so in the spirit of trying new things don’t limit yourself to Beer based presents this Christmas, there are some wonderful other great beverages being made here in Ireland. Here are just a few of the many on offer that I think would make a good gift.

I remember being at an event in the Irish Embassy in London a few years ago, and trying Kinsale Mead for the first time. They’ve got some lovely gift packs on their website plus vouchers for future guided online tastings. Check them out here

Fancy trying some ciders? Well you’d not go wrong with Legacy Cider’s gift packs, featuring a mulled Cider. Which is a treat and lovely alternative to mulled wine.

Gift packs, Beer Advent Calendars & Hampers

Nearly all the online stores now do a beer advent calendar, so you can choose from Craft Beers Delivered, The Beer Club, Martins Fairview and they’ll ship a box of beers to you to enjoy over December.

picture courtesy of Bru

Brewery wise, The White Hag and Rascals have both put together some great beer boxes for the festive gift. If you’re a hot sauce lover, make sure to check out Brennans beer and chilli sauce set. I couldn’t forget my local brewery, who have two great options available, Hoppy Christmas, and Jingle Bru – I can attest to the new pint glasses, they are brilliant! Speaking of glassware don’t forget Wicklow Legends O’Brother Brewing have a wonderful range of branded glasses on their webshop

Make no mistake there will be a lot of packs available too in your local independent off licence that sells good beer.

I know this isn’t an exhaustive list, but It should provide some inspiration for you, failing all of that, if you go into an off licence, the staff there will be more than happy to help you put together a bespoke personally selected gift.

Dead Centre Brewing – Athlone

Dead Centre Brewing – Athlone

Following on from our Podcast that we recorded with Liam Tutty of Dead Centre back in February 2018, we took the opportunity, on a gloriously hot sunny summers day to fly down the N6 and visit the taproom. Now that it was up and running as we’d sadly missed the opening party.

Housed in the former home of The Ritz restaurant, set on the banks of The Shannon, we were excited to get down and try some of the beers on show, but also to try the pizzas that we’d been hearing great things from members of the Midlands Beer Club and other folks who’d been to visit before us

After an obligatory visit to Seans Bar for a sneaky drink waiting for Dead Centre to open, and walk around Athlone for a little while.

The last time we were down here the site was literally a shell, remnants of the former establishment were everywhere. We could see the potential, but undoubtedly there was going to be a lot of work needed to bring Liam’s vision to life. I’m more than happy to say that the work done has been striking, the transformation is fantastic. From the walk in, the venue is instantly welcoming.

The space is flexible, and can be used for many different functions. Everything from parties, to weddings, and even business meetings.

You walk past the brewhouse on your way into the bar area, the glass walls certainly were worth the investment, as they allow unrestricted viewing into the brewing area.

Making your way into the main area the bar has plenty of local and international beers. Also, it must be said a guinness and carlsberg taps, to make this place inclusive for all. There were also a nice range of spirits and wines too.

We ordered a couple of beers and made our way out on to the deck which hangs over the river, a stunning setting, and undoubtedly a suntrap. Glad I had some suncream on the noggin.

We looked over the menu, and decided a Pizza each would be the job, I went with the “I can’t pronounce it” which had Nduja, Salami, Jalapeno, and Basil. Janice went for the “Baby Goats Back” which was topped with Goat’s Cheese, sun dried tomatoes, olive, rocket and parmesan. Of course there was Garlic Mayo to dip the crust into as well. Needless to say, the pizza’s were only absolutely delicious. Some of the best we’ve had in Ireland for sure. Since our visit they’ve extended the menu out, including some very tasty sounding paninos for lunch. You can drool over the menu here. We’re looking forward to going back down.


After eating, we had another drink, and made our way. The bill in total was €43.00. The space has been decorated and laid out well. Including several instagrammable areas which includes the label wall of all the beers they’ve had since opening. A pretty cool collage. We wish Liam and all the team all the best, as it’s a truly unique taproom experience, and great to see some imagination brought to the sector. Sláinte

You can find out more about Dead Centre here, and if you use Untappd, their beer list is live on that.

48 Hours in Waterford

48 Hours in Waterford

Late in the summer, we decided to go down to Waterford for a couple of nights, I hadn’t been down myself in easily 15 years, and Mrs Beer Snob maybe about 10 years. Only about 2 and a half hours from Navan thanks to the motorway network.

We stayed in the Waterford Marina Hotel, we got down there a little early to check in, so given it was a lovely day we decided to drive out to Dunmore East which to say was absolutely stunning in the late summer sun. We walked from our parked car down to the harbour and saw lots of kids enjoying an obstacle course. I really regret not jumping in myself! After a little while exploring we decided to have a pint in Powers Bar, a traditional pub, and pleasing to see there was Metalman on tap.

From there we made our way back into the city armed with a desire for some seafood we headed to The Reg for the seafood platter for Two. Washed down with Metalman Pale Ale, this was an extremely tasty bite after hearing one or two mixed reviews, we were very happy with the food on their sun terrace. €32 for the platter was very good value in my opinion.

After that we went exploring the streets, as  Waterford Walls event was on, and dotted around the city there were gable ends, and walls painted with excellent pieces of art.

We made our way down to Tullys, long recommended, and very good recommendation. In Tullys we’d a couple of lovely scoops, 12 Acres Make Hay and Metalman Tiptango where we met Yellowbelly’s very own Declan Nixon for a jar.

We’d also been recommended a visit to J & K Walsh‘s which was an old grocer shop but has been lovingly maintained to retain it’s old world feel. A place to go to drink Guinness, which is served in a Tankard, do not miss this spot if you’re down in Waterford

From there we walked out passed the Applemarket area where there are quite a lot of bars that look pretty lively, but we walked on passed, and visited Grady’s Yard, which is the bar owned by Yellowbelly, we visited both days the Monday evening was pretty quiet, which isn’t unusual, but when we visited again on the Tuesday, they were hosting a board game evening and there was a good crowd in there where we bumped into Will Avery and Mark Nixon from Loughran Family Malts. Our only regret was we came down when the kitchen was closed, as the food that is on instagram, is totally drool worthy.

Handily enough, Grady’s yard is only a short walk to Phil Grimes bar, which looks like , dare I say, a normal pub from the outside, not an obvious den of great beers on draught. With what I have to say, the friendliest owner i’ve come across in many years. Tom is a breath of fresh air, again on the Monday it was quiet, so we had his undivided attention as we supped a few beers before we went off to bed. We were chatting about doing the Waterford Greeenway however, not having as much mileage over the summer on our bikes as we’d have liked we were very much on the fence, plus the weather was forecast to be grey, rainy, and not as nice as the Monday. This is when Tom’s extensive local knowledge, led to him recommending that we do the Copper Coast Drive which was a great substitute for the greenway itself, where there were some absolutely stunning sea views, and coves along the way, as we went to Dungarvan, but we also went up to Mahon Falls, and even found a magic road! Waterford, you have a gem in Phil Grimes, and Tom couldn’t have made us feel more welcome. Sláinte Tom 🍻

On our second day, we visited Dungarvan, via the Copper Coast Road, after a morning exploring some lovely hidden beaches we had built up a hunger and we popped into Merry’s Bar in Dungarvan for a spot of lunch before popping to Dungarvan Brewery to see Claire and Cormac. It was great to catch up with Claire and to find out how things were going as we’d not seen them in a while. It was interesting to hear that most of their beer is sold locally which after all what this is all about.

After getting back to Waterford we went for a lovely dinner in the Bodega restaurant, and visit Grady’s Yard and Grime’s again before going back to our hotel for a nightcap, where the night porter was also one heck of a friendly man who had no issues pouring us Gin and Tonics in the small hours, while telling us about Waterford’s history.

One the way home we popped in to see Grainne & Tim of Metalman and had a coffee with them while we had a look around their brewery which i’m sad to say we’d not been to before. They’ve a nice space quite close to the city centre, and echoing what Claire in Dungarvan was saying, most of their produce now goes locally which is great to hear

Waterford, I feel we only got to scratch the surface, but what and enjoyable couple of days.

Pearse Lyons Brewery – Dundalk

Pearse Lyons Brewery – Dundalk

Dundalk, County Louth, in the North East of Ireland, is a town with a proud brewing heritage. The historic home of the Harp Brewery, and MacArdle Moore, two famous Irish Brands. Sadly, those breweries are now no longer operational, both acquired by Guinness, and closed by Diageo a number of years ago. However, in the waste not want not way of life, both sites are being reborn with a new purpose.

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The old Harp brewery is now home to the Great Northern Distillery, ran by titan of Irish Whiskey, John Teeling, who’s children run the internationally renowned Teeling Distillery, in Newmarket Sq, Dublin. However, it’s the old MacArdle Moore site I was visiting this Friday morning.

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image from Talkofthetown.ie

Stationworks brewery as it was formerly known, used to be located in Newry, in Northern Ireland, with a satellite brewery in Cumbria. Stationworks was acquired by Alltech, a number of years ago.

They currently produce beer for Aldi, under The Brown Bear brand. They also produe under Stationworks Beer, Finns, and The Foxes Rock.

The late Dr Pearse Lyons, founder of Alltech, started out as a brewer, before moving into agri science. He was a proud Dundalk man, and wanted to get a brewery up and running in his homeland, after the successful establishment of Lexington Brewing & Distilling in Kentucky. Sadly, he didn’t get to see his dream realised of returning brewing to Dundalk, but Stationworks, was renamed the Pearse Lyons Brewery in his honour following his passing in 2018. Initially, something of a pet project for Dr Lyons, the business is part of Alltech Beverages, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the larger Alltech group. Despite belonging to a larger family this brewery has to stand on its own two feet.

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Long time friend Dave Guilfoyle was the lucky chap showing me around after i’d gotten an invite from John O’Brien. I’m sure Dave was happy of the distraction from the end of quarterly paperwork that was due. In truth, it’s a massive space. The MacArdle Moore brewery was massive, infact, most of the old buildings have been repurposed into a business park, with a wide mix of businesses in attendance. There are nods to the site’s brewing history, with the brewhouse old control panel visible, and maltings. Along with the rows of terrace houses which would have housed workers, much like the liberties and Guinness back in the day. The old master brewer’s house was literally 200 years away, so back then, if anything went wrong, they’d to answer the call. I don’t think that’s a perk for Dave at the moment.

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The 100Hl brewhouse, which is fully automated with the exception of additions of hops, and speciality grains, is a feat of engineering in itself. German engineering. All sampling points on ground level, and you can see deep into the brewhouse vessels from the raised brewing platforms. The brewhouse is located in what used to be the packaging area of MacArdle Moore, so there is plenty of space to grow.

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A recent addition, is the pilot kit, which allows the brewers to take off the shackles of production brewing and have a little bit of fun under a new name, “Clocked Off”

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Expect to see much more of that in the future. With Brewmaster brewing now operating in Dundalk also, it’s great to see some of Dundalk’s brewing heritage return, and hopefully it goes from strength to strength.

 

 

 

 

London Calling, Irlande Douze Points

London Calling, Irlande Douze Points

So, it’s been a long first quarter of the year, upheaval in the day job, have loads of days carried over from the year before. You decide to take a week off. What do you do?

Well, I had opted to play some golf, but the weather was horrendous, spring had most definitely not sprung the week commencing 26th of March. But there was a highlight there, after snagging the most ridiculously cheap Ryanair flights, I was going to fly over to London for the night. Now I’ll admit, the main reason was that I was finally able to accept the invitation from Bord Bia to their Annual Spirit of Sharing event that takes place in the Irish Embassy. It also afforded me the chance to catch up with my good friends, Steve and Martin from Hopinions Podcast 

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picture of Steve, Martin and I, courtesy of Bord Bia

It all got off to an inauspicious start, the customary pint of Galway Hooker in the Marqette bar in T1 was quaffed with ruthless precision. However I fell into the sheep trap that is the Ryanair queueing system. The plane wasn’t even in yet. Yet, we queued. I himmed and hawed about getting a bacon butty from the café near the gate. A decision I would later regret. The plan was late in, and we were boarding after our scheduled departure time. My itinerary in London was going to have to be curtailed somewhat. What then transpired was a delay of 2 hours 55 minutes, under that crucial compensation threshold of 3 hours, before we left due to a minor technical problem. This meant I had to take an axe to my planned route, and concentrate on one area that gave the greatest bang for its buck.

I decided on Stratford, it’s an easy to reach part of London from Stansted Airport, just jump on the express train, and change at Tottenham Hale. My good friend Francesca (of Five Points) had helpfully suggested I visit Mason & Co for a pint and lunch. Which I readily did. Being midweek seemed an ideal time to visit without the crowds at the weekend the bar itself, is by the canal not far from the Olympic Stadium, now home to West Ham. It was easy to imagine this place during the summertime where people will sprawl all over the grassy banks enjoying one of the many fine beers on display. I opted with a Five Points Unfiltered Pils, needless to say after the walk, it barely touched the sides. It was lovely and crisp, with an earthy noble hop character that made me order one more.

Capish? Provide the food at Mason & Co, and I was not disappointed with the Chicken Parm (again thanks Chess) with a side of pizza fries. Fries with a tomato sauce, and melted provolone cheese and herbs. Here I got chatting to the friendly bar person, and fellow beer blogger and marketing & events manager Rebecca. Who it turns out is actually from Ireland via Canada, and now settled in London.

From here I wandered the short walk along the canal with a can of West Coast Dank the collab between Lervig & Boneyard, towards the new Beer Merchant’s Tap in Hackney Wick. It was a warm day and the beer was delicious as I wondered along, taking in the numerous barges and street art on the way.

 

The Beer Merchant’s tap is a lovely space, with huge room for outdoor seating and indoors a phalanx of fridges contains bottles of all varieties. It was great to see such a choice and of course a wide range of beers from the taps and cask. I will admit, I was a little underwhelmed, having expecting much more juice on the taps than there was. Death by Northern Monk was there, however, it was far too early for an impy stout, so I went with Sharpshooter by Lost & Grounded, a lovely light refreshing sour ale. Checking the time, I had one and left to meet with Steve over at the Irish Embassy. I would have liked to have some more time, but there is always next time.

Now the serious business; While Brexit is a huge challenge for the people of the UK, it also represents a huge challenge to the many food producers who count the UK as a target market. Despite the uncertainty regarding the future relationship with the UK, it makes sense as our nearest trading partner to continue to forge ahead with potential business. The Spirit of Sharing event brings together many of the new distillers of white spirits, whiskey, and of course craft beer and cider. It was a first taste of many of the whiskeys for me, but I was very familiar with the brewers who were in attendance. Yet again the Hope Flat White Stout was a knockout, as well as the Imperial Stout by Boyne Brewhouse. 

Blacks Brewery from Kinsale, Co Cork,  were there, and we absolutely love Sam & Maud, it’s great to see they were there not only with their range of beers, but also their own gin, and new to market rum.

The ambassador was ejected from his office for the proceedings, but it was an honour to be in the Irish Embassy in London and see all of these producers, some new to me, and some i’d come across. Everything from Mead to Gin, Rum and Whiskey. Ireland is truly embracing it’s growing reputation on the international stage as a drinks producer, long known as an exceptional dairy, meat and seafood producer, drinks now taking up the slack and growing in leaps and bounds. Irish Whiskey is one of the fastest growing categories for export and sales world wide. Easy to see why there are so many fantastic producers, and more to come on stream over the coming years.

The food on the night was all Irish in origin, and was very tasty. Especially those black pudding bruschetta. There was a lovely touch with the bespoke cocktail bars, that made you a cocktail based on your taste. Needless to say there was some great concoctions being made.

I’d like to thank Bord Bia, not only for the invite (hopefully we can both go next year) but the hard work they do around the world promoting Irish food and drink. There is a real passion among the people I met on the evening and have met during the course of writing this blog over the years. Keep up the good work folks. My only fear is eventually this event will outgrow the Ambassador’s office. Next stop Earls Court? Who knows. Sláinte.