#ShowUsYourLocal – Smyth’s on the Square Navan, Co. Meath, Ireland

Firstly, what is #ShowUsYourLocal, it’s a campaign started by Jamie Oliver’s Drinktube, which is an extremely popular channel on Youtube. I’m delighted they’ve asked me to join in. So here’s a little video to give you an idea of what it’s all about.

Well, I’m not going to do a video, as I lack those skills, but I am going to tell you about my local, and what I love about it.

I’ve chosen Smyth’s on the Square, in Navan. Navan is my hometown, situated approximately 30 miles to the northwest of Dublin. Navan itself is a large enough town with a population of 30,000, and would be a commuter town as it is within striking distance of Dublin. The craft beer side of things has been slow to come, but Smyth’s has always been the exception to that.
Now Smyth’s is very much a local’s pub. A pub that is entrenched in the psyche of the town. Firstly its got a great hidden beer garden that’s a blast on a summers day, regular open mic nights, and games of pool and darts. They’ve been known to even host beer festivals during the summers.

The landlord / owner Arthur has taken over the helm from his dad, and is running this place in his own way. He is a huge supporter for our Local beer and cider makers making sure to stock their products, but he’s also hugely passionate about good beers too. He is also gracious enough to host my local homebrew clubs meetings. Something which sets him apart from every other publican in my hometown. 

Don’t let the narrow entrance to the side of the off licence put you off, you’re stepping into what I would describe as the archetypal genuine Irish pub experience. The landlord and the staff know your name, and they know your regular tipple. And any man who shares a bottle of Black Ops by Brooklyn Brewery with you after a successful beer festival is top notch in my book.

So if you ever find yourself in Navan, make sure to hit up Smyth’s on the Square, right next to Bank of Ireland and a huge bull statue on the towns old Market Square.

Tell us about your local, in the comments below, by twitter, facebook, or youtube. Make sure you use the hashtag #ShowUsYourLocal

Monthly Beer Club – Beer 52.com

One of the perks from being at the European Beer Bloggers conference recently was that attendees were able to claim a free box of beer from www.beer52.com 

Now, Beer52 is a company based in the UK and the premise is rather simple. In exchange for a subscription of £24 they will ship you 8 beers, along with a colour guide for each beer, this months subscribers also got some tortillas but that doesn’t happen all the time. They use only small brewers, which makes the offerings quite unique.

I was wondering if they offered shipping direct to ROI, which at this time, they currently don’t, however there is a way to do it. It worked for me perfectly, but I think one or two people were getting their orders cancelled. Basically to get them shipped to you here you will need to use www.parcelmotel.com as the shipping address. Yes it will add €4 to your costs, but you’re more than likely going to get beers that will not be available here.

I’ve checked with Siobhan in Beer52 and they are happy for Irish customers to use Parcel Motel for shipping until they get sorted out.

Naturally too my UK based readers can join up and not fuss around with Parcel Motel or the like, the code is good for you too.

As an added bonus, readers of my blog will also get £10 off their first order, to avail of this just use the code BEERSNOB10 when placing your order. 

Now as to the package itself, there are 7 beers in the 8 there i’ve not had before and I look forward to trying them each individually. There is a great booklet which gives info on the beers and breweries. I was very impressed with it. The package was well packaged with no breakages to worry about. 

European Beer Bloggers Conference – Day One

Now in it’s fourth year the European Beer Bloggers Conference came to Dublin last weekend for the first time. Following on from a successful event last year in Edinburgh, Dublin had big shoes to follow.

Dublin is undergoing a craft beer revolution at the moment and it was going to be interesting to see what foreign visitors from the UK, Europe and the USA thought of it.

The Thursday evening pub crawl was arranged by Reuben Gray who had a major part in getting the conference to Dublin this year, and this highlighted the best craft beer bars Dublin has to offer. Ian (11pm Somewhere Podcast) and I arranged to meet early to film a pre conference hangout, the videos are below. We were joined by Carol Dekkers from Tampa Florida, Eric & Flo of Brewsweplate and Brian of Irish Craft Beer Show. 

So along comes Friday and conference proper. The advice was to eat before we arrived as there was a trade show displaying the best of Irish brewing before events kicked off at 2pm. I could think of no better place than the Ugly Duckling Cafe in the Epicurean Food Hall. I went with the McWurly, which is a battered beef burger in a bun with cheese and salad. Accompanied with a side of chips. This set me up for the day. 

From here we made our way to the Church Bar, which used to be a Church funnily enough given the name. Arthur Guinness even got married there. Where we registered and made our way through the samples. It was great to see some of the newer brewers there especially Black Donkey Brewing who really came with a great farmhouse ale called “Sheep Stealer” (Review to follow) There were some other great beers including the Honey IPA by Sharps, the Big Brown Bear by Trouble Brewing and N17’s famous Rye Ale. 

The events kicked off with a history of brewing in Ireland which was fascinating to learn that it goes back thousands of years. Though it would explain a lot. Which lead onto a great discussion on the merits of Cask vs Keg, and Can vs Bottle. I expected this to get a bit heated, however it was a well delivered presentation which I think covered all the pros and cons in a balanced way but ultimately there are some styles that aren’t suited to certain packaging. There then the last talk for the afternoon which had a panel discussion with Sarah of N17, Cathal of Rascals, and Paul from Trouble Brewing. A wide range discussed, including the topical pricing issues. I think Sarah summed it up best when she said as a brewer she wants to “keep it in the hands of the people!”

From here we had a break before the big festivities of the evening, Dinner in St James’ Gate hosted by Guinness, and the legendary Pilsner Urquell party. Taking the opportunity a few of us recently acquainted bloggers went to the Norseman to try the Kinsale Pale Ale which was pouring through a Randall. We caught up with the group as they continued along Fishamble St on the Way to St James’ Gate. 

I’m going to leave this post here, as I feel the Guinness event and Pilsner Urquell event really deserve a lot more detail. 

All in all, Day 1 was a fun day. Met some really interesting people, Sarah, Sean, Richard and Carol. The craic was mighty all day. We had some fantastic drinks. And it meant the second day was also going to be great. 

Price of Craft Beer – Are craft beer drinkers being taken advantage of?

Something has been troubling me for a while now. It is undoubtedly a great time in the Irish Craft Beer scene, many new entrants, and more to come. Obviously there are a lot of passionate people out there making great beers, but there is something that has been gnawing at me for a while. The price of the actual beer in the pubs we frequent. 

In these austere times people are looking for value, and craft beer has benefited from this change in consumer trends, where people will happily buy an artisan product for a little bit more for an undoubted step up in flavour from a macro beer. There is also an element of the green flag in supporting the Irish producers. However there seem to be more and more examples of pricing that can only be described as eye watering.

While it is a positive to see on the one hand publicans traditionally in neck deep with the Heineageo duopoly taking on Irish Craft Beer, and international craft beer. It is going to be more damaging in the long term in my opinion if a large premium above a macro beer on a craft beer. It seems to be a token effort.

Galway Hooker is a fine beer – but, €6.70 for a bottle? Granted a 500ml bottle but even so. 

Now in an ideal world we’d all be holding hands singing kumbaya, drinking loads of craft beer, but that is a bit much considering a pint of heineken in the same establishment is a good euro less. 

But let’s face it brewers don’t start brewing just for the hell of it. They are setting up a business where their aim is to make money. They sell their beer at a set price to the publican direct or through a distributor. They hold no control over the price it is sold at in the off license or pub. Who also need a margin to make their profit and cover their costs. That is how capitalism works.

However, in this fledgling industry, the common joe soap is not going to be swayed by a story of two people who gave up careers in x and y to brew beer. Oh btw its an extra €1.50 a go. The story alone is not enough to justify to these consumers to take the plunge and buy a proper Irish beer. The problem itself isn’t unique to Ireland, or even consumers here’s a tweet I came across the other day.

The facts remain, less than 3% of the Irish beverage market is craft beer, it is growing at a great rate, but the long term viability on the industry is contingent on more craft beer being sold, and it would be naive of any new entrants to solely aim at this 3% there is 97% of the market to aim at. Higher prices will not grow this industry. It could however potentially harm it.

Yes I know American craft brewers have a much lower cost per unit than the cost per unit than in an Irish set up. The Excise rebate helps with that – and I doubt there are a huge amount of brewers charging publicans a large amount more on a keg than macro producers. 

There is one example i’ve been made aware of recently that highlights this. The brewer in question distributes through a distributor, they have a nationwide set price per unit. Every pub gets the same cost per case. The variance on the price of a bottle was from €4.70 to €8.50. I can imagine the feelings of this brewer when they heard that top end price – who is going to pay that? I also understand publicans in major urban centres have large over heads but when this particular beer was also available on draft for between €5.40 – €5.70 a pint within 10 minutes of the €8.50 price in the same large urban area – as a consumer you have to ask, is that value for money? I would argue that price for a pint versus 8 quid for a bottle is supremely better value for money. Maybe Mary Harney had a point when she said “to shop around”

To quote Sarah Roarty 

“It’s really important to keep beer in the hands of the people, not to gentrify it and make it so expensive that only high earners can afford the exclusive beverage” 

I think that sums it all up for me. 

I’d be interested to hear / read your thoughts, you can contact me on the twitter, or by email or comment below.

The 2nd Alltech Craft Beers & Brews Festival #alltechbrews Dublin February 2014

2014, it promises to be a great year for Craft Beer in Ireland, and the 1st major event in Ireland was the Alltech Brews and Food Festival at the magnificent Convention Centre Dublin. It is also confirmed that this even will return in 2015 bigger and better.

This was my first time, I missed the 2013 event, meaning I had no point of reference, but this wasn’t going to stop the enjoyment of it. Part festival, part conference there was a great blend with the conference sessions, The Pub Series which I attended and the Sensory Courses. 

This was truly an international event, I bumped into pub owners from around the world, and perhaps more surprisingly there were a lot of Irish Publicans here. Maybe the penny is dropping. There were some great speakers, Dr Pearse Lyons, President of Alltech gave a rousing and very inspiring talk before my friend Reuben Gray gave a talk to 300 eager to learn pub owners and managers. As you know Reuben is an avid blogger also, but he is currently the Chair of Beoir. 

The themes of the talks were of a broad but practical nature, simple things like if you have bottles and they can’t be easily seen, have a menu. I expect a lot of people took something from each of the speakers. One of the more interesting topics was when Dean McGuinness from Newstalk & Premier Beers gave his definition of Craft Beer. But for me one of the best was the panel that features some standout publicans from the Irish Craft Beer scene, Seaneen from L Mulligan Grocer, Jason from Galway Bay Brewery and Geoff from 57 The Headline. An open forum Q&A session where they told a very attentive audiences about their businesses and what works for them. 

Once the talks finished I went down to the main expo area which was really well laid out, and this time afforded me to the opportunity to speak to some great brewers from all corners. I particularly am thankful to Paddy from Windsor & Eton who talked alot about their beers, of which 2 feature in the 1001 Beers to Try Before you Die. I sampled the Republika Pilsener, and Conqueror 1075 Black IPA, both extraordinary beers, but I also enjoyed their Kohinoor, an east Indian Pale Ale with Cardamom, Coriander and Jasmine. I really hope someone picked them up for distribution to the ROI. 

In an Irish context there were some Irish Debutants here, we’d Rascals, N17, Independent Brewing, Stone Barrel. N17’s Oatmeal stout was sensational, as well as the Gold Winning Rascals Chocolate Ginger Porter. Both medallists in the Dublin Cup. The full list of winners is here, but the Irish Winners are here; A special well done to all the medal winners, but Ireland is once again punching above its weight in the international scene. Long may it continue.

The overall winner from Denmark, was the Coisbo No 4: A Small Batch Russian Imperial Stout, thankfully i’d sampled before the announcement and the resultant scrum. Not only that they’d a very interesting Pale Ale with Elderflower too. Really hope they’ll be in Ireland soon. Also I was very very impressed with Spain’s, Molta Birra Revolution IPA from Catalonia. 

But perhaps for me the story of the festival was the launch of N17, which has been launched by Sarah Roarty whose whole philosophy of total production means that even bye products such as the spent grain is repurposed into Granola, and Dog Biscuits. There are some oriental mushrooms to follow too. But not only did Sarah come to the show with a lovely Rye Ale, but also a fantastic Oatmeal stout, thankfully this was noticed by the judges and Sarah was awarded Bronze. For a Debut Beer, this was sensational! I also have the infamy of being the person who told her she’d won, while she was pulling a drink, it was a fantastic moment, and extremely well done. It must also be noted that Independent from Carroroe also won a medal on their festival debut.

We’re blessed with some fantastic food producers here in Ireland and they were well represented here, Ballymaloe, Ed Hick, Sheridans Cheeses, Carrigaline, Bretzel Bakery and many more. It was maybe a slight pity that there was only little morsels of these fabulous products available to us rather than say a Ed Hick Sausages on freshly baked Bretzel Bread? 

The atmosphere at the three evening sessions was fantastic, and kudos to the organisers for putting on a fantastic event. Can’t wait for next year already. Maeve, Tara, Ashling, Holly and Tracey were all fantastic and a credit to Alltech, the hospitality was fantasic. Thank you so much. 

Next Up for me, next weekend is The Winter Ale & Cask Festival @Franciscan Well Cork, then next month we have the Irish Craft Beer Fest in the CHQ Building in the IFSC.

Alltech International Craft Brews & Food Fair – Convention Centre Dublin February 6th – 8th

Now in its second year following on from the first festival which was during the summer 2013. This mix of trade fair, and beer festival is hopefully going to become on ongoing fixture in the calendar for years to come. 

There is going to be plenty for the trade, both publicans, and producers. There is also going to be plenty for the going public.

This year there is a large number of brewers here, with a majority from Ireland, there is a fleck of European and US brewers here too. A full list of these is here. Then there is a range of food producers here also; Good beer and Good food go hand in hand.

    The two public sessions are the Friday evening from 5pm, and the Saturday from 12pm. Tickets are €15 per day which include your admission, a souvenir glass and 4 free drinks. Great value if you ask me. On the Friday there is live music from Paddy Casey, and Saturday we have Hector presiding over the Grand Slam of Beer considering the 6 nations is on that weekend. Yes, the game is also being televised for all the Irish Rugby Fans out there. There are also some Sensory Lounges too.

    There is a conference aspect to this and i’m fortunate to have been invited to the Pub Series where there will be many speakers from various areas of the industry. For any publicans who are still undecided about whether to go or not there is plenty of time to still register by following this link

    All in all this promises to be a lot of fun, and I hope to meet some of my readers there. See you at the Convention Centre, go on, you know you want to. More info available from www.alltechbrewsandfood.com and @alltechbrews on twitter. Tickets can be purchased here via Entertainment.ie