Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Irish Craft In London - One Year On...

As we head into the early Spring, it's almost time to get up to speed with a new round of events featuring the best of the Irish Craft Beer Scene.

In 2016, the annual Bord Bia food and drink event served as an appetiser for what in my view, was the best beer festival run at The Rake, in Borough Market, where a handful of brewers from all over Ireland sent beers for a four-day festival, delighting drinkers unaware of the growing Irish scene, and contributing to a memorable St Patrick's Day when, even after the bar shut, ex-pats drawn by the craic turned the place into an Irish pub, and nobody wanted to go home.

Barleywine quality control
During my autumn visit to West Cork, I had a chance to visit a couple of brewers, and also attend to first ever Great Irish Beer Festival. I'd met Englishman Sam Black, of Black's of Kinsale, during that Rake event, and so, from Cork airport, I headed south to say 'hullo'. I caught the team getting ready to rack the first batch of the 2016 Vanilla Imperial Stout, and debating the dry-hopping of their first barleywine (I didn't get a vote, but said 'yes' anyway).

Meet Sam Black...
I was interested to see they were quick to the canning game, shipping beer north for packaging. Their delicious Hi-Viz double IPA had just been delivered; a juicy, refreshing beer that carried its 8.5% easily. I saw their taproom - a small shipping container tucked inside the corner of the main building, a cosy nook to sample Black's beers, and the products of their small distillery.

Next day, I did the tour at Killarney Brewing, I'd sampled beers from Torc, and noticed the SuperValu supermarket in Bantry had added Killarney beers to their impressive Irish craft range. The chain seems keen to support local artisanal producers, whatever they're making, so you can wash down local cheese from Durrus with beer from Ballyvourney.

Killarney's shiny BrauKon kit
Killarney is a story slow in the telling - located on the main N71 into the town centre, the owners set out in 2011 to build a brewery and visitor centre, recruited a brewer from the US who could make full use of quality local ingredients, principally the local water, and then had to wait for three frustrating years to get their beers to market. As they will tell visitors, a business plan devised when there was fewer than a dozen breweries in Ireland, makes things difficult when that market has five times that number, all jostling for shelf and bar space. Still, the beers were pretty solid, and they seemed able to sell most of their production into the local market, which is heavily dependent on tourism.

Phil and Sue Cullen
After a few days around Beara, it was back to Cork City, and the inaugural Great Irish Beer Fest, hosted at the City Hall. Most of the Cork breweries were in attendance, backed up with representation from all over the island of Ireland. I was finally able to meet Phil Cullen and wife Sue of Mountain Man Brewing. They were the first of the West Cork brewers, and the first 'local' beer I drank in Beara. I take a bit of credit for it being on the bar at Casey's Hotel in Glengarriff, after I'd been drinking it at Ma Murphy's in Bantry, and raved about it when I got back to Casey's. This being W Cork, a girl working in the hotel knew Phil, and so contact was made.

9 White Deer - Illuminating...
GIBF was a first try of Yellow Belly beers (a free comic strip with each) and some well-made and flavoursome sour beers. It was gratifying to see the range of styles on offer from all the brewers - beer made with kelp, big hoppy pale ales, wheat beers, saisons, farmhouse styles... I see the 2017 fest is at the end of August, so it looks like a weekend trip to Cork will be required.

Once again this year, the Irish Embassy hosts Bord Bia, and again they will showcase some new breweries, as well as a couple of old friends, and in the weeks leading up to March 17th, there'll be events in London featuring Irish craft, including, I hear, a collaboration between a poitin distiller and a brewery who made a big impression in London last year. Watch this space for more details...

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Brooklyn Comes To Dalston

Brooklyn Brewery are on the road again, taking their 'Mash' concept out to nine countries. This week, they've been in London, with events like a DIY dinner party, and, over two nights, the 'Beer Mansion'. I hadn't previously visited any of the formal Mash events in London, so this appeared to be a good time to go along and see what an 'immersive' beer experience looked like.

In a Dalston back street, into a courtyard with odd bits of shipping container, a sign perhaps that railway arches are becoming a bit passé. Handed a can of beer at the door, I thought, 'blimey, how will they get 500 people in here?' I wandered over to a chopped-off bit of container, and, seeing a staircase heading down, entered the rabbit-hole...

Moments later, I'm in a building reeking of Williamsburg re-purposing. A former commerial/industrial building with large workrooms which are now 'spaces', replete with reclaimed furniture and knick-knacks, supplemented with a range of props and branding from the brewery. A huge room featured bands and DJs, and finding more stairs, heading up to rooms themed for IPA, food and beer pairing, and, at the top (though not the very top) a space devoted to Brooklyn's barrel-ageing and 'Ghost Bottle' programme. Garrett Oliver is on the roof, apparently, though he did pop over to the barrel bar while I was there...
Miss Gabe Barry, testifyin'...

I spent a lot of the evening here, listening to Miss Gabe Barry, 'Beer Education & Community Adviser', perched Greg Koch-like on a bar top taking listeners through a sensory journey demonstrating the creative process for their aged and special beers. There can be up to 70 Ghost Beers in the mix for consideration as a new addition to the range each year, and these events seem ideal to put a few of them in front of informed and willing tasters.

Peak Hipster?
In other rooms, a chef was giving away food by using punters' hands as plates. After platters, shovels and jars, this felt a bit peak hipster, but quite funny. The bar adjacent had saisons to pair with the pile of salmon and dressing. A dedicated IPA bar featured some stuff I'd not seen before, including the impressive Scorcher IPA, and local brewers were also featured, 40FT, Redchurch and Beavertown among them. Redchurch's version of a gose was available (Pillar Of Salt?) - nicely puckering, but a bit short of flavour. I'm sure it'll get better...

So, thoughts... It struck me that the arrangement of rooms somehow led attendees on a journey through the possibilities of beer. From the can of pale ale everybody picked up at the door, after that it was an invitation to find your own level, from the bottom of the building, and the beers you might be familiar with, up to the top. Like playing levels of a video game.

Defend Beer. Lots of the staff were wearing tee shirts with this legend on the front. I didn't get to the bottom of why, so I'm hoping somebody will enlighten me.

Purpose. A tenner to get in, which got everybody free beer samples and food, popcorn and other stuff, means Brooklyn can't be making much money off the Mansion. But there's enthusiasm and dedication here, so this isn't simply naked promotion of the 'brand', but also a way to show the new and curious beer drinker the possibility of beer.

Brooklyn. There's a confidence in the way they go about their work. It occurred me that they're mature and established enough to never feel pressurised into following trends, so it's unlikely there'll be a cloudy Vermont-yeast IPA coming out of Williamsburg anytime soon.

I came away with a Ghost Bottle (thanks!) and, having asked a lot of questions, with more knocking around the grey matter, which can probably wait until next time. I wonder whether next time Mash takes to the road, other UK cities might get a chance to experience this.

(I bought my own ticket, and was delighted to be offered a bottle to take away.)

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Duvel Doubles With Tripel

I guess it's a sign of how far the landscape has been altered, that an acknowledged 'World Classic' beer can be found sitting on the shelves of most of the major supermarket chains, and yet be simultaneously overlooked by those beer drinkers who are in a state of beery perpetual motion, looking for the new shiny. How we can take such beer for granted...

I'm talking about Punk IPA. Just kidding. Of course, I refer to Duvel, the delicious Belgian golden ale brewed by Brouwerij Moortgat, acknowledged as a World Classic by Michael Jackson in his Beer Companion, and yet, apart from Don 'The Demon Brewer' Burgess, not a beer many of my acquaintances go to regularly. A drinkable 8.5% abv, the beer is hopped with Saaz and Styrian Golding, and undergoes a complex fermentation and cold maturation process before being bottled.

Steve O'Clock being thorough
For the past six or so years, Moortgat has produced an annual variant of Duvel. Called Tripel Hop, the beer has a third hop added at two stages, and the abv is pushed slightly higher, to 9.5%. Thus it was that I was invited to pop along to the Burlington Arms where the upstairs bar had been taken over by Man About Beer Rupert Ponsonby and his R&R Drinkers colleagues, to host a vertical tasting of the different versions of Tripel Hop. Being the nation is currently in election frenzy, the assembly was asked to sample each version, and vote at the Duvel Polling Station. A not unpleasant task, no need to hold your nose before making your mark here.

The idea is that, through a series of tastings worldwide, drinkers, writers, influencers and hangers-on like me will vote and the winning version will be brought into production in 2017. So, in the pleasant company of Steve from the Beer O'Clock Show, Half Pint Gent Matt Chinnery, Jezza P, 1970s Boy Justin Mason, Martin Oates and Mark Dredge, I set to.

This is what I call rigour...
I won't reproduce my tasting notes. I didn't go through the beers in order, even though each bottle had helpful numbering on the label. In release order, the versions contained Amarillo, Citra, Sorachi Ace, Mosaic, Equinox and, for this year, an experimental hop from the Yakima Valley simply known as HBC 291.

I hadn't had a bottle of Duvel in years - I think the last time was around 2004, in the Duke of York pub in Borough, so I went to my local supermarket to pick one up and refresh my gustatory memory. I still got peardrops and a little pepperiness, but I hadn't remembered the dryness of the finish. Useful.

Boggle At The Ballot Box
(pic by Justin Mason)
My order of tasting was 4, 1, 3, 2, 5, 6, but I thought I knew what I was looking for. The hop would need to be able to stand up to all that alcohol, and complement the characteristics of the original. My top three, after revisiting a couple of the beers to confirm - I'm nothing if not rigorous when asked to participate in something so important - were Mosaic, Sorachi Ace and Equinox. The Mosaic and Sorachi were immediately recognisable, but didn't overpower the beer. I thought the Citra was a bit overwhelmed, and the Amarillo made the finish too bitter. The results of this event were declared yesterday, and the consolidated order was: Mosaic, Citra, HBC 291 (somebody name it soon!), Equinox, Sorachi Ace and finally, Amarillo.

It'd be interesting to track preferences in different Duvel markets, and I look forward to the final result. Beer Merchants have packs of the different beers available right now. Thanks to R&R for the invite, and also for putting a World Classic beer I'd taken for granted back in front of me.