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...