Musings on the Inevitable(?) Resurrection & Generification of IPA

A weirdo, onceWhile Beer Twitter occasionally likes to lament that ‘IPA’ has become something of a generic for ‘craft beer’ (whatever that might mean), I’ve been mulling over how we got here. Not so very long ago, IPAs barely registered a blip on the beer radar, even for old-school nerds. My early memories of ‘microbrew’ – and then ‘craft’ – drinking in a pre-Untappd world were very much tied to bitters, pale ales, stouts, porters and a broad ‘Belgian’ category. As memory is very much an unreliable narrarator, I had a look back at my library to see if the beer spectrum I remembered from the late 1990s/early 2000s was, in fact, reasonably accurate.

Dipping into The Beer Enthusiast’s Guide by Gregg Smith (1994), there are a number of German and Belgian styles bucketed together, with what we can broadly call English styles listed out more specifically: pale ales, brown ales, porter, stout and strong ale. IPA doesn’t get a mention in the main table of contents at all. Digging into the details, we *do* see IPA as a sub-category of pale ales, along with bitters, and English and American pale ales. Commercial examples aren’t given for each sub-type, but we do get listings for those two – English pale ales name-checked are Worthington White Shield, Samuel Smith’s and Bass. For the Americans, Sierra Nevada (natch) and Red Hook are the standard-bearers. But what I find most interesting in this book are the hops called out for IPAs (‘…a classic style born of necessity’ – all you mythbusters already know the story here, please go read Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson like sensible people): Goldings, Galena and Brewers Gold for bittering, and Fuggles, Cascade and Tettnang for aroma. I suspect it would be difficult to find even English IPAs primarily made with these hops nowadays, barring a few holdouts – and I also doubt the commercial examples are still using exclusively their recipes from the 1990s. It’s certainly an interesting list: Anchor Liberty Ale, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Young’s Special London Ale and Ballantine’s Old India Pale Ale.

Even checking a homebrew book from the same year, Homebrew Favorites, by Karl F. Lutzen and Mark Stevens, has a very brief IPA section, and the beers – mostly Anchor Liberty clones – rely heavily on Fuggles and East Kent Goldings. Fast-forward to 2007 and Brewing Classic Styles, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer (of How to Brew fame), and we see a very clear distinction between English and American IPAs – English IPAs are ‘…hoppy, moderately strong’ pale ales, while American IPAs are ‘…decidedly hoppy and bitter.’ The English IPAs still feature Fuggles and East Kent Goldings, while their American cousins are loaded with Horizon, Centennial, Centennial, Simcoe and Amarillo.

So, what changed between 1994 and 2007? In 1999, Terry Foster wrote in his volume Pale Ale: ‘…American micros are generally to be commended for their return to traditional values in pale ale brewing, particularly regarding their approach to producing beers of high hop bitterness and character.’ And this passage stands out:

‘But, why is bitter the predominant style? Why not pale ale? Why not IPA? As I said at the opening of this section, even the concept of what an IPA should be seems to have been forgotten by the few English brewers who still turn out beers under this name. Brewers seemed to use the name pale and and allowed the name IPA to lapse, just as the East India export trade itself was retrenched. Competition from lagers, as well as outside influences such as Prohibition in America, resulted in the name no longer having the cachet it once had.’ – p. 65

However, Foster also notes the 1994 British Guild of Beer Writers IPA conference, where there was a take on an 18th century IPA brewed, for science (‘intensely bitter’). And later in the book, he points out that American beers are trending hoppier and more bitter overall – I found this graph (as well as the other showing IPAs in the UK – apologies for the terrible image quality) showing American ESBs as hoppier than IPAs fascinating, though perhaps some context is provided by this note: ‘Bert Grant’s ‘original’ IPA is said to have 60 IBU. In general, levels of 50-55 IBU are not rare, and Anderson Valley claims that its Hop Ottin IPA has as much as 90 IBU!’ (emphasis Foster’s). He also singles out Cascades specifically, which makes sense – try to imagine a West Coast IPA without Cascades nowadays.

And speaking of the Pacific Northwest, by 1999’s Buying Guide to Beer (ed. Marc Dornan), we see that ‘…US craft brewers have claimed the style as their own, and often brew IPAs with assertive Pacific Northwest hop varieties that give them a hugely aromatic hop accent.’ Brands given plaudits include Full Sail IPA and BridgePort IPA (RIP), as well as Fullers IPA.

Moving on, the 7th ed of Michael Jackson’s Pocket Guide to Beer from 2000 recognizes American IPAs, but still highlights relatively few of them – still, many more than in his Great Beer Guide (my edition also 2000 – it takes a lot of leafing through to find an IPA).

My very, very uninformed assumption is that the IBU (and, eventually, ABV) arms race among (mostly) American IPAs of the early-to-mid 2000s was tied directly to the new (and now common) varieties of hops developed in that era…and that the eventual rise of hazy and milkshake IPAs was the direct response to the bitter and HARDCORE era that preceded it (though let’s all pour one out for brut IPAs and their hot second in the spotlight). Someone much more knowledgeable than I am has no doubt worked through the chicken-or-egg driver in that relationship…though my point here was less to determine the ‘why’ and more to confirm that my hazy (har) memory was correct – IPAs were Unusual, once upon a time.

Perhaps Randy Mosher summed up the versatility best in his 2004 book, Radical Brewing:

‘As a platform for improvisation, IPA is a pretty good one. It’s a simple concept – a pale, subtly malty base, not quite overwhelmed by fresh hops. Such an idea is robust and timeless. No wonder it has satisfied the discriminating beer drinker for a couple of hundred years now.’

I’m not sure he meant milkshake IPAs, but hey, why not? More importantly, what comes next? And can we have more ESBs and brown ales again, please?

Annual Year-end Beer-y Round-up, Much-hyphenated 2021 Edition

Lough Gill Summoning CircleIt’s that time again – the always somewhat free-form wrap-up of my favourite(u)rite beers of the year. But rather than a properly ranked top 20, it’s going to be (sort of) grouped by brewery, as for a few of them, the hits just keep coming.

Lough Gill Brewery Five Candles, ESB, 5% 
I love a great ESB. Bitters are very, very thin on the ground here in Ireland (and elsewhere? Who knows?), but this doesn’t stand out for its relative novelty, but because it’s simply beautifully done. It was so good, I created a summoning circle for it. More, please. Also, Lough Gill now has a series of barrel-aged beers whose art direction would totally count as using my archaeology degrees. I’ll need to track those down…in 2022.

Ballykilcavan Brewery Fresh Hop Pale Ale 2021, 5.1%
Hey, we helped pick the hops for this one! But that’s not why it made the year-end round-up (WOULD I SIMPLY PROMOTE MY OWN OLD POSTS? NONSENSE) – it really is delicious, with a nice mineral-y, earthy note and a really nice balance of malt and hops. It’s not like the fresh hopped-beers one gets in the Pacific Northwest – they are really their own breed – but it’s definitely worth seeking out every year (based on my sample size of, er, two years).

Boo!Ballykilcavan Brewery Clancy’s Cans #7 – Haunted Wood Dunkel, 4.7%
I’ve enjoyed most of the Clancy’s Cans series; I am always a fan of breweries having a fantastic core range and a fun experimental/one-off series outside that provide a bit of contrast. And that contrast doesn’t have to involve tossing in weird fruit/breakfast cereal/lactose/etc (though, in the right hands, those things can be good fun) – nailing a classic style is just as welcome. Now, everyone knows I love dark lagers – you’ll see a few more on this list – but I was so happy to get one that was not only tasty, but had a name that made me feel directly targeted; nothing beats a haunted wood. Boo!

Hope Beer Winter Seasonal Emmer Stout, 5%
We got the chance to preview this beer when we toured Hope in the autumn, and it was great to hear the backstory: the emmer is grown at Cornstown House in North County Dublin, so it’s not only hyper-local, it is part of a broader program of cultivating ancient grains, along with spelt and einkorn. Also, there are alpacas – this is an important side note – but back to the ancient grains. Cornstown House’s owner, Dominic Grayson, is growing crops that would have been familiar to Neolithic Ireland, including the aforementioned emmer wheat, as well as naked barley. He is also working in partnership with UCD’s School of Archaeology, so in addition to being an interesting stout with a difference, it *definitely* counts as using my archaeology degrees, so another box to tick.

Hope Beer Stroopwafel Stout, Imperial Pastry Stout, 9.9%
BuT yOu DoN’t LiKe PaStRy StOuTs, I hear you say – and usually, you are correct. But I do love a stroopwafel. And a stout (though not Island’s Edge – but that’s another story. And possibly not really a stout – but I digress). Putting them together to celebrate Hope’s 5th anniversary, as well as its Dutch connections, was genius. It could have gone badly wrong, but it didn’t – I just wish they had made more.

Hope Beer Bloom Gorse Infused Tripel, 8.8%
Another Hope anniversary beer, this time, with locally hand-picked gorse from Howth Head. The gorse lent an interesting botanical taste, and while I can be a bit unimpressed by some try-hard tripels, this was a treat. It was great fun to taste virtually along with the Hope team on YouTube – and props (again) to Craic Beer Community for keeping things going all year long. Keep an eye out for their Community Brew Project!

Hope Beer Limited Edition No. 24 – Bohemian Pilsener, 5%
I know, I know – Hope again! This was such a perfect beer for the summer (for those here in Ireland, OUTDOOR SUMMER, as we were encouraged to meet up outside in small groups); a letter-perfect Bohemian pilsener, did just what it said on the tin. I was sorry to see it go, and would not be mad at it re-appearing in the future.

Heaney Brewery The Echo Chamber Black IPA, 6%
I have been on Team Black IPA since Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous was just a one-off, back in the mid-2000s, and this glorious beer from Heaney really reminded me of Victory’s Yakima Twilight/Glory in the same style. Some Black IPAs/Cascadian Dark Ales (I’m not fussy about the names – well, not in this case) can have an unpleasant ashy flavour, but not this one. Also, Heaney has a stylish merch game…I eventually need to get up there and buy some things in person.

Heaney Brewery The Farmer Is The Man, Lemon Thyme Saison, 6%
Another banger from Heaney, this one apparently personally targeting me with its reference to the American folk song of the same name, though it considerably pre-dates its association with Pete Seeger. While I can’t claim the spicy, peppery character *specifically* reminded me of the Pete Seeger gig I was lucky enough to take my now-teenager to back in the day, I was happy to have the beer around as an excuse to remind him of it.

BRÚ Brewery Xtra Pale Ale, 5.7%
I was impressed by BRÚ’s revised core line this year, and was a bit worried that some of these excellent new beers and their associated branding would disappear when BRÚ and Galway Bay merge in 2022 – but I have been assured that the new recipes and BRÚ branding will live on. This is a delicious pale ale, beautifully balanced and perfect for an afternoon at the pub. I’m fortunate to have one of the BRÚ pubs a relatively short walk from home – and an even shorter walk from my fantastic hair salon, so a post-haircut pint is a must.

Galway Bay Brewing Tmavý Ležák Czech Dark Lager, 5%
Another dark lager – can’t have too many good ones, and with the aforementioned merger, perhaps it will make an appearance on one of the tap handles at BRÚ? I admit I have yet to make it to the newest Dublin Galway Bay location, the Beer Temple, but I have been lucky to find it on at other locations. Moreish.

Whiplash The Sup, Porter,  5%
I do love a good porter, and this is a good porter. There are the odd/expected Untappd comments about it being ‘just a porter’ which sounds rather like damning with faint praise, but I will take it as a win.

Whiplash Heaven Scent, Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale, 5.5% 
The good people at Whiplash (now joined by our own Beer Ladies Podcast co-host, Erica, in the cellar) describe this beer as ‘utterly fantastic’ – and they are not wrong. Fresh, clean and delicious.

Whiplash Midnight Dipper Pale Ale, 5.2% 
It was difficult to choose between Heaven Scent and Midnight Dipper…they were both competing for space in my fridge all summer. For someone who complains about ‘all the hazy beers’ as much as I do, I did drink a lot of this one – it’s one of those gorgeous exceptions to the rule. Or maybe I’m just wildly hypocritical. I’ll own it.

Whiplash Dark Steering, Schwarzbier, 5.2%
A Schwarzbier! From Whiplash! Yes, another Whiplash beer, but this was so tasty, I kept re-buying it every time I had the opportunity. It was a perfect beer to pair with everything from pizza to chocolate (all the best food groups) – light but ready, refreshing but ever-so-slightly chewy, and like most Whiplash cans, it had fantastic art by Sophie DeVere. I am crossing my fingers that they will release their keg-only mild somewhere I can get my hands on it…

Flora & Fauna, McHugh's, EnnisWestern Herd Flora And Fauna – Strata & Nelson Sauvin DIPA, 9.45%
Perhaps the closest thing Ireland had to a ‘whale’ beer over the last year (though perhaps some Land & Labour beers would also qualify), this DIPA – again, not typically one of my favourite styles – won me over with its solid malt backbone and clean hoppiness. It was delicious both in cans and on tap – and it tasted even better after our trek out to the brewery in County Clare.

Lineman Sundrops Table Beer, 3.3% 
At the other end of the spectrum, this perfectly-crafted low-key wonder was one of my go-tos – bursting with flavour and body for its fighting weight, it’s another beer we were lucky enough to find on tap in an actual pub when we ventured to Cork and their fantastic Bierhaus. Highly recommended.

Crew Brewing Company

Crew Brewing Co. Berliner Berliner Weisse, 4.6%
I will be mildly controversial and suggest that Crew is the best independent brewery in the country – they are certainly the least-well-known in proportion to just how good their beers are. This is not a surprise, given that they were just getting started just as the first lockdown was doing the same, and the fact that they don’t meaningfully distribute their keg-only beer beyond Limerick. This outstanding Berliner Weisse was interesting on its own, but adding and mixing the freshly-made fruit syrups was something akin to a religious experience. In short, get yourself to Limerick…when it’s safe to do so.

Crew Brewing Co. Polly IPA, 6%
This beer began life simply as ‘IPA #2’ before earning a name, and it certainly deserves to be on regular rotation…it’s a perfect old-school IPA. Every single beer we had at Crew was revelatory – the fact that they haven’t yet featured in a Big Beery Thinkpiece on their amazing beer, inclusive, actively anti-racist environment and mix of fascinating backstories is, frankly, a crime. Here’s hoping Covid stops treating them – and the rest of us – so shamefully.

Dead Centre Brewing Sham Maths, American Amber, 6.2% 
Another too-often-neglected style that ticks so many boxes – lovely and rounded, malty but not *too* malty, a bit of mineral bite and balanced hoppiness. I have yet to make it out to Dead Centre in person, but hope to rectify that in 2022 – if all goes well.

Here’s hoping for a less-pandemic-y 2022 – have a safe and healthy new year!

Hop-picking at Ballykilcavan

This is very much a ‘late’ report, but only now, some weeks after the event, have I managed to scrounge any free time to write up some notes on what a delightful time we had going out to Ballykilcavan to help out with their hop picking effort. But first, some context for those outside Ireland would likely be helpful. I became an immediate fan of Ballykilcavan’s beer when we moved to Ireland, thanks to a combination of simply excellent beer and beautifully-considered branding that reflects the history of the  farm where the brewery sits; it’s been in the Walsh family since 1639, and the complex of buildings represent many eras of agricultural change. The farm’s chief crop these days is barley, and while much of that goes on to become Irish whiskey, some of the malted barley also comes back to the farm to turn into beer, made in the brewery in the former grainstore, built c. 1780.

I scrolled back in my Untappd history to determine my first Ballykilcavan beer, and was not surprised to discover that it was Bambrick’s Brown Ale, on Valentine’s Day of 2020, so, pre-lockdown, but as a brown ale nerd, very much on brand for me. In October of 2020, we attended a virtual tour of the brewery with the Ladies Craft Beer  Society of Ireland. which gave a bit of of a window into operations, and I was hooked. My interest was further piqued by a great episode of A New Brew, which offered a deep dive into the history of the farm, why it made sense to open a brewery there, and some of the challenges and opportunities still to come. And while I absolutely adore the Bambrick’s Brown – indeed, I try to always have at least a few in my fridge – I’ve also come to really enjoy the Brickyard Red, as well as last year’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale; Bin Bawn Pale Ale has also become a household staple. The one-off Clancy’s Cans series always brings something interesting and different, and the other core range beers are consistently superb.

Watercourse at BallykilcavanSo I was thrilled to get the opportunity to visit the farm, and was very grateful to my frequent Beer Ladies Podcast co-host, Bean, for giving us a lift there – rural Ireland does not have the best public transit, although it would be theoretically possibly to get a train from Dublin to Stradbally and hop in a taxi from there. We were greeted by owners Dave and Lisa Walsh-Kemmis (as well as assorted pets and children – proper working farm, after all) and had a bit of time to wander the often beautifully-restored farm buildings; I maintain that no brewery has a stronger Instagram game. We were fortified for the hop-picking effort with some good tea and biscuits, and we duly headed out to look at the hops.

HopsNow, we are not talking about acres and acres of hops, given that Irish weather is not conducive to predictable hop-growing (AS I AM SURE YOU ARE ALL AWARE FROM LISTENING TO OUR RECENT HOPS 101 PODCAST). One of the great perks of our years of living in the Pacific Northwest was the huge variety of fresh hopped beers that appeared every autumn, and there is certainly no equivalent to the (welcome) annual flood of those beers. Indeed, we only needed to harvest a relatively small area, where a mixture of Cascades, Citra, and a few other varieties were growing. But we quickly got stuck in, filling buckets by hand, and we were very fortunate with the weather – it only threatened to rain very briefly. Once picked, the hops went directly into the kettle.

gearsWe were kept well-fed and watered, too – I finally got to meet Internet Friend Kate O’Driscoll, who had crafted gorgeous meat/cheese/truffles boxes for us, and it was wonderful to have a chat, both with Kate (whose husband, Joe, is the head brewer at Ballykilcavan) as well as with so many other people I’ve only previously ‘met’ on Irish Beer Twitter. (Side note when it comes to conversations: I got some great suggestions from Lisa on shoes, as she seems to share my interest in barefoot/foot-shaped shoes and was equally annoyed a brand we had both liked in the past had declined in quality, and I should be receiving some shoes I ordered on her recommendation shortly – can’t wait. Bonus!). I naturally grabbed a few Bambrick’s Browns to take home, and once we ensured the boil was underway, we headed back to Dublin.

So, while we only played a small part in its creation, I will be keeping an extra-special eye out for this year’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale. And when Ballykilcavan’s visitor centre opens in the not-too-distant future, it will be a must-visit – a perfect excuse to go back.

Brewery Tours Are Back!

Hope BeerI tried to recall my first brewery tour, and, although the memories are hazy – not, I should point out, for any drink-related reason – I think it must have been the Anheuser-Busch tour in my non-beloved hometown of St. Louis, back in the early 1990s. I had no particular interest in beer at that point, and certainly none at all in the local offering; I was only on the tour to see the Clydesdales. Fast-forward to late 1998; I had recently moved back to the US from the UK, where I had discovered that beer was, in fact, quite tasty, and, I when living there, I used to enjoy looking from the train at oasthouses and 19th century brewery complexes as part of the built environment. But Silicon Valley in the late 1990s offered a number of brewpubs within easy stumbling distance, so I got used to looking at the setups while enjoying a few beers and a meal at places like The Tied House (now defunct) in Mountain View and Faultline Brewing Company in Sunnyvale, and the legendary Magnolia Brewery in San Francisco proper, though in their case, the brewery is well-concealed.

But I don’t think I saw a real production brewery of any size until moving to the other coast, in 2002. Although I lived in Brooklyn and knew a few of the owners of the Brooklyn Brewery in passing, as some friends lived in the same building and we’d have the odd dinner together, my first real ‘brewery tour’ was on a trip to Bar Harbor, Maine. We stopped off at both Bar Harbor Brewing Company and Atlantic Brewing Company, then separate businesses, and did the now-familiar tour-and-tasting. I still have a real fondness for Cadillac Mountain Stout and Thunder Hole Ale; both beers are brewed by Atlantic Brewing nowadays, as they took on the Bar Harbor beers when the original owners retired. There’s a much-needed discussion to be had about the craft beer industry as we know it now needing to get better at succession planning, but I digress. After that trip, brewery tours became a must-do part of any holiday, or getting to know a new locality when we moved cities/countries. It’s safe to say that I’ve seen a lot of tanks and taprooms in the decade(s) since those initial tours. Indeed, after you’ve seen a few small-to-medium breweries, they can begin to blend together; most of the time, the basic setup is broadly similar.

Pilot KitBut having been out of the brewery tour game for so long with Covid, it felt very much like a return to normalcy to finally make it to one of my now-favourite local breweries, Hope Beer. It’s true we did have great fun at Western Herd not too long ago, but it’s on a much smaller scale than Hope, and was less of a formal tour than a very-welcome exploration of the site – a true farmhouse brewery. We were welcomed to Hope’s handy-for-the-train location by head brewer Richie Hamilton, who gave us great insights into Hope’s relationship with its Dutch ‘sister’ brewery, Hoop, and took us around the immaculate brewhouse and warehouse portions of the brewery. I’m not suggesting I’ve ever been to a ‘dirty’ brewery, but Hope is absolutely spotless – none of the expected odd puddles of water or dust from milling grain. According to Richie, some of this is down to Hope having ‘the best brewery floor in Ireland’ – because the concrete floor was custom-poured and the brewhouse all designed and installed in one go, there is a cohesion to the kit that isn’t always the standard; so many smaller breweries have tanks handed down from several previous owners, or a bottling or canning line they’ve similarly ‘inherited’ from another facility. Not so at Hope – there is perfect drainage and a symmetrical series of gleaming tanks – even the pilot kit is lovely.

And so to the tasting – we got to enjoy a sample of the excellent Bohemian Pilsener from the tank (and for local fans of this beer, buy it while you see it – much of what’s left is heading off to Italy, where it’s wildly popular), as well as others from the core range, while discussing the origins of the recipes and the local folklore presented on each can. We also tried a SEEKRIT BEER that won’t remain so much longer, and I can confirm it was very tasty indeed. There was also a fun archaeology angle to that one, so I could tick the ‘using my archaeology degrees’ box, but the rest of you will have to wait.

All told, it was great to be back wandering around an industrial estate and hearing stories of the beer and brewery – thanks so much to Richie for being a fantastic host. Can’t wait to see the SEEKRIT BEER out in the wild!

Strange Times in Stout-land

Island's Edge. No.It seems to be New Megacorporation Stout Season here in Ireland, with Heineken recently releasing Island’s Edge, and Guinness rolling out their new Guinness 0.0. Island’s Edge has been expressly positioned as a stout for people who don’t typically drink stout, and to that end, it includes tea and basil in the recipe to make it, to paraphrase, less bitter and more refreshing, though none of the flavours of tea or basil are noticeable in the resulting beer. So, having had a pint of it recently, I can confirm that it does, indeed, lack those flavours…along with most other elements of flavour. It’s oddly thin, creamy head notwithstanding, and barely registers anything beyond roasty water – it’s less a stout and more the ghost of one. If anything, it put me in mind of some of the recent high-profile non-alcoholic beer launches. While it didn’t simply taste like wort (looking at you, Heineken 0.0), it really did taste like many non-alcoholic beers I’ve tried over the years…only with a surprise dash of alcohol. In short, I won’t be going back to try it again.

Guinness 0.0. Yes!By contrast, I tried a pint of Guinness 0.0, and it was surprisingly good. While it wasn’t quite like the real thing, it was flavourful, still very much a stout, and did not have that insipid character so many non-alcoholic beers seem to have. All told, it was a slightly less ‘chewy’ Guinness. Granted, for people who like to drink a lot of stronger stouts – think Russian Imperial Stout or something more barrel-aged with a high ABV – it may seem, once again, a little thinner, but for the regular Guinness (or other dry stout) fan, it’s very much in the ballpark. In fact, I can see myself opting for this in pubs that have no local craft beer option, or as something to alternate if a long session in the pub is required/allowed in the near future – it would also be fantastic for business lunches, though frankly, I’m still grateful those have not returned, at least for me.

So, while taste is of course subjective, this is an odd one for me – a much-promoted new stout that tastes like a non-alcoholic beer, and a new non-alcoholic stout that tastes like, well, a stout. I know which one I’ll go back for*.

*I did snag a few Island’s Edge beermats on the presumption that it will soon disappear and they will become collectible. Forward planning.

A Trip to Western Herd (and Some Lovely Horses)

The Ladies Craft Beer Society weekend fun didn’t end in Limerick, though it’s fair to say we could have all used more sleep. We were rejuvenated by a trip to the Milk Market and its great variety of food options; it deserves especially high marks for the selection of cheeses as well as baked goods, and I managed to pick up some outstanding tea. We took a quick swing past the castle, and then made our way to Ennis.

Once we had dropped off cars and bags, we hopped in taxis to visit Western Herd Brewery. The journey along narrow, winding rural Irish roads was as advertised – brewer Bridger Kelleher warned us in advance that the when we felt like surely we were lost, it would mean we were nearly there, and he was entirely correct. Western Herd is based in a small converted shed, and Bridger is a one-man brewing operation (just in case you were wondering why it was so hard to get your hands on Flora & Fauna earlier in the year – more on that in a moment). Despite being a solo operator, he made time to set up a fantastic sensory exercise for us: we got to match up different hops and malts to their ‘real world’ counterparts, for example, matching different hop varieties to pineapple or mango, or malts to coffee, chocolate and so This activity was aided by ready access to fresh Loop Head Pilsner. We had the standard look at the brewhouse – soon to be expanded, which was exciting news – and our water expert Chelsea got a good look at the well and water conditioning system, which she praised highly.

Flora and FaunaWe learned a lot about Western Herd’s process and some of the upcoming plans, and a big ‘oh, wow’ moment for me was learning that the cans for their year-round beers (e.g. Siege, the Father Ted-themed Blue Jumper, Cliff Road) all show a different relevant part of the County Clare coastline – I had never noticed! We headed back to Ennis and regrouped at McHugh’s Bar, where we chatted with Maeve Sheridan, one of Western Herd’s co-founders and owner of the bar in question, which showcases the company’s beers and delicious food. We were fortunate enough to time our trip with a fresh batch of Flora & Fauna on tap. I had not managed to get a can of the much-desired DIPA when it was previously released, so it was quite exciting to see it available, and in sensibly-sized glasses. I wouldn’t normally start the evening with the strongest beer on offer, but it was lovely to try it with a fresh palate. The other beers were in perfect condition, too, and paired well with the small plates and the excellent halloumi burger. The pub interior is also lovely – alas, we were only sitting outside (sometimes in the rain, though it was well-managed with a tent), but I hope to make a return visit.

That's mad, TedFinally, before heading back to Dublin, our car (thanks, Katie, for driving, and for being our local expert) did some touristy things – we did a bit of hiking, looked at the landscape in the Burren, visited the Poulnabrone dolmen (used my archaeology degrees – check!) and, naturally, made our way past Father Ted’s house, which had some lovely horses in the front garden. Yes, I just did that, but it’s not my fault – too excited about the just-announced Divine Comedy tour next year.

We had such a pleasant time away we entirely forgot to record a trailer for the Beer Ladies Podcast Season 2 – but, lucky for you, we’ve managed to get it live now. Join us for the journey!

We Went to Limerick! Crew Brewing Company

Crew Brewing CompanyYes, it’s true – we managed to get together for what looks like an annual Ladies Craft Beer Society of Ireland* long weekend Outside Dublin. We split up into two groups and made our respective ways to Limerick via car; while it’s theoretically possible to get to many places in Ireland via public transit, we had some less-accessible exploration on tap (har) as part of the plan (though for more shared grumbling on that, do follow Daily Downfall of Irish Railways on Twitter).
 

As only the more seasoned members of our little group like myself were fully vaccinated (though, fortunately, even the Younger Folk soon will be), we aimed for outdoor options as often as possible. And the Irish weather made sure that outdoor pints were something of a contact sport for our first evening, with absolutely lashing rain, but we came prepared with solid rain gear. And we could not have been better accommodated on both the tent and hospitality front by the great team at Crew Brewing Company.

 
Crew is perhaps the closest I’ve found in Ireland to a North American-style microbrewery taproom, both in terms of outstanding beer and setup, with everything being brewed on-site and an ever-changing lineup, including great guest taps from other local independent breweries. They are actively inclusive, with a much-appreciated ‘no racists, no sexists, no fascists’ sign prominently displayed. Apparently one person did see himself out after coming across it when they first opened, so no loss there. And the similarity to US and Canadian taprooms is likely no surprise – several of the team, including Emma, who was our guide throughout the evening, have worked in beer and bars in Canada, and they’ve brought some of the best methods and practices back with them.
 
So, on to the beer – and it was all absolutely top-class. Crew’s Fruited Berliner Weisse put me in mind of my late-lamented old favourite from Philly, Nodding Head’s Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse, but rather than the traditional woodruff syrup, the ‘plain’ Berliner Weisse could be enhanced with fresh strawberry, mango, peach or blueberry puree, and you could also mix those flavours for even more options (looking at you, gorgeous kiwi-strawberry, and thanks, Emma, for suggesting it). Size options meant that it was possible to sample a fair few beers without getting too silly, and pizza delivered from a neighbouring shop helped with that as well.
 
Sticking with sours, the Lemon Verbena and Raspberry Goes was also well-balanced and refreshing, but I also have high praise for the IPA, which was a perfectly ‘normal’ west-coast style IPA (as we need to be specific nowadays on these matters), and, once again, just a lovely example – I wish I could get it locally, but alas, it’s only available in and around Limerick.
 
We did also venture over to Mother Mac’s, once again, outside, though it certainly merits a longer follow-up visit to better explore their variety of local beers and whiskeys – next time!
 
All told, we packed a lot into our first night away, but we had more adventures to come, when we headed to Western Herd Brewery, and got to try more of their beers on tap at McHugh’s Bar in Ennis – and, in our next instalment, the weather cooperates a bit more
 

* For clarity, while there is considerable overlap with the Beer Ladies Podcast (back soon!), they are technically separate entities. We meant to record a new season trailer while out and about but, er, forgot.

We Left Dublin!

Well, for a long weekend, that is. We had planned a trip to Cork last year, but it had to be cancelled when the second lockdown began, so it was very much an overdue visit. For those keeping score at home, we moved to Dublin in February of 2020, and, of course, Things Happened, so those expected short jaunts across Europe and trips back to visit family in the US never happened; we’ve only managed to leave Dublin once before as a family, with a trip to Kilkenny during the Lockdown Interregnum. In short, we haven’t had the opportunity to explore much of Ireland since arriving here, especially as many places are not accessible via public transit, though that’s another story, so it was *very* exciting to be back on a train (I LOVE TRAINS).
 
For those outside Ireland, we are still very much a masked society (I shudder to think how many recently-formed emo-jazz-baroque combos have called themselves Mask’d Society), so there was nothing especially unusual about masking up for the bus and train or shops, though for the adults in my group, our fully-vaccinated status now means we can drink and dine indoors in some places, which is, to say the least, both rather exciting and a bit worrying. In theory, we can bring the offspring in to many places for dining, but we’re not up for that yet, so it meant we aimed to book as much outdoor-but-sheltered dining in Cork as possible – and, as it turns out, Cork has done a great job of closing streets for outdoor food and drink, with well-secured tents and awnings, in a way that has not happened on the same scale in Dublin (or, perhaps more accurately, in as concentrated a way in the city centre – maybe?). And while we only had relatively brief time periods of more torrential rain, there was, unsurprisingly, plenty of wind, so some form of cover was key.
 
Traveling with kids during a pandemic – even low-key, local travel – is an odd mix of booking ahead and leaving things as flexible as possible; it’s a guessing game in terms of what will and won’t be open, what needs to be planned well in advance and what can be done more spontaneously (and who is going to be unreasonably grumpy). This isn’t a complaint, as we are very fortunate to be fully vaccinated, and to have at least one child halfway there, with one jab done – the other isn’t yet old enough – and to take the break from work during a less-busy time, but it does mean it’s wise to not get too wrapped up in any particular sight or activity as a must-do (looking at you, swimming).
 
The Journey
Although we’re out of practice at getting people out the door, we had no issues here; the train trip was made even more pleasant by scoring a copy of Chat: It’s Fate! in the station; clearly, it was meant to be. In a nice bit of synergy, my copy of Take a Break: Fate & Fortune arrived at my home when we got back. Written in the stars, no doubt.
 
The Hotel
We stayed at the Clayton Hotel Cork City, which proved to be very handy. The hotel choice was driven by 1) walkability and 2) an indoor pool, as the smaller child was absolutely set on getting to swim. The hotel did a great job of social distancing, keeping things clean and airing out rooms, and people all wore masks in most of the public areas. It was a little tricky to book pool slots – they were all gone by the time we arrived – but they had a good system to call down to see if there was space from no-shows, etc. – and we managed to find space more often than not. I had no trouble getting into the gym, and being back in a hotel gym for the first time since March of 2020 was – for a weirdo like me – thrilling, even if it meant working out in a mask.
 
The Food
We did the must-do tourist thing and hit the English Market on a weekday, and it was still fairly crowded, though not uncomfortably so. Unsurprisingly, hipster popsicles were among the top discoveries there (I mean, we knew there was CHEESE), though we kept returning to Swoon for dessert milkshakes (yogurtshakes?) outside the market. We had our first dinner in Cork at Goldberg’s, where they have set up a gorgeous indoor-but-outdoor courtyard, and the food and service were excellent. We have been told on numerous occasions that Pompeii Pizza at Franciscan Well is the best in Ireland, and I’m not sure it beats Rascals for that, but it was very good indeed, and well worth the wait. Coqbull was another dinner spot we all enjoyed, with the burger, especially, winning high marks.
 

Sitting in the liminal space between food and drink (OK, not really, but I needed a transition), we stopped in at Loose Leaf, a delightful little tea shop. We’ve ordered online from them before in an effort to buy from Irish tea shops – it’s much more difficult to find good tea than it should be in Ireland, but, like public transit, that’s another story – and had a great visit, sniffing (through masks) and buying up many, many samples.

 
The Drink
Goldberg’s had Black’s Kinsale Pale Ale on tap, so it was great to see a restaurant supporting local breweries. As mentioned, we also made it to Franciscan Well and while there was nothing especially special about their house beers, there was a nice assortment of guest beers on tap from breweries like Larkins, Lervig and Whiplash. We made the most of our digital vaccine certs and grabbed a few adults-only drinks inside at The Bierhaus, which had a phenomenal tap and bottle list – it really put us in mind of some of the best little Philly beer bars. We availed ourselves of further teenage childminding (really, having a decade gap between children makes us seem like master planners) and also enjoyed Rising Sons  who had a really nice seasonal Helles on, and The Friary, where they were kind enough to find us a spot and talk through the small-but-well-chosen taplist when they discovered we were ‘craft beer people.’ We enjoyed the lager Curious Society/Larkins brews for the Friary, and other local options included beers from Cotton Ball Brewing Company – everything was lovely.
 
The Sights
We purposefully did not aim to schedule too much sightseeing, more to avoid disappointment if we didn’t make a particular spot, but we did get to see a lot of Cork from the top of ‘Kitty,’ the Vintage Tea Trips bus. It was our third time on the Tea Bus – we’ve done their standard trip around Dublin as well as their Christmas ride – and it’s always a lot of fun. For the transit nerds out there, Kitty is an old Routemaster who has been kitted out (RIGHT?) for tea on the go, complete with an old-school soundtrack and vintage-inspired illustrations inside the bus. As ever, they offered great tea tier snacks and a friendly tour.
 
We retraced much of the bus journey and made it to the Cork City Gaol  and, later, Fitzgerald Park which has one of the most impressive playgrounds I’ve seen anywhere. The smaller child created a very fully- realised narrative framework for the various sections of the playground, so it certainly worked on every level. We were following and ticking off locations on the Playful Culture Trail, a very handy local guide to children’s activities available at a number of locations around the city. I have a special fondness for incredibly specific local museums, and so the Cork Butter Museum as very much my jam (I KNOW), even with the Kerrygold advert at the beginning. The collection is fascinating – I’m always here for bog butter – and it’s a great way to illustrate local history through the lens of a particular commodity. The only thing it’s missing is a little cafe with lashings of butter on everything, but perhaps that exists in Ordinary Time. We did, however, find Bláithín the lizard, star of the Playful Culture trail, at the Butter Museum.
 
We did not have a chance to visit Fota Wildlife Park or the Cork Public Museum but now that we know the lay of the land, we can file those away for a future trip; there is certainly much more to see. Similarly, the ghost tours did not seem to be running, and I hate to visit a city without doing its ghost tour – so, next time, I hope.
 
Finally, it wouldn’t be right to close without mentioning the public art – a city that references the Sultans of Ping FC on a utility box is doing something right. Full marks.
 

Brown Is the Colo(u)r…

The most recent Irish Beer Snob podcast, featuring Brian from Craic Beer Community, included not just a shout-out to our little podcast (cheers, lads! – obviously, ‘lads’ is gender-neutral here – Janice is very much a part of this picture), but also a discussion about how they're Quite Serious about wanting to see more brown ales out and about in the world. I am also very much in this camp, and while I'm thrilled we have two great options here in Ireland, even more would be delightful.  I got to thinking about my favo(u)rites in this style, and came up with the following list:

Ballykilcavan Brewing Bambrick's Brown Ale - 5.8%
Happy to have this in my fridge year-round; it goes with everything and it is the perfect antidote to a session of beers that don’t always taste like ‘beer’ – you nerds all know what I mean.

Lough Gill Brewery Mac Nutty - 5.5%
You had me at macadamia nuts, but it’s also a perfectly-balanced brown ale. And speaking of macadamia nuts…

Maui Brewing Company Lahaina Town Brown - 5.1%
Hawai’ian breweries are simply great at dark beers - it's just science. Their Coconut Hiwa Porter is fantastic as well, but this limited release beer is a little bit nutty with just the right amount of roast. Obviously, I won’t be able to get it here in Ireland, but perhaps there will be travel again, some day.

Waikiki Brewing  Company English Brown Ale - 5.14%
It's so good I bought the t-shirt. I don't wear the Churchillian-dog-themed t-shirt as much now around town, but what a delightful beer – lots of notes of chocolate that made it a perfect dessert beer in the glorious Hawai’i sun.

Burke-Gilman Brewing Company LoBro London Brown - 3.6%
One of our old local breweries in Seattle - this low-ABV charmer is based on a century-old recipe with the usual necessary tweaks - it's got a lot of body and great flavo(u)r for its strength. We have a beautiful stainless steel growler from Burke-Gilman; someday, post-lockown, I’ll need to show it off to people so they. can see how different an American ‘growler’ is from its Irish counterpart.

Naked City Brewery Betsy's Mountain Brown - 5.4%
Pour one out for Naked City - we used to go here annually to take photos with (Beer) Santa, but they closed back when we still lived in Seattle. Although they regularly brewed a wide variety of styles, this was always my go-to. Ah well.

Populuxe Brewing Beer Snob Brown - 5.1%
Alas, like its semi-neighbor Naked City, Populuxe is gone forever…but this was an outstanding beer from a wonderful little brewery. I loved it and loved Populuxe – they were an underrated stop in the Ballard Brewery District (as I believe we are calling it now); very laid-back, lovely space, fun video games and pinball…but, sadly, no more.

Victory Brewing Company D-Town Brown Ale - 5.4%
Because (most) people on Untappd don't understand brown ales that aren’t adulterated with bourbon/marshmallows/etc, it gets a 'meh' rating, but it's far from a 'meh' beer - you won't get it outside the Philly area, and it's something of a rarity even at the OG Downingtown brewery, but well worth seeking out.

The Kernel Brown Ale – 5.6%
We’ve been getting beers from The Kernel for a few months now here in Ireland; I may not be able to get to London, but at least they can come to us.  If we could get some Anspach & Hobday too, this lockdown wouldn’t be so bad…and on the subject of British breweries, now that The Brewery of St Mars of the Desert has revived Jack D’Or, which I adored when it was still Pretty Things, perhaps it’s not too much to hope that St Botolph’s Town Brown Ale could also make a comeback? Pretty please? (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)

So, there you have it - a very quick rundown of top-flight brown ales - let's have more!

 

A Little Psychogeography for Flagship February

Flagship FebruaryCome for the pretentious title, stay for the opportunity to praise some fantastic – and thoroughly unpretentious – Irish beers.

It's our second February in Ireland, and we've now been around long enough to determine some favourite local breweries (all without leaving leaving the house). I know I sound like a broken record, but I am continually surprised by just how high the quality is with breweries that are only a few years old; their flagship beers are not just relatively new to me, but often still new to most everyone else, too, at least beyond the nerdiest of beer nerds (e.g., My People). That said, many of them have a firmly-established sense of place, and, especially in a time when travel is not possible, there's something about that local hook that can make the story behind those beers resonate even more. I love to see this storytelling element in beer – thank goodness we've moved beyond the 'x was a wild homebrewer, had a brainwave and now he's the master brewer here' origin story. These locals are each doing a bang-up job of tying local lore and ‘feeling’ to fantastic beer.

Hope Hop-on, Session IPA, 4.3%
First, and most importantly, it's simply a great go-to beer - an all-around, friendly-with-food session IPA. But the label design and 'backstory' add that true local flavour: the Dart (I LOVE TRAINS) and the story of two boys who took the Dart from Howth Junction (not coincidentally, where Hope is based), eventually hopped a ferry to the UK and blagged their way onto a flight to New York - the '80s were a different time, and the podcast looking back on the episode is well worth a listen.  I really miss having this beer fresh on tap, but now that we've moved to Dublin's Northside (for friends outside Dublin, the Northside/Southside thing is a whole mood), it feels even more like a beer 'for us,' thanks to the hyper-local angle.

Ballykilcavan Bambrick's Brown Ale, 5.8%
Beernerdia is always lamenting the imminent death of the brown ale, yet it's very much alive and well here, thanks to Ballykilcavan - this beer is simply gorgeous. Don't let the middling 3.8 on Untappd fool you; this may not be a 10% double IPA (though they make one of those as well), but it's a fabulous beer. Again, Ballykilcavan's sense-of-place game is strong; their Instagram shots of their 17th century family farm's beautiful outbuildings, which then find their names and stories represented in the beer labels, are very much characters. It will be delightful to actually *visit* at some point in the future.

Kinnegar Scraggy Bay IPA, 5.3%
Scraggy Bay is the name of the beach near the brewery in Donegal - a place I still haven't managed to visit - and Kinnegar's perfect, old-school IPA really does evoke that windy, beachy feel. The can art, again, brings the sea to the consumer, and stamps the beer with the locale. Kinnegar's mascot rabbits (hares?) are busy captaining and rolling kegs onto the ship. Kinnegar's very name is an Anglicization of the Irish for 'rabbit,' so their origins are built into the beer. And going back to the beer itself, in a world of hazy/cold/milkshake IPAs, having a well-crafted, balanced IPA is a bit of a novelty.

So, there you have it – just a quick selection of Irish beers for #FlagshipFebruary that also happen to convey a strong sense of where they come from – and I can’t wait to raise a few glasses with the Craic Beer Community at the next (virtual) meetup!