A Belfast Beer Break

The photo everyone is required to take when visiting BelfastAfter nearly two and a half years of living in Dublin, we finally had the chance to take the train up to Belfast. We had been told that it was a magical city full of cask ale (OK, I confess, that’s a slight exaggeration – we were told we could find some without looking around too hard, and that it would be in good shape) and that there would be some interesting museums. Also: ice hockey, though we aren’t quite there yet, season-wise. But perhaps the most exciting part of the journey itself was that we were promised an actual trolley on the train, with tea and snacks – something sadly still absent from non-border-crossing Iarnród Éireann trains since Covid began. As it turns out, much of this was, indeed, true.

First, though, the train – the Enterprise service between Dublin and Belfast recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, so there were a few nods to that in the Special Waiting Area within Connolly Station. That said, it’s not in any way an especially unique or well-appointed waiting area, and the train itself was not of the latest vintage, though it was nicer than some local trains I have used – no USB charging points, but the standard plug options were working well enough. The reservation displays were broken on our carriage, so our queuing to board turned out to be a good move; it was something of a free-for-all (‘just sit anywhere!’ we were told as we boarded). That hiccup aside, the journey was speedy and pleasant, and the aforementioned trolley did appear; it shouldn’t be so exciting to buy tea and a KitKat on the train, but we felt we had to, since it’s not an option on any other service. Payments were accepted in both Euro and Sterling, although card payments were pounds-only, so it was a useful prompt to swap to a credit card that doesn’t charge for currency conversion.

We got into Belfast around lunchtime, and after dropping off our bags, headed out to find some cask get lunch. We had been recommended The Crown Liquor Saloon for cask and food by many people, and during pre-trip planning, I was excited to update my Nicholson’s Pub app so that we could order from our eventual table (especially handy when you have a hungry child in tow). Although their dining room was closed and it was a bit crowded in the bar area as a result (soooo many people looking for the perfect Instagram shot without even getting a beer), we did manage to score one of the very pleasant snugs and ordered away. There were not a huge number of cask options, but what they did have was very good and the food was an order of magnitude better than anything you’d find in the otherwise-similar Wetherspoon’s app. As an aside, my Grand Unified Theory of Everything is that the world would be a more pleasant place if we could replace all ‘Spoons with Nicholson’s pubs, but maybe I simply haven’t been in enough of the latter to have had a bad experience. At any rate, I had a cask stout from Whitewater Brewing in the form of their Belfast Black, and also got to sip on an always-welcome Timothy Taylor Landlord.

At The WoodworkersWe were recommended The Woodworkers, and after a somewhat sketchy walk – Google Maps is missing a little bit of nuance when it comes to Belfast directions – we ended up there for dinner. It was a fabulous suggestion; in some ways, it was as though a casual Brooklyn or Philadelphia bar had been teleported to Northern Ireland – there was a great selection of local beer, games and puzzles and fantastic food. There were also welcoming, inclusive signs (breastfeeding welcome, unpleasant behaviour very much not) and knowledgeable staff who really knew the beers on tap. Tasting flights and a variety of measures were available, so it was ideal from a visitor’s perspective. We especially enjoyed two beers – Our Brewery’s Modern Love and Bullhouse Brew Co’s Love – Pride, both great pale ales. We also got to sample a number of new-to-us beers from across (mostly) the north of England that we rarely see in Dublin. This was very much the kind of place we would be thrilled to have in our own neighbourhood, and will certainly become a regular place to tick off when we get back for another visit. Very impressive.

At The Deer's HeadWe only had time for a flying visit with a quick pint to the Sunflower Pub (but we did get the photo, above, that I am reasonably sure you are required to take when in Belfast – alas, the cask not up and running), but we went back several times to The Deer’s Head. While planning our visit (this is a very loose employment of the term, to be fair), we enjoyed watching Get ‘Er Brewed’s YouTube channel, with a special focus on their own Our Brewery and a wonderfully brewing-geeky walkthrough of the kit at Bell’s Brewery (no, not that one) at The Deer’s Head. Happily, the beers were all fantastic, and the pub and brewery within are beautifully appointed. The one downside is that food was not on for any of our visits (this kept happening to us – we had the same issue at The Sunflower with no pizza, which I assume is down to the currently-usual Covid-related staff shortages), and I’ve heard so many good things about their pie flight (PIE FLIGHT) – so, something for another time. But as far as the beer, I especially loved Capstan, an Australian Pale Ale, and the Berliner Lager. Also very worth your time was the Red Cow Red Ale – quite tasty indeed. They are naming beers after the disappeared pubs, brewers and spirit dealers of the local district from the 19th century, and it’s a fantastic tribute to those vanished businesses – that likely were not nearly as nice!

Game of BayeuxOutside the pubs, the Ulster Museum was very good (a thylacine! A coelacanth! A Game of Thrones Bayeux Tapestry-thing!), and the smallest member of our party was obsessed with W5, something of a combination science museum and climbing facility aimed squarely at her age group. W5 was also where we found some better tea; I must confess I found the Lyons at our hotel a little lightweight. We found even better tea at The Dock Café, a donation-box affair where you pay what you wish or can – they served Suki Teas, whose Belfast Black (so yes, we had tea and beer with the same name) was delicious. I must confess that the Titanic museum was impressive; nothing like the tacky displays that travel across the US (and, one presumes, other places), but a proper local social history museum, with a surprise dark ride thrown in the middle.

The only thing we missed (well, only thing apart from the PIE FLIGHT) was the chance to catch a Belfast Giants hockey game – something we are keen to rectify next time…along with visiting Boundary in person! And, yes, getting that pie flight…


Hagstravaganza 2022

On the train to Hagstravaganza with fellow Beer Lady KatieAnother beer festival, just weeks after the first in years? Yes, indeed!

We’ve previously participated in Hagstravaganza via their virtual/at-home Boxtravaganza option, but being in person is a very different beast, in all the best ways. Well, most of the best ways – there were so many people to catch up with and so many breweries I adore, but rarely get to see here in Ireland that there simply wasn’t time to really say hello to everyone nor savour everything, but this is a Good Problem to Have.

First, though, to the logistics; while Fidelity was an easy stroll from my house, The White Hag’s brewery is located in Sligo, so a good 2-hour-plus train ride from Dublin, each way. However, this proved to be very simple indeed, thanks to some good advance planning and – shock – actual communication about how to get to and from the location via public transit; this is not at all a given in Ireland, even though it certainly should be. Train options and their timing were clearly described, as were the ‘stay local’ alternatives, complete with themed pub crawls for those up for continuing their tasting journeys after finishing up at the festival. I certainly don’t have the stamina for staying out late even without all-day drinking, but fair play to those who can! I was very pleased to be able to take my time in the morning – get in a run and copious amounts of tea before meandering to the train – and still arrive shortly after Hagstravaganza kicked off. Even better, I could catch the train by my house, rather than having to go into Connolly; this was even better coming home, though with slightly more drama than expected, but more on that later.

So, on to Hagastravaganza itself – the festival is spread across the brewery’s indoor and outdoor spaces, with both tented and full-sun picnic tables. We were in the sun, and it did get a bit warm, but luckily we brought plenty of sunscreen with us, and we kept topping that up. Given that this is Ireland, in most circumstances it would be unseemly to complain about the sunny weather (though as I write this, I’m struggling to recall what rain is like), and it was by no means quite as hot as it has been here in Dublin, but it would have been an easy day to get a bad sunburn and/or get very dehydrated, so I’m glad we planned ahead in that regard.

Rather than being an all-you-can-consume for a single entry fee festival like Fidelity, Hagastravaganza gives you tokens for your entry, which you exchange for beer and food, and it was very simple to top up tokens later; I’ve been to some US festivals run this way that end up having very, very long queues to get more tokens, but this was not an issue at all. I had an amazingly good toastie – is there a more perfect food for any festival? – and good pizza, too; for an all-day beer festival, having these sorts of substantial options was essential (although again, we did bring along snacks, both for the festival and the train, since it’s still not possible to buy food onboard – but that’s another story).

And so, on to the beer set-up: most of the options were poured from a 30-odd tap bar, with a special barrel-aged room off to the side. Water – for both rinsing and staying hydrated – was just outside the main bar. If I had a minor quibble or suggestion, it would be to have had a second water station near the other end of the brewery, but I did quickly develop a rinse/hydrate/queue routine that worked perfectly well. And there were some very exciting beers indeed – I would have bought tickets just to have Green Cheek and Maui Brewing beers in any instance, since they aren’t typically available here, and they did not disappoint, even if the Maui beers were ‘old faves’ vs new oddities – no complaints in that regard, though I am always missing their top-notch Pueo Pale Ale – but it was a perfect day for Pineapple Mana Wheat, which I last had by a pool in Hawai’i. I’m hopeful their recent Modern Times Brewing deal means both brands may be more available on this side of the Atlantic in due course…well, we’ll see what happens there.

Other ‘bests of the fest’ for me included the aforementioned Green Cheek from Southern California, but especially their Bier – a gorgeous, clean Helles, ideal for a summer day. Radiant Beauty was also a perfect, old-school West Coast (and, let’s be real, best coast) IPA. I knew nothing of Italy’s Birrificio Vetra, but their Vetra Black was a beautiful dark lager, full of toasty goodness and very refreshing. Locals didn’t miss out on my ‘best of’ listing – Trouble Brewing’s Harry’s Peanut Butter Brown Ale was absolutely delicious. Fun fact: I don’t like peanuts, or peanut better – but I’ve really enjoyed most peanut butter-adjacent beers I’ve tried. This was another, and I’m glad I got to try it, after missing out on it at Fidelity. My ‘thought-I’d-hate-it-but-loved-it’ beer – there always seems to be one at a festival – was Siren’s Caribbean White Chocolate Pancake Stack. Listed as ‘a tropical white stout with cacao and maple,’ I was expecting a sweet, viscous mess (after all, what would an English brewery ‘understand’ about these ingredients?), but it was all perfectly balanced. It’s possible witchcraft was involved.


At Hagstravaganza!

♬ Seven Drunken Nights – The Dubliners


In both layout and ‘vibe’ (sorry), Hagstravaganza reminded me of Kennett Brewfest (now in its 25th year – good lord), an event we used to regularly attend when we lived on the US Right Coast. This similarity was possibly heightened by the absence of working wifi, so Untappd check-ins in real time were not an option; this was back to old-school notes in the printed program, and I’m not remotely mad about it.

The only thing I am very slightly annoyed about is that I didn’t immediately buy a festival t-shirt when I arrived; they were sold out of all the smaller sizes by the time I tried to snag one later in the afternoon. I’ve more typically seen plenty of leftover smalls and mediums at the festivals I’ve attended over the past two decades, so that was a bit of a surprise, though I did get a ‘normal’ White Hag shirt and a handy bag, so I certainly did not come home empty handed, though there wasn’t the sheer amount of beer mats, stickers and other generally portable swag you sometimes find. I’ll know better for next year.

Finally, the train ride home was very merry indeed, though again, I kept running into people I hadn’t had a chance to see all day, so clearly, we need more festivals! The burning dumpster behind the pub around the corner from our house was a bit of a surprise as we walked home from the train station, but I’m sure those who stayed over in Sligo had more dramatic stories to tell…if they can remember them.

All in all, an excellent event – well done to all who worked behind the scenes to make it come together. Let’s do it again!

A Beer Festival? In *This* Economy?

Fidelity, at lastAfter the better part of two years of anticipation, Fidelity, the Dublin beer festival brought to us by Whiplash Beer and their sister bar, The Big Romance, finally happened! The last beer festival I attended was not just in the Before Times, but was in our previous city and country: Seattle’s annual Women in Beer at Pike Brewing in May of 2019. On the whole, we tended to stick to the smaller, ideally cask-focused festivals (yes, they exist in North America); while some of the larger events like Oregon Brewers Festival can be great fun, at a certain point, they can just seem, well, crowded. There is also the tendency to bring out all of the ‘weird stuff’ – which, at a weird stuff-specific festival is delightful, but I do get a big curmudgeonly when that’s all that’s on offer at a more general beer festival. Now, some of this is related to where one is on the Craft Beer Cycle at any given point, but I do like to use a festival to find out whether or not a new-to-me brewery has a core range I might like; that said, if there is a ‘secret’ tapping or bottle opening of a bizarro one-off, sure, that’s fun.

So, with that preamble out of the way, what was I expecting from Fidelity? In truth, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, and the anticipation of the unknown was rather exciting. There seem to be – based on my limited experience of non-Covid Ireland – relatively few beer festivals of any kind in Ireland, and many of the others I’m aware of (but have not yet had a chance to attend) have been small – perhaps 5-10 breweries represented. That’s no huge surprise given the size of the craft beer market in Ireland, but Fidelity was certainly on a very different scale. Running over two evenings, with breweries from across Europe, the UK and North America as well as Ireland, this was a real EVENT. Organised (curated? I normally hate using the term in any non-specialist context, but I’ll bend the rule here.) by Whiplash and held in the Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, or, more accurately, in the Round Room, which advertises itself as ‘Ireland’s premier events venue since 1821,’ this was full-on, properly put-together Good Times. This was, perhaps, less of a beer festival and more of a festival of people who enjoy beer, which is not a criticism – just a bit of a different vibe, and, given the lack of opportunity for events of any kind for so long, a very welcome one. I got to SEE MY PEOPLE and had a great time with them.

And there was some really tasty beer on offer, even if my own personal preference would have been for a few more bitters and pale ales, given the hot weather, the trend toward weird sours was likely fortuitous. There were also a fair few beers in the 10-14% ABV range, but I usually give those a miss at festivals anyway; I just don’t have the stamina for that kind of thing any more. However, I especially enjoyed the following:

Wylam Keeper’s Ale, 8.3% – For me, this hit in all the right beer festival feels: a short but useful chat with the person pouring, who explained this was brewed in conjunction with historians at Newcastle – er – castle – from a medieval recipe, brewed with figs, raisins and other various oddities. It reminded me very much of Dogfish Head’s Raison D’Etre, and while it was stronger than my usual festival sample, it was fantastic. It definitely made me keen to think more seriously about getting over to Newcastle (where it will eventually be on tap in the castle dungeon) and doing the Great North Run at some point.

Verdant 300 Laps of Your Garden Hazy Pale Ale, 4.8% – While I tend not to be a fan of most hazy pale ales, some get it just right, and this is a perfect example. It was ‘soft’ without veering too much into the ‘juice’ category for me, and had a nice bit of bitterness as well; very refreshing indeed.

Deya Steady Rolling Man Pale Ale, 5.2% – I’ve had some really nice lagers from Deya before, but this was my first time trying this beer, and my first chance to try one of their beers from a keg vs a can. It really did tick most of the ‘Platonic ideal of a pale ale’ boxes for me, and it was so clean and fresh; I will certainly be seeking this one out in future.

Inside the magicAnd again, not a complaint, but most of my favourite Irish breweries were not represented at Fidelity (even if many of their staff were) – the likes of Hope, Ballykilcavan, Dead Centre, Kinnegar or Lough Gill were not around, though it was great to see Mescan, Trouble and Boundary, and you could certainly see and feel the Whiplash approach in everything, from the professional lighting design and art direction – yes, this was a beer festival with art direction – to the DJ setup. But as mentioned above, given the size of the industry here, I would never expect every brewery to make every ‘event’ – and perhaps a few will appear at some of those smaller festivals as they (hopefully) return to the calendar. In fact, my only knock of any kind on Fidelity is that it is an evening festival; I don’t think I’ve ever been to one before that didn’t start in the afternoon, and for a Tired Person like me who is typically well on my way to bed by 8 pm, starting at 6 was a bit of a struggle – I do much prefer the event to be a daytime one, but I’m sure there are very good reasons around venue and capacity that made evening better in this case. That was my only real FOMO – it looked like all the fun photos were taken after I’d gone home!

But a few other really positive things to highlight: the water stations were tidy and accessible, the bathrooms were clean and did not have horrible queues, and I did not see any untoward behaviour – the email sent out in advance advising people to ‘be sound’ seemed to have done the trick. There were posters around giving clear advice on how to seek help if any difficulties arose, and the tortilla chips from Blanco Niño were a great snack, even if they did eventually run out of them. This had to be an enormous undertaking from an organisational perspective, so Leah and the rest of the Whiplash/Fidelity team deserve a huge amount of credit; well done, all! My only regret was not making it over to The Big Romance, which is only a 10 minute walk for me, for the day-after afterparty, but while not hung over (thank you, water stations, reasonable pours and sensible prep!), I was still Very Tired.

We also have tickets to Hagstravaganza in August, and that should be interesting to compare; I’m expecting a very different ‘feel,’ but a lot of fun…and for that one, while it involves a train journey, I should still be able to be home by 9…the report on that will come in due course!

London: Cask, Cake, Cabaret & Cats

The Carpenter's ArmsAs I’ve already mentioned the top-notch work stuff from my London trip, it’s on to the fun stuff – cask ale, book shopping, prehistory and theatre. Beer Twitter did not steer me wrong when it came to pubs near my hotel; although I have lived in and/or spent considerable time in much of north London, south London, the East End as well as student accommodation around otherwise-unaffordable Bloomsbury, I’ve rarely spent time around what I think of as the ‘other end’ of Oxford Street or points further west. Although it was handy for stocking up at Postcard Teas, eliminating the need for another order with a mystery import duty (at least, for a while), it was clear from strolling around that this particular part of London is…not aimed at me.

That said, the recommendation of The Carpenter’s Arms was spot on for great cask ale – which makes sense, as it’s the HQ for CAMRA’s London branch. Alas, there was no food on, so I had to have a ‘meal’ of (fortunately) low-ABV ales and very expensive gourmet crisps, though that’s no complaint. I enjoyed an always-reliable/always-welcome Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter, but the new-to-me standout was Wantsum Brewery’s 1381, a session IPA. I was already very much here for a Peasants’ Revolt-themed beer, and the fact that it was also good was a nice bonus. This Kent-based brewery names its beers after local people and history – rather like our own Hope Beer here in Dublin – so that was pleasant to see.

I also got in a lot of book shopping, hitting up some old favourites like Treadwell’s and Skoob, and I am thrilled to report that both the book selection and cakes at the London Review of Books Cakeshop/Bookshop are still fantastic. My real reason for wandering around Bloomsbury, beyond getting some pictures of the now-very-tidy-looking-despite-construction UCL Student Union and Institute of Archaeology buildings (not how I remember them if, indeed, ‘remember’ is the most correct word to employ here), was to see the World of Stonehenge exhibit at the British Museum, and it is outstanding. I wish it were running longer, as I would love to get back to see it again, and to bring the family with me, but I’m thrilled I got a chance to see it. While I ‘know’ many of the pieces from the National Museum of Ireland and the British Museum quite well already, I was very, very excited about getting to see the Nebra Sky Disc, and it did not disappoint. On a side note, did I buy all possible tea towels and wallets emblazoned with said disc? I did indeed. I’m pretty sure that counts as using my archaeology degrees.  And while I always feel I *should* try something new, when nearish the British Museum, I always seem to end up at The Lamb – can’t miss their mix of Victorian snob screens, cask ales (a lovely Young’s London Original) and an excellent burger. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped off at The Euston Tap, which was excellent as always – and the Anspach & Hobday Mild and Redemption Hopspur Bitter were perfect refreshers for the hot weather.

Here, life is beautiful...And so, on to the theatre…

My last visit to London was a flying one, pre-pandemic: a weekend trip from Seattle to see Company in the West End. Was that worth the flight and jet lag? Absolutely. This was much easier, general chaotic state of Dublin Airport notwithstanding. As soon as it was announced that Fra Fee would be taking over as the Emcee in the new production of Cabaret, I was sold. I’ve seen Cabaret many times, both with and without Alan Cumming (among others), but this version is in a league of its own. The entire cast is outstanding – I don’t think I’ve ever seen Cabaret directed/acted in a way that made me care about Cliff before – and the first time we see and hear ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’ is stunning and terrifying. I am now a fully-paid-up Fra Fee fangirl; he was simply phenomenal. There is a minor beer note here too: as it’s an immersive production where you enter the Kit Kat Club and watch a talented cast perform all around the lobbies and bars beforehand, there’s also Germany-appropriate food and drink on offer. The pretzel was top-notch, and it was paired with Radeberger Pils; I’ll take it.

o hai, james masonI was also fortunate enough to see 2:22 – A Ghost Story, and I made sure to stop off at The Harp beforehand; the Dark Star Hophead was beautifully kept. I will not give away any of the secrets, but I will say that fellow fans of Danny Robin’s podcasts Haunted, The Battersea Poltergeist and Uncanny will not be disappointed. Again, it’s a great cast, and I got to tick off seeing another Doctor Who companion onstage with Mandip Gill; it’s been a long while since I saw Arthur Darvill in Once on Broadway.

But where are the ghosts?Finally, I had a quick side trip to Salisbury for Good But Complicated Cat-related Reasons, but luckily, this trip was planned on a day when the trains were not on strike, so all went well. I stopped in at the HAUNTED (per the sign outside) Haunch of Venison for a quick pint, and was rewarded with a absolutely gorgeous Butcombe Bitter; I very much wish we had some similar options here. I will confess that I did come across two pints that I had to entirely abandon because they were clearly infected – not, I hasten to add, at any pub listed in this summary – but I suppose it does demonstrate that bad cask is, well, bad, and perhaps one of the reasons we don’t have it here is just that difficulty; finding experienced people to look after it properly and a clientele who will consistently finish off casks while they are in good shape is tricky. But let’s also give some demerits to the ‘Spoons at Gatwick; not for the high crime of ‘being a Wetherspoons,’ but rather, for having something like 15 hand pumps with some truly mouth-watering options displayed, but only *actually* having Doom Bar. Nope.

But to finish on a high note (see what I did there?) I am sorely tempted to go back for another flying visit just to see Cabaret again – I do have a few micro-trips planned to see The Divine Comedy and David Devant and his Spirit Wife over the coming months – but I may well need to extend one of those before it closes…

Henry Stewart DAM Europe 2022: Thoughts

Finally back in London!At long last, London!

Finally, the DAM community was back together in person for the first time since 2019, and it was a much-needed meetup. While some things never change – for example, do we still need to talk about metadata all the time? Answer: absolutely – other themes at this year’s Henry Stewart DAM Europe were of a more recent vintage.

Theresa Regli’s always-fantastic keynote this year focused on the ‘battle for the heart of DAM’ – a reflection – and a call to arms – on how industry consolidation over the past several years has led to the rather monolithic ‘suite’ vendors (you know who you/they are) buying up standalone DAMs and then (often) not knowing quite what to do with them. Meanwhile, sophisticated DAM capabilities are becoming ever-more-foundational to the asset and content life cycle, even if not everyone realises that, and I very much agree it’s important to bring people up to speed on what DAM actually does nowadays, and why it’s absolutely fundamental to manage the right data or asset in the right place.

Presentations from LEGO and FIFA (and cheers to Paul Murphy for calling out my ‘DAM as a gym‘ metaphor in his World Cup-prep session) underlined just that theme – that as the broader content creation and publishing ecosystem becomes more complex, DAM needs to do what it is best at – managing and enriching assets, and making them easier to use where and when they are needed.

But this complexity may also be what is driving some of the DAM identity crisis that was also on display in a number of sessions. The question of changing the name came up more than once – does ‘digital asset management’ still have meaning in today’s landscape, where every organisation is a content creator? To this question, I will respond wearing my ‘other hat’ as a beer writer and podcaster – it’s just like ‘craft beer.’ There may not be a real definition that people agree on, but it’s a label that still has a meaning (of sorts), even if only as a shorthand. Similarly, we know ‘DAM’ is not the same as ‘web content management’ or ‘digital experience,’ just as no one would mistake a Heineken for a good local craft beer. They may be in the same broad category, but their focus is different. In short, ‘DAM’ has a meaning to this community, even if it can be, at times, a somewhat vague descriptor.

That said, I absolutely agree with the need to educate our customers more about DAM’s criticality – as Scott Bowen noted, too many see DAM as the ‘end of the cycle,’ and getting people out of the old thinking around DAM as an archive (not in the actual archival sense, but in the nails-on-a-chalkboard use of the term) or as an image library is a challenge we all need to tackle. In the same session, Russ Barr highlighted DAM’s centrality, based on integrations and core business function, but I know from experience that even when DAM is ‘business critical,’ it’s not always treated as such – is it a Tier One platform or service from a support/uptime perspective in every company? Probably not, and that needs to change.

My other key takeaways were along similar lines; the numerous sessions discussing the integration and interplay of DAM and PIM – and the treatment of them as ‘peer systems’ were music to my ears – as mentioned above, using the correct system of record for different types of data, metadata and content simply makes life easier for everyone, and using an integrated best-of-breed approach can add huge value; now, we just need to make sure people beyond our merry band of practitioners know that.

And, briefly, back to taxonomy – there is still clearly a great desire for more AI-powered tagging, especially as the volume of assets that need to be tagged and managed continues to grow exponentially. Once again, those ‘in the know’ understand that ‘AI tagging’ really means a lot of ‘AI training’ – but I was also encouraged to see more options for federated taxonomy management tools that can ‘play nicely’ with the DAM; there is much more to explore there.

John H always knows the best places

Outside of the sessions, it was fantastic to meet up with colleagues old and new over tea as well as adult beverages (John Horodyski and I finally had that long-overdue drink, I need to go running with Clemency Wright, and I also need to follow Jacqueline Yu’s opera career – DAM folk are a talented and fascinating bunch), and I got to enjoy some cask ale, and to binge some London theatre after all this time – run, don’t walk, to the new production of Cabaret.

Finally, hats off to the Henry Stewart team for keeping things running online during all the lockdowns, and for managing an in-person event in the middle of a rail strike – see you in New York in September!

This post also appears on LinkedIn, but without the fun pictures. You have been warned.

Out & About in Odense

A perfect pilsner(Occasional) business travel is BACK – at least, for me – and with it, a little bit of beer travel on the side.

I am fortunate enough to have not just an exciting new role, but one that’s based in one of my favourite countries to visit: Denmark. While I primarily work at home in Dublin, I recently went out to meet the team in person (something that didn’t happen more than a few times in my old position, partially due to Covid and partially due to garbage politics, but I digress). My company is based in Odense, which was a new-to-me destination. I’ve previously blogged about thoroughly enjoying Copenhagen as a beer destination, and while Odense – the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, which you will not be allowed to forget as you stroll about town – is not nearly as large, it does have some unique beer spots well worth seeking out.

I confess I didn’t do much research before heading out on my first night in town – my priority was finding something that was near my hotel, open, still serving food and that had at least one or two decent taps. With that in mind, I made a beeline to Anarkist Beer & Food Lab, although by the time I arrived, they were nearly out of the latter; I did manage to snag the last burger, and got a tasting flight of fair-to-fine beers, although nothing outstanding. The atmosphere was very much ‘taproom full of people with questionable music taste on a stag night’ and so I did not linger – but, despite the first impression, more on this brewery later.

A lovely brown aleAfter a good night’s sleep and some wandering the next day, I stopped in for lunch at Flakhaven Gastropub, a beautifully-appointed bar – or, more accurately, series of bars, both inside and outside – right in the incredibly-tidy city centre. With Danish-only signage, I found it somewhat difficult to figure out which parts were and were not quite open as the basement bar looked to be the place they sent beer nerds, with a neon taplist of beers from across Europe on the wall, but I ended up sitting upstairs and had an excellent veggie burger with a really lovely brown ale – and you know how I am about brown ales. I was told that the brewer is British, and that he tends to brew in that direction, and the guest taps from breweries like Thornbridge made sense in that regard. For my local Irish readers, there was also a Porterhouse option as well as a Guinness, because there is always Guinness, everywhere. I would love to have tried more, but I never managed to get anyone’s attention to order a second (I presume I was in some way Doing It Wrong), so I went back out sight-seeing.

My next port of call was the one I had been told to check out in advance; a cosy bar called Carlsens Kvarter, located a bit outside the city centre, but more or less within the bounds of Nonnebakken, a largely-vanished Viking ring fortress. Housed in a 19th-century former pharmacy, the interior very much reminded me of Monk’s in Philadelphia, and I was immediately offered a comprehensive beer menu that was at least partially in English. More importantly, the very friendly bartender made a point of finding out what I liked and what I was looking for (despite my vague ‘interesting local beers’ opening), and I knew I had found ‘my place’ in Odense. Carlsens Kvarter’s outstanding house pilsner is brewed by a tiny nanobrewery called Familien Ølgaard, but I think my favourite beer of the entire trip was Christian Bale Ale, by Dry & Bitter Brewing Company – another recommendation, and one that did not disappoint, ‘quirky’ name notwithstanding.

Giraffe!And while there are plenty of Danish craft beer offerings, Odense’s skyline (if we can call it that) is dominated by the giraffe-spotted smokestack of Albani Brewery, which has been part of Royal Unibrew since 2000 for people who care about that sort of thing. Albani’s Pilsner is the local rival to Carlsberg, and it is generally available around Odense, as is their Odense Classic, a Vienna lager that was introduced in the 1990s to celebrate the brewery’s 140th anniversary. The giraffe branding is thanks to their Giraf Beer, ‘…a strong golden lager – drier than its rival Carlsberg Elephant’ to quote Michael Jackson in his Pocket Guide to Beer. It seems the brewery had long used Odense Zoo’s giraffe in their advertising, but when the incumbent died in 1962, the beer was brewed to raise funds to purchase another – the more you know. I’ve been told that the Albani Brewery tour is very good, but could not find anything useful about it in English, so had to content myself with going back to Anarkist for another round – and my impression was very different the second time around.

I’d had time to do a bit more research (for this read, ‘talking to actual locals who could tell me, an ignorant person who only speaks one language well – useful things’), and while it had been reasonably obvious that Anarkist was to Albani what Jacobsen is to Carlsberg, there were a few more brands to unpack – and a little archaeology. While Albani is the ‘mother ship’ today, the brewery that sprawls over this part of the city in a way that is not at all dissimilar to St. James’s Gate and Dublin 8, was originally founded by pharmacist Theodor Schiøtz in 1859. His name lives on today as one of the various sub-brands under the Royal Unibrew/Albani banner, along with Anarkist and Kissmeyer (the latter founded by Anders Kissmeyer, previously of Carlsberg and Nørrebro Bryghus), and all are on offer at Anarkist, which looks every inch the modern taproom on the edge of the late 19th-mid 20th century Albani brewery complex. On my second visit it was much quieter, and I had a chance to take a proper look at the taplist – and had some very good beers this time. I also had time to take a look at the merchandise and the archaeology-on-display: although my Danish is – as evidenced by this piece – atrocious, I at least got the gist of the text explaining the wooden lining of a brewery well built c. 1300 nearby. I came away with a completely revised impression of the space, and look forward to returning on future visits.

Finally, it’s impossible to visit Denmark and not see Mikkeller everywhere. As they seem to be trying to move in the ‘right’ direction (certainly compared to Brewdog, at any rate) in their employee dealings, I made a stop at their airport bar, and it was…really great? The variety of beer styles, including a few guest taps, was impressive, and the diversity of sizes was very welcome. I had an absolutely fantastic Vienna lager, and the bar staff were knowledgeable and friendly, in addition to speedy as befits an airport.

In short…I can’t wait to go back…I just need to learn more Danish first!

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!