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!

Beers for a Tenner

While I don't do new year's resolutions, I did have grand plans to get back to blogging much more regularly when we moved to Ireland in early 2020. Circumstances (waves hands around at…everything) did not support those plans, but I'm hoping to do better in 2021. In support of that goal, here's a quick post to that ties to this week's Beer Ladies Podcast, where we discussed beers on a budget and hangover cures, both real (?) and spurious. The brief for the cheap(er) beer was to see what we could find for under €10. Given the current lockdown restrictions, I took the challenge to my local Centra, rather than roaming further afield to a higher-end off-license, and managed to pick up the following for about €9.50:

While I knew the Rascals beer well already (and am a big fan), I'd never tried the other two. I had to dive down a Google rabbit hole to find out more about the Journeyman, as a top-level 'official' page is nowhere in the first few pages of search results - in fact, The Beer Nut has the first useful report on the beer (and back to that in a moment). This quick bit of research revealed (to me) that the brewery of record on the bottle, Station Works, is now part of the Pearse Lyons family, so it's essentially a 'sibling' of Foxes Rock Session IPA from Pearse Lyons Brewing and a 'cousin' to Lexington Brewing Company's Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, also part of the Pearse Lyons/Alltech portfolio in the US. It still strikes me as very odd that there does not seem to be a findable website for the brewing arm in Ireland - the distillery website is easily found, and, given what I've had from both the distillery and the brewery, I would have to assume that the distillery is very much the priority. The other beers I've had from Pearse Lyons, both in Ireland and in the US, have ranged from underwhelming to aggressively mediocre (looking at you, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale) - but I've liked the whiskey, so…

However, I note that The Beer Nut review of Journeyman from 2018 was, on the whole, positive…which makes me wonder whether the particular bottle I picked up was, perhaps, close to that 'vintage.' Everything about it tasted more than a little old and stale, but it seemed to be much more the result of having sat on several pallets and in storerooms much longer than it should have, rather than there being an issue with the actual recipe and brewing in this instance. I'd happily give it another shot if I could guarantee freshness, but, in this case, even for something in the neighb(u)orhood of €2.50, it was a partial drain-pour. While it was by no means the worst thing I've had recently, I still had 'better' options for the calories involved.

And so, on to the Archway Lager, which was a very pleasant surprise indeed. The can seemed to be fresh, and it was a clean, crisp lager. Nothing fancy, but also something that would be more than a match for a sunny afternoon, ideally with some soccer involved. It was slightly pricier than Carlsberg, which is also one of my go-to soccer beers when I can't find a low-key local craft option. I know that Franciscan Well is owned by the macros these days, but still hope to get to their brewpub at some point post-COVID, as I hear their pizza is amazing (and, in my experience, even when the 'original' has been purchased by one of the big ones, the local brewpub often still gets to make some interesting one-offs), so…

And pizza is a perfect segue to the Rascals, as I do believe their pizza is the best in Dublin, and a perfect complement to their excellent range of beers. Not being able to actually *go* there is not great, but the Fruitropolis, Wunderbar and Happy Days beers are all fantastic go-tos I'm happy to have in my fridge on the regular. It will be very exciting to get back to the brewpub in person and have some of their other creations - hopefully we all get those shots soon.

Of course, it wasn't just me on this week's podcast - go have a listen to hear what Bean and Joanne thought about budget beers!

Annual Beer-y Roundup, 2020 Edition: Highlights

You’ve skipped the longer 2020 summary narrative (fair enough) or arrived here after slogging through it, so well done. And, really, well done in any case for making it through 2020. Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my favo(u)rite beer and whiskey discoveries of the year.

The Breweries
Hope Beer
I love everything about Hope – quality all around, something for everyone in the standard lineup, and fantastic seasonal releases. Bonus points for being not only train-accessible, but train-celebratory: their Hop-on Session IPA features the Dart train. I LOVE TRAINS. And great beer.

Four Provinces Brew Co
MILD JOY. Gob Fluich is a perfect dark mild – absolutely the ideal ‘school night’ beer, and one that goes with everything from pizza to chocolate (so, essentially, all the key food groups of lockdown). But again, the whole lineup is delightful – a very more-ish lager and a fantastic session IPA, among other tasty beers. Very much looking forward to their pub re-opening since 1) I’ve never been and; 2) they will have a beer engine. Cask of all sorts is hard to find in Ireland, but I can’t wait to have the mild on cask. Additional plus for being a good entry point for the new learners of Irish – their bilingual approach is a handy excuse to get studying.

Whiplash Beer
Wonderful beer, friendly people and top-class branding – Whiplash cans are instantly recognisable and always a sign of good times to come. I’m not, on the whole, a fan of hazy beers, but a hazy IPA from Whiplash is always welcome. There are some wonderful stouts and grisettes in the mix, too, and I cannot wait for their Fidelity Festival in 2021 (vaccines permitting). We had a great time interviewing Lynsey, Whiplash’s lead cellar brewer, on the Beer Ladies Podcast, and learned some fascinating inside information – give it a listen!

Ballykilcavan  Brewery
Who doesn’t love a good brown ale? While the style may currently be too thin on the ground for my liking, Ballykilcavan Bambrick’s Brown is outstanding, another ideal go-to beer with nearly everything. Once again, the year-round beers are great, and all named after features on their beautifully-photographed family farm (truly a strong Instagram game). The seasonal and one-off specials are all worth a try as well – some lovely surprises in the mix.

And on to the honourable mentions: I have thoroughly enjoyed a number of beers from Lineman, Kinnegar, Trouble, Rascals, Heaney and Yellowbelly – all Irish breweries doing a lovely job, and I look forward to more from each one in 2021.

whiskey tastings at home!

Distilleries
Tipperary
I’m still very much learning the basics when it comes to whiskey, but have been very impressed with the various bits I’ve been lucky enough to sample from Tipperary, and love their approach to mixing technology and tradition – you can scan the QR code on the bottle to find out about the barley used in the whiskey, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Their own-barley single cask whiskey is amazing.

Currach
The whiskey is matured in seaweed-charred barrels. It sounds weird. It is weird. But it’s good weird. They also feature great art direction and beautiful bottles, but it’s very much backed up by the product inside. Another pleasant way to wind down after a day of not leaving the house.

Shops
I’ve only had the good fortune to discover all these brands through the thoughtful sourcing and speedy delivery from a number of amazing local Irish businesses – many of which had to develop an e-commerce function overnight. So, massive shoutouts to: L. Mulligan Whiskey Shop, Craft Central, Beer Cloud, The Beer Club, Martin’s Off-License and Craft Geek Merchandise – you’ve each had a hand in introducing me to a new beer or whiskey and/or kept my wardrobe up to date with appropriately-themed merch.

Here’s to a better 2021 for all.