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.

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.
 

Annual Beer-y Roundup, 2020 Edition: Preamble

Our first night out in DublinIt would probably be more accurate to include ‘whiskey’ somewhere in the title as well, since the various lockdowns here in Ireland have had the useful side effect of introducing me to many interesting whiskeys as well as beer through numerous virtual tastings. But before we dive in to an (almost) entirely non-hierarchical ‘favo(u)rites of the year,’ it’s probably worth noting that A Few Big Things Happened in 2020:

In January, we moved from Seattle to Dublin. Although my role is technically Dublin-affiliated, my colleagues are largely based in Basel. I spent our first few weeks ‘in’ Ireland mostly shuttling between New Jersey and Switzerland for midweek meetings. I do not recommend this approach for settling in to a new city and country, especially when attempting to find schools and housing. During a brief stint of my not traveling just before the Irish election, our teen went out to see Neil Hannon, my forever-favo(u)rite artist, play a few songs on Grafton Street; I had a meeting, but assumed I would have plenty of similar opportunities, now that we were living in the same country, so decided not to skip the call. I should have skipped the call.

In March, we got in just under the wire to obtain our IRP cards – the residence permits that let us funny foreigners live officially in Ireland – before everything locked down in response to COVID. While my at-home workdays became much longer, the abrupt cessation of travel was, for me, quite welcome. Our smaller child had perhaps 3 weeks in school (and our teen would not have *any* in-person contact with ‘people who are not us’ until September), but the pivot to Home School Hub on television helped her continue to adapt – and to get a lot of her videos screened for the nation. We spent the next several months being horrified at what was happening in our home country (even more than usual) and feeling extremely fortunate not to be there.

Careful now.Throughout the first lockdown, virtual meetups and tastings were the key to some kind of normal life, though we spent several of those first few months without real furniture. All our worldly goods had arrived via sea from America, but they were quarantined at the port. We were sleeping on inflatable beds and had only a rapidly-deflating couch in the living room throughout that time. We had managed to get some cheap plates and silverware, but knowing that our books, PELOTON and actual, solid furniture were within our 2KM radius but could not come to us was frustrating (not to mention not great for one’s back). Nevertheless, the Beer Ladies kept us sane through weekend Zooms.

Toward the end of the first lockdown, we were finally reunited with our ‘stuff’ – and working at home became much more comfortable as I was no longer simply sitting on the floor with my laptop (and I could actually work out again – my knees can only take so much running). And, as previously detailed, when the lockdown lifted, I got to see my virtual friends in person. We had a few drinks and started a podcast, but more on that in a moment. We had the opportunity to visit Galway and Kilkenny – so far, still the only places outside of Dublin I’ve been able to visit since moving to Ireland.

We spent much of the summer looking at houses to buy (renting in Dublin is, to use a technical term, hella expensive, even by the standards of other places we’ve lived, and it’s a nightmare with pets). We finally had an offer accepted and began the incredibly slow process of moving toward actually getting the keys…which we hope to complete early in January. We very much look forward to getting out of our Celtic Tiger-era rental, which manages to be both very expensive and incredibly cheaply-built, and into an actual house.

Beer Ladies PodcastAutumn brought the return of in-person school (and a return to semi-lockdown, though again, I’ll take anything happening in Ireland over the disaster that is the US) and also saw the launch of the Beer Ladies Podcast. We’ve managed some fantastic episodes with our rotating cast, and have had some great guests; I’m particularly proud of our session with Lynsey from Whiplash, and I’m excited about what we have planned for 2021. Like and subscribe!

In summary, it’s been a lot. I miss theatre, concerts and museums, though at least we managed to get in to some of the best local ones during lighter periods of lockdown. I miss (personal) travel and seeing other people, but I’m also glad I’ve had the chance to discovery so many new-to-me beers and whiskeys.

And, given that’s probably what you came here for in the first place…on to my best discoveries of 2020…

A Tardy Decade Wrap-up of Travel, Beer, Running, Etc.

As ever, I'm very much late to the party, but I did finally get around to looking back at my last 10 years of beer and travel. Apparently, I drink a lot of pale ales, porters and black IPAs when left to my own devices. And weirdly, as a runner, I keep getting faster and faster.

This was a thing back them2009
Travel: USA – Seattle, for soccer, little expecting we would eventually move there; Kentucky, for friends and horses, Rehoboth Beach
Running: My second Dogfish Dash – and first 10K; second Valley Forge Revolutionary Run
Beer: Nodding Head Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse,  Yards Brawler, Victory Uncle Teddy’s Bitter
Achievements Unlocked: Seeing Rachel Alexandra win the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward in person; blogging about it a lot
Other Notes: I miss Berliner Weisses served with syrup on the side, and not (usually) weirdly pre-flavored

2010
Travel: USA – Washington, DC, for the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear, Rehoboth Beach
Running: Third Dogfish Dash, briefly lost then-5 yo at that year’s Revolutionary Run
Beer: Victory Yakima Glory, Yards Brawler
Achievements Unlocked: Getting an MLS team, having previously only had a supporters’ group with no team
Other Notes: You can see the back of my head in certain shots of the Sons of Ben documentary

With the Hammer O'Glory2011
Travel:
USA – NYC – yay, theatre! St. Louis – depressing family stuff, Rehoboth Beach
Running:
WHYY12K, another Dogfish Dash, first half-marathon
Beer:
Russian River Pliny the Elder/Younger; Urban Chestnut Zwickelbier; Pretty Things Saint Botolph’s Town
Achievements Unlocked:
Taking our Brooklyn-born kid to his first Broadway show (How to Succeed in Business…)
Other Notes:
This was a great Philly Beer Week year; also enjoyed meeting up with my favorite all-women beer clubs, In Pursuit of Ale and West Chester Beer Ladies

2012
Travel:
England – London, Avebury, Bath, York; Wales – Cardiff; USA – Rehoboth Beach
Running:
Another WHYY12K, another Dogfish Dash, second half-marathon, Broad Street Run
Beer:
Pretty Things Once Upon A Time X Ale – November 22nd, 1838; Troegs Scratch 68 – Zwickel Licker (Lew) &  Scratch 63 – Danny’s IPA; Westvleteren 8
Achievements Unlocked:
Visited the Doctor Who Experience before it closed; got a 7 yo to happily stand throughout all of Henry V at the Globe
Other Notes:
Tired Hands opened!  We certainly appreciated having the best brewery in the country (fight me!) a short walk away from our house, and we still miss it now. Tired Hands OoeyGooey, Zombie and Goblin were early favorites.

Carlsberg Brewery2013
Travel:
Denmark – Copenhagen, Aarhus, Billund, USA – Rehoboth Beach
Running:
Another WHYY12K, (yet) another Dogfish Dash, just missed an age-group placing for Get Your Rear in Gear 10K, another half-marathon
Beer:
Dogfish Head Nordicthern Europe & Birra Etrusca Bronze; Tired Hands Ancient Knovvledge, LiverPool; Barren Hill Tavern West Coast Oats & Burton IPA
Achievements Unlocked:
Thoroughly enjoyed the Carlsberg brewery tour & Danish beer in general
Other Notes:
Loved the Barren Hill Tavern, which had replaced the General Lafayette Inn with vastly better food and beer; still worry we killed Seamus Heaney, whose Beowulf translation is our favorite, by visiting Sagnlandet Lejre,
the likely inspiration for Heorot in Beowulf; his death was announced during our visit. Jerry Orbach died the day after I bought a rare autographed record, so there’s precedent here

2014
Travel:
USA – NYC, Colonial Williamsburg, St. Louis for more depressing family things
Running:
Navy Yard 5K (super-slow, very pregnant pace)
Beer:
Yards Brawler, Urban Chestnut Oachkatzlschwoaf
Achievements Unlocked:
Produced child, despite weirdness with Kell antibodies and being An Old, hence a short beer list for the majority of the year; got to take an entire 13 weeks of maternity leave and earned a lot of street cred at the office by doing my last few pre-leave conference calls while being induced
Other Notes: Made it back to Tired Hands and Barren Hill ASAP, post-birth; still did not see any ghosts; prior to that, saw Cabaret back on Broadway with Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams, as well as the OBC of Fun Home.

Last Barren Hill visit2015
Travel:
USA – Rehoboth Beach, Seattle
Running:
Navy Yard 5K (new 5K PR), another Revolutionary Run, Philly 10K, another ODDyssey half marathon, (my) final Dogfish Dash
Beer:
Conshohocken Brewing Company Puddlers Row ESB, Machine House Dark Mild
Achievements Unlocked:
Successfully endured marathon Amazon interviews after getting a call out of the blue
Other Notes:
Alas, Barren Hill closed not long after we moved away, though we made the most of our last visit

2016
Travel:
USA – NYC; England – Manchester, Liverpool; Canada – Victoria, Vancouver;  Ireland – Dublin – liked it a lot, but, once again, had no idea we’d be moving there
Running:
Hot Chocolate 15K, Brooks Trailhead 10K (first age-group placing!), Lake Union 10K, Beat the Bridge 8K, Beat the Blerch 10K
Beer:
Machine House Cambridge Bitter, Cloudburst Chocofloxx, Spinnakers Mitchell’s Extra Special Bitter
Achievements Unlocked:
Took 11 yo to NYC to see Hamilton with the full original Broadway cast; then took the family on a long weekend trip from Seattle to the north of England to see The Divine Comedy in Liverpool, semi-rhyming a trip I’d done previously from Northern California to Bristol for the same reason
Other Notes:
Kid in question became Neil Hannon-obsessed a mere two years after his first live experience, so my work here is done – as of this writing, he is doing the heavy lifting to indoctrinate the smaller child

Thor 10K2017
Travel:
USA – Los Angeles, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Portland, Philadelphia; Canada – Vancouver; England – London
Running:
Star Wars Rebel Challenge (10K & half marathon), Tenacious Ten, Beat the Blerch half marathon, Avengers 10K
Beer:
Karl Strauss Mosaic Session IPA; Ex Novo Cactus Wins the Lottery
Achievements Unlocked:
Became runDisney, and Disneyland in general, obsessed; discovered that Portland beer and food lived up to the hype; saw the OLC of Hamilton
Other Notes:
Had an excellent time at Gallifrey One

2018
Travel:
USA – Los Angeles, Anaheim, Honolulu, Ko Olina, Astoria, San Diego; Canada – Victoria
Running:
Tenacious Ten, Women of Wonder 10K, Goodlife Fitness Victoria half marathon (new PR – finally under 2 hours!)
Beer:
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Fig Mtn Light, Three Weavers The Messenger, Maui Brewing Puelo Pale Ale, Half Door Brewing Father Ted
Achievements Unlocked:
Aulani! Conference speaking! Surviving another year at Amazon, just; met Ron Pattinson IRL!
Other Notes:
Finally made it to Hawai’i and San Diego; still not sure why there is a better European beer selection in the middle of the Pacific vs in the Pacific Northwest

Yub Nub2019
Travel: USA – Los Angeles, Anaheim, Ko Olina, Philadelphia, NYC; England – London; Canada – Victoria; Germany – Munich; Ireland – Dublin; Switzerland – Basel, Zurich
Running:
Tenacious Ten (new 10 mile PR!), Lake Union 10K (new 10K PR!), Tunnel to Viaduct 8K (new 8K PR!)
Beer:
Noble Ale Works Nose Candy, Wild Card Table Beer, Maui Brewing Pineapple Mana Wheat, Vancouver Island Brewing Nanaimo Bar Porter, Gamorrean Ale at Oga’s Cantina
Achievements Unlocked:
Flew to London for a long weekend just to see Company in the West End; rage-quit Amazon; CO-PILOTED THE MILLENNIUM FALCON, saw Hadestown and Beetlejuice on Broadway (twice)
Other Notes:
I have been on a lot of planes this year

So, what’s next? Well, we’re off to Dublin in January for my new-ish job, so I expect to be spending a lot of time with the Ladies Craft Beer Society of Ireland, who have already provided a warm welcome; and – perhaps – I’ll start beer writing for pay again, something I didn’t have time to do while trapped on Planet Amazon. I’ll also hope to connect with the Dublin Mikkeller Running Club, as I loved the Philly group, and checking out the Disneyland Paris runDisney runs is also on the agenda (as is taking advantage of affordable European travel for theatre and opera).

See you soon, Europe!

Beer Travels: Kennett Brewing Company

It’s been nearly four years since we moved to Seattle (with our next move on the horizon), and in that time, there have been some fine additions to the brewing scene in our old Pennsylvania stomping grounds. While we had been to the Kennett Square outpost of Victory Brewing Company before, our most recent trip was our first opportunity to try Kennett Brewing Company, and they are a very welcome addition indeed, both on the beer and atmosphere fronts.

First, the location: the brewery is in a very walkable part of Kennett Square, and you can’t miss the hop-skull branding as you approach. The theme continues as you descent the staircase into their subterranean-feeling taproom, and I am nothing if not a sucker for a slightly gothy/folk horror setting. The artwork and branding is fantastic in that regard, and we probably purchased a few too many t-shirts and posters; my only minor quibble is that more women’s fits and sizes would have been nice, but there was otherwise a nice variety of options.

Of course, on to the beer, and this was why we really spent all the money on the merchandise – Kennett Brewing delivers. We had a reasonably large party (kids included on this occasion, and they were also well catered for with the food and drink choices on offer), so we got to try quite a few things. I absolutely adored the Ploughman Porter and the Wee Wobbly Scottish 100 Schilling [sic – I assume there’s a name-related pun in here in this instance]; the Jammy Jammy Bastard Pale Ale was equally delightful. Although our visit was in the heat of August, it felt pleasantly autumnal inside the taproom, thanks to a winning combination of great beer and top-notch creepy design work.

All told, a fantastic spot for a pint (or several), and a great expansion of the local beer community. We’ll be making a point to go back on future visits.

Beer Travels: Noble Ale Works

beeeeeer We've had the good fortune to find ourselves in Southern California relatively frequently over the past several years, and have discovered a few local favorites when we're in the area – Three Weavers, Karl Strauss and Noble Ale Works. We had the opportunity to get to Three Weavers earlier in the year, and, more recently, to Anaheim's Noble Ale Works. I'll (eventually) get around to writing about the most welcome and ever-increasing variety of beer options in and around the Disney Parks (beyond the temple of pure joy that is Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge), but if you're in the neighborhood and need a break from the Mouse and/or your children, Noble Ale Works is a great option.
 
The taproom is only a few miles away from Disneyland, and reasonably accessible by bus, but we opted for a short Lyft ride. Although our driver had some trouble navigating the nondescript business park, once we saw the tanks outside, we knew we were in the right place. At present, it's a smallish brewhouse and taproom with bar seating and some chairs around barrels, but it's very welcoming and relaxed. There's no food on offer, but there are regular food trucks and any number of great Mexican spots deliver, and as any SoCal trip is an opportunity to binge on said great Mexican food – Seattle just doesn't cut it in this department – we opted for that.
 
Of course, we were primarily there for the break from the children beer, and Noble Ale Works delivers. I'd previously tried and really enjoyed (I know) Nose Candy, their award-winning session IPA, and it was fantastic fresh from the source. Man's Milk, a milk stout, was also excellent (and one has to assume that their distribution area is small enough that they don't need to have the TTB approve their beer names, though, that said, a lot of the names were real triumphs: I would *love* to get back to try their winter warmer, The Ghost of Jacob Barley, or Cinnamon Roast Crunch, another milk stout). They also had a standout IPA (NOT HAZY) in Big Whig IPA, and Nobility, the double IPA, was also top notch. All told, there was a nice range of styles and ABVs on offer, and in addition to tasting flights and pints, Noble Ale Works offers a 12-oz pour – something I wish more breweries were able to offer, especially for those times when you'd like to spend a little more time getting to enjoy a beer or two you discovered in the tasting flight, but don't want to go 4 pints in. The 12 oz size is a perfect compromise.
 
While Noble Ale Works does allow children, the (currently) smallish space would have bored our pre-schooler and cramped our teenager, but as they are in the process of building out a bigger brewhouse and brand new taproom space, so that could change down the line – though, again, for those in Anaheim with kids, some adult beverages among (mostly) adults and well-behaved babies was lovely, especially as the beer was very much worth the trip.
 
Hopefully, we will get back to check on their progress before we're in town for Star Wars Celebration 2020
 

Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge

Reader, I loved it.

Yes, it was crowded, even with the required reservations, but the atmosphere in Oga’s Cantina is pure Star Wars, which, for me, is pure bliss, with the added bonus chuckle that those who wring their hands over KIDS IN BREWPUBS will find them standing at the bar here; they may not serve droids, but there are great non-alcoholic options for younger set, or, equally, those not looking to get bombed at 10 am, if that happens to be your appointed time. While there is limited seating, you’re unlikely to get it unless you’re with a very large group – we ended up standing at the bar on both our visits, which was fine for our teenager (who is, after all, taller and much more glamorous than I am), but a little tricky for our preschooler, who needed help to reach her drink.

And what did we drink? We went for funny drinks in souvenir mugs the first time around, so that meant the Hyperdrive (Punch It) for the aforementioned preschooler and the Yub Nub for me. While I’m not generally a huge fan of fruity cocktails, the Yub Nub was well-made and refreshing.

Fun fact: when we went back later in the week, the beer flights were no longer available as they had completely sold out of the racks; a regular pint was still an option, but no tasters. Our very helpful bartender (this is Disneyland, after all, and, as always, the Cast Members were all great) told us that they were not expecting them to be back in stock until September. On that visit they were also unable to serve the Bespin Fizz, which was a shame as I’d very much wanted to try it, but the dry ice powering the ‘cloud swirl’ of the drink was out of stock; appropriate enough, I suppose – Lando Calrissian himself had ‘…supply problems of every kind…’ – so even that is on-theme. But as for the beer itself, it’s from New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Ballast Point and Blue Point, albeit with in-universe names; I quite enjoyed the Gamorrean Ale. And, small aside – I’ll have a separate post on beer in Anaheim in general later, now that I have some time to blog once more.

Other drinks we tried included the T-16 Skyhopper, which was Not My Thing, and The Outer Rim, which was more my style. Both offspring went for the Blue Bantha, which is Blue Milk with a tasty cookie. The texture is a bit different from the Blue Milk served outside the Cantina – it seemed a little ‘meltier’ – but the taste is the same, and it’s still effectively a frozen drink. We tried both ‘milk’ colors, green and blue, but all agreed we were very much Team Blue Milk.

DJ R-3XOf course, it’s really about the atmosphere, and while as of now you only get 45 minutes in Oga’s Cantina at a time (though you can now make your reservations in advance, rather than only on the same day), it’s a really fun 45 minutes. DJ R-3X has landed on Batuu and is now dropping some sick beats (and telling terrible Dad Jokes) while you enjoy your drink. I won’t do a complete rundown of everything in Galaxy’s Edge (I GOT TO FLY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON I GOT TO FLY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON I GOT TO FLY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON, WE MADE A LIGHTSABER AND A DROID AND IT WAS LIFE), I highly recommend the Datapad experience, which I thought I’d try for a few minutes, only to find myself going back alone later to scan crates and hack panels for the Resistance, though it’s possible I am the very specific target audience for this activity.

I am not wholly certain what Galaxy’s Edge is like for people who are not hardcore Star Wars fans since that is entirely beyond my experience, but if anything, it only whetted my appetite for the eventual immersive Star Wars hotel that’s coming to Disneyworld – if anyone would like me to compare their Galaxy’s Edge to the one on the left coast, I’m all (Mickey) ears!