Showing posts with label Craft Beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Craft Beer. Show all posts

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Kinsale’s CRU is Grand! Bubbling with personality


Kinsale’s CRU is Grand!
Bubbling with personality


CRU, at 5 Main Street, Kinsale

Cru is a relatively new winebar and bistro in Kinsale’s centre and was busy and buzzing when we called recently for dinner. Good simple food is promised here with good wine and music as well. And they deliver on all counts.

And there’s a very warm welcome led by owner Colm Ryan and backed up by the friendly staff. The wine list is pretty extensive ranging from cheap and cheerful to the very serious stuff and all the notes are by the owner who will also be very glad to help you make your choice. Indeed, there is almost a “standing order" here to have fun. Enjoyment is positively encouraged.

Colm has also compiled the music list which blends perfectly into the buzz as the long and narrow room, divided into three sections, fills. There is also a smaller room upstairs, ideal for groups of up to twenty two or so.
Fish special - Lemon Sole

No delay here - you soon have the menu and water at your table and either the owner or one of the staff on hand to answer any queries and also to fill you in on the day’s specials. And these specials are seriously worth reading and noting.

Fish is prominent here, on both the regular menu and on the specials. It is a very good place to try oysters if you haven't done so before as they sell them singly here. They come from nearby Haven Shellfish as do the mussels.

Indeed CL started with the Moules Mariniere with the traditional white wine, cream and garlic sauce. They don’t promise cutting edge here, just “simple but high quality food”. And that can be applied to the mussels. And also to my Pan seared scallops with Clonakilty black pudding, pea and mint puree, crispy pancetta. And the Clon mention reminds me to say that there is a definite support here for local producers.

On then to the mains, both fish. My pick, and it was faultless, was the Pan roasted John Dory with salsa verde, basil mash and a side of market vegetables. CL went for the special of Lemon Sole, a couple of delicious fresh fillets with prawns and mussels, samphire, black pepper and lemon butter, crushed baby potato and market veg. Well cooked, well presented and another dish well polished off. Indeed, all of six plates went back empty.
Sundae

There is also a desserts specials board, quite a few choices. CL is a crumble specialist so she picked the Apple and Blackberry Crumble with crême Anglaise and ice-cream. The fruit was superb here. I meanwhile was tucking into the eye-catching strawberry and lemon curd ice-cream sundae.

Oh, I’d better mention the wines!😀 We enjoyed an Albarino; the Val de Sosego 2017, from Rias Baixas DO, had a great balance of fruit and acidity and went well with the fish. And our second was the Frescobaldi Castello di Pomino 2016, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, with a lovely rich palate and persistent finish. I think I got more out of this excellent wine while sipping between courses.

Prefer a beer? You’re covered here with craft beers by Eight Degrees, 9 White Deer, Black’s of Kinsale, Clonakilty Brewing Company, all available and also the local Stonewell cider.

So that was it. After another wee chat with Colm, another two happy CRU customers headed out into the calm summer’s evening.




Wednesday, July 4, 2018

More from the dark side.


More from the dark side

It may be summertime, with a vengeance, but here are a few beers that you can enjoy anytime, even if they are on the dark side.

White Gypsy Dark Lady, 5.2%, 500ml bottle


“Follow the Hops” say Kinnegar on their bottle (below) while Tipperary’s White Gypsy says “Follow your Fortune”. You won't go far wrong if you follow White Gypsy and this particular lady, a brew that contains Bohemian and Munich malts, roasted barley, Saaz hops, and Czech yeast.

A dark brown colour conceals this European lady who turns out to be a lager; as the bottle says “don't be afraid of the dark”. The Dark Lady also turns out to be well-made, well mannered. Nothing sinister here, just an interesting beer from Templemore, not for the first time. The notes from the roasted barley are a prominent feature though, in fairness, it has an excellent rounded flavour all the way through to a very satisfying finish.




Kinnegar Black Bucket “Black Rye IPA”, 6.5%, 440ml can

Don’t think I've ever met anyone from Kinnegar Brewing but I do get on very well with their products, right since I first tasted them in The Cove Restaurant in Port na Blagh in June 2013. Enjoyed three that evening: the Limeburner Pale Ale, the Scraggy Bay India Pale Ale and the Devil’s Backbone Amber Ale.

And now this one is added to my favourites. They call it “the bigger darker brother” to their popular Rustbucket Rye. It balances rye and roasted malts with fresh hop aromas and flavours and is unfiltered. 

This special beer comes in a long black robe but no disguising this is an IPA and one out to make a name for itself. Hop aromas and flavours, along with coffee notes, combine to make this an outstanding drop.



West Kerry brewery “Carraig Dubh” Porter, 6%, 500ml bottle
This is the real black, that of traditional porter, and the ingredients are malted barley, hops, yeast, and water from their own well. It has a lacy head that doesn’t linger, persistent aromas of toffee and caramel. Flavours follow through in this smooth porter and then there’s a lip smacking finish.

So black is back but was it ever away? Not for those of us who saved the hay or gathered to help at a threshing, a heavy glass bottle of porter in your hand at the end of a hard day.

It also reminds me of going into Kelly’s in Belderrig (on the north coast of Mayo) and the lady behind the counter grabbing a chipped enamel jug and ducking down and coming up with it full before pouring my black pint. No head, of course.

Fancy another from the dark side? Check out West Cork Brewery's Roaring Ruby Red Ale, yesterday's Taste of the Week.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Larkin's Brewery of Wicklow. A Family That Brews Together.


Larkin's Brewery of Wicklow.
A Family That Brews Together.
Unusually, for a craft brewery, the main focus in Larkin’s County Wicklow Brewery is on lager. Maybe it is a Wicklow thing as Mont, known for their lager, are also based here.

Just a few years ago, the Larkin family beer enterprise was confined to the domestic kitchen. Decision to “go” in 2015 was backed by the whole family and a year later equipment was ordered. Great feedback at the 2017 Irish Craft Beer Festival saw the Larkins schedule a full launch early this year and now, with a trio of lagers front and centre, they have arrived.


Larkin’s Pale Ale 4.5%, 440ml can €3.75 Bradley’s Cork

Essentially this is a pretty serious Pale Ale, refreshing, with low to moderate bitterness. Colour is a mid-gold (hazy), white head is long-lasting. Might be of moderate bitterness but the twice used Lemondrop and Cascade hops make their presence felt as this well-made beer heads to a dry finish.

Larkin’s Märzen Lager 5.7%, 500ml bottle €3.50 Bradley’s

The Märzen style originated in Bavaria. It was brewed in March (hence the name) and served during the Octoberfest. “Dark brown, full bodied and bitter” is the description of the original.

Larkin’s is pretty close to that: malty, good flavour and a clean finish. Colour may not be quite a dark brown, closer to amber. The off-white head, thin to begin with, lasts longer than expected but that’s a minor detail. This is a highly enjoyable lager and well worth a try.

Larkin’s Doppelbock Lager 7.6%, 500ml bottle €3.95 Bradley’s

“There’s eating and drinking it” is a Cork saying and it could well be applied to this strong lager. Traditional bock is a sweet, relatively strong beer and the name doppelbock indicates even more strength. It was originally brewed by monks for nourishment during Lenten fasting. Cute boys, those German monks.

The Larkin’s Doppelbock has a dark brown colour with a coffee-cream head that vanishes fairly quickly. It is aromatic, with concentrated sweetish flavours including caramel that disguise the high alcohol. Strong yes but fairly well balanced and with a satisfactory finalé. The Märzen is the easier drink though but if you are fasting, then that Doppelbock’s your only man.

Larkin’s Baltic Porter 7.0%, 500ml bottle €3.95 Bradley’s


Baltic Porter comes originally from the Baltic states, usually stronger and sweeter. By the way, a lager yeast is normally used and indeed, you read “lager” on the Larkin’s label.

It has, as you'd expect, a black body; also a coffee coloured head that doesn't last long. Toasted coffee and caramel type flavours, a touch of that sweetness too; flavours are concentrated and the finish is soft and pleasant. A rather nice porter but not that easy drinking. Might use it as a warm-up for a stout session!

* They also produce a Helles lager but I didn't get my hands on one - yet!

Larkin's Brewing Company
Unit 2, Renmore Business Park, Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow.
info@larkinsbrewing.com
+353 (1) 281 1640


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Leisurely Tour and Tasting at Cotton Ball Micro-Brewery


Leisurely Tour and Tasting at Cotton Ball Micro-Brewery
Eoin (right) starts the tour.

The sun shone as members (and guests) of the Munster Wine & Dine gathered at the Cotton Ball for a leisurely tour of and tasting at the pub’s own micro-brewery. The brewery was founded by the Lynch family less than five years ago yet they’ve outgrown the original brewery and have moved into a new one in their Mayfield (Cork) premises.

The old brewery is being wound down, our guide Eoin Lynch told us, but is still being used for some brews, including their Lynch’s Stout. He is delighted with the “huge difference in space” afforded them by the new facility.

They also have their own mill, the grain coming from Togher. Speciality malts are imported, mainly from Europe, and we had some fun smelling the many aromas.
Speciality malt, from Belgium

Someone asked what’s the most popular beer. Eoin: “Most of the beer in the world is lager. Craft or not, you can’t ignore that. It is a very competitive market with more and more craft breweries opening. We use tip top ingredients here but labour is the big cost!”

They have almost tripled batch size with the new facility. “But we still need to balance demand, not to get too far ahead. You don’t want product sitting around.” And he confirmed, in response to a question, that draught does indeed taste better. One of the reasons is that most bottles are filtered for “shelf life purposes”.

He showed us some of their kit, including the bottling line, capable of doing 1,000 bottles an hour. A new keg wash means they put through three kegs at a time instead of one previously.

Now it was time to sit down in the Brewery Room, pay tribute to the bar founder, one Humphrey Lynch, Eoin’s great-grandfather, who left Ballyvourney at 15 years of age and settled in an American town known as Byefield which he later used in naming his Cork estate house. 
Cheese please

After working for two years with Joseph Longfellow, cousin to the famous poet, he worked for a year in the ship yard at Newburyport until the American civil war broke out. 

He was one of the first to enlist in the 4th U.S regiment light artillery battery and served through 27 general engagements principally in the army of the southwest and along the Mississippi valley. Then he worked for 14 years as a foreman of the picker room in Newburyport cotton mill. 

This would later give him the name of a public house he purchased in Baile na mBocht  (now Mayfield) after returning to Ireland in 1870’s. Nowadays, each bottle from the new brewery pays tribute to the man who made it all possible, bearing an image of American Civil War veteran Humphrey on the label. 
Keg washing facility

We were on the draught though, five beers in all. And Isabelle Sheridan of On the Pig’s Back supplied the cheeses for the pairings. Generally, it seemed the stronger the beer, the stronger the cheese. 

For instance, the lager and the easy drinking Indian Summer paired well with the Ardsallagh Feta, the Ale with Hegarty’s Cheddar, the Indian Pale Ale (with the Magnum hops, a favourite bittering hops here) with both the Cheddar and the Bleu D’Auvergne. The stout too matched up well with both the cheddar and the bleu. And Hegarty’s new comté style cheese called Teampallgeal was very popular across the board!
le bleu
A pint of Lynch's

After that generous tasting, there was a pint “of your choice” for each guest and lots of chat as the evening wound down and I relaxed with a flavoursome pint of Lynch’s excellent stout.

Until the next time, which will be a mid-summer trip to the county on July 8th. Members are asked to keep an eye on their emails for details. Later in the year, we will be visiting The Mews in Baltimore and Longueville House in Mallow.

  • A more detailed account of the soldier and entrepreneur Humphrey Lynch may be found here  
  • The Cotton Ball website is here
  • For more info on Munster Wine & Dine, click here

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Few Beer Classics. Four of the Best


A Few Beer Classics

Four of the Best

St Bernardus Abt 12, 10% abv, 33 cl bottle €4.50 Bradley’s of Cork

This extra strong Belgian barley wine style beer has a large creamy head; colour is golden brown and there are fruity and hoppy elements in the aromas. It is complex and full-bodied, packed with flavour and then a long finish with a hoppy bite. Well balanced overall and no wonder they call it “the pride of our stable”.

Indeed, this quadrupel is regarded as one of the best beers in the world. In the Belgian scheme of beer, quadrupel indicates it is stronger than a tripel, which is stronger than a dubbel. One for sipping then, but each sip packs a beautiful punch. 

St Bernardus, by the way, run a B&B in the brewery. Now that, combined with a tour and tasting, would be some visit. In addition, “B&B Het Brouwershuis is a place to enjoy a gastronomic breakfast buffet, to take the time for a chat and to make use of the unlimited possibilities to explore the region”. Check it out here.  

Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, 5.95%, 33 cl bottle, €3.50, Bradley’s of Cork

The complexity of this multi award winning American style IPA is down to no less than the six hops used: Chinook, Centennial, Ahtanum, Simcoe, Columbus and Cascade. Thornbridge, based in Derby, are regarded by many as Britain’s leading 21st century brewery.

It wears this complexity lightly though and you’ll have no problem sipping your way through this beauty from the UK brewery. It has a fairly cloudy pale yellow colour and hoppy aromas. Smooth on the palate, hoppy, citrus notes too, and a beautiful balance all the way to hoppy finish. Not too much more to say except that this is more or less the perfect IPA. Not surprised that the award tally worldwide has soared to over the one hundred mark.

Saison Dupont (Belgium) 6.5%, €2.95 33cl bottle Bradley’s Cork

Beer has been brewed here for centuries but it is only in the last 20 years or so that the Dupont Brewery has become a global reference for saison. As Michael Creedon of Bradley’s told me “if you don’t like this, you don’t like saison”.

It is a cloudy mid-amber, fountains of micro-bubbles. Aromas of citrus. Light and fruity, zesty and refreshing, yet no shortage of hearty flavour. Reckon any labourer, even a keyboard one, would be happy with this impeccable beer. Superb finish also with the bitterness now to the forefront.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 5.6abv, 355ml can at Bradley’s of Cork


This 100% whole-cone Cascade hops beer, with its piney and grapefruit aromas, is a classic, all natural, bottle conditioned and refreshingly bold. And still going strong after 35 years.

Bitterness comes in at 38 and suggested food pairings are grilled steak, citrus salad, Thai curry and roasted veg.

So what does this “turning point for American beer” taste like? Well, it looks like hazy amber in the glass and smells like its well hopped, pine notes coming through. By the time I had written that, the frail white head had more or less vanished. Time for the first sip which was superb, hops and fruit, a terrific mouthful. No wonder it has become a classic, setting the standard for start-up breweries across the world. Viva Nevada!

Just noticed that this Pale Ale has been voted No. 1 in Food & Wine's 25 Most Important American Craft Beers Ever. See the full list here.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hackney's Five Points Brewing Comes To Cork. From one marsh to another.

Hackney's Five Points Brewing Comes To Cork.
From one marsh to another.
From one marsh to another, Five Points beers should be a good fit in Cork. The independent brewery is based in the heart of Hackney (East London), situated in a Victorian Railway arch and takes its name from an adjacent five-way junction. The beers, as we found out at a very enjoyable tasting in the Abbot’s Ale House, a craft mecca, last week, are full of flavour and aroma; all are unfiltered and unpasteurised for a better taste.

Five Points, founded five years back, launched in Ireland on the first of the month and Accredited Beer Sommelier Francesca Slattery, Ireland Account Manager, was in Abbot’s to guide us through a very interesting tasting indeed.

We started with the Pale. “We spent six months developing this, we had to get it right. It should be our backbone.” It is right and, with 60% of the sales (total of 2.1 million pints!), it is indeed the backbone of Five Points. It is a fresh, modern and aromatic Pale Ale (4.4%); easy drinking and perfect for any occasion. Hops are Amarillo and Citra and it comes in cask, keg, bottle and can.

The next beer, XPA, was actually brewed for an occasion, a local music festival. Citra and the Australian Galaxy are the hops. Francesca (Chess for short!) said it was bitter upfront but with a sweeter finish, the Golden Naked Oats help give it a nice mouthfeel. At 4% ABV, it is extra drinkable too and proved so popular at the festival that it was kept on the list. Can and keg.


On then to a bottle - Five Points package in cask, keg, can and bottle - of Hook Island Red (6%). Anton of Abbot’s: “If red good, then rest of beers should be alright.” And it is good, surprising one or two with its quality. I reckon it would be even better with food. Chess: “Though red is not a big thing in the UK, I love this beer, the way the hops cut through the sweetness and the rye makes it spicy.”

Customers may like the rye but brewers don’t as it can clog up the system! Still Five Points loaded this with 20% rye. Six malts and three hops all added to the final result. Cask, keg and bottle.
Francesca finds a winner!

A well balanced, full bodied beer brewed with all-British barley and Golden Naked Oats, coupled with Willamette hops from the USA, is how they describe Brick Field Brown. With earthy aromas and flavours of Demerara and hazelnuts, “it’s a hug in a glass”. Hops is Willamette, it is 5.4% and sold in cask and keg.

“India Pale Ale,” said Chess, “is an English thing.” But it took the US to revive it and that spurred the UK to renew their interest. White Shield and Bengal Lancer were mentioned as being iconic IPAs but we were happy to settle for the delicious Five Points version at Abbot’s. It is quite perfect so much so that you hardly notice its 7.1 ABV. Available in keg, bottle and can.

Then we had a final treat, the very last of the Derailed Porter at 5.6%. Chocolate and caramel with sufficient bitterness, this old style porter is delicious but Chess teased by telling us that it was even better in cask!

And so the tutored tasting came to a close but the evening was only starting as we moved downstairs for some serious tasting. Say no more!
Thanks to Anton (far right) of Abbot's for the pics.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Six of the Best from Lough Gill Brewery

Lough Gill Beers
Six of the Best
During a recent visit to Lough Gill Brewery in County Sligo, we got to taste a good few of the beers and left with a bagful to try out at home. Got a chance to do just that at our leisure recently. We started with three of their core beers, the first three below, and then moved on to some of their limited editions, the final three. Great variety coming from the banks of the Garravogue, one of Ireland's shortest rivers. Keep them coming lads and great to see them available in Bradley's on Cork's North Main Street.

Lough Gill Thieving Bastards Pale Ale, 5%, 440ml can
Just a small family owned brewery in Sligo taking on the big beers from God knows where. And making a right fine fist of it. And some mighty fine beers too.

Amber is the colour of this not so pale ale, indeed it's not too far off the red ale colour. Rich and malty on the palate and a lip-smacking dry finish. Recommended.

Lough Gill Mac Nutty Macadamia Nut Brown Ale, 5.5%, 440ml can
The guys at Lough Gill admit to having hand-toasted “trays upon trays of macadamia nuts” for this brown ale. No doubt about the colour here, a rich dark brown. Rather handsome overall from the introduction that deposits bags of flavours. It has an excellent body and a nice balance of hops and malt. Not unlike the Newcastle Brown Ale that you find in a pint bottle.

Macadamia nuts, by the way, are native to Australia and are full of healthy fats. Highly Recommended.

Lough Gill Round the Clock Breakfast Stout, 5.2%, 440ml can
I’m a sucker for oatmeal stout and this, with oats from Flahavan’s no less, is a temptation. Add in a dark coffee and it becomes irresistible. 

The brew is black of colour, intensely flavoured and, if Neven can serve Irish Whiskey in his porridge, then surely I can have this rich smooth (as any former taoiseach’s silky shirts), for breakfast.

Never too early, never too late for this Very Highly Recommended Round the Clock stout.

Lough Gill Wild Rosé Wheat Ale, 5%, 440ml can
This is from their Wild Atlantic Series, promising Big, Bold, Extreme Flavor (Note US spelling!). Expect wild sour and funky beers reflecting their location in these limited releases.

Not too sour at all is the initial impression from this “Golden Blush” coloured ale but it does grow on you. There is an undeniable tartness, quite a refreshing one, and also an excellent balance between the bitterness and sweetness. Doesn't say it in the ingredients but I thought I heard there was the odd hedgerow rose in the mix. Recommended.


Lough Gill Hoppy Scotch Ale, 9%, 440ml can
And, from the Irish Punch-up Series, comes this Scotch Ale, also known in Scotland as “Wee Heavy”. Lough Gill will fill this series with “even bolder flavours and higher ABVs (starting at 8%)”. Again it is a limited release.

It’s a dark ruby colour, aromas of malt and fruit, rich malt and caramel flavours, sweet and smooth, quite intense, yet little outward sign of the high alcohol which is well camouflaged. No big sign of the hops either. Did they mean Happy Scotch Ale? In any case, I'm quite happy with it. Highly Recommended.

Lough Gill Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Cream Stout, 11%, 440ml can

Another limited release, this from the Rebel Stout Series, the ones your mother didn't tell you about. As you probably expected, it is black (good guess!), coffee aromas with a ultra smooth palate featuring malts and coffee. Again, very well balanced. Hard hitting at 11% but it is a smooth customer, delivering a velvet punch. Very Highly Recommended.

Read all about our brewery visit here.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Swagman Rocks in Sligo

The Swagman Rocks in Sligo

It’s a busy Friday evening at The Swagman in Wine Street, Sligo, and owner Dale Barber is on duty, as always. There are Australia flags (Irish too!) and memorabilia around the walls and ceiling but Dale is cheering Ireland this evening as they take on Moldova in the World Cup. The Australian has been in the news in the town over the past few days having cooly helped stop the robbers of a nearby phone shop.

Ireland score and there's a large cheer. Dale tells me that goal will be cheered in small towns across Australia. It is important to the diaspora, something that we don't always recognise in this country. Dale is sometimes puzzled by the lack of enthusiasm for the national team when things aren't going well and amazed by the contrast when we qualify for a finals tournament.

The no frills pub is a bit like the straight talking Australian from Tangambalanga (Victoria) where his parents had a busy pub offering food and drink and accommodation. And indeed, many years and countries later,  advice from his visiting parents helped him decide on buying the Swagman. Wife Sinead, whom he had met on his travels, came up with the name and so, the Swagman was born at the start of the decade.
Soul in a Bowl. Tequila, Lime,  Garlic and Beef Stew 

The Swagman has over one hundred craft beers and we enjoyed an ale from local brewers, The White Hag, as the conversation turned to food and its provenance. Dale offers a simple but very good menu, well sourced and served on white plates!  It is all about fresh, local and fair here, the fair meaning that it is well priced. And, aside from the Kangaroo offering, a nod to his heritage, the source is local because that represents his values.

Dale is something of a gardener himself and indeed would love to do more on that front but that would take from his work at the pub. He speaks enthusiastically of picking your own in the tunnel and almost poetically when describing the fresh taste of home-grown tomatoes or indeed of any fruit or vegetable. And of course, much of the produce from home is used here in the Swagman where you can expect a daily special called “Soul in a Bowl”, a roast of the day, and pizza (making pizzas is another of his accomplishments!).

The two of us and Dale were keeping an eye on the match but as it approached half-time we had to leave. We had a dinner reservation nearby and would, as always, honour that. But it would have been good to stay and eat and watch the rest of the game in this pub with soul. Instead it was firm handshakes all round as we headed into the street.

While The Swagman has a rustic, maybe outback, feel, the newly opened Anderson’s on the banks of the dark Garavogue is a creature of the 21st century, inside at least. It is plush and colourful and lively with a cocktail menu on the counter. 

But some craft beer as well and that harks back to the origin of the building which once housed a brewery owned by the Anderson family and called Lough Gill. Their Anderson’s Red Ale was the biggest selling beer in Connaught in the 19th century and that original brewery closed early in the 20th.  The exterior has been retained.

Earlier, I had visited the new Lough Gill Brewery (just a few miles away) and was told the story. The new brewery (2016) started by making their take of the Anderson’s Red Ale and it is on sale around the town and also, right here in the revamped old building, there is a tap. I very much enjoyed that Ale here in Anderson’s, the purpose of my little pilgrimage.  


Before I headed off for another dinner, I also drank, for the first time, an offering from Dublin’s Five Lamps, a very enjoyable Liberties Pale Ale. Didn't see their Monto Red on the taps. Maybe, one bit of red is enough in Sligo town.


Other pubs with grub on the Sligo Food Trail include: Fiddlers Creek, Hargadon's, Harrison's, and the Strand Bar.
See also: Lough Gill Brewery
 Strandhill Food Festival
Sligo Cafés
Embassy Steakhouse
Rugantino

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Holy Smoke On The Mardyke. Temple of Fire and Smoke

Holy Smoke On The Mardyke

Temple of Fire and Smoke
Wings

If you visit Holy Smoke, and you should, you’ll be visiting a kingdom of fire and smoke. And your royal guides will be John Relihan and Deccie Walsh.

John welcomed us to their tasty palace on the Mardyke last Tuesday night for a rather special evening: six courses of pit smoked BBQ paired with either Irish Craft Beer or Irish Whiskey. Caroline Hennessy, of Eight Degrees and author of Slainte, introduced the beers while Killian O’Mahony, a recently qualified cooper at Midleton Distillery, told us about the whiskey.

Did you know that Holy Smoke is housed in the original Woodford Bourne cellars (1875), that stored at one time over 50,000 gallons of choice whiskies, Cognac, rum and casks of wine, sherries and ports?

Gubbeen sausages
John told us they cook  here “with fire”, using a Japanese Robata grill and a large smoker. They use sustainable charcoal (supplied by an Oxford firm). Ribs take four hours while brisket and pork can take 14 to 16 hours. He stressed the importance of using the right charcoal and the right wood.

He has trained with some of the best, including Jamie Oliver, and in many cuisines including BBQ, Italian, Spanish, Japanese. “It’s been quite a journey,” said the man from Duagh in Co, Kerry. They have just introduced steak to the menu - “you can expect lots of different cuts and do check out our Jazz event on October 25th.” Link is here.

Six courses seems like a lot. But the Holy Smoke team judged this to perfection. It was quality all the way but the quantity was spot-on too, not too much and certainly not too little. 
Baby Ribs

After a welcome drink of Prosecco and a bowl of pickles and pork scratchings, Caroline introduced the first of the beers. “The Franciscan Well were among the first of our craft brewers and their traditional red ale, the Rebel Red, is great with pork.” And our first dish was Gubbeen Hot Links Sausages. These spicy sausages, commonly used in southern US barbecues, got the taste buds up and running.

More pork now but of a very different kind: Wet Rubbed Baby Back Ribs (marinaded overnight and smoked for four hours over oak). Caroline praised the quality of Irish Malt and said Eight Degrees were proud to use it. And certainly the Howling Gale Pale Ale had a good solid base of malt, a lovely aroma and not too hoppy and proved a good match for the ribs and the cornbread.
Pork sliders

And next came one of the highlights of the night: Pulled Pork Slider (shoulder smoked low and slow for 14 hours). Amazingly succulent and delicious and the Stonewell cider, that Caroline had been keeping in reserve, proved an ideal match. 

Head Chef Deccie Walsh managed to take a few minutes away from the kitchen and told us of his love for slow cooking and nose to tail cooking. He really enjoys this type of event. After last night, we all do! 
Local ale

Another highlight next: Pit Smoked BBQ Chicken Wings (marinaded, smoked for 4 hours and char-grilled). Accompanied by pickled celery and a blue cheese dip, this was a superb mid-menu course, fingers in action again. And the beer? Another from Eight Degrees: the Barefoot Bohemian Pilsner, a nice light beer in the traditional Czech style and excellent with the wings.

Brisket Burnt End Sliders were now arriving on the table, another highlight for me, all the more appreciated when we heard that their journey to our plates had started during the storm of the day before.
Brisket

We had a two drinks to go with this one. The first was a can of the Franciscan Well Irish Pale Ale, a favourite of mine. “Don't drink from the can,” Caroline advised. “Pour it into the glass, the better to appreciate its lovely amber colour, the citrus aromas. As you drink, you’ll note the citrus bite.”
A winner

Killian told us about the importance of the casks as he introduced the Green Spot whiskey made at Midleton from pot still whiskey aged between seven and nine years, with 25% coming from sherry casks.

Time then for dessert: Chocolate, banana and caramel brownie, with a whiskey sauce. Obviously, if you had whiskey remaining (I didn’t), you could have tried a drop with this. 

The final beer was the award-winning Amber Ella from Eight Degrees. As Caroline said, it has a lovely malty flavour to go with the brownie and the sauce. First brewed in 2014, this American style amber surprised the home brewers by taking a bronze in the World Beer Cup in the US. “It was  a big surprise,” recalled Caroline. “ It was a boost for Eight Degrees but also a boost for Irish craft.”

Killian had ended his whiskey intro with a toast to friendship and the lovely evening finished in that kind of spirit, old friends met and new friends made. Thanks for the invite and Slainte to all at Holy Smoke.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lough Gill Brewery (and Meadery!). Focus on quality and consistency.

Lough Gill Brewery (and Meadery!)
Focus on quality and consistency.


It’s a Friday evening and I am sitting in a classy new bar, Anderson’s, on the banks of the Garavogue in Sligo, on an ale "pilgrimage".

Back in the 1800s, Anderson’s Ale was the most popular beer in Connacht and the family owned three breweries in the province, one of them housed in this very building. The story makes my pint of Anderson’s Ale all the tastier!

The new Anderson’s Ale is produced by a new family micro brewery, the Lough Gill. And, that morning, James Ward told me that they  (he and wife Valerie) went back to the region’s roots to brew a traditional Irish ale that is their interpretation of what was originally produced. “It opened the door for us.”
Anderson's, once a brewery, now a smart pub

While Lough Gill’s initial beer looked to the past, their production now looks to the future and James sees that future in cans and in America. Their beers are geared towards the US market and their eye-catching can labels are designed by a US artist. Indeed, their brewer Tony Wickham is a Lakota Sioux from Montana.

You get the drift once you sample their Mac Nutty, a nut brown ale (with toasted macadamia nuts), similar to Newcastle Brown Ale that you may have seen in a one pint bottle. Mac Nutty is one of their regular beers and exported to the US where Lough Gill is established in New York State and Massachusetts.

The water, and the name, come from nearby Lough Gill and that was also the name of the old brewery. It is not the first brewery for James and wife Valerie. Their initial venture, the White Hag, was the first brewery in Sligo for the best part of a century. After a couple of years, he sold it to its investor group and launched Lough Gill, with Anderson’s Ale, just last November.



Now they make quite an array of beers, lots of bold flavours and tastes here, including their Round the Clock stout; recommended for breakfast as it has Flahavan’s Oatmeal included!

They mill everything on site here. “We crack it open, it’s fresh. Our focus is on quality and consistency.” Irish malts are used for all their basic beers while specially malts are sourced in Belgium.

He took us through the process. By the way, this is a steam operated brewery, a better boil, better beer. After the usual mash tun, kettle, the more unusual whirlpool, the cooling, it goes into the tank and fresh yeast is added. “We use live yeast, makes for a better product. When we make our Imperial Coffee Oatmeal Stout, the yeast goes crazy. At 11%, this stout is the strongest in Ireland.”
In Lough Gill with James (left) and brewer Tony (right)

Their four core beers are: the Mac Nutty nut brown ale, the Round the Clock stout, the Heinoweiser IPA, and the Thieving Bastards Pale ale; some of the names are a finger up to the bigger brands. The stout and the brown ale are both exported. In addition, there is the Rebel Stout Series, the Irish Punch Up Series (which has started with a  barley wine), and the Irish Wild Atlantic series (sours).

“Sour is huge in the US. We have a sour wheat beer, a Wild Rosé Ale, an Imperial Peach Sour and a Cherry sour is coming soon.” And coming soon too will be their Mead.

Didn't know they had a Meadery here when I arrived but enjoyed a taste from the tank and can confirm that Tony’s Mead is a very different take indeed. James told me that it is the oldest drink in the world, “made by women and the drink of legends”. Tony has made mead in the states where it is quite popular. And James reckons that the far east, especially Japan and China, will prove likely markets.

Amazing energy and innovation here. Must be in that Lough Gill water. Maybe in some other local liquid. Best of luck to the team here as they take Sligo brewing on to the world stage.

* That same evening, Lough Gill was awarded Best New Sligo Business 2017. James: “We have yet to reach our 1st anniversary brew day and we are extremely delighted to receive this award at such an early stage in our business.” Great to get honoured in your home town.

See also: Strandhill Food Festival
Sligo Cafés
Clo's Chocolates
Rugatino of Sligo
Embassy Steakhouse
The Swagman Rocks

Mescan’s Belgian Beers from Croagh Patrick. Strong. Caveat Emptor!

Mescan’s Belgian Beers from Croagh Patrick.
Strong. Caveat Emptor!


I’ve been enjoying the beers from Mayo’s Mescan Brewery for a while now and their Saison has emerged as my favourite. Met up with Cillian O’Moran, one half of the team, last week and he told me that it is also a favourite in the brewery.

A saison-al tip:  I just came across this quote from Garrett Oliver, author and brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery:....the Belgian farmhouse saison style tends to add sharper bitterness, often alongside peppery notes. These beers make great matches for tangy fresh goats cheeses, and can be a great way to start off a cheese and beer tasting.

It wasn't the best of times to visit the very small Mescan operation as Cillian and his Flemish partner Bart were busy preparing for their annual Octobertfest at Westport House and that was where we chatted in the Autumn sunshine. Bart is the guy with the engineering skills, a very handy asset in a small-scale operation. They have been buddies for 20 years, both vets.

They admit on their Facebook that it all began as a rebellion “against our day jobs as veterinarians..we were feeling depressed about all the on-call in our job and the lack of time to pursue our other interests. We talked about what else we would like to do with our lives and pretty soon the conversation got around to beer. We love beer, especially Belgian beer”. 


As you may have guessed, Mescan make Belgian style beers. “We only make beer that interests us,“ said Cillian, “Beers that we like and find interesting. So no IPA, no Irish Red Ale. It is against our philosophy to follow a popular trend.”

That doesn't mean they don’t make popular beers! Their Blond was the first they brought out and has become a firm favourite with the public.

They also make some strong beers. I had tasted two recently, the Extra and The Tripel. We had a little chat about the two and I said the Tripel was my favourite of the two. “Interesting,” said Cillian. 

I think he would have been more pleased had I picked the Extra. This was an effort to make a high alcohol beer without too much fruit and there were some differences in the production. They started it cool, kept it chilled and then allowed a slow rise in temperature before a rapid rise towards the end of the process. Worth getting a bottle of each to compare. Might do the same myself, again!

“Seasonal is not a huge thing for us but we did a Kreik last year and there are still a few bottles around.” No sour cherries this year but they have now found a new source and you could well see another Kreik next year.

But a new beer is on the cards for Christmas. “We have tested a small trial brew and both of us were extremely taken with it. If the 2,000 litre batch is as good, then it may well become a regular.”

“We’re almost like the Galagapos Island of craft brewing, operating in an enclave of our own. No time for net-working!” But that may change as Cillian is winding down his regular job as a vet to go full-time in the brewery.

“I intend to work full-time but we’ll have to increase sales to make that doable. The small scale suits us. We are not building empires. I don't want to spend days in the office, not cut out for it. Small and natural is our way and that's the way we like it.” And it looks as if their punters like it that way too.

Mescan Beers:
Westport Blond (5.5%);
Westport White (5.0%);
Westporter Stout (5.0%);
Westport Saison (6.2%);
Westport Red Tripel (8.5%);
Westport Extra (9.3%).

Mescan beers, delicious and distinctive, are all bottle conditioned, so not available on draught. Keep up to date with their Facebook page here.

And where did that Mescan name come from? It’s named after St Patrick’s right hand man and personal brewer. They say that Mescan’s brews facilitated audiences with the chieftains when Patrick went out on his conversion missions!

And one more thing about these beers, these mostly strong beers. The bottles carry a warning for lovers: “Our beer adds to the desire but may take away from the performance”. Caveat emptor.