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“Canning has moved on enormously,” declared beer expert Pete Brown as the Litfest 2016 beer tasting got underway in Ballymaloe last Sunday morning. “It's the freshest way to keep beer”. The session was named Hops and Glory, after one of Pete's books, and he was accompanied on the panel by Caroline Hennessy, co-author of Slainte.
Our first beer was a can of the Yankee White IPA by Rascal’s Brewing. Caroline was happy with this Belgian style IPA: “It’s a lovely food friendly beer, ..feels lighter than five per cent!” Pete says it is now a very popular style. “Every new brewery starts with an IPA”.
Worthington’s White Shield certainly got Pete going: “One of my five desert island beers...not a modern IPA but the only true survivor of the old style that was shipped on 6-month voyages to India and drank like mother’s milk…. This is very hoppy, also very malty, a wonderful balance...gets better with time”.
Caroline is part of the 8 Degrees Brewing Company and their Full Irish was next. She stressed the importance of local. They used local barley, malted in Togher (In Cork City). “It is a single malt beer and made to showcase the malt. First made in 2014, it was Beer of the Year in 2015”. Pete noted the hops on the nose, the good balance and equally good body.
Another can followed: the marvellous Ironmonger from Metalman, first launched in 2011. As readers of Slainte will know, Caroline regularly looks for the food angle and praised this as food friendly. “There is a huge change in restaurants,” she said, noting that local food is now being matched with local drink (including beers and spirits).
Pete again admired the body and said he hadn't come across Metalman before but had been enjoying it at the bar in the Big Shed next door. In general, he remarked that one of the best beer tastings you could have is a cheese matching: “Great fun with a small group! Just get a few beers and a few cheeses.” Caroline surprised him when she said she found Crozier Blue and the full Irish a very successful pairing.
On to the next one: Black Lighting from 9 White Deer in West Cork, a style that they agreed involves some “messing with your head”. After all, IPAs are not meant to be black but both agreed it is a wonderful style, Caroline adding that it was a “very American style IPA”.
A little discussion on hops followed. Pete said the character changes from place to place, the influence of the terroir. Caroline advised trying some of the single hop beers available, a good way “to build your knowledge”.
Beer Number Six, the citrusy/grapefruity bottle-conditioned Boundary Pale Ale, came from a Northern Ireland cooperative brewery. Caroline has noted a rapid advance of craft beer in the area, and more: “I would recommend a visit to Belfast...good food and drink.”
Pete was on a cloud nine as we finished with Cloudwater DIPA v3, a special edition: “This is the most hyped beer, the most hyped brewery..the best brewery in Britain right now….so much juiciness, so much fruit character..all from the hops”.
This weighed in at 9% and Caroline explained how high ABVs can come about. “If you have lots of hops, you need lots of malt to balance. Malt means more sugar and that means higher ABV”.
So applause all round as our expert duo brought the curtain down on an entertaining and informative beer session.
Pete Brown, author of the World’s Best Cider, said the Irish craft cider scene is one of the most exciting right now. The ciders have “high juice content” and the makers “love their apples”. One of the most exciting yes, despite rankling under a very unfair tax regime that would seem to be designed to stifle innovation rather than encourage it.
Take Longueville House Cider Mór as an example. Because producer William O’Callaghan has added a wee spoon of brandy to his basic cider, the tax on Mór is five times the normal. Leslie Williams has raised the general issue many times, saying the current rebate system, which is very good for craft beer makes, is unfair on cider makers. The producers of an excellent wholly Irish product are being punished.
So that's the sour notes out of the way. The rest of this panel discussion, the opening one in the Drinks Theatre at this year’s Ballymaloe Litfest, was focussed on five delicious ciders, five quite different examples, none of which would have been available just a few short years ago.
Pete Brown was joined on the panel by Leslie and by Caroline Hennessy, author of Slainte.
They and the audience were welcomed to the “tractor shed” by Ballymaloe’s Colm McCan as we gathered to hail cider, the drink of the common people for perhaps 2,000 years, according to Pete.
Producer Simon Tyrrell introduced his Craigies 2013 Dalliance. Simon, well known for his wine background, says with Dalliance “we try to express the vinous side of cider”. He mentioned the terroir (Cappoquin Estate, sandstone). The apple blend is fifty fifty between Ekstar and Falstaff, both eating apples, and it spends 15 months on its lees.
Bright fresh fruit with extra creaminess here and you’ll note some cloudiness from the yeasts. Pete Brown said Dalliance proves you can make cider out of eating apples. And this is a good one.
“We use no chemicals at any point” said Rod Calder-Potts as he introduced his organic Highbank Proper Cider 2014. “We encourage microbial activity to counter any malign organisms...Cider makes itself..no sulphites...we put it in a barrell..local yeasts do the rest.”
This was bottled just last week by Con Traas, is 100 per cent apple and naturally dry. Pete loved the contrast between the first two ciders and confessed to being obsessed by yeast, at least with how the yeast converts sugar to alcohol! Leslie reminded us that, compared to beer makers, cider makers get just one chance per year.
And now Leslie introduced yet another type of Irish cider, Cockagee from County Meath. He did mention that there was “devilment” in the name but didn't go into the details. It is keeved, a process common in Brittany and Normandy and explained here on the Cockagee website.
Pete said you can only shake your head with wonder that a process from the 14th or 15th century can still produce a “beautiful natural cider. In a blind tasting, I would class this as Breton and it would be a perfect match with crepes”. Caroline agreed but their hints for crepes went unheeded!
William O’Callaghan, as he introduced his Longueville Mór, disclosed that the first apples in their orchard, planted 25 years ago, were intended for apple brandy rather than cider and that their micro-distillery was the first such in ireland. William, a chef who trained in Normandy, started the move to cider there about two years ago.
The Mór is their regular cider with a drop of apple brandy that “gives it a nice little kick”. It fermented naturally with local yeasts and produced with no sulphite. It went down very well indeed and William is proud of it, quite rightly, “but that tax is a pain!”. Caroline asked him what food would pair with it. On its own or maybe with cheese was the answer. I had it a week or two ago at a cider evening in Electric with fish and chips. Caroline herself was thinking Lemon tart!
The Ballymaloe five. Dead men.
We finished with the limited edition (6,000 bottles) Stonewell Tawny 2014. Daniel Emerson told us all about it: “it is a chapitalised dry hop cider..the natural sugar is supplemented with additional sugar and this raises the ABV… minimum aging is 12 months and there is an extraordinary range of flavours over the 12 months”. Lots of tasting, no doubt!
At the end of the process, the cider is “very sweet, like an apple ice-cider”. They decided to counteract this by passing it through Eldorado dry hops. The result was very good and the Tawny has “proved remarkably successful.” And we could all see why. Pete was delighted with it saying it reminded him of a Canadian Ice Cider, “beautiful’.