Hunting Craft Beer in Northern Italy

Craft Beer in Northern Italy

Northern Italy is experiencing a craft beer boom with the number of micro breweries growing exponentially over the last five years. However, in many ways it’s still like Ireland in that you have to go looking for it. Many bars are happy with a single Peroni tap or, if you’re really lucky, some German beers. I’m going to skip over the misses and just share some highlights with you.

Starting with Archivio which I first visited last Autumn, you can read more here! This time round I had another Mastro Matto, the Schwarz, it was malty and sweet, not bad at all. But Crak’s Mundaka Session IPA was really good! It was zingy and fresh and I’d highly recommend it. I was told their other beers are of a similar standard if you come across them. Archivio is a pleasant bar with friendly staff and decent music in the background so check it out when in Verona. It’s only a short walk from Juliet’s balcony so it’d be rude not to.

Craft beer in Northern Italy

Assobar in Bardolino is another very decent bar, they had nothing that grabbed me on draught but the menu had a fairly broad international range of craft beers listed. The lady recommended taking a look in their fridges. And yes, there were three fully stocked with something for every beer geek. Including just one Italian Craft Beer. Robb De Matt from Lambrate, a Rye IPA that’s light on Rye but is hoppy and drinkable enough to make a sunny afternoon even more enjoyable. As I once again perused the shelves of the fridge in was told, ‘not that one, it’s a standard Golden Ale, this one is much more interesting!’, always nice to get a steer when in uncharted waters.

Craft beer in Bardolino

Oh Deer Sour from Bevog is an Austrian Cherry Sour. Sours are lovely and refreshing and so, despite this being a Christmas release it still worked well on a warm April afternoon. And the guy was right; it was way more interesting than a Golden Ale!

The campsite I was staying at; Bella Italia in Peschiera del Garda was lovely but unusually, the Fish and Chips shop had the best draught selection in the place with Birra Antoniana’s Lager, Schneider Weisse Tap Seven and eh, Kilkenny.

The best discovery of the trip was Il Covo Beer House, also in Peschiera del Garda. Giacomo has six taps, all Italian Craft Beers and a range of bottles too. The Drunken Duck pub had been recommended to me but I wasn’t able to fit it on my itinerary this time round, luckily a lot of the beers on draught were supplied by The Drunken Duck Distribution so I had a sample of what they would offer.

Hammer’s Wave Runner IPA, Lariano’s La Gringa Pils and Il Birrone’s Cibus (?) were my favourites. All six were worth trying, and I did, over the course of two evenings.

Some tasty complimentary snacks were also provided. I have to say, I like the Italian habit of giving you some crisps or nuts beside your beer but Il Covo went over and above. So, please, make it your business to pay this lovely establishment a visit.

Biggest surprise of the trip was a street food festival in one of the squares in Peschiera del Garda. The Birra Di Classe Van was pouring seventeen beers from it’s side.

This impressive mobile operation was set up to promote Independent Italian Craft Beer and involved cutting a large restaurant fridge to fit it into the back of a van. Where there’s a will there’s a way! The Gøse Sal Aqua was another one from Lambrate and Giacomo from Il Covo had recommended it. T’was very tasty indeed. Nice and dry. The Truth IPA from East Side also tickled my tonsils. Keep an eye out for the big yellow van as they may be turning up at an Irish street food festival this year! Cheers for reading, hopefully this will be helpful to some of you on your summer holiday this year. Sláinte!

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Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair 2018

Well that was a week. Wednesday saw the pre-launch of the Rye River Seasonal in the brewery tap room. (I work for Rye River- just in case anyone doesn’t know!) This week the first in a series of seasonal limited edition brews. First out of the traps was a Belgian Imperial Stout brewed with Trappist yeast. We invited a few friends out to the brewery for the first taste and the consensus was that we had created a great beer. So, for once, you don’t just have to take my word for it! Check out #ryeriverseasonal on the social medias. This delicious dark beer will be hitting selected shelves and taps this week, so, if you didn’t get the chance to try it at the Alltech event there’s still an opportunity to grab it!

The fifth annual Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair took place from Thursday to Sunday in the Convention Centre Dublin. Early on the Thursday the sad news of Dr Pearse Lyons’ passing came through. Having briefly met him at some of the earlier events I remember a genial gentleman who took time out to chat to my young twin daughters. He used his massive success in the Agricultural Sciences to fund his original passions of brewing and distilling, first in his adopted home of Lexington, Kentucky and then back here in Ireland. As well as the biggest Craft Beer Festival in Ireland we also have a brewery and a fine distillery on this island. In his memory we should use the hashtag; #askforcraft . There was many a glass raised to honour him over the weekend.

A small army of my colleagues and myself had a great time working at the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair. We enjoyed getting great feedback on our new beer as well as the core McGargles range. I was delighted with the new bar which was built by our Celbridge neighbours RKD.

On the first day I was very abstemious and had no beer, apart from a little quality checking early in the evening. I did enjoy one of Pieman’s Chorizo pies though! I also got stuck into some of Barry John’s Sausages and a Peanut Butter Rolling Donut, not in the one sitting mind…

On Friday afternoon I was lucky enough to be able to attend the very informative and educational Brewer’s Lectures. Logan Plant spoke passionately and candidly about putting on an event like Beavertown’s Extravaganza. I was able to have a short chat with him and share some of our beers with him at the intermission. Sound chap!

Friday evening I got the chance to sample beers from Lough Gill, Priory, Rascal’s and the aforementioned Beavertown.

I also poured my first (?) pint of cask ale – Hobgoblin, for myself at the Wychwood bar.

On Saturday I tried Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea and Porterhouse’s Bounty, bit of a nautical theme there! I foolishly didn’t take a picture of Black’s new Kinsale Gin which has some marvellous and appropriate sea faring inspired artwork. Tastes good too.

My buddy Dave from Stationworks brought me over a taste of their excellent NEIPA and I also enjoyed Carrig’s Starwolf.

I loved Hopfully’s Carnivale, Boyne’s Dubbel ticked my boxes and Five Point’s Pale Ale was tasting great on draught. I also had a drop of Hope’s Vienna Oatmeal IPA which was very smooth.

My beer blogging buddy Ian was rocking his new role as BrewDog Brand Ambassador and he gave me a grand pint of Off Duty Alien.

I tried a few other beers too from Bridewell, Larkin’s, had a small taste of Slingsby’s Rhubarb Gin and someone may have snuck in some cans of the just released Midlands Beer Collective beer. All told the standard of beer was very good indeed. The level of organisation that went into the event was excellent so thanks once again to all involved. And it was great to meet up with so many old friends and to make some new ones. Sláinte!

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The Great British Invasion…of cans?!

Craft beer cans

We’ve always had numerous beers from across the Irish Sea on the shelves here. Well, for as long as I can remember Real Ale bottles have been around and Craft Beers landed a few years back. CAMRA get hung up on the difference but as far as I’m concerned Real Ale is the more traditional of the two and has been around a lot longer and, well, Craft Beer is a bit more ‘trendy’. You could say something about cask vs keg but that’s not particularly relevant in Ireland where cask ale is a rare thing indeed.

But I digress, for the vessels I supped from this week were mostly cans. Two London breweries have launched very recently on the Irish market. Gipsy Hill is being distributed by Carlow Brewing Company over here and they kindly dropped off a few cans for me to try. The artwork on these cans is pretty cool and they all come with a feel for the personality of the people behind the beers. The beers? Beatnik is a very drinkable Pale Ale. Southpaw is a pleasant Amber with a touch of spice about it. And Hepcat has a lovely fruity hoppiness. There is also talk of some special limited editions landing, Urban Brewing would be the best bet to get to try those!

Craft beer cans

Five Points are the other new kids on the block. They are being distributed by Four Corners and they have a representative on the ground called Francesca. Both breweries have had launch events in Ireland but I was unable to attend either of them. This trio of cans was purchased in the Athlone branch of O’Brien’s. The branding is very clean but I could get easily confused between the XPA and the Pale Ale. The XPA went down very nicely indeed and the oats did a sterling job of adding body and giving the beer a smooth mouthfeel. The Pale Ale was nice and juicy and the IPA was pretty decent.

The Irish Craft Beer Market must look pretty lucrative from London when we have two launches so coincidentally close to each other. But I had two thoughts as I drank these beers:

1) we have Pale Ales and IPAs that are the equal of these here. I’m not saying that we should drink Irish or support local exclusively. That would be hypocritical and wrong headed of me. And consumer choice is great!

2) a few Irish Craft Beer breweries have gone out of business in the last few months. That, and the uncertainty about Brexit would give me pause for thought if I was launching in a new market. But I’m sure they’ve considered all of these factors already. And I hope both are successful. As I have said consumer choice is great and competition brings out the best in everyone, doesn’t it?

Just some idle musings on an afternoon. Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think. Sláinte!

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The West’s Awake!

As a very special treat my wife and I visited Ballynahinch Castle at the weekend. It’s lovely and the food is excellent but this isn’t Simon Says You Really Should Stay Here! The tap line up in the bar wasn’t for me, but I was happy to discover that they stocked a few Irish Craft Beer bottles including some from Galway Bay and Kinnegar.

We took a slight detour on our way home to have a look around Clifden. Guy’s Bar caught my eye and I was happy to see a tap line up which included Galway Hooker, Independent, Bridewell and Stonewell Cider. A pint of Connemara Gold went down very nicely indeed.

I spotted The Brass Monkey in Moycullen on the outward leg of our journey and I reckoned it was worth a look. They had a few decent beers on tap including Samuel Adams Boston Lager. I called for a Full Sail IPA and enjoyed it beside their stove.

No trip west is complete without a stop in Caribou. Wylam’s Swiperight Session IPA is a pure juice bomb and was very enjoyable indeed. I also rather liked Fierce Beer’s Very Berry, it’s nice and tart.

Irish craft beer and pizza

Dough Bros Pizza in Galway had just been announced as one of The Sunday Times’ Best 100 Restaurants in Ireland and a couple of people had recommended it to myself and my wife. I asked the ‘craft beer question’ and was told that they had their own Dough Brews Session Pale Ale brewed by Independent. So I finished the day the way I started, with a good Galway beer. It works very well with the pizza! So there you have a few spots to visit if you are travelling through Connemara and Galway. Sláinte!

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My 2017 Beer Highlights

2017 was a good year for beer, I had the chance to try some amazing beers at home and abroad and met some good folk along the way. The year opened up with a trip to a rather chilly Copenhagen. Fermentoren and Warpigs were highlights. I would recommend a trip but bring a few bob with you! You can read more here.

February brought the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair, a perennial favourite of mine. I was behind the McGargles bar for much of it and that’s one of the best ways to meet friends new and old. We even picked up silverware for best IPA and best Wheat Beer. Happy days! Alltech is on in early March 2018, you can buy tickets now and read more about this year’s bash here.

Fast forward to May and the summer festival season kicked off with a small but interesting event in JJ Harlow’s in Roscommon. A good atmosphere and a warm welcome are always guaranteed in Harlow’s and this has the advantage of offering even more drinks than they normally stock! More pictures and words anseo. 

The June Bank Holiday weekend saw me pulling pints at Bloom. I managed to to go the whole long weekend without seeing a single garden! 

The July Bank Holiday saw the return of the Midlands Craft Beer Festival which I am involved in organising. This year we had a mix of old favourites and new faces and it was great craic. Dead Centre launched at the festival and have seen continued success since then. Read more here.

Later in July we had a family holiday to Bath and Bristol a particularly memorable pub was the Bag O’Nails! Full of felines and quirky character. 

To round off a very busy month I headed up to Ballymote, Sligo for Hagstravaganza 3. White Hag’s third birthday bash. They brought some of the best breweries from home and abroad to pour some never before tasted in Ireland beers. Tickets for the 2018 have already gone on sale at eventbrite!

In August I was invited to the launch of the very cool Urban Brewing. The CHQ houses this excellent restaurant with it’s own experimental brewery. 

Later that month I hit The Big Grill. 

Hopfully launched at the event and I love their artwork and the beers are pretty good too! 

August finished on a high note with a trip to Altes Mädchen Brewpub in Hamburg for their Craft Beer Days event. It’s a great spot and you should check it out if you are in Hamburg. 

In September I made the annual pilgrimage to the Irish Craft Beer Festival.  Ironically one of the standout beers was American. The festival marked my first encounter with new comers Larkin’s and I would say they will be ones to watch in 2018. 

In early October I was in fair Verona launching McGargles Francis Big Bangin IPA as a seasonal special. While there I checked out a couple of small craft beer bars and found the tap badge of the year! 

Later that month I was in Salzburg (via Munich) for the Beer Tasting event. I met loads of really friendly people from around Europe as the maxim about beer people being good people held true. And I got to try some more interesting beers! 

I was a bit quiet for the rest of the year but I was lucky enough to bag a few nice beers to sup over the Christmas break. Galway Bay’s collaboration with Boundary; Harmonic Convergence was for me, a late entry but one of the most enjoyable I’ve had all year. There may be a few bottles left so you could do what I did and drink one now and keep the other up for a while. This 12% Barrel Aged Barley Wine should age beautifully. Thanks for joining me on this journey and here’s to a great 2018, sláinte! 

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