Hanging with Wolfgang and Helmut

Three times now, I’ve arrived in Munich just after Oktoberfest. One year I may get it right. I landed late enough Thursday evening and headed for Hofbräuhaus on the recommendation of Brewer Steve Loftus one of my Rye River colleagues. He told me to try the Dunkel, I dutifully did so and was not disappointed. It was about ten to ten at night when I sat down in the crowded, rowdy beer hall and I was left waiting ten minutes to be served despite asking for a menu. When my turn came they had ‘just’ finished serving food so I had to make do with a pretzel. Not ideal. 

The next day I was off to Salzburg for the BeerTasting.club event. The organisers took us to the Kalea warehouse where they put together their beer advent calendars and tasting boxes. 

And then it was on to the serious business of a two day beer festival. The Beer Tasting took place in the Panzerhalle which is a cool spot including a market, some bars and restaurants and event spaces. 

The event was very busy with locals trying a range of beers from twenty eight breweries. The McGargles beers which I was pouring proved very popular indeed! 

I found a few minutes before serving to try a sup of some of the other beers which were pouring. One of which was Next Level’s excellent Five O’Clock Earl Grey IPA. Johannes their brewer and I met at the recent Craft Beer Days Festival in Hamburg and it was good to see a familiar face. He was filling me in on the local scene. A very knowledgeable guy, be sure to check out his Craft Beer Store if you’re in Vienna. 

My bar neighbour on the Friday was a gentleman who grows and malts his own barley before brewing his award winning Schwarze Tinte (Black Ink). This one was single hopped with Sorachi Ace which worked very well in this malty dark beer.

That was about it for Friday bar a snack of raclette and some Japanese whiskey. On Saturday I filled my culture quota by visiting the Modern Art Museum. Then I paid a brief visit to Murphy’s Law (Salzburg branch) and hit the Augustiner Brewpub for the second time in, oh, around twelve years! By pure chance I sat beside Helmut Karl, a man who has been crowned world champion at the Jack Daniel’s Barbecue Championship in Lynchburg numerous times. He’s involved in the Salzburg Bulls Barbecue Team too and can be consulted on all matters carnivorous. His girlfriend and friends were also very pleasant but, you know, barbecue! I really like the Augustiner Brewpub and highly recommend that you visit. The food stalls are great there too. 

Back to the Panzerhalle I went for another busy evening. 

I had a new neighbour, Wolfgang who was a local man selling his beers under the shorter version of his name: Wolf. I tried his Elderflower Saison and it was delicious! 

Browar Dukla had driven a thousand kilometres to pour at the festival, they had a few juicy Pale Ales and they kindly gave me a bottle of their Russian Imperial Stout to bring home. They’re big comic book fans like our Wexford friends YellowBelly. 

I have to say the event was very well run and I met some very sound folks, hopefully our paths will cross again. Sláinte! 

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Roadside Tavern, Lisdoonvarna 

During the week I was in Doolin for a wedding. On the way down we stopped in nearby Lisdoonvarna with the intention of visiting the Roadside Tavern. Alas, it was closed for a private function! 

On the way home, we happily found the door open. Coincidentally it was a Burren Food Trail night and every table was full, so myself and my wife took a seat at the bar. 

I was given a taste of the Gold Lager and Red Ale. The Lager didn’t really do it for me but the Red was pretty decent. 

The Black Stout though, it was top notch. Dry, slightly bitter and with a hint of smoky peat, this one ticked all of my boxes.  I would happily sup pints of it all night. 

At this point we were having a bit of craic with the lads behind the bar and they kindly gave us one of the very special desserts that Chef Vinny had concocted for the assembled foodies. It was comprised of beetroot ice cream, cucumber jelly and yoghurt. Savoury and delicious. I would say that if they injected some of the adventurous spirit from the kitchen into the brewery they could come up with some very interesting special beers. A visit would be highly recommended. I’ll be back for food and more of the Black Stout. Sláinte! 

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Beer spots in Verona 

Work took me to Verona last weekend. A bit of internet research showed that there weren’t too many options for the craft beer lovers of the city. I decided to check out one or two while there. 

Pictured above is Osteria la Mandorla which is just around the corner from the Arena. It’s a small bar but there is seating downstairs too and they had three craft beers on draught; two session IPAs and a Pils. They also had a selection of bottles and cans in the fridge and loads of wine if you’re into that sort of thing. 

I really enjoyed Maso Alto’s Stranger Pils and it gets extra points for the very cool tap badge. I picked up a couple of the cans to bring home with me as we don’t see too many Italian craft beers here. Nice spot, worth a visit. 

Archivio is a short walk from Juliet’s balcony. And you’d be thirsty after the excitement of seeing the scene of Shakespeare’s great tragedy. 

This cozy bar had two taps from local brewery Mastro Matto. I went for the Hell first and it was very drinkable. 

And I enjoyed the malty Dunkel after that. The lady behind the bar was busy preparing fresh juices for their cocktails but still had time to chat and was very welcoming. The bar also had a range of bottles in the fridge and a good selection of Scotch whisky. Well worth a visit too. 

Another pub I visited on my travels was Hartigan’s Irish Pub. No craft beer there but you’d be guaranteed a warm welcome. And they had some interesting Irish memorabilia. 

The purpose of my visit was the launch of McGargles Francis Big Bangin’ IPA which you’ll be able to find in selected pubs around northern Italy for the next two months. It went down very well with the publicans with some of them asking for it to be a permanent addition to their line up. I’d call that a successful trip. Sláinte! 

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The decline of The Irish Craft Beer Festival? 

In the week running up to this year’s event I had heard misgivings from ‘industry insiders’ and one online punter mused that he couldn’t see the festival being sustainable in its current form. The fact is that, just a few years back The Irish Craft Beer Festival was THE ONLY show in town. Now, The Great Irish Beer Festival in Cork is giving it a run for its money and you also have the option of attending smaller, more local festivals like Yeast Meets West which also took place this weekend. Or you could hop on a short flight to Beavertown’s bash in London. Those events give punters and brewers an awful lot more choice. So yeah, there has been a decline in the number of breweries taking part in the festival from what I perceive as a high point in 2014. 

On the flip side, one of the brewers I spoke with said that takings were well up on the previous year. So he definitely saw the positive in having less breweries in attendance. I went in to the hall with somewhat lowered expectations coupled with the usual fear of missing out. One tip I had heard was to make sure and try the Epic Big Bad Baptist which was on the American Brewers Association stand. So I made my way there first. Always start with the strongest darkest beer possible. Isn’t that the rule of thumb at these things? This lived up to its name, big, ballsy, viscous, chewy, caramel, deliciousness. And I was lucky enough to bag some of the last bottle! 

I strolled down to Boyne’s bar and picked up a few pals along the way. I tried their pilot Old English IPA. It ticked the ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ box. Flying in the face of the current trend for American Style IPAs this one packs in English hops instead. Fair play Boyne Brewhouse.

By contrast Western Herd’s Cliff Road was very much in vogue. It’s not hazy enough to be a New England Style IPA but when it smells as tropical and tastes as good as it does, who cares? 

Larkin’s only started brewing in May and it was great to be able to try out some of their beers. The Czech Amber Lager was ‘on point’ as the young folk say. 

Then it was across the hall to try the Flanders Red Ale from Lough Gill which came highly recommended. It was indeed a tasty drop. They are also making mead which was delicious and quite different to everything else pouring at the festival. 

I was delighted to see the collaboration with Stillwater sitting waiting for me on Trouble Brewing’s bar. It’s a sour, brewed with hibiscus. Dry, refreshing and interesting. 

Next I had Eight Degrees Monsoon. It’s a fruity IPA but for some reason it didn’t tickle my tonsils. It is the 445th IPA I’ve checked in on Untappd and I’d say a fair  few of those were from Eight Degrees and I have enjoyed the vast bulk of ’em but you can’t win ’em all! By contrast I loved The Grainfather Stout aged in Pinot Barrels with cacao husks. That’s one for sipping of a winter evening. 

My penultimate beer of the festival was a well crafted Blond from Bridewell Brewery. Another newcomer, taking the well worn path of starting out with a Blond and a Red, not very original, but, well executed in fairness. 

The very last beer of the afternoon was a mighty fine IPA from O Brother called The Rainmaker. Those lads are fierce handy at the IPAs and this was a juicy banger. 

On the whole, I have to say I enjoyed the event, there was a nice crowd and a pleasant atmosphere. It isn’t perfect and we all want to drink from real glasses. But it was good to see some new brewers coming along and to try new beers from the more established breweries. See you there in 2018. Sláinte! 

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Craft Beer Days: Hamburg 2017

Last weekend I was representing McGargles at the Craft Beer Days Festival in the Altes Mädchen Brewpub in Hamburg. 

Pic by Paul David Smith

It was a busy weekend with 28 breweries serving 125 beers to 4,500 visitors. For my part I was pouring; Ned’s IPA, Rosie’s Pale Ale, Mary’s Red Ale and the very popular Francis’ Big Bangin’ IPA. Of course I checked regularly to make sure that they were all tasting great. I felt duty bound to do so! 

I was on a row of international breweries including Denmark’s Ugly Duck. They had some great beers, I especially enjoyed the questionably named Berliner Weisse. And the craic was definitely had with Casper and Stefan who manned the stand. 

The Saturday of the event was so busy that I couldn’t stray too far from our bar but I did get to try a rather good Oud Bruin from Nicolas from Liefman’s.

Sunday morning we were all treated to a tasty buffet breakfast in Altes Mädchen. And I had a chance to check out the very well stocked adjacent Craft Beer Shop. I was shown the strongest beer in the world but it was almost €50 for a tiny bottle so I left it on the shelf and picked up a few more reasonably priced bottles and cans! 

And then it was time to go back to work! 

Sunday was a bit more relaxed than Saturday had been and the sun came out, the music played and everyone had a good time. 

Around tea time I grabbed some pulled pork on a steamed bun with some Lazy in Red, from Ratsherrn the on site brewery. Delicious food and really well made beer, what a place! 

On Sunday I tasted some of Boulevard’s excellent Saison, Tap 7 and Superfreunde’s very drinkable Alt. 

All told it was a great event. One think I noted was that most people opted for the 100ml serving size. This meant they were able to try a lot of beers without getting messy. We could adopt that idea over here! Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome, especially Sven and Ben from Hamburg Beer Company. 

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