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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The Big Grill 2017

The Big Grill took place in Herbert Park, Dublin for the third time over the weekend. I made it to the final day which turned out to be very damp indeed. 

I made a beeline for new kids on the block Hopfully. The lads behind it are Brazilian and have a very distinctive type of artwork. They gave me tastes of all four of their beers. Standouts included their Beetroot Saison with sage and lemon thyme and tropical tasting Graciosa. This was the launch of their brewery and I look forward to finding their beers on shelves in the wild. 

I enjoyed some delicious chicken from Kinara. It seemed like there was more beer than food at this year’s event but maybe that’s just me. It’s not really a complaint as I do enjoy the odd beer. 

Eight Degrees had a new and rather delicious Berliner Weisse on draught. 

O Brother had a great Grapefruit Pale Ale pouring. It was nicely dry and kept you wanting more. 

Over the last few years I have followed Cranky Yankee Corn Dogs around the country for my corn dog fix. This year it was late but I was happy to hear my man Nick was going to be at The Big Grill. 

Brewtonic were pouring their Four 20 Hemp Ale. It didn’t get me high and I’m sure the munchies I had were purely coincidental! 

I enjoyed a goat taco with Trouble Brewing’s Parklife Lager. Now that’s proper picnic fare. 

I finished off the festival with Dan Kelly’s imaginatively named Big Grill Special. They wouldn’t tell me what was in it but it tasted great with a banana and bacon cupcake. That’s it for this year, see you in 2018. Sláinte! 

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Beer in the City

Urban Brewing has just opened in the CHQ building on the Quays in Dublin’s financial district. 

Myself and assorted beery types were invited to check the place out during the week. 

We are all given a sample of their Saison to wet our whistles. It was drinkable and summery but it probably could’ve done with a bit more time in the tank. 

The upstairs bar was very chic, with an outdoor dining area and a great view of the brew house on the mezzanine. 

The venture is part of the Carlow Brewing Company so it was no surprise to see O’Hara’s range on the bar, they were joined by Trouble Brewing’s Remix as well as very impressive selection of bottles and cans. 

I remarked that they really needed a blackboard to list their house beers but it was all in hand, waiting downstairs to be erected. 

We were treated to a selection of the tapas from the kitchen. I have to say the sweet potatoes were delicious. 

As was the beef cheek, which was slow cooked for 14 hours in Red Ale. 

There was some cauliflower steak which was accompanied by some tasty house made ketchup. Why do vegans or vegetarians like to call things after meat? There’s even a vegan butcher in Dublin! I was vegetarian myself for a whole year, a long time ago, I was also skinny! Coincidence? Anyway, I’m definitely back on the carnivorous wagon now. 

One of the sweet treats was a very moreish kind of baked profiterole filled with a white chocolate and Stout mousse. 

I was also given a taste of the stout from the tank, I’d say that it will finish out nicely. The plan is to serve directly from the Bright Beer Tanks and on special occasions from Barrels. It’s a unique proposition and a welcome addition to the Dublin Beer scene. I will return to check out their complete range of beers and for some more of that, very high end, tapas. Sláinte! 

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I don’t know if they had a first birthday party. If they did it was pretty low key. The second birthday party was good craic so I was looking forward to this year’s bash. No, not a toddler, but the White Hag brewery turned three recently and they invited myself and various other bloggers, liggers and friends along to join in with the celebrations. 

So I hopped in the car and others boarded trains, planes and skateboards to head for Ballymote. The first thing that struck me was the difference in scale. Men in High Viz vests were directing traffic at the gate and we were directed in to a designated area to check in. Formalities dispensed with we were cordially invited to grab a glass (best festival glass ever? Proper glass natch!) and some tokens and get down to the serious business of drinking beer. 

That wasn’t as straightforward as you’d expect. First one had to run a gauntlet of handshakes and hellos. The temerity of them, getting between a chap and the bar. My first was 40FT’s Larger Lager. It had a bit of a papery oxidised thing but it was cold and wet and I made short work of it.

After that I went for Beavertown’s Hawaii-5-Oh, a Hawaiian Pizza Beer, as you do. It was heavy on the smoke and a bit light on the pineapple for me. But I persevered with the smoky beers and was very impressed with Black Donkey’s Bog Fire. This Smoked Rye Saison had a lovely balance of peaty smokiness and rye spice.

After that I had Kinnegar’s Phunk Bucket, a Pale Ale brewed with Brettanomyces yeast. It sure was Phunky, and had a nice tartness to it. I hope it makes it in to bottles. It was time for a food break then and I had some tasty paella. There were a couple of good food offerings and the Indian also smelled great. 

I went for something a little different after my grub, MacIvor’s wonderfully named Grow A Pear, a cask aged Perry. It was delicious, crisp and dry. It was the only cider but non beer lovers also had the option of cocktails prepared with Black’s Kinsale Gin. Nice as they looked, I resisted and went for another beer. And another Irish one too! Trouble Brewing’s Silk Road Saison had just been tapped and it was fantastic, really citrussy and refreshing. I’d happily sup a pint of it in a beer garden. 

White Hag and Kinnegar’s collaboration The Hare And The Hag was tapped up and was it was tasting as good as I remembered. And my last beer of the evening was Stone’s Americano Stout. It was a big beast of a beer at 8.7% and so the pour was only 250ml. A really good coffee Stout to serve as my night cap. I had a few sips of some other beers too but with the variety on offer I resigned myself to the fact that I could only drink so much. 

Thanks to White Hag for hosting such an enjoyable event. I had a great time talking to brewers, various social meeja types and a lot of sound heads. Sláinte! 

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