Interesting times for Irish Craft Beer Festivals

Poster for the Midlands Craft Beer Festival

Summer 2024 is here and despite the unpredictable weather festival season is in full swing. But there are a few interesting developments. My own Midlands Craft Beer Festival is returning for the tenth and final year. More on that later. I noted back in 2017 that the peak of the Irish Craft Beer Festival was in 2014. You can read that post here, belated apologies for the click bait title. The landscape has changed even more dramatically since due to what I saw described recently as ‘events’! We saw the Irish Craft Beer Festival, once, the biggest, decline in the relatively disappointing events in Dun Laoghaire and Rathmines. Now it returns to the RDS and has been rebranded as the Dublin Craft Beer Festival, we’ll see how it goes in September.

Hagstravagnza is also returning for the tenth year. White Hag’s event seemed to be in doubt this year due to some licensing uncertainty but is going ahead with a line up of Irish breweries. It’s always good craic in Ballymote.

There are some other smaller, more niche festivals happening too such as Mullingar’s Wild Beer Festival. Unfortunately I missed the last one but it’s great to see interesting mixed fermentation breweries landing in the midlands.

So, the Midlands Craft Beer Festival is back on the 31st of August. I have decided to stop at ten. I’m happy to have done it and have created some great memories. Thanks to everyone who has helped out with the festival up to this point, Don and Lisa for hosting and Darren and Brian for helping us through the hybrid event years and everyone who poured pints and sold tokens. But as, anyone who’s ever put on an event knows it’s a bit of work and I think it is a good time to wrap it up. I’m really looking forward to the day and hope you can make it. We have our favourite Ginger’s BBQ back, we will have some live music and I’ve asked some of our past attending breweries to come back to Moate. We will also of course have local legends Dead Centre and Wide Street pouring their fantastic beers. Sláinte!

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Tewkesbury and Birmingham in search of cask ale.

Hofmeister Helles in Rosado Lounge

I was visiting family in Tewkesbury over the weekend. It’s a relatively small town in the west midlands of England. There are some historical points of interest there and an impressive cathedral if you’re interested in that sort of thing. My quest for cask got off to an inauspicious start with a Hofmeister Helles. The glass told me to ‘Follow the Bear’! So I did.

The Black Bear, Tewkesbury

The Black Bear, established in 1308 is the oldest pub in the area and the fourth or fifth oldest in England. I’d say they’ve done a bit of work on the inside though as it was bright, airy and quite modern. I enjoyed a Black Bear Bitter, well, you’d have to really, wouldn’t you? After that I supped a nice malty English Stout called Eclipse from Beartown Brewery. That made three bear related beers in a row.

Inferno Brewery Golden Embers

Just a short walk up the road I found Inferno Brewery’s bar. They’re a nano brewery and they also have a performance space. Their Golden Embers is a really good example of a traditional English Ale. And that’s where I got into trouble. I fell in with a few gregarious septuagenarian local CAMRA members. Suffice to say, I finished the evening in the rather marvellous Cross House Tavern with a pint of Wobbly Bob. It’s a 6% Strong Ale from Phoenix Brewery. And I didn’t take any pictures.

Bundobust Birmingham

The following day I had the afternoon in Birmingham. My twin loves Indian food and, you guessed right, beer, led me straight to Bundobust. The Galaxy Simcoe collaboration with Thornbridge and their own Roggen Pils proved to be the ideal accompaniment to some very tasty vegetarian street food.

Bitter and Mild in the Gunmakers Arms

Then I went in search of some Batham Ale. Google directed me to the Gunmakers Arms. They didn’t have what I was looking for but they did have a decent local Baskerville Bitter from Two Towers. My Dad didn’t care for the pint of Mild I got for him, but he still drank most of it. He said it was too watery and lacked flavour. There was a fairly lively band playing too and some spoken word artists invited us to watch their performance in another part of the venue. But we were happy enough where we were, had another pair of pints of bitter before hitting the road home. You can probably guess where I ended up in the airport but I am not going to advertise it! If you are looking for some Irish content then worry not, Mullingar Wild Beer Festival is returning on the 29th of June. And my own little shindig is returning for the tenth time to Don’s Bar, Moate. That’s right: Midlands Craft Beer Festival is on the 31st of August. Mark yizzer diaries folks. Sláinte!

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To Øl City and a few spots in Copenhagen

Bus beer

When I started with Fourcorners last summer a trip to visit To Øl City was mentioned. We import and sell their beers in Ireland so, of course, it’s of vital importance that we visit the source. Jonathan, who looks after export for To Øl picked us up from the airport, and gentleman that he is, furnished us with a bag of cold cans to quench our thirst on the journey to the brewery.

Fourcorners at Svinninge

To Øl City is just outside a small town called Svinninge. The other major industry seems to be an online sex toy shop, I wonder if they’ve ever considered a collaboration? After all, both products bring joy, I should’ve suggested it.

One of the labs at To Øl City

To Øl City was formerly a factory which produced canned vegetables and ketchup which provided some useful infrastructure for brewing beer. You could say they just keep on pumping out the sauce. Our tour started at the labs and we were talked through some of the processes in place to ensure consistent quality.

Sensory room

They also have a sensory panel to test fresh beers regularly and they can also compare older batches stored warm and cold to see how they are aging. Quality is taken seriously, as it should be.

Malt sacks and silos

Next stop was the malt store which houses some large silos of malt, including organic malt for the hugely popular 45 Days Organic Pilsner. I was impressed with the tonne sacks myself. Thankfully they are able to mash in automatically.

Fourcorners on the brew deck

Then it was through to the brew house. To Øl brew 8,000 litre batches four times a day. Brewing starts in the small hours in the morning, luckily for the brew team, this is done automatically. That said, on rare occasions in the past parts have gone awry and mashing out became a bit more manual.

German lager tanks from 1936

I was very taken with the lagering tanks. These were made in 1936 in Germany and refurbished. To Øl’s lagers spend 15 days in the fermenters and a further 30 days in these tanks. (Yes, that makes 45 Days!)

Canning line

The canning line is capable of doing up to 10,000 cans an hour. And they had a cool robot for stacking cases on a pallet. Hours of fun could be had watching it!

Robot stacking cases on a pallet
Normal things you find in a brewery

To Øl City is so named because of the amount of buildings which house a distillery, Æberov cider and Mikropolis cocktail production. There’s an underground pipe network which means wort can be pumped from the brewery to another part of the complex. There’s also a beer garden, shop and large function room. I’d imagine it would be a great place for a party.

Mash Test Yummies

We concluded our tour with a visit to the warehouse and a small drop of the whopper Mash Test Yummies. Thanks to the good people of To Øl City for taking the time to talk to us and make us feel welcome. Then it was time to head back to Copenhagen.

Warpigs, Copenhagen

Most of us hadn’t eaten since breakfast in Dublin airport so the suggestion of a very late lunch in Warpigs was welcomed. And I had the opportunity to revisit (First time link!) my favourite beer name ever – You fucked me up and I’m furious. It’s a coffee stout and it’s still good.

Beers and barbeque platter

Dave from Cork recommended Vinstue90 and I plotted a route to Brus which happened to include it. Slow Beer is the draw here. The bartender informed me that a pint would take 20 minutes. So I said I’d have a beer whilst waiting. Bryghuset Møn Klintekogens Klassik is a Vienna Lager that helped pass the waiting time pleasantly. The Slow Beer is a traditional way of serving Carlsberg, it’s poured in several stages and the end result is a smooth beer with a large head. Apparently there’s only a couple of places left serving this style. It reminded me of the Banked Beer which featured in a recent Pellicle article. If you’re interested in beer history or old traditions it’s worth a try. Side note: people were smoking in this bar, which came as a bit of a surprise.

A Slow Beer in Vinstue90

Slow Beer was supped in less time than it took to be poured as it was time to hot foot it to Brus.

Samples from the tanks at Brus

Brus is a restaurant which houses a tidy brewery for To Øl CPH. The beers are a bit more experimental than the ones brewed out at To Øl City but they were all very good, I particularly enjoyed a berry IPA as it differed from a lot of the fruited IPAs currently available by having a nice dry tart finish.

Taps and beer selection at Brus

We had a great dinner at Brus starting off with hummus and peppers and finishing up with some excellent smash burgers. A crisp rice lager was a perfect match for my burger.

Cask ale at Charlie’s Bar

For dessert Jonathan took a couple of us to some quite different bars. Charlie’s Bar is an unusual one for Copenhagen, specialising as it does in cask ale. They do also have kegged beer for anyone who isn’t a cask convert! I went for a sensible sessionable Mesmerist from Siren.

Wessels Kro

And our last port of call was Wessels Kro, a bar that has been serving beer since 1772. I finished up with a Tuborg Classic which seemed fitting. A truly great day was had. Sláinte!

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Ireland’s Strongest Beer: 2023 update

One of my most consistently read blogs is simply titled Ireland’s Strongest Beer. Way back in 2014 Porterhouse held the title for their 13.5% Devil’s Half Acre. You can read it: here – sadly the picture was lost in a cull to save space. There have been a few stronger beers in the interim but only now have I been stirred to start typing.

Dot Barrel Aged Peated Barley Wine

Dot have released a handsome quartet of boxed beers just in time for this festive season and I decided to give the Peated Barley Wine a go. The box is pretty informative; telling us that the beer was brewed by Francesco Sottomano, which means that it came from the old Brú brewery in Trim. It also notes honey as one of the ingredients. This Barley Wine clocks in at a whopper 18.2%. I think the aforementioned honey helps to round it out nicely. The peat character is there but by no means is it overpowering. The beer spent two years in rum barrels before a final six month stint in Oloroso. And if there’s one thing Shane from Dot knows, it’s how to choose lovely barrels. This is a beautifully balanced and complex sipper. Go out and grab one to savour one of these long dark evenings. Sláinte!

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Return of the Cask?

Cask Ale? Isn’t that just an English thing? It certainly hasn’t been popular here in my lifetime anyway. A quick search showed some evidence of a small resurgence around ten years ago in Dublin and if I remember correctly there was a cask engine in JJ Harlow’s, Roscommon and a handful scattered around the other large cities. But that was about the size of it and now if you really want a Cask Ale you might have to head to a Witherspoon’s. The irony is that the champion of Cask Ale CAMRA was founded in Kruge’s Bar in Dunquin, Co. Kerry, back in 1971. Their efforts have helped to keep Cask Ale pouring in the UK. Alas the style of dispense didn’t suit the dominant market players here and so it has largely dried up.

Dead Centre Sham Maths with handpull

Until now that is, Paul Varley, the man who decided it was a great plan to host a Wild Beer Festival in Mullingar had the brainwave of putting on a Cask Ale Festival in the same spot! Breweries from across the land answered the call and showed up with handpulls (some of which had never seen action before!). During set up there was some heartwarming cooperation with sharing of tools and equipment to get everyone up and running in time. I started off with Sham Maths American Amber Ale from Dead Centre. This chewy, malty, rich beer really suits the style. Maybe it’ll make an appearance in Athlone at some point?

Third Barrel Afternoon Delight

At the far end of the room Kev was pouring Third Barrel’s new Afternoon Delight, a dry hopped American Stout which weighed in at a punchy 6.5% and was indeed, a delight. Disclosure – I sell Dead Centre and Third Barrel’s beers in my role with Fourcorners. So you’ll have to try them yourselves to determine if I’m biased!

Sean Wide Street with his Plush Pale Ale

Wide Street’s Plush Pale Ale was far more sensible and sessionable at 4.3%. It’s a straightforward easy drinking little number perfect for an afternoon sup. Sean told me that most of this beer has been exported to Switzerland so if you see a can snap it up.

Galway Hooker Pale pulled by John

John Fahy was manning the sticks for Galway Hooker. I enjoyed the dry hopped Pale Ale, another very quaffable drop. John was sharing the bar with James Dundon who was pouring Brehon’s always excellent Shanco Dubh Porter.

Trouble Centenary ESB

Paul was pouring three beers from Trouble Brewing where he now works. He had a Brown Ale with Harry’s Peanut Butter and a session Pale Ale called Little Monster. I just had to go for the Extra Special Bitter Catenary. I think the last time I had an Irish ESB was in the Porterhouse in Bray and it was their Turner Sticklebract Bitter. This one was satisfyingly bitter and enjoyable.

Land and Labour Tom with his Geimhreadh

Tom Land and Labour was pouring something from an slightly different tradition, his Lambic style Geimhreadh which was zesty and refreshing. And it would fit in very well at the Wild Beer Festival.

Some of the lovely people at the Cask Ale Festival

Ballykilcavan are no strangers to cask, they regularly feature a hand pull on their festival bars. And their traditional beers really work well on cask. I enjoyed the Bin Bawn Pale.

Kate Ballykilcavan pouring a Pale Ale

Hats off to Paul for pulling the event together, hopefully it will become an annual occurrence. And fair play to Smiddy’s for providing this lovely space. Well done to the brewers for the great showing. And to everyone I clinked mugs with: sláinte!

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