Alltech Craft Brews and Food Festival 2018

The dust has settled and the heads cleared, so it’s time to recap on this years Alltech Craft Brews and Food Festival.

I’d heard nothing but good things about this event and knew I had to get down and see it for myself.

Unfortunately I’m also incredibly unorganised and before I knew it, it was only 10 days before the festival and I hadn’t sorted tickets, accommodation or even how I’d get down to Dublin.

The tickets weren’t a problem, being the internationally read blogger that I am (shockingly true lol)

So because of that, I was able to score a couple of media passes to the whole 3 day event.

The accommodation proved much more difficult to sort, with several other events happening in the city that weekend, not least the Ireland v Scotland rugby, hotel beds were in short supply and at inflated prices.

I’d decided I’d just take the train down and back up the same day, but once again my tardiness had resulted and the train times I needed being already sold out.

It looked like it wasn’t going to happen for me but thankfully I’m married to one of life’s true angels, who offered to drive us.

Aside from the 6 hours total driving and about the same amount of time at a beer festival that she couldn’t even have a drink at, she also filled in as my photographer, note taker and after several beers, essentially my carer, it’s more than most wives would do, so a MASSIVE thanks to Mrs Hallion.

After we’d picked up our passes and glasses we walked a lap of the inside of the convention centre to get a feel for the place and scout out what I should choose as my first beer of the day.

First thing that struck me about this festival was the scale of the venue, by a long way it’s the biggest beer festival I’ve attended in Ireland.

The acres of floor space allowed them to allocate a personal stall to each of the exhibitors. It was like dozens of individual bars all under one roof, as opposed to a single massive bar with a line of taps like you get at many beer festivals.

Despite a sellout crowd, there was plenty of room for everyone, with ample seating. We never even had to queue to order a beer and there was plenty of time to talk to the people behind the bars, many of whom were the brewers themselves.


Rascals Brewing Co

Happy Days Session Pale Ale 4.1%

I started sensibly (it didn’t last) with a wee session Pale Ale from Rascals, I’ve rarely had a beer from Rascals that I didn’t like and this is no exception. Whilst low ABV (relatively speaking) it packed a punch of flavour, a lovely clean citrus kick with a floral finish, a great way to start any day.

Strawberry Vanilla Shake

Milkshake IPA 5%

Mrs Hallion ordered this one, even though I’d pointed out it was an IPA and she’s not fond of that style. She quite liked it, definitely more than any other IPA she’d had but was disappointed not to get a more intense flavour of strawberry and vanilla.

I finished of the rest of it and could see what she meant, the strawberry and vanilla flavours were subtle but I didn’t mind that, I still wanted to know I was drinking a beer. I’m assuming it was brewed with plenty of oats and maybe wheat, definitely some lactose, this gave it an amazing sweet creamy mouthfeel that imitates the effect of a milkshake perfectly.


We were worried we’d miss the rugby, with myself being Irish and Mrs Hallion being a loser Scottish, it’s a big match in our house, But our concern was uncalled for, there were large screens all around the venue for those who were interested and there were many.

Needless to say Ireland were victorious and after a few tears from Mrs Hallion and threats to leave me in Dublin if I gloated, we got round to seeking out more beer.


Hopfully Brewing Co

We were drawn towards Hopfullys stall by their eye catching artwork.

We chatted to the guys about the branding and their brews which were interesting to say the least, several of them completely new taste combinations to me.

Most exhibitors will give you a taster or two at no charge and I pushed this option to the limit at Hopfully’s stand.

I tried almost the entire range, from Beetjuice, a beetroot infused saison with sage and thyme that messes with your pallet, to their Baniwa Chilli, another saison that starts subtly but finishes with a strong heat.

Sakura

California Common 5.4%

I eventually picked one to sample in full. Sakura is single hopped with Japanese Sorachi Ace hops.

It was crisp, clean very dry and extremely refreshing with a beautiful floral nose. It was the perfect beer to cleanse the pallet after my mid rugby snacks.


Let’s take a moment to mention those snacks and some of the other food on option, this was after all a craft brews AND food festival.

We started light with some tortilla chips and beer infused jams from Gibney’s Garden Preserves.

I wasn’t sure about tortilla chips with jams but the sweet and salty combination was great. My favourite was the Stout Jelly made with McGargles Export Stout, I’d love to pair it with a really mature cheddar. (Actually intended on going back and buying a jar, but my memory was “impaired” by then)

There was plenty to choose from if you were peckish, from popcorn to pies, sausage to sushi.

We were drawn by the smell to Smokin Bones, a low and slow barbecue joint.

We both ordered pulled pork rolls which Mrs Hallion tells me were great. Unfortunately while we were waiting on them getting put together for us I spied a sample bowl of chilli sauce, it had signs pointing to it and warning of extreme heat, personally I have a low tolerance for spice so I’ve no idea why I did what I did next.

I took a piece of cracker and scooped up a large quantity of the sauce, and knocked it back.

Needless to say the signs were there for good reason, and my mouth was set ablaze like a tiki torch at a Trump rally.

My taste (and vision) eventually returned after I downed a half of dry cider from Scotts Irish Cider, which was a fantastic cider by the way even if I didn’t treat it with the respect deserved due to my flaming agony.


Lough Gill Brewery

Flanders Red Ale

Barrel aged 7.1%

With a range on offer as interesting and the one pictured above I was in heaven.

I wanted to get a taster of them all and started with the Flanders red, curious to see how they’d take on the style.

As soon as it hit my tongue though all thoughts of sampling anything else went out the window. To quote the notes Mrs Hallion had been keeping for me

This is f*#king amazing!”

A slightly more professional description would be, a medium bodied red ale, on the nose it’s funky as it should be with a hint of red berries. Quite sour, with strong dried fruit notes and black raspberry. Tartness at the back of the mouth and a dry tannin finish.

This was the only beer I posted on social media about during the event as I couldn’t wait to tell people about it.

Seriously, this Flanders red is as good as any I’ve had in Belgium.


Rye River Brewing

Belgian Imperial Stout

This was the only beer intentionally sought out.

Only released a few days prior, it’s the first seasonal special from Rye River and I’d heard rave reviews from everyone at the launch night.

I wasn’t disappointed, lovely velvety mouthfeel, strong aroma of coffee on the nose, malt biscuit and dark chocolate notes were very prominent, with a bitter coffee finish.

Basically everything you want from an imperial stout. Only wish this beer wasn’t a seasonal as I could drink it all year round.


By this stage of the day my memory of events get a little blurry….

But going by my notes I also drank;

Larkins Brewing Co:

Dopplebock lager

Wicklow Brewery:

Chocolate and coconut stout

Weiss beer

Gingerknut

Ballykilcavan Brewery:

Long meadow IPA

Brewdog:

Red something (this was given to me for free after my wife hugged the Scotsman behind the bar)

12 Acres Brewing Co:

Farmers tan

Boyne brewery:

Raspberry sour

I can’t give you a proper description of these ones but I’m pretty sure they were great.

In fact I never had an average beer the whole day, everything on offer was top quality.


A big part of attending this event for me (apart from the beer obviously) was the chance to meet up with fellow bloggers and beer fans. Many of whom I’ve only known on twitter.

So a big shout out to all those I tortured with my drunken ramblings.

Love you guys! ๐Ÿ˜˜


I’m a bit late getting this blog finished up, as usual I write 99% straight away but then it’s a week or two before I finish it off.

Anyway the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Festival was fantastic, if you’ve never been I strongly suggest you get yourself there next year.

As for me I can’t wait, but next year I promise to be more organised and get accommodation booked well in advance.

Can’t promise I’ll be better behaved though, I am a Hallion after all!!!

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Brewers of the North No:6 BeerHut brewing company

The alarm woke me at 4:30am….

Actually, that’s not exactly accurate, the alarm woke Mrs Hallion at 4:30am, who elbowed me out of my coma like slumber.

I was spending the day with Andrew McBride and Neil Chambers from Beerhut brewing in Kilkeel, 2 brothers in law who’d only been brewing beers commercially for a year but had already gathered quite a following and were well respected in the craft beer community.

Unfortunately Kilkeel is a 2 hour drive for me and the boys start brewing about 7:30am, hence the ridiculously early start.

So after a strong hit of caffeine to get me moving I set off, and with only a few wrong turns and reroutes I arrived at the brewery which is overlooked by the Mourne mountains.

Now, Beerhut is small, even by Irish craft beer standards. From humble beginnings in a little wooden shed (the “Beerhut”) to the still pretty humble settings of the garage of Andy’s house.

I’d previously seen pictures of their current setup during conversations with them on Twitter and was shocked by the small scale of them.

The reason I was so shocked though was because I’d saw them at several festivals, saw their beers reviewed by respected bloggers, their labelling and branding was extremely professional and the quality of their beer was very high. Not the kinda business I expected to be ran by 2 guys in a garage.

Whilst the brewing liquor got up to mash temp we got to know each other and I got another coffee in me. Andy and Neil are both a similar age to myself and I found them incredibly easy to talk to and before long it was time to fill the mash tun and add the grains.

Andy had been home brewing with decent results for a few years before roping his brother in-law in to the crazy notion of starting their own brewery.

Neil said that with his plumbing background he knew he’d end up building the brewery anyway, so he might as well have a stake in it. Always handy to have a plumber on staff at a brewery, just look at his diy bottle washer below.

The first beer they brewed was a simple lager, mostly because that was the style of beer they knew would work best with their friends, who would undoubtedly be their biggest customers in those very early days.

They don’t brew that one anymore as it isn’t a style either of them feel much interest in and I have to agree with them on that.

I hadn’t got to try the lager when it came out but the boys found a bottle which was probably the last one remaining and we opened it to see what it was like.

Now bearing in mind that this bottle was about a year old and lager isn’t exactly a style of beer that improves with edge, none of us had high hopes, in fact they worried it wasn’t a great idea to let me taste it at all!

Surprisingly it wasn’t as stale as I’d expected, not saying I’d want a pint of it, but it was interesting. It had a strange sweet floral note that was familiar to me but I couldn’t quite place.

It was Neil who first put his finger on it, Parma Violets! That chalky sweet I’d always hated as a kid.

I was assured that this wasn’t a taste that was prominent when the lager was fresh nor was it intentional.

I had a particular interest in coming to visit this particular little brewery as they seemed to have an approach that wish more people had.

Whilst many brewery’s start off very conservatively, focusing on establishing a core range of beers to appeal to the widest demographic (a stout, a pale, a red, etc), Beerhut have taken a different approach.

With a range that includes beers with blood orange, a marshmallow milk stout and an Irish Sea salt IPA, they’ve managed to catch people’s attention pretty quickly.

Another thing that catches people attention is their labels, colourful and striking they are definitely in the modern craft beer style as opposed to the traditional style. I was surprised to find that the labels were all designed in house, either by Andy himself or his wife Julie.

The label for Ahoy Captain has however drawn criticism from some, with claims of sexist objectification.

Personally I don’t see a lot wrong with it, but as a man maybe I’m not best placed to judge what’s offensive to women.

Neither though would I feel that I could tell Julie that her design was sexually exploitive.

It was a topic we discussed at length whilst the wort came up to boil temperature.

The guys suggest that there was possibly a hint of naivety in their early labels but they had no intention of offending anyone and were moving in a different direction with their newer designs.

I was given the honour of adding the last batch of hops to the boil, the closest I’d come to actually doing any work all morning. A small task but I’m adding to my CV that I have brewing experience now.

I’d been eyeing Andy’s beer fridge with green eyed envy, so after the finished beer was transferred over to the fermenter the guys decided to take me to their local off licence.

When we got to KWM wines and spirits my envy didn’t subside.

I haven’t seen many off licences of that standard outside of the city, let alone in a tiny place like Kilkeel.

It wasn’t just the quantity of craft beers on offer, which was decent. But there were no shelf fillers, every beer there was very high caliber with a few quite rare ones too.

Most of the brewery’s in Ireland were represented, alongside some of the top brewery’s from GB and across the pond.

Andrew Imrie, a partner in the off license, has a great knowledge of craft beers and only stocks those that meet his standards.

I had to reign myself in from buying all the beer I thought I could fit in my boot, though I still spent more than I’d care to tell Mrs Hallion.

By the time I’d loaded my beer including a few samples the guys had kindly given me, it was time to hit the road again and make the journey home.

I couldn’t believe I’d been there for over 7 hours, the day absolutely flew in.

I’ve no doubt that the next time I visit Beerhut brewing they won’t be based in a garage. When you make beer of that quality you can’t stay small for long.

And I can’t wait to try the beer we brewed that day, that final hop addition was perfect ๐Ÿ˜‰ so I’m sure the finished product will be up there…

Downstream, the worlds first block chain beer

Whilst murky/hazy beers have been dividing opinion pretty evenly among many in the craft beer community in recent years, there’s one area we’d all like to see more transparency in and that’s the breweries themselves.

In the beginning it was all pretty simple, independent craft beers were easy to spot, for one thing they were brewing styles that the macros wouldn’t dream of touching. Another thing was the branding, it wasn’t as glossy or slick as the big beers (no disrespect intended).

But nowadays, the craft brewers have really upped their game on the branding/marketing front. Whilst some of them might still be brewed in old sheds, their websites and labelling are now matching the quality of the beers they brew.

Unfortunately the macro brewers have decided that they aren’t happy with these little guys cutting into their profits, small as they might be and are fighting back.

First they started by adding new styles to their range, which isn’t such a bad thing and we’ve finally started to see a bit more diversity in pubs, even if in my opinion they couldn’t match the craft brewers for taste.

But they quickly realised that the true craft drinkers were interested in more than just different beer styles. We like to know where our beers come from, who brewed them, are they independent, are they local?

This lead the macro brewers to start either buying up small breweries entirely or buying a large chunk of them.

Worse still is the tactic of flooding the market with new “breweries”. These are brands that lead you to believe they are a small independent local brewery when they are in fact brewed in large scale industrial breweries elsewhere.

So how does the consumer who wants to not only drink good beer but also support independent breweries sort the wheat from the chaff?

In America you can now look for the Brewers Association Independent Craft Beer Seal. The idea being if a brewery has this on its products or website then you can safely assume it’s independent.

Unfortunately not everyone has signed up to this idea, so if a beer doesn’t carry the logo it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not independent.

In Ireland we’ve recently seen the introduction of a couple of similar schemes.

The Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland logo and the Microbrewed in Ireland logo strive to help Irish beer drinkers in the same way but so far the take up by breweries seems slow.

Which brings me to Downstream, the worlds first block chain beer.

The brainchild of the guys at Ireland Craft Beers in collaboration with blockchain technology experts Arc-Net, Downstream is the first beer to boast full transparency.

So let’s see how it works.

Firstly you use your smartphone or tablet to scan the QR code on the front of the bottle and you are taken to the website.

First page tells you the bottle number and how big a batch it comes from.

The second page gives you a little bit of a blurb about brewery. I feel like this could tell us more, I know this is brewed for ICB by Mourne Mountain Brewery but there is no mention of this.

Next the site lays out the bulk of the information, breaking it into 6 categories. It works backwards tracing from bottling to the raw ingredients, it makes sense to have the bottle number first but having the brewing process in reverse is a tiny bit disorientating.

1: BOTTLING

Ever wondered the name of the person who bottled your beer? Probably not….

But still there’s something kinda reassuring about that level of detail.

2: CONDITIONING

A good beer should be giving an appropriate time to condition before it’s shipped out to be drunk. This section tells you exactly how long and under what conditions.

3: FERMENTATION

Where the magic happens…

4: Kettle

Once again we find out the name of one of the brewers, as well all the hops and the times they are added. (Take note if you’re making a homebrew clone)

5: MASHING

The brewing begins…

And another name, beginning to feel like I know these guys personally.

6: THE RAW INGREDIENTS

Probably the most important part, you’ll notice no rice in this malt bill as you often get with the big American macro lagers.

We also get some tasting notes at the end to guide you.

So what do you think of this idea Hallions?

Is this information of interest to anyone other than a geek like me?

I think it’s fantastic and would love to see it on more beers in the future. However I’d like to see more information about the independence of the breweries involved in the scheme. Ideally I hope that only independent breweries are invited to signup, that way when I see a beer on the shelf with the QR code I’ll know it’s independent and can purchase with confidence and then scan and geek out at my leisure.

Let’s just hope brewers like the idea and get onboard.

(You can scan the QR code in the header to try it out for yourself)

From the graveyard to the Gate

A few months back a guy pm’d me on twitter saying he’d recently discovered my blog and inviting me down to Dublin for a look around their brewery.

The guy was Padraig Fox and he works at the Open Gate taproom.

For those of you who may not know, Open Gate is the pilot brewery for Guinness, who are one of the biggest brewers in the world and their flagship Stout is still the most drunk beer in Ireland. However, Guinness and their parent company Diageo don’t exactly have a great reputation among the hardcore craft beer community.

Personally I’ve always been a big Guinness drinker, whilst most pubs have a tap selection that consists of a multitude of bland macro lagers a pint of the black stuff was and still is a great consistent fallback that you can be sure of getting pretty much everywhere.

Despite this however even I was skeptical of the surge in new brew styles coming out of St James gate in recent years. Were they a cynical attempt to cash in on the recent boom in craft beer or were they a real effort to bring the public what they seemed to want?

Padraig and myself messaged back and forth for a while and it quickly became apparent that he was genuinely passionate about beer and refreshingly open. In my experience most correspondence with brewery reps (especially the larger ones) tends to be them trying to sell the brand and keep to the company message, so my chats with Padraig were a refreshing change.

Finally I had a free weekend and decided to take Padraig up on his offer of a visit. So with the ever supportive Mrs Hallion behind the wheel we set off for Dublin.

I had one stop planned before we got to the Open Gate.

The Pearce Lyons Distillery had recently opened to the public and since I first saw pictures of those copper stills on that old church altar I was keen to get a look around.

Turns out the only way to get a look around at all was to book a full guided tour, more than I really wanted, but I had a bit of time to kill before heading to the gate.

The tour was pretty interesting and there was a lot about the history of the church and some of the souls buried in the graveyard and in more pleasant weather I maybe would have enjoyed that part of the tour more. As it was freezing and we all just wanted to get inside, get a look around and sample some whiskey.

The church itself was beautiful, with it’s unmistakable glass spire and impressive whiskey themed stained glass windows. And the two copper stills sitting proudly on the altar really were enough to make a man religious.

With the whiskey warming my belly the climate outside seemed much more pleasant than earlier and we made the short walk to the Open Gate Brewery.

The taproom is generally only open to the public from 5pm Thursday-Sunday. But Padraig said if we just called round after we finished up at the distillery he’d show us about before the doors open.

Open Gate is situated in Brewhouse 2 and Padraig started our little tour by giving us a brief history of the building, he was mercifully brief as despite my whiskey coat it was still pretty chilly outside.

We quickly moved inside where the bar staff were busy setting up for the night. The taproom is inside the working brewery, giving visitors the chance to see where the beer is made as they drink.

I’ve saw more than my fair share of breweries and Open Gate is exactly as I’d expect from such a high end side of the business. Very clean, laid out logically to allow for good flow and with all the fancy bells and whistles that the resources of Guinness can afford you.

One clever aspect I quite liked was the waste hot water, that is produced enmasse during the brewing process, is used to heat the taproom.

We quickly moved on to what we were really interested in, the beer.

With Padraig manning the taps, we worked our way through the entire range on offer that night, along with a few bottles for good measure.

I drank far too many to talk about them all, that and the whiskey at the distillery was the closest I came to lunch that day so my memory got a little hazy about half way through the sampling.

My highlight was the Rye Pale Ale which I really enjoyed, I ordered a full pint of it after we finished sampling. I could definitely have a session on that one without a problem. Also it was interesting to get to try foreign extra Stout from the tap as I’d only ever experienced it bottled before.

Mrs Hallion enjoyed the sampling probably even more than I did, I was surprised that she really enjoyed the chocolate and mint stout, but her favourite on the night by a long way was the champagne saison. She was also taken with the bottled wheat beer.

To be honest we didn’t have a single below par beer that whole night.

True, I felt that they were often a bit tame and not as complex or challenging as I’d often prefer. But that’s to be expected as they are made in a way as to appeal to as large a market as possible.

Plus they’d all been filtered and pasteurised, which improves clarity and prolongs shelf life but can detract from the flavour to an extent.

During the sampling we chatted back and forth about the taproom and how Padraig had ended up working there. He seems to have been a bit of a journeyman within Guinness, from storehouse guide to the quality team, and sales to finally taking on his current role.

As the drink flowed our conversation flowed too, from our thoughts on the future of the industry to our shared outrage at Ireland not getting the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

I was surprised by how much freedom the brewers there were given by Guinness. They seem to have free rein to brew whatever they can imagine.

These experiments are put on tap at the bar and they use the sales from there to just how popular they are. If it looks like there is a market for it they look at if it’s possible to scale the recipe up to mass production standards. This often isn’t possible, especially in the cases where fresh fruit is used or where the flavours are very delicate. Padraig explained that a delicate beer with a shelf life of say 6 months or less would be a non starter for Guinness’ marketing plan.

To be honest I could have probably stood and chatted all night but I was in need of food and I felt we’d taken advantage of our hosts generosity for too long already.

We’d arranged to call back in the next day before heading home, Padraig had squirrelled away a couple of bottles of “Stouta this world” for me from the recent international Stout day and Mrs Hallion was determined not to leave Dublin without a growler of that champagne Saison.

Unfortunately something arose and we were unable to meet up the following day but I’m sure we’ll be back.

If you’re planning on visiting yourself (which I recommend you do) it’s โ‚ฌ8 entry and that also gets you a 4 beer taster flight. The taps change regularly but there’s a strong core range available.

Portrush Beer and Food Festival

On Saturday Mrs Hallion and myself took a drive up the north coast to Portrush for their second annual beer and food festival.

The festival, organised as always by those great folks from Lacada Co-op, has drawn a great mixture of exciting Breweries, from new kids on the block to some of the biggest names in the Irish and UK craft beer scene.

Yellowbelly

Periodic Table Saison 5.1%

My first port of call was Yellowbelly, these guys make some of the best sour beers in the country but I decided for my first beer of the day I would have something a bit less complex.

Their table Saison was just the right beer to kick of with, smooth and easily drunk but it woke the palette up just right.

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Beer Hut Brewing Co.

Ahoy Captain Irish sea salted IPA 7.4% After breaking myself in with the saison I was ready for something a bit more intense.

I’ve had salted beers before but nothing quite like this, the first mouthful was shocking, like I’d fell overboard from the ferry to Cairnryan.

Thankfully my tastebuds grew somewhat accustomed to the salty overload and I was able to taste the beer that hid beneath.

I’ve never had the experience of getting more thirsty the more I drunk, very strange.

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Lacada Brewery Co-op

Damson Kettle sour 4% After the last salty beer I was parched and needed something fruity to restore my cracked tongue.

I love a good sour but had never had Lacada’s take on the style so I was keen to try it.

I wasn’t disappointed, this was a fantastic beer! Just the right amount of sourness to give you that smack in the back of the mouth but not overpowering.

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Lacada Brewery Co-op

Raspberry Citra Smoothie IPA 5.5%

I heard good things about this one from some friends who’d been to the fest the night before. That paired with rumours that there wasn’t a lot of it meant as soon as I saw them change over the tap from Devil’s Washtub to this, I was straight over.

First mouthful didn’t impress me but after the Damson sour I knew it would take a minute for my tastebuds to reset. The more a drank it the better it got. Hazy and juicy with raspberries but with enough hops there to remind you it’s beer.

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We paused brewed to refuel at the food section of the festival downstairs.

Shout out to Babushka kitchen cafe, for probably the best toasted cheese sandwich we’ve ever had.

Whiplash

Let it happen DIPA 8%

With my stomach lined I felt ready for a Double IPA and I knew the boys at Whiplash consistently bang out great beers.

It was the perfect beer to blast away any lingering tastes from lunch and shock my body back into beer mode. A truly cracking DIPA

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Deadend Brew Machine

Defeat Not Victo(ry) Raspberry Belgian Pale 5.8%

Mrs Hallion picked this one for me, she’s fond of anything raspberry and also Deadend are from her native land (Scotland)

We both really liked this one, awash with fruit flavours, nice hop aroma but no bitterness on the tongue.

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Beavertown

Earl Phantom Earl Grey Berliner Weisse 4.5%

Finally decided I should have a Beavertown, I’ve tried most of them before and I really wanted to try a new one. That left me only a couple of options and I’m a big fan of Berliner Weisses so I picked Earl Phantom.

Most beers of this style I’ve had lately have be flavoured with fruit so the Earl Grey in this one was a welcome change, it added to the brew without hiding the natural flavours of it.

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Evil Twin Brewing

Even More Jesus Imperial Stout 12%

Go hard or go home they say.

So I did, my only dark beer of the festival (changed times!) and Evil Twins sole contribution.

This is a proper smack you in the face Imperial Stout, as thick as oil and just as black. Massive overwhelming hit of coffee flavour disguises this beers alcoholic strength.

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All in all it was another excellent wee festival and massive congratulations to all involved in the organising.

But maybe a change of venue is required before next year as there very little standing room from early on and it was a 1 in 1 out policy for much of the day.

Can’t wait for next year!!

Cheated by a “bottled” Blonde

Recently I was browsing through the beer aisles looking for inspiration when I saw two pinup girls looking back at me. Now I’m generally not a fan of using scantily clad women to sell beer but this artwork in my opinion stayed just the right side of tasteful.

They say never to judge a book by its cover but I’m a sucker for a snappy graphic. So I picked up one of each.

It was only when I got home that I looked closer that things didn’t add up.

I cracked open the blonde and had a taste, it was perfectly fine, somewhat bland but pretty inoffensive. But one thing it didn’t taste like was a blonde beer. I looked at the can and realised my mistake, it wasn’t a blonde, it was a lager that was only called “Dublin Blonde”

Feeling a little foolish that I’d been distracted by a picture of a pretty lady so much that I’d completely misread the labelling, I looked at the Red.

Now an Irish Red ale is a great beer style, not the sexiest or most fashionable but a good Red is hard to beat. Rich and malty and goes down easy.

This “Dublin Red” however wasn’t a good Red, in fact it wasn’t even a Red at all, it was a Pale ale! ๐Ÿ˜ณ

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ain, it did say clearly on the can that it was a pale ale. And like it's sister it was an inoffensive but uninspiring wee beer.

So was I so easily distracted by an illustrated pretty face that I lost the ability to read properly or have these beers been disingenuous with their branding?

I wasn't overly familiar with Irishtown brewing company but with the magic of google I was able to read all about them.

<<
e of the first things I noticed was a statement about why they have girls on their cans, which makes me think they may have had to defend this policy more than once

<<
es that explain it to you? I'm none the wiser.

Damn "health and safety brigade" not letting us workers get smashed at lunch time before returning to operate heavy machinery! ๐Ÿ˜ก

Their views on "over hopped hype" might explain why their beers were somewhat boring.

Now, don't get me wrong, I get that they are promoting their beers as session beers and as such shouldn't be too strong in alcohol or too complex in flavour.

But to truly be a session beer you have to want to order a second and I simply didn't.

While searching for info about these beers online I stumbled on a few of their marketing stunts, ranging from free beer for blondes…

To the more controversial sky banner over Dublin

I’m sure that one will have caused quite an outcry but I imagine that was the plan all along.

This all makes sense when you realise that Irishtown Brewing Company was founded by Joey Shore and Flor Prendergast, two marketing managers who also own some other drinks companies.

With no brewing experience to their name, they contract brew through Hope Brewery in Dublin.

To their credit they are open about this on the website and don’t hide it like many other contract brewers.

(At the time of writing this, the cans had been conscientiously recycled so I can’t say if it’s so open on the can)

Now I’m not one to run down people trying to make a go of something and this may reek of cynicism but it strikes me as more time was spent designing the cans than what went in them.

It seems to be a case of style over substance, or maybe brand over beer if you will.

Man cannot live on liquid bread alone…

I read recently about the Paulaner monks of Munich, famous from their brewing expertise, they would fast for the whole of lent (46 days), with beer and water their only sustenance.

I’m certainly not recommending this. Aside from the strain it would put on your liver/kidneys, which would depend on the actual number of units you consumed per day, beer isn’t exactly high in many essential vitamins.

And just incase you were wondering why they fast on beer and water and not beer alone. Due to the diuretic effect of alcohol, without the water you last only a matter of days.

All that being said…..

It got me thinking.

What if I was to do this for one day, the detrimental effects would be limited and short lived. Those monks had just the one beer, but I have access to beers from across the globe.

So what would a day of beers in place of food look like?

Just so you know, I follow the Hobbit meal plan.

Breakfast 7am

The most important meal of the day they say. So how about Coffee, bacon, maple syrup and blueberry pancakes? โ˜•๏ธ ๐Ÿฅ“ ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿฅž

Funky Bhudda, maple, bacon, coffee Porter, is a perfect way to start the day. I’ve actually reviewed this one before and loved it, so we’re off to a good start.

That along with Rochester Mills, Blueberry pancake milk Stout, will tie me over to second breakfast just nicely.

Second breakfast 9am

After a hefty double Porter/Stout start to my day I’m looking for something sweet and fruity now. A smoothie would be just the ticket ๐ŸŒ๐ŸŠ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ‹

Siren Craft Brew, 10 Dollar Shake is fruity and creamy and even counts as one of your 5 a day! (disclaimer: does not count as one of your 5 a day)

Elevenses 11am

By now I’m peckish again but also wary of spoiling my lunch. A small piece of fruit couldn’t do any harm, surely. ๐Ÿ‘

St Louis, Premium Peach Lambic is sharp, juicy and refreshing without being too sweet. Just like a good peach should be.

Lunch 1pm

By now the midday munchies are kicking in and I’ve a hankering for some pizza ๐Ÿ•

A Seefurth Mamma Mia, Pizza Beer. Just like mamma used to make, fills a hole nicely.

Afternoon Tea 3pm

Usually at this time of day I get a little peckish and start searching the cupboards to find something to snack on. Maybe a sandwich would be nice.

Catawba, Peanut Butter Jelly Time, aged will real raspberries and toasted peanuts, is the perfect midday filler.

Dinner 6pm

After a hard day hallioning I’m ready for a proper dinner now. I love a good hot curry, though it doesn’t love me, so I find a cooling dessert helps ๐Ÿ›๐Ÿจ

Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra is bursting with flavour, brewed with cumin, cayenne pepper, madras powder and toasted coconut, it’s a proper Ruby Murray

And with Mad Hatter’s Mint Choc Chip for dessert and burn from the curry quickly dissipates.

Supper 9pm

People have lots of different names for their meals and supper to many people is a full meal. But in my house supper is when you have a bowl of cereal at night.

A big bowl of Black Bottle Brewery, Cerealiously, is perfect to round off my day, everyone knows the best bit of cereal is slurping the chocolate milk at the end.

Total daily calorie count: 1593

Recommended daily calorie count: 2500 (male)

Total daily alcohol consumption: 27 units

Recommended daily alcohol consumption: 2 units

Disclaimer: This article is for entertainment purposes and to show the diversity of flavoured beers available. I do not suggest anyone attempts this in real life.

Edit: Many of the beers used in this piece are single runs or seasonals and may not be available to buy at the time of publication.

How not to get a job in the brewing industry

A short while ago I noticed that a brewery in Belfast was looking for an assistant brewer.

I thought about it and came up with a list of pros and cons:

Pros

  1. I’d kill to work in the brewing industry.
  2. I’m a big fan of that brewery’s beer.

Cons

  1. I have absolutely zero experience in the industry.
  2. It would mean a pay cut.
  3. The number of day per week I’d work would nearly double.
  4. My childminding costs would go up with the increase in days worked.
  5. Belfast is twice the distance of my current commute.
  6. The job would require traveling away from home from more.
  7. Work hours were erratic and included weekends.
  8. Did I mention the zero experience in the industry?

So I weighed it all up and applied (see Pro No1)

Needless to say I didn’t get the job (see Con No.1)

But I enjoyed writing the application so much I thought I’d share it with you.

There was only 2 questions and as you’ll see I failed to answer then in my trademark roundabout way.

I hope you find my failures entertaining ๐Ÿป

………………………………………………………

What are your top 5 beers in the whole wide world? And why?

Tough question, I’ve found beer to be such a subjective thing that it can be hard to rank my favourite beers, it can depend on where I am, what season it is, time of day, my mood, how much time I have, if I’m eating and what I’m eating, to name but a few contributing factors. For example on a hot summers afternoon, sitting in a beer garden with friends, a crisp, lightly hopped session IPA is just the ticket. However on a cold winters night, in front of a roaring fire you’d want something very different, a strong porter maybe.ย 

But I think you can tell a lot about someone from their choice in beer, which i assume you agree with, hence this question. So I’ll tell you about 5 beers that are very important to me, and how they were milestones in my beer education. They aren’t going to feature on many people’s top lists, and there are better beers out there, beers that I will one day get the chance to sample I’m sure. ย 

So I’ll start at the beginning…

1) Duechars IPA from the Caledonia Brewery, Edinburgh.ย 

I went to Edinburgh with my college for a field trip, visiting factories and local industry. We visited the Caledonia Brewery one day, it was my first time being in a brewery and the engineer in me was fascinated by the giant vessels and tanks, and the flow of the brewery, like how the grain was upon delivery sent up to the storehouse on the top floor and then fed down to the mash tubs via a shoot when needed. It was also the first time I’d seen or smelled hops, we took a pinch and rubbed it between the palms of our hands to release the aroma, the head brewer laughed and told us we’d have that smell on our hands for the rest of the day, that was no bad thing in my opinion.ย 

We finished in the brewery taproom for a free pint of Deuchars or 8 schilling. I had a Deuchars and I’d love to say it was love at first sip but that simply wouldn’t be true, later I would grow to love it but for 18 year old me it was overwhelming, it was however like nothing I’d ever tasted before and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of beer.ย 

2: Skull splitter from Orkney Breweryย 

A couple of years later and I’m back in Edinburgh studying engineering at Herriot Watt University, which as you may know is world renowned for its brewing and distilling degree course. The brewing students host a beer festival every year in the student union. This was before the idea of craft beer existed in the UK so it was all cask conditioned real ales, mostly all from Scotland. But the standout beer for me by far was the Orkney Skull splitter a very strong Scottish ale. At that time it was the strongest beer I’d ever tasted and I did so with a mixture of curiosity and a certain level of bravado. I had expected a strong taste of alcohol but it was deceptively well balanced. It was this beer that really got me into strong dark ales, which inevitably led me to Belgium.ย 

3: Straffe Hendrik from de Halve Maan Brewery in Brugesย 

I was given a book by beer writer Pete Brown a few years ago called “three sheets to the wind”, in which he travels around the world and looks at beer, beer culture and people’s attitude to alcohol in general.ย 

This book was important to me for two reasons, firstly it got me interested in writing about beer which I eventually have dabbled in myself, and secondly it introduced to me a destination I soon began to see as Mecca for beer fans, Bruges in Belgium. I vowed I would one day go there and on my 30th birthday I did.ย 

On arrival myself and my wife went straight from the train station to de halve maan Brewery where we did the tour and then sat in the courtyard drinking Bruges Zot, poured fresh from the barrel, my wife with the blonde and myself having the bruin. These beers themselves were extremely good and probably would’ve been on this list if it wasn’t for the Straffe Hendrick I had next. It was their quadruple and at 11% it was everything I was looking for from a Belgian ale. I remember as I drank that beer in that courtyard I thought about how if I hadn’t made this trip I might never have drank this beer and wouldn’t know what I’d missed.ย 

4: Belfast Ale from Whitewater Brewery Castlewellan ย 

Strange one to include on the list I admit, for whilst it’s a very nice, easily drunk ale, it’s not one you’d expect to change anyone’s life but it definitely had an impact on mine.ย 

A few years ago I’d moved back to Northern Ireland and I’d found my beer choices quite restricted. I was still in love with all things Belgian but apart from a few of the more macro brands there was very little available without shopping online.ย 

I was in Tesco doing the weekly shop when I did my usual scan of the beer shelf hoping to see something new. And on that day, I did, a whole range of ales from Whitewater brewery and it was clear from the labelling that they were from Northern Ireland. I bought one of each and spent the next few days sampling them. They were all very good but I’d had similar styles of equal quality many times before, the big thing for me was that it was made right here in Northern Ireland and that made all the difference. Overnight my outlook changed and while I still enjoyed beers from all around the world I had now began actively seeking out beers brewed locally. Which led me to what I’m currently doing.ย 

5: Henrietta Hen from Hillstown Brewery Randelstownย 

I’d been writing beer reviews for years, originally just for my own reference in an old notebook with the bottles label stuck to a page and tasting notes written alongside it. From that I progressed to writing reviews online on beer websites. Eventually I was convinced to start my own blog, which I set up a few months ago. I started off with some standard beer reviews and then started to add more pieces of beer culture, from people you meet at beer festivals to what beer goes with what glassware.ย 

I then started touring round local breweries and chatting to the brewers in an attempt to let people know more about the people who brew their beer.ย 

I was invited down to Hillstown Brewery recently and did the usual, tour, interview and tasting session. As I was leaving I was given one of each of their range which I spent the next couple of weeks trying.ย 

There were two IPAs, Squealing Pig which they describe as a simple introductory IPA and Henrietta Hen, their West Coast style, intense heavily hopped IPA.ย 

I drank the Pig first and it was very good, a real session IPA. I was worried about the Hen as I wasn’t generally a big fan of these over hopped IPAs, still being more a fan of the darker end of the beer spectrum. It was hazy and smelled intense and tasted extremely bitter but I drank some more, really concentrating on the different flavours and I had one of the most eye opening beer experience I’ve had in recent years.ย 

Since then I’ve been trying more of that style of which there is a plethora to choose from.ย 

……………………………………………

If you were stuck on a desert island forever, what would be the one beer you brought with you? And why?

I like this, it’s like desert island discs but for beer fans.ย 

Now I’m thinking is it just one beer? Because that would be torture to decide when to crack it open. Or a lifetime supply of that beer? In which case you’d have to be sure it’s something you wouldn’t get bored of.ย 

I’m assuming the island is hot and sunny, so straight away I’m thinking a good quality Czech Pilsner. But then I’m like, but it’s a dessert island I’ve got no refrigeration! And a warm pilsner isn’t pleasant.ย 

So now we’re talking something that doesn’t have to be too cold, I could use the sea to chill it slightly but these are warm tropical waters so it’s only going to do so much.ย 

Regardless of whether it’s one bottle or a lifetime supply sized crate, I’ll need it to last a long time. So that’ll mean high alcohol content and a high IBU as the hops will also help preserve the beer.ย 

Long term beer storage is best in cool dark places, which will be hard to find on this island. So I’ll have to make the tough call of ruling out bottled beer, opting instead for cans or kegs. This will drastically reduce the damage done by the sunlight.ย 

Flavour wise, I’d want to avoid anything sickly sweet, unpleasant in those conditions.ย 

Something crisp and clean but still complex enough to keep me interested over the years.ย 

So…

I need a canned/kegged beer, with a high ABV%, high IBUs, clean but complex, and it has to be a beer I really like…

With all that in mind I’d go for possibly the unusual choice of a barleywine. In particular I’d bring kegs of Old Guardian from Stone Brewing.ย 

It’s brewed with Warrior, Cascade and Chinook hops and then dry hopped with Pekko hops.ย 

It has an Abv% of 11 and IBUs of 75.ย 

Not only will this beer taste great on day 1 but its flavour will develop over time so that I will never be bored drinking it.

……………………….โ€ฆ…………………………..

So what you think Hallions? Should I have got the job or not?

Brewers of the North: No.5 Whitewater Brewery


When I initially started to plan this series Whitewater was one of the first breweries I contacted. Disappointingly I had to reschedule the original planned visit for one a couple of months later.

Unfortunately this meant I didn't get to see around their old brewery before they finished up brewing there, but on the big plus side it meant I was able to get to see their brand spanking new, purpose built, modern brewery.

Whitewater have been on the go since 1996 and are currently the biggest independent brewery in Northern Ireland. Started by Bernard and Kerry Sloane in a shed on Bernard's family farm. With no brewing experience and real ale an incredibly niche market in 90's Northern Ireland, it was an incredibly brave step.

I have a soft spot for the old girl as Whitewater was the first locally brewed ale I ever tasted, probably around 10 years ago. Back then if you wanted real ale you were limited to English big brewers like Greene King, Wychwoodand so on. So a locally brewed beer was a revelation.

So on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, accompanied by the long suffering Mrs Hallion, who'd agreed to spend one of our days holidays on this, we set off on the relatively long journey to Castlewellan.

I'd emailed the owner Bernard the day before to confirm we were still good to proceed, unfortunately it turned out he had to go to a meeting around the time of our arrival but had arranged for his wife Kerry to show us about.

When we arrived Kerry was dealing with some brewery business herself, running one of the biggest independent breweries in the country is a busy job. But she soon emerged smiling and carrying a now cold cup of coffee that she didn't have time to enjoy.

You could tell that Kerry was justifiably proud of their new brewing setup and took great pride in showing us the process from start to finish.

The first thing that struck me (apart from the impressive scale) was the flow of the brewing process. As this is a purpose built brewery they have been able to lay everything out just how they wanted it and standing up where the barley is milled Kerry pointed out every step in the process right down the the bottling line and the storage at the other side of the brewery.

What I found particularly interesting was the centrifuge and pasteurising equipment, I've never seen anything like that in a craft brewery. It allows them much more control over clarity and purity than other brewers. It really is the epitome of a microbrewery, everything you'd expect in a large industrial brewery but on a smaller scale.

Their bottling line would be the envy of most local craft brewers. The fully automated machine, adds labels, cleans and sterilises, fills under pressure and caps, all in one. All that is needed for constant bottling is someone loading empty bottles and someone unloading the full ones.

From there we went next door to an empty space that they plan on making into a visitor centre, with large windows onto the brewery floor it will give any visitor a clear view of the brewery at work without the health and safety nightmare of having to taking them into the work area itself.

Even though Whitewater is an old hand by NI brewing standards, they aren't afraid to update their image and beer styles to match the newly emerging craft market.

Kerry even told me of their plans for a brew school, where budding brewers can learn how to make the beer they love themselves.
I've seen a few local breweries do these classes and they seem very popular, so I've no doubt this will do well too.

Like most of the brewers I've spoke to, Whitewater are keen to see a change in our licensing laws that would allow them to sell direct to the public, like other breweries around the UK and the world can do.

With the tour over its usually question time but Kerry's tour was so thorough and I'm so familiar with Whitewaters work, that I didn't have much to ask.

I left with a case of Hen, Cock and Pigeon Rock a souvenir of my visit. I'd only tried it the previous day but was instantly hooked and is now a firm favourite of mine.

It's an Irish red but I wouldn't have guessed that without reading the label. Irish reds are often easily dismissed as a beer style. Very drinkable as a session beer but not normally very exciting. The Hen, Cock and Pigeon Rock however was slightly hoppy, fruity notes, a gentle malted flavour and a citrus zest that really lightens the whole brew, well it was on draft, I can't speak for the bottles yet.

Whitewater have always had an extremely solid core range but in recent years they've really shown what they can do with some new additions.

Thanks again to Bernard for arranging my visit and to Kerry for her great tour.
I look forward to seeing what comes out of the new brewery in the near future.

Brewers of the North: No.4 Hillstown Breweryย 


My visit to Hillstown was unlike any of my previous brewery visits. Whilst they took place during a normal brew day with me dropping in on the proceedings and generally getting in the way with my camera and notebook. This visit was arranged to coincide with an launch event that was taking place at the brewery that day. 


They were celebrating becoming part of the Economusee network. Economusee essentially promotes traditional crafts and skills as a tourist attraction to offer more to visitors to Northern Ireland than just the big attractions. So ideally you might spend you morning watching a man make hurling sticks by hand at Scullion Hurls, then visit the rock formations created by a giant at the causeway before getting a close up look at how beer is made at Hillstown before finishing your day visiting the site where the fateful RMS Titanic was built at Belfast Docks. 

The event meant I was not the only person looking for a word with Jonathan, one of the founders. In fact when I first spotted him he was chatting to a rather glamorous looking lady, she looked a lot like Pamela Ballentine, a minute later I looked again and came to the conclusion that it bloody well was Pamela Ballentine. I suspect if you’re not from Northern Ireland or are under 30 you’ve probably no idea who I’m talking about, but she is a local TV personality, a news presenter, she’s kind of a big deal, like a Northern Irish Ron Burgundy. 


I decided to explore the farm a little whilst Jonathan was talking. It’s quite an impressive setup actually, apart from the working farm they also have a farm shop and a restaurant. But what really drew my attention was a little tap room beside the brewery. I wandered over to see what I could sample. I had a small taster of their Goats Butt wheat beer that had recently won a gold medal at the all Ireland craft beer championship. I could see why, it was very fine indeed, quite fruity and was clearer than I’d normally expect from a wheat beer. I took my time to appreciate it and chatted to some of the other visitors, by the time I was done Jonathan was free to show me around. 


The story of Hillstown Brewery’s begins with the farms cows. Jonathan and Nigel hard heard about feeding beer to cattle, most notably Wagyu cows for the famous Kobi beef. They wanted to do something similar themselves and with some homebrewing knowledge they had an idea how to do it. 

We visited the aforementioned beasts in the cattle shed next door to the brewery. The idea with feeding beer to cows is to calm them and cause them as little stress as possible. This leads to relaxed, more tender beef. I must admit those cows were definitely relaxed, it was the quietest cattle shed I’d ever heard. 


Next I had a look around the brew house itself, a well laid out modern setup that has expanded several times since the breweries inception, the most recent additions in equipment will make them the 3rd biggest brewer in Northern Ireland after Hilden and Whitewater. 


But what really gives Hillstown an advantage over other breweries in the country is their supply chain for ingredients. Through their brewing supply company Get er Brewed they import large quantities of hops, barley and yeast that they not only supply to local homebrewers but also to other craft breweries, including some of their larger rivals. This not only means an extra revenue stream for the brewery but also by buying their ingredients in bulk they are able to reduce the cost of their brew days, without compromising on the quality of ingredients. 


By then Jonathan was being called away to speak to someone else so I decided it was time to grab some of the food that was put on for us, the burgers made from their beer fed beef were particularly tasty. 


Then followed many speeches and the ex news readers many attempts at smashing a bottle of Stout on the wall of the brewery, I think more damage was done to the wall than the bottle, obviously Hillstown don’t cut corners on their glassware quality. 


Whist the rest of the visitors went on to do a tour of the brewery I hung back and chatted to Ally, the young recently appointed head brewer. He was brought over to run the brewery after completing a degree in brewing and distilling at Herriot Watt university in Edinburgh. An institution close to my heart as it’s where I met my wife. 


Before I left I was given a selection of their beers to take home and try. And any future brewers should take note, I like my bribes in liquid form. 


I spent the next few weeks working my way through the beers and in all honesty not a single one of them disappointed. But one of them had quite an effect on me and changed a long held mindset of mine. 


They brew 2 IPAs, the first one Squealing Pig is a pretty solid example of a traditional IPA and it went down very well. The second one is their Henrietta Hen, a west coast style IPA that packs a punch of hops. 


Now the few of you who read all my blogs will know that I have always been a dark ale fan, especially Belgian dark ales. I don’t mind a good IPA from time to time but it was just never my thing. I never got on board with the whole loading a beer with hops scene, so the promise of a west coast IPA wasn’t exactly making my mouth water but not being a man to waste free beer I drank it anyway….

And wow! Really bitter but balanced with zesty floral notes that really cut to the punch. I took my time to properly appreciate it and I was saddened when I finally finished it. 

The following week I went back and bought several more which didn’t last long. I think I’m becoming a bit of a Hillstown fanboy. 


That was a few weeks ago, I had a backlog of other articles to write and a day job to do before I finally got round to finishing up this piece. Since then, spurred on by that Henrietta Hen, I’ve temporarily left my dark beers to the side and thrown myself into trying as many modern hoppy IPAs as I can. Comparing them to the Hen, many have fallen short but a few have really been great. 


So, to Jonathan, Nigel, Ally and everyone else involved at Hillstown, I thank you and I can’t wait to try that DIPA you’re working on at the minute.