Wednesday, 14 June 2017

History-ish: Imperial India Pale Ale - What's in a name anyway?

I tweeted this previously but I felt it needed a more permanent position on the web, as it's the first mention I've come across in old local newspapers of Imperial India Pale Ales, which are supposedly a new invention but I'll let wiser minds than mine argue that point and tell you more about McNellan & Co ... feel free to Google both.

(The Carlow Sentinel - March 1868)

But perhaps there is a point to be made about expecting too much from beer descriptors and some of the more official style guidelines. A time traveller from our current beer obsessed world might be sorely disappointed by the above mentioned beer if he walked into a public house and order one in 1868. Style guides can give an idea of roughly what to expect from a product we are about to drink but do they have any place outside of homebrew competition? And even in those are good beers being overlooked as they are 'not to style'?

The word imperial here is just a marketing ploy meaning the best of its kind, and I've come across it before in relation to perry, so perhaps we read too much into certain words and let them taint our appreciation of a good drink.

Can beer not just be beer, judged on whether you like it or not? Are there not enough taste influencers around without adding style parameters to our poor deluded tastebuds?

I'm not suggesting we label all beer as 'BEER' by the way, I'm just wondering do we get a bee in our bonnet about what a brewer calls their beer at times?

And don't get me started on IBUs...


{With thanks as usual to the local history room in Carlow library}

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Recipe: Anchovy, Bacon & Potato Pie

I really like old cookery books...

It's a mix of the almost-musty smell combined with the softness of the well-worn pages, plus the curiosity of who owned them before me. Often there's a name but in one I found recently there was only a handwritten recipe for a Porter Cake, which I have still to make ... but this was still a connection to a previous owner and their cooking, which is something special.

The book is called 'The Good Cook's Encyclopedia' and was published in 1962 so it's hardly ancient, and while I was thumbing through the pages for a recipe for a meaty pie I came across this one instead:

Something appealed about it - probably the thoughts of the salty anchovies combined with the mini-chips and a silky smooth creamy sauce. So I decided to cook it with a small amount of variation. I felt a little bacon would help - as it often does generally in life -  and added a little extra zing with a bit of mustard, black pepper and a sprinkle of parmesan

So here it is...


  • 4 Large Shallots chopped in rings
  • 4 Medium Potatoes cut in to mini-chips, rinsed and dried
  • 50g of Anchovies in oil
  • 300ml Cream
  • 1 Streaky Bacon cut into thin strips
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Mustard
  • Black Pepper
  • Parmesan


  • Fry the bacon in olive oil until crisp and remove
  • Soften the shallots in the same oil
  • In a small ovenproof dish add half the chips, then a layer of anchovies combined with the bacon, top this with the shallots and then finish with the rest of the chips
  • Dot the top of the pie with a small amount of butter and drizzle some of the anchovy oil over too for good measure
  • Cook in a hot (200C) oven for 10 minutes
  • Mix a teaspoon of mustard with the cream and pour into the dish, top with a dusting of parmasan and black pepper
  • Cook for a further 30-40 minutes until the chips are cooked and there is some colour on the top of the pie
  • Let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.



Thursday, 13 April 2017

Beer History: Kilkenny Porter - An Alternative Reality Perhaps?

An experienced porter brewer and accomptant who for some years has brewed for, and conducted the business of two eminent breweries in the City of Dublin, well knowing the great advantage that must certainly arise to the person brewing of porter in Kilkenny or its vicinity, from the great consumption of the article there, and the decided preference he must get, on account of the material difference between the present price, and that which he would be able sell it for, will engage to brew porter equal, if not superior to any manufactures in Dublin, at a very trifling addition to the capital that may be at present employed in business by the proprietor.
Ample security will be given for the perfecting any engagement he will make. Application to be made to John Gorman Kennedy, esq. Porter Brewer, No. 28 King-street, Stephen's Green, before the 3d of April next. 
March 18, 1791
(Finn's Leinster Journal -  March 1791)

A bold claim by a Dublin brewer to be able to produce quality porter in Kilkenny, which was seemingly consumed in large amounts in and around the city. My reading of the advert is that, he is implying that no porter is being produced there and he feels that there is enough consumption to justify taking out said advert - in the top left of the front page!   Why else would he be offering his services if he - as an accountant/brewer (what a combination!) - didn't think it a lucrative plan? If his offer had been taken up (Assuming it wasn't of course!?) perhaps Kilkenny would now be synonymous with porter, and those micro and macro brewers that tout their Irish Red Ales might be pouring pints of the black stuff?

Or perhaps Mr. Kennedy was engaging in some clever marketing himself ... it's only ink on paper after all?

An interesting side note is that according to internet sources John Gorman Kennedy, a brewer from Dublin was to be transported from Ireland for his part in the 1798 rebellion at the same time as John Sweetman, the more famous Dublin brewer. (I have already discovered that allegedly a Carlow brewer was forced to sell up and leave the country before he suffered a similar fate.)

I can't find out where J.G.K. ended up but wonder did he continued to brew porter somewhere...


{With thanks as usual to the local history room in Carlow library}

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Food: Recipe - Pickled Hop Shoots

My hop plant husbandry took an unexpected turn recently, but one that tied in neatly with another of my interests...

Faced with a bunch of prunings from cutting back the first growth on my hops, and not wanting to waste the wonderfully coloured and fresh shoots, I decided to try my hand at pickling them. I've pickled before, especially eggs, and I knew that asparagus could be treated in this way so it seemed like an interesting experiment. Looking online the processes and ingredients seemed to vary somewhat so I ended up just doing my own thing - as usual.

So here we go...


  • A Big Handful of Fresh Hop Shoots (See Photo)
  • 1 tsp Dried Juniper Berries
  • 1 tsp Black Peppercorns
  • 1 tsp Mustard Seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Caraway Seeds
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • 1 cup (250ml) Cider Vinegar
  • 1 cup (250ml) Water


  • Wash and rinse the hop shoots removing any bugs or large leaves.
  • Sterilise a thick, sealable pickling jar.
  • Add all the ingredients except the hop shoots to a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  • Meanwhile blanch the hop shoots for a few seconds in boiling water and wind them carefully inside the jar, taking care not to break any.
  • Carefully pour the boiled liquid and spices into the jar with the hops, adding boiled water to top up if needed.
  • Leave to cool, then store in a fridge for at least a week so that the flavours blend and permeate into the shoots.

The shoots take on a good deal of the flavours of the vinegar and spices so feel free to add your favourites. They also retain a vegetal bitterness, which can probably be increased by reducing the blanching time. This was probably overkill but I was concerned about sterilising the shoots, in theory the acid in the vinegar should keep everything  safe anyway... (Please do your own research on this - I'm not a food bacteria specialist!)

I served them with some cheddar, pork pies and celery salt, paired with a nice almost savoury, thyme and orange peel saison called Curious Orange from Dungarvan Brewing Company but the shoots also work well on cheesy omelettes, bacon quiche or even on a hot dog with a dollop of mustard!

It's certainly whetted my appetite for trying to pickle more plants.

I must try some nettles next ... but they will need blanching...


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Beer History: What's your Poison?

I jumped ahead 50 years in my research out of an interest in seeing how the paper I am currently trawling through - The Carlow Sentinel - had changed in the interim, and to see what beer was being advertised in the town. I landed in January 1901 to be greeted by the following advertisement:

[The Carlow Sentinel January 1901]

According to an excellent article on the arsenic-in-beer epidemic of 1900-1 by Matthew Copping on The Brewery History Society website, the poisoning was traced back not only to the sugar production process but also to arsenic transmitted onto the surface of malt during the kilning process.

Either way it seems that scaremarketing was being used to sway consumer purchasing habits then as now.

I'd love to read Professor McWeeney's book but sadly I can't find it online...

[With thanks to the Local Study Room at Carlow Library]

Monday, 20 March 2017

Travel : A Return to Kaffee de Planck, Ghent - Poor Poes...

My last visit here probably tells you all you need to know about one of my favourite bars in Ghent - and beyond it - but this return visit was worthy of note too as a poignant if soppy tribute to Poes, the wonderful cat who lazily watched us on our previous visit - checking us out with vague interest as we entered, and perhaps a hint of deserved disdain when we left.

Unfortunately Poes passed on in 2015 at the ripe old age of 20 and if the small shrine with postcards of him/her and the lit candles are anything to go by that cat is very sadly missed in the De Planck. I missed it too and I only met Poes once, but that cat was part of our original experience and received a special mention in that original post.

Ellezelloise Hercule Stout (Apologies for Photo Quality)
I toasted Poes with a a couple of really great beers. First up was one of my favourite Belgian stouts - Hercule from Brasserie des Légendes - presented to me in a wonderful branded tankard. It's all about the chocolate flavour with a vanilla hint and a spicy quality I can never quite place. (Perhaps liquorice?) For a 9% beer it's incredibly easy to drink, especially in such surroundings, but I paced myself and savoured its richness.

De Leite Cuvée Soeur’ise

Next up was a new one for me - Cuvée Soeur’ise from De Leite, which was really superb. The brewery adds cherries to their tripel, Enfant Terriple, and lets it all sit in oak wine casks for 5 months, which produces a beer that tastes of cherry bubblegum mixed with sour cider - a wonderful smooth bitter-sweet flavour with a little heat from its 8.5% abv. It was probably my favourite beer of that trip, and I had some excellent beers in Ghent.

Myself and my companions sat drinking a chatting for a while, enjoying the ambience, music and really good toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. The service was excellent as ever and the beer list and food menu perfectly sized, big enough to be interesting but not too large as to intimidate.

That krieked tripel was a fitting tribute, and I raised my glass to the seat where I'd last seen Poes.

Somehow I think that cat will always live on here...

It was obviously​ a part of this place.

Poor Poes...

Kaffee De Planck, Ter Platen (opposite Kinepolis), 9000 Ghent

Visited December 2016

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

History: Beer and Loathing in 17th Century Ireland

If I had come across the first two lines in the following extract a few years ago I would have probably drolly commented that things had come full circle since this was first written in the early part of the 17th century. Thankfully a lot has changed in the last few years...*

'Scarce anywhere out of Dublin and some few other towns will you meet with any good beer or any reasonable bread for your money, only you may have some raw, muddy, unwholesome ale, made solely of oats, which they buy for 5d the quarter at the dearest and commonly for 4d, and yet they sell their ale pots dearer than here they do the best beer. Now if barley were sown there in plenty, seeing it is so fruitful and so profitable a grain, (for that land is as profitable for it as England) and that likewise, in head towns and parishes, thoroughfares and villages of note, malt house, which prove so beneficial to the owners, public and common brew houses were erected, and men experenced [sic] in those trades were there from hence employed, which here might be spared, it would prevent this general mischief, which, if any weighty exigent would call thither any number of British men, would soon cause them to perish by this poisonous drink and bread, and therefore a thing not to be continued.'

The editor dated the original document to 1623 and given the context and wording it was written in England. There are some interesting points raised, such as that beer was being made wholly with oats(?); that it was more expensive than the 'good' ale of England; that there was a huge opportunity for the growing of malt in Ireland, for the establishment of malthouse and breweries, and a need for good brewers; and that any British men that arrived over here would be poisoned by our beer...

I think it's safe to say that didn't happen!

* There are still many places in the country that lack any decent beer for those who want something a little different - or at the very least a choice. Dublin and the major cities still have the best of all worlds, a fact that many who live, and brew, in those places often fail to comprehend...

[Extract from 'Advertisements for Ireland', Edited and Transcribed by George O'Brien, Dublin 1923 - via the Local Studies Room in Carlow Library]