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]

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Alltech Craft Brews & Food Festival 2017 - A Sense of Belonging...


For me the Alltech Brews & Food Festival is unmissable and I was lucky enough to wangle a media pass this year. Previously I had thought about applying but felt that it would be deceitful, as I wasn't blogging regularly enough and the honest streak inside of me would make me blush bright red if anyone asked me, 'Hmmm ... So what do you do to receive one of those?' But now my blog posting and interaction is regular if not riveting, and although it now incorporates some beer history to take up my lack-of-travel's slack, at least I'm developing a rhythm and gaining some traction and attraction on social media in general...


I arrived with a few friends a little too early to The Convention Centre in the Dublin Docklands and waited patiently in the atrium as those from Alltech and from the CCD hustled and bustled around getting things ready for the crowds - the event was sold out today. Soon everything was in place and I left the others to sort out their tickets, glasses and passes, and I went up to the media room on the first floor to collect mine ... and that's when I twigged that something was different...

I have never been to a festival before where I felt so much like I really belonged. Of course I have attended many festivals over the years and I've enjoyed them but it always felt like there was a separation between the event itself and those attending it - like a them and us scenario - whereas here and now I felt part of the festival. This is of course down to the attention, friendliness and professionalism on hand, but it's more than that. It's about how those who run an event can be so good at what the do that there's an effortlessness and seamlessness in attending...


Back down in the venue itself I caught up with the others and saw the same sense of 'Being There' in their mannerism, comments and moods. It seemed to me that it was like relaxing into that comfortable old armchair with your warm cardigan on, a good imperial stout in hand, glowing embers in the fire and your favourite music on in the background. Maybe it's an age thing, as with it doesn't come wisdom but does come appreciation of 'Experiences' and not of 'Things' anymore - perhaps that is the wisdom.

You may think I'm gushing too much and the media pass went to my head, and maybe it did! Who knows? But this would not explain the same sense from those around me and those I talked to both behind the stands and in front of them. And this whole feeling made me realise that us Bloggers, Tweeters and Facebookers spend way too much time commenting on and rating the beer and not enough talking about the people, atmosphere and feeling we have at these events or even the elation we feel when we drink a good beer or eat a good meal. We shouldn't rate it we should describe it... but maybe we rate because it easier to quantify something as relatively tangible as a product whereas it's more difficult to rate experiences.

Not to mention the fact that it makes you sound like some kind of lovey-dovey, beardy-weirdy, fruitcake, but hey if the bobble hat fits...


Having said all that, I guess I'd better do a short roundup of some the festival itself, people I talked to and the beers I tried and liked. As is often the case, I avoided some of my favourite breweries that I knew I could pick up easily at bars and bottle shops such as Wicklow Wolf, Rye River, Trouble, Blacks and the rest - sorry folks no offence! Also, the sheer number of beers to be tried in a relatively short period of time combined with some virus-like bug that had infected me - You're welcome, Alltech Saturday Crowd! -  meant that the complicated maths of time divided by beers plus many variables could never work.



People
With my social skills perked up and on a high, I was drawn to Bridewell Brewery from Clifden by a beer mat that appeared on the barrel/table that we were using as a base. There was a brewery on Bridewell Lane in Carlow in the 1800s so curiosity brought me over to talk to Barbara-Anne and Harry, whose brewery is in the shadow of Clifden's old jail. They brew just one beer - a blond - and don't bottle, so I was glad to have come across them as otherwise I'd have to wait until I was visiting one of the many places it's on tap in their local area.

Their beer is a lovely, dry version of the style, with a subtle, almost smoke-like quality. I liked it alot and felt it would be a great companion for food. Specifically, I could imagine myself sitting in a bar in Clifden drinking this beer with a big bowl of creamy chowder and butter-smothered brown bread, with that sea-side smell in the air as I gaze out across the bay. (Disclaimer: This may not be possible...)

They say that beer people are good people, and I'm not sure if that's always true (In fact I know it's not!) but these people certainly come across as good people, I hope they do well!


On the Sullivan's stand I caught up with Alan, who I had met previously in their taproom in Kilkenny. Their flagship beer is Maltings Red Ale and he promised more brews were on the way when I complained that their barley wine was currently missing from their portfolio! I did get a sample taste of the export version of their red, a lot of which is destined for Buffalo, New York seemingly! At 5% it's a more marketable product in the US than the domestic 4% version and had pretty much the same malt-forward flavours of its little brother, but was perhaps a little bolder.

Sullivan's are gathering an interesting and hugely experienced team around them, they are doing some pretty heavy marketing at the moment and have big plans for the future. They are the cheese to the chalk of Bridewell Brewery in one way but by the same token they also come across as good people. And they are relatively local to me so I have the same interest in them as I have in 12 Acres, O'Hara's and Costellos, and I like what they all produce so I'll be keeping a close eye on them in the future.

(And yes I do promote 'local' as long as it's good local, too many people promote local produce just because it is a buzz word at the moment ... I think you all know my feelings on this from previous posts.)



Irish Beers
While wandering around the festival I did try a fair few other Irish beers, although not as many as I would have liked. I was helped by the fact that those with me didn't mind sharing their beers and running the risk of getting whatever virus was afflicting me.

My favourites in no particular order were the pre-oak-aged Special Brew from Wicklow Brewery, this was the unbarreled version of their 12:12:16 beer from last Christmas and tasted of satsumas and caramel digestives biscuits; Independent Brewing Company's Coconut Porter and wonderfully labelled(!) Connemara Bock, the former tasting of Macaroon bars and the latter of orange Miwadi with a fizz of lemon sherbert ... and was somewhat unbock-like but delicious; Kinnegar's Olan's Tart, a collaboration with Dan Kelly's Cider had a sweetish brown sugar meets Granny Smith quality that I liked, although the similar collaboration between The White Hag and MacIvor's CiderSilver Branch Apple Sour - with its dryer and sourer palate cleansing effect might have shaded it for me; then another White Hag collaboration, with Kinnegar this time, was The Hare and The Hag, a nitro coffee stout that was pretty phenomenal, although a taste I had of White Hag's good old Black Boar confirmed that it is still one of my favourite beers; 8 Degrees Bandit sang to me and had more smoke than I remember, it was pretty special; Lough Gill Brewery's MacNutty brown ale was a gorgeous velvety version of one of my favourite beer styles with that macadamia nut aftertaste.

These are not all those I tasted but they were certainly the ones I prefered, although I admittedly missed a few crackers from what I heard and saw on social media later.

(Having said that a couple of recommendations for one particular beer left me wondering what all the fuss was about when I tried it!)



Imported Beers
Next up is the imported beer category, again I only got to try a tiny fraction of them.

There was a lot of talk about Stone's Farking Wheaton w00tstout when the festival opening on Thursday, so I was very surprised to see it still on tap on Saturday afternoon. It was only being served as sample size given its strength and rarity I guess. The smell assaults your nose like good mustard and then you get a coffee liqueur taste with a lingering alcohol heat, I could imagine it becoming quite sickly in quantity so I was kind of glad it was only a small measure. Beside it was Stone's Imperial Saison, a beer style I had never tried before and this one certainly packs a punch of hibiscus flower tea wavering towards cheap perfume, especially given it's 9.4% abv! I actually quite liked this one but I can imagine many would hate it, although again the sample size was perhaps enough today - but I'll keep an eye out for it. My taste buds are still not convinced that Stone are worth their hype but then again Xocoveza was my favourite beer over last Christmas so I'll sit uncomfortably on the fence for now.

I have a soft spot for Thornbridge because the brew Wild Raven, another of my all time favourite beers, so when I spotted their two taps I decided to try both offerings. Carlota is a 7% mexican stout but I couldn't pick up any chili in it. I did get a rich dark chocolate quality and a not unpleasant chalkiness. I will try a bottle of it on a cleaner palate if I come across it, as it certainly sounded like my kind of beer. Valravn is presumably the big brother to Wild Raven and has many of the same tropical hop with a dash of sweet cocoa mix - but intensified as you'd expect. It's an 8.8% abv beer and seems to me to be a brutish bully to Raven's subtler charms - although my infatuation with it's little sister may have clouded my judgement so it's another to try again at some stage.

I also tried Brewdog's Blitz Strawberry & Vanilla Berliner Weisse - and that's exactly what it tasted like...



Barcelona Beer Company
One stand that intrigued me was Barcelona Beer Company. I was interested to find out what the Spanish craft beer scene was like, as I would be heading to Valencia on a weeks holiday during the summer and wondered what my options would be beer-wise in Spain generally.

I chatted with Viet who deals with exports and he filled me in on the beers as I sampled my way through them. (He nearly ended up in my 'People' section above but I didn't get a photo of him and we didn't chat too much as he was quite busy. Plus I felt his range deserved a separate piece!)

La Bella Lola is a Blonde with a nicely spiced cardamom flavour and a dry finish; Nicotto is a 'Japanese Style Beer' that I very much enjoyed, probably because of the subtle coconut and lemon meringue flavour that was coming from the use of Sorachi Ace; Piquenbauer is a wheat beer a dash of ginger cutting through the cloves, not my favourite style but good for hot climates I'd imagine; last was my favourite, La Niña Barbuda a brown ale with a taste of milk chocolate and liquorice, with a tiny hint of bitterness in the tale end. Brown ales have really become my favourite style at the moment...

Barcelona Beer Company are exporting to a good few countries in Europe and beyond, and I'm sure they'll make it down the road to Valencia!



Food
I must admit that my mind wasn't really on the food at the festival. Strangely for me my appetite seemed to have gone AWOL, but when the Brisket Klaxon™ went off in my head after looking at the sign over the Smokin' Bones stand I decided I'd better eat. It was perfect ... gorgeously smoky and tender served on a bun with just a little mayo-mustard. (I can never understand how people think they can give an honest review and rating for a beer after having a load of mustard and onions on a garlic sausage or red hot chilli chicken! By all means eat what you want, but don't pretend it doesn't mess up your palate for the rest of the day.)

I was luck to try some of the fantastic raclette with gherkins and baby spuds from The Ploughman's Daughter too, and vowed to go for some of my own later - then promptly forgot!

I can't comment too much on the rest of the food but I didn't hear many complaints, apart from maybe a few who thought the prices versus portions were a little steep...



Conclusions...
Well what can I say that I haven't already? Not a lot...

For me Alltech's festival leads the way in how a festival should be run. They are the benchmark that others need to measure against ... and its not just about its size, location, entertainment, quality, organizational skills and the people, it's about that sense of inclusion that cocoons you while you're there.

And thats what Alltech brought to the party more than any other festival - a feeling of belonging...

I have been accused in the past of only promoting beers, food, events and places that I like - of course I do! But purely for selfish reasons, as the better a bar does - for example - with craft beer then the more they will stock, and therefore the better selection for me. Any major negative comments I have I generally pass directly to those involved, providing its fact of course and not just my opinion or taste.

And I'll happily promote this festival - among others - for similar selfish reasons...

But for the love of god, change those bloody glasses!

Cheers,
Liam

Visited 25th February 2017



Epilogue
As we were getting the bus home we popped into Brew Dock to use the jacks and a grab a quick beer. We were lucky to find both Farami from Whiplash/Otterbank Brewing and Unto The Breach from Yellowbelly/Hope Brewing on tap, two collaborations that I'd hope to pick up and they didn't disappoint.

The place was buzzing and after a rather embarrassing, 'I'm your biggest fan!' moment when I spotted Galway Bay's Andy behind the bar, we ran for our bus and headed out of the city back to the hinterland.

I slept much of the way home.

(Apologies Andy, if you ever read this.)







Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Travel: Kilkenny City - A Trail of Red Ales, and More...

'... in the immediate neighbourhood are several very extensive flour-mills, three large distilleries, four breweries ...' Samuel Lewis - 1840


I don't visit Kilkenny as often as I should, as it suffers from being too close to my Carlow base to seem like a 'proper' day out destination, which is of course, ridiculous, unfair and illogical but that's how my mind operates...

When I do make the short journey from station to station it's usually for an event such as Savour or the Kilkenny Beer Festival, so my itinerary is usually forced by the schedule of events that I wish to participate in or attend. I never go just for a leisurely wander, to chat, drink and eat at no one else's pace apart from those nice people in Irish Rail, who incidentally appear to have no concept of a night or late evening train along the Dublin-Waterford track that jaunts into Kilkenny station and back out again in reverse, much to the confusion and panicked looks from many a tourist.

But myself and my travelling companions decided that Kilkenny would be the best place for this social trip given that some of us were caught for time both before and after this trek and needed a close-by destination to scratch that itch of - well - beer, food, travel...

As you can see from the opening quote by Mr. Lewis, Kilkenny has a huge brewing and distilling history, but that history has been eroded by the slow death of brewing in this once beer-focused city with the loss of breweries literally changing the skyline and even affecting how the city smelled, although a resurgence is coming as you will see...

Stepping from the train into a dreary, cold late morning we decided that somewhere for a coffee and sustenance should be our first destination so we heading past the beautiful St. John's Church with its strange, unfinished steeple, then down John's Street and over the bridge before turning right onto St Kieran's Street and past a plethora of busy coffee shops that have sprung up along the narrow street.


Mocha Days
One of the least inviting and quieter looking establishments was Mocha Days, but its menu promised us crepes and coffee and looked like it could accommodate us so up the steps we bounded, past the large covered outdoor seating area into the cafe itself. We were greeted immediately and proceeded to be attentively served with assorted coffees, teas, crepes and salads. They have a pretty extensive menu of sandwiches, wraps, jacket potatoes, pizzas and more. Unfortunately they seem to stock just macro beers if my quick glance in their fridge was anything to go by ... but we weren't looking for beer yet so this didn't affect us.

My '3 Formaggi' crepe was excellent, with a nice amount of gorgonzola giving it a wonderful funky kick, and I was so hungry I ate half of it before remembering to do the Blogger thing and snap a photo! We found out it had just opened under its present guise the previous Wednesday, but the seem to have the service and food pretty right in our opinion, as we were all very impressed with our choices and attention. We'll be back, but they could do with adding a little colour and softness to the rather stark entrance - and a few microbrewed beers to the fridge!


The Hole in the Wall
Although the term 'Hidden Gem' is overused, I think it does apply to our next destination, which we arrived at by retracing our steps along St. Kieran's Street before cutting right up the steps and along St Mary's Lane, past the soon to open Medieval Mile Museum, and on to High Street. The Hole in the Wall is just across the road down a narrow alley that would not be out of place in a Harry Potter film. Even with its name and date of original construction daubed on a sign at the entrance you could easily miss or dismiss it as you wander along the main shopping street of the city, with its bright shop signage and windows full of enticing-to-someone, shiny wares.

Ms. Rowling would be equally au fait with the look of the entrance into the snug and what lay behind the modern-ish front door. We stepped inside and lifted a latch into the snuggest snug I have ever squeezed in to, with the counter and serving area taking up at least half the space. There are one or two other rooms to this pub but we stayed put in this bar and looked at the selection of beers. There were the usual macro bottles and most if not all of the O'Hara's core range including Leann Folláin. I spotted a sign for Costellos Red too, but decided to wait until later for that local tipple. Being in Kilkenny I decided a different red ale would be appropriate and went for O'Hara's Red. (I will leave it to wiser minds than mind to debate the age, authenticity and parentage of 'Irish Red Ale'...)

O'Hara's produce a solid version of this much maligned style and it was certainly a perfect choice to sup, as we chatted with Anna - from Germany - behind the bar. The bar was full of old doors and bric-a-brac with notes and history lessons posted or scribbled on the walls. The countertop is an old rafter with a few pieces of slate resting on top, which made balancing your drink and bottle a exercise in patience, bravery and frustration.

This is a tourist bar, as the ubiquitous row of dollars and other currency pinned to the shelf over the wall testify to ... and it's a 'Talkers Bar' with low music and perfect acoustics for both intimate conversations and shouting matches, and I dare say it has entertained both. Seemingly it's a great bar for live music too, although we were there too early - and possibly in the wrong room - to appreciate that...

We finished our drinks just as some tourists entered, and with a knowing wink we headed out and up the main street to a little piece of Carlow in Kilkenny City, as we left I heard them ordering three cans of Kilkenny Ale...


Brewery Corner
Brewery Corner is on Parliament Street, which extends on from High Street towards St. Canice's cathedral. It's nestled in a row comprising 4 or 5 other pubs opposite the entrance to the now closed Smithwicks brewery. Carlow Brewing the brewers of O'Hara's beer range, opened here in 2013 and took the brave decision to only stock microbrewed beers. Their own full range plus a few seasonals are always on draught along with a few guest taps from other Irish breweries, so choice is rarely an issue.

It's a nice blend of old and new with traditional timber, quirky posters and paintings - many leaning towards its focus as a music venue - games and a nice beer garden at the back. Behind the bar I noticed Craigies cider in prime position, no surprise given their recent acquisition of than business!

Resisting the urge to try their own red ale on nitro, first up for me was O'Hara's Styrian Wolf IPA, the latest in their Hop Adventure series, a beer brewed with Slovenian hops, which I drank before as a bottle at home, but comments by The Beer Nut who claimed this hop tasted somewhat like Sorachi Ace - one of my favourite hops - made me choose it here on tap. And he was right - of course, dammit - but whether I would have picked it up without the prompt I don't know ... but I don't remember tasting it in the bottled version. They Sorachi Ace flavour was more muted perhaps with a light peppery note and that meringue-ish quality ... regardless it was a very nice beer, although I can imagine some style junkies questioning its IPA pedigree.

We chatted with a very knowledgeable guy behind the bar, watched a rugby match and had our crotches sniffed by a lovely old dog who seemed vaguely at home here, if slightly bewildered by us. It really is a bar you can feel at home in, and it has the best selection of beers in town by a long shot. They do food too, pizzas certainly and I think other bits and pieces too, although we didn't eat or inquire this time.

Next up was Gose to Leipzig from YellowBelly Brewery in Wexford, a brewery I enjoy most of the beers from and who are always coming up with quirky styles and strange combinations. Unfortunately their beers are rarely seen in Carlow, so I tend to keep my eyes peeled for them when I'm out and about. This was an interesting one and my notes say 'mild rock shandy with the dregs of Andrew's Liver Salts...' a description I am happy to stand by. It was a glorious palate cleanser after sharing a few other bottled beers that my companions had, some of which were very good but a few of which were not to my taste, to be polite.

In danger of becoming too settled we decided to make a move and head back toward the town centre, but we didn't get far...


Cleere's Bar
Cleere's Bar is right next door to Brewery Corner and we couldn't resist having a peep inside, as I'd never been here before. It's a very traditional bar known for its, er, well, traditional music. It was fairly busy but I spied a 12 Acres Pale Ale tap at the bar so I decided on a glass to support my local Laois-based brewery. Behind the bar I spotted a row of strange but somewhat familiar bottles that turned out to be specials brewed across the road in the aforementioned Smithwick's brewery. Unfortunately they were just for show so we headed off to to grab a pint and a pizza!


Sullivan's Taphouse
We reached Sullivan's Taproom via John's Bridge (the street) and the newish pedestrian bridge that spans the brooding river Nore and deposits you on John's Quay just in front of the attractive but a little austere city library. After that it's a quick jig left and right through the carpark and into the back entrance of Sullivan's. The site was a garden centre up to quite recently and the glasshouse structure that dominates the site is where the brewery will be built at some stage in the future - for now the beer itself is brewed in Boyne Brewhouse but using Kilkenny grown malt.

[At this point I must confess that my last visit here was with a Beoir contingent that got a sneak peak at the taproom before the official opening. We were well looked after that day with food and drink so if you think that influences my comments or opinions well ... that your decision. (Edit: I also received a growler of their beer just prior to publishing this post...)]

The idea is for most tourists to enter through the The Wine Centre (The taproom is a joint venture with Sullivan's.) or the archway beside it from John's Street and to make your way past the merchandise, mugs and a growler station to the bar proper. This large and airy room then exits onto the covered beer garden with a wood fired pizza oven taking up the space at the end of this area. (By coincidence the pizza oven is made in Wolfhill in Laois where my father's family came from, not far from where I grew up and where I got the name for my home brewery!)

With the smell of woodsmoke hanging in the air and all of us developing a hunger we decided on the pizza-and-a pint-deal. On tap was Sullivan's Maltings Red Ale along with two guest beers from O'Hara's and 9 White Deer. I ordered Sullivan's own brew as well as a chicken and bacon pizza and we sat down for a rest and a chat as we waited for our pizza to cook. In the beer I picked up flavours of childhood red lemonade and really good soda bread, with more body than I'd expect from its 4% abv. It's hugely drinkable and probably the type of beer that we need to drink more of, it's certainly one I'd go for if I was out for one or two leisurely pints and not beer ticking.

Our pizzas arrived promptly and we all tucked in, swapping slices - as you do - and making positive comments all round. I like this addition to the Kilkenny beer scene, it has a good atmosphere and they are certainly spending money on the brand, story and the promotion of their image. But I do feel they need more of a draw to get more people in their door(s) such as a slightly extended food menu, more events and perhaps some more collaborations with other Kilkenny experiences like they have had with Savour. Anyway, I'm expecting big things from them in the future...

It was starting to fill up now and unfortunately they were out of their barley wine, which I was planning on sharing with the others, so after a quick visit to the ridiculously scarce toilets we made our way out towards John's Street, past all the branded goodies and out under the sign that states sorta-factually but a bit cheekily in my opinion states 'Established 1702'.


Billy Byrne's
Our last stop before our early evening train home was Billy Byrne's on John's Street just 2 minutes from the station. I had been here a few times previously, most recently at the Kilkenny Beer Festival run by Costellos Brewing, who's red I hoped to catch here. This is a lively spot with the added bonus of The Bula Bus parked out back serving great food. We stayed in the front bar and sure enough I spotted The Red from Costellos at the bar on tap. Costellos are just starting to brew on their own kit here in the city, not too far from where I was drinking this pint, before that it was brewed at Trouble in Kildare.

I had a gulp at the bar conscious of our train time ... this is another flavoursome beer given that it is only 3.5% abv, there's a whole coffee and toffee malt flavour with just the smallest hint of bitterness for balance. It's another sessionable one for sure, although I'm not entirely comfortable with that term. Enjoying it I sat down near the front window, and promptly walloped the back of my head on a low shelf at the back of a couch, seemingly placed there by the sadists in Billy Byrne's for just that purpose. I suspect that they film it and that there's a whole YouTube channel dedicated to videos of people doing this!

Rubbing my head and feeling sorry for myself I thought back on how perfect a day it had been, from our brunch earlier to sitting here - albeit with a headache, but a good beer - it had all the hallmarks of a successful day ... great company, great beer, great bars, all in a great city.

I would highly recommend the route we took but we did miss a bar or two (I wish I had missed that shelf!) as we ran out of time, we might need a revisit again soon...

Cheers Kilkenny!

Liam

Visited 11th February 2017



Wednesday, 15 February 2017

History: Brilliant Beverages from The Saracen's Head?


To Brewers, Retailers of Beer, Ale, Cider, &c.

A BRILLIANT ARTICLE IN A FEW HOURS.
THE ADVERTISER has invented FININGS that will cause the article of Beer, Ale, Cider, &c., to become immediately transparent, without violating the law or injury to the article.
The RECIPE is for sale or contract for a supply. A Sample Bottle will be sent to any address, made from this Recipe, on the receipt of 2s 6d, or, in powder, at 8s per cannister, with proper directions for use.
Address - ANDREW WOOD, 5, Snow Hill, London.

(The Carlow Sentinel -  November 1847)


As Isinglass had been around for a long time, was this is a new product? Or at least a new process? With the recipe available too, it must have been made from a raw material that was relatively freely available ... gelatin based perhaps?

There's also an interesting footnote in the fact that the given address was The Saracen's Head Inn, a quite famous establishment in Snow Hill, London that was demolished in 1868 and is now the site of a police station. One assumes that Mr. Wood had lodgings there? Or perhaps it was used as we use PO boxes today...

So not hugely interesting or exciting but ... lots of questions and very few answers!

Liam

[With thanks once again to the local history room in Carlow library]


Thursday, 9 February 2017

Travel: 't Brugs Beertje, Bruges - Notes from the Past

(With the recent changing of the guard, I thought it fitting to dig out this piece from an unpublished larger piece I wrote about a visit to Bruges and Brussels back in 2009.)

't Brugs Beertje sits on an unremarkable side street that millions of tourists pass by every year - unless you know about it of course.

Before we pushed open the door we could see the place was packed and the chatter of people as we entered confirmed that this - like De Garre earlier - was a meeting place for locals and beer tourists alike. The front bar had no free seats so we made our way to a quieter back room where by pure luck someone had just vacated a table, their empty glasses still in place and chairs still warm. No music was playing, the only noise was that chatter from the front room and the murmur of quieter voices in this section. The room itself had a homely feel, more like the livingroom of a house with extra chairs and tables added, with some street signs and beer advertising memorabilia hung on the wall for atmosphere. Not that it need those, as with the voices, smells and agreeable clatter of glasses, this place has bags - or bottles - of atmosphere.

A group of Americans were behind us, and more to our left. One leaned over and asked how we say 'Cheers!' in Ireland. Resisting the urge to say that we say 'Cheers!' too, I told him 'Sláinte.' This seemed to satisfy him and he returned to his conversation, never speaking to us again. How he knew we were Irish I don't know, as we hadn't spoken yet. Perhaps he had heard us in De Garre earlier? Or maybe we just look very, very Irish.

A woman I knew from my research to be the owner Daisy came over and asked us what we would like. I went for Valeir Extra on her recommendation of a hoppy beer, and it turned out be just that - a bitter, citrusy brew with a hop-filled bite that woke my palate after a long day. Nige went for a De Koninck from Antwerp and Pete went for the Brugs Wit, one of his favourite styles.

We drank our beers and discussed the trip so far. We had so far found great bars, great beer, and we hadn't even done any serious sight seeing yet. There was still the Groeninge Museum with its impressive painting by van Eyck, Bosch and David, we wanted to ascent the Belfort, visit some churches, and of course drink more beer. We had a lot to cram in before heading back to Brussels for one night and then heading home.

The night wore on, with Daisy keeping us plied with beer. I had another hoppy beer next, Urthel Hop-It, which was not as bitter as the first, a little smoother with less bite perhaps, but possibly a better beer for me. I followed that with a dark beer, a pleasant if not exciting, liquorice tasting 't Smisje Catherine - more of a belgian stout than an imperial stout perhaps...

We ate too, having cheese and salami first, then toasted ham and cheese sandwiches with a tiny touch of mustard that didn't take from the beer.

All this time Daisy dashed around efficiently and effectively keeping everyone happy, a perfect host adding to the feeling that this was the entertaining room of a house and not a pub at all.


I finished off the night with a wonderful De Dolle Special Extra Export Stout, that hinted at overripe banana and rum with a smoky aftertaste and a nice degree of bitterness in the end. A fitting beer to end the evening on...

And so we bade farewell to Daisy, thanking her profusely and a little drunkenly for her service, beer and food and leaving the still busy pub behind us, we tottered back to our lodgings for an early night.

(Apologies for both the lack of photos and the quality of the two I did manage to take!)