It mightn’t please the hard core craft beer drinkers, and I’m not sure about Lionel Ritchie fans either, but I can see this going down very nicely over the coming month, maybe longer if the Irish team qualify for the final stages of Euro16. Kicking in at 4.2%, this is a very tasty light refreshing beer with a pleasing hoppiness, although not too bitter and a nice fruitiness.As a session beer, it works very well. I like the retro (1990’s?) design too. This is available exclusively from Mulloys Liquor Stores and the result of a collaboration with Rascal Brewing. €2.75 for a 330ml can or 5 for €10.
Archive for Beer & Whiskey
The Irish Times was, in some small way, responsible for Ireland’s first seasonal gin. In the 2014, the brains behind Glendalough Irish Whiskey decided to make a gin tasting of summer but had no idea how to go about it. Then they read an article by Emma Somers in this paper about Wicklow forager Geraldine Kavanagh. They contacted Kavanagh who provided local ingredients for Glendalough Summer Botanical Gin. She now works full-time for them.
We took a stroll through the Wicklow countryside together. Kavanagh, a fount of knowledge, showed me most of the wild shoots, flowers and plants used in Glendalough Wild Spring Botanical Gin, as well as other edible wild plants. “We are tying to capture the essence of Wicklow; something different and local,” she says. This year they are increasing production from 3,000 bottles to cope with a burgeoning demand.
Not to be outdone, Dingle Distillery has released its Four Seasons Gin, containing four small 200ml bottles, each representing a season. Unlike Glendalough, they are all available at the same time, providing a very interesting tasting.
We worked through all four in the Dingle Whiskey Bar on Nassau Street, Dublin. The spring gin is the lightest and most floral, the summer still delicate but more textured. The autumn, many people’s favourite, has more earthy spice with red fruits, and the winter gin is spicier and most full-bodied of all.
Peter Mulryan of Blackwater Distillery in Cappoquin, Waterford, had something of an artistic struggle with his seasonal gin. “We wanted to take one key local botanical to represent each season, and decided on Wexford strawberries for our first. The problem with strawberries is you get mostly water,” says Mulryan. “So we had to use massive amounts of fresh fruit. It is an elusive flavour but we think we have got it right. We are now macerating the distilled gin in strawberries.”
He plans to release Wexford Strawberry Gin in June. In the meantime you can try his Juniper Cask Gin. It is fascinating, with sweet woody juniper aromas.
Shortcross Gin from Co Down does not make a seasonal gin, but forages wild clover to use alongside apples and elderberries for its standard gin.
As to the vexed question of tonic, Dingle served its with Fever-Tree, a choice Gary McLoughlin of Glendalough Distillery agrees with. However, he did suggest trying Thomas Henry, a German tonic made without quinine. I prefer to sip mine lightly chilled with a little water, and enjoy the unique flavours of these delectable gins.
A selection of four very different gins, so no tasting notes.
Stockists; Widely available in good off-licences.
Wonderfully aromatic, light and refreshing. Plenty of juniper, with spring flowers and zesty citrus.
Stockists: Celtic Whiskey; James Fox; Mitchell & Sons; Redmond’s and other specialist off-licences.
My current favourite, a delicious mix of citrus, juniper and earthy spices.
Stockists: Widely available in good off-licences.
No Joe Porter, O Brother Brewing, Wicklow.
First there was Joe. Joe Coffee was a single batch porter that didn’t hold back on the coffee content. Unlike some of their rivals you could really taste the coffee. Great if you like espresso, but not if you drink latté. No Joe is the same beer but without the coffee. ‘It was conceived as a coffee porter,’ says Barry O’Neill of O Brother; ‘local roaster Coffee Mojo ground and brewed 68 litres of fresh coffee on site, which was added to the porter. We were tasting the beer all the way along and thinking this is realty nice even without the coffee. So this time, we did it without. It’s the one I bring home in the winter, ‘admits Barry, ‘there is something warming about it. It is all sold now (all of their releases tend to be presold), but there is still plenty in the shops.’
As for O Brother, Barry says they are thriving; ‘We are out the door doing emergency bottling runs this week, trying to keep up with everything, the draft and bottles at the same time. We are going one and a quarter years, but it still feels like we are finding our feet; it will probably always be that way.’ For a porter No Joe still has plenty of body and alcohol (6.7%), with vanilla, chocolate and toasted malt with an attractive subtle bitter touch.
First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 2nd April, 2016
Nothing can quite prepare you for your first hit of Fernet-Branca. Mine came over breakfast, courtesy of a Danish colleague, who assured me it was the only way to start the day. I thought he was trying to poison me. Fernet-Branca is dark, mysterious and bitter. Very bitter. Drunk neat, it is dry, medicinal, sharp and herbal, like a slap across the face.
I once read a memorable description of Fernet Branca as “like waking up in a foreign country and finding a crowd of people arguing in agitated thorny voices outside your hotel window”.Italians like this sort of thing; witness the popularity of Campari, cima di rapa and other bitter brassicas, and liquorice. They treat Fernet-Branca and other bitters as a digestif. A small glass at the end of a meal is said to ward off indigestion and promote well-being. Elsewhere, there are those who swear it is the perfect antidote to a hangover, but that is probably because it tastes like a severe punishment, and temporarily dulls the senses.
Fernet-Branca was invented in 1845 by Bernardino Branca. His company, Fratelli Branca Distillerie of Milan, is still run by the Branca family. As with so many drinks, the recipe is a secret, but the company website tells us it has 27 herbs from four continents, as well as spices and roots. This includes aloe from Sri Lanka or India, and chamomile from Italy or Argentina. It is aged in old oak barrels for a year prior to bottling.
Fernet-Branca is hugely popular in the bars of San Francisco where bartenders apparently start their shift with a shot, and sometimes continue throughout the evening.
The most popular cocktail is the Bartender’s Handshake, Fernet and ginger ale, sometimes drunk one after the other. But it is Argentina that consumes the greatest quantity of Fernet-Branca, some 25 million litres each year, usually as a Fernandito or Fernet con Cola.
It is even available in pre-mixed cans. On a recent visit to a trendy Buenos Aires nightspot, bartenders were offering all manner of Fernet-based cocktails. I tried one and returned to my Malbec.
Throughout its history, Fernet-Branca has been marketed as having curative properties, in the 19th century as a treatment for anxiety and fever.
Early labels claim it “benefits the stomach, promotes digestion, strengthens the body, overcomes cholera, reduces fever, and heals those suffering from nervous weakness, lack of appetite, sickness or tapeworms; suitable for use as a preventative measure for all those who are obliged to reside in damp and infectious conditions. May be taken at any time of the day as required, undiluted or mixed with water, soda water, wine, coffee, vermouth, or other beverages”.
This article was first published in the Irish Times, Wednesday 30th March, 2016
I featured the delicious Belgian-style Radikale Rubenesque last September, and gave a brief mention of the Radikale Curious Ale, a beer that had been made in collaboration with Blackwater Distillery in Cappoquin. When I say collaboration, they added the botanicals used for the very tasty No.5 gin instead of flavouring hops. “I really the liked the Blackwater gin”, says Alain Dekoster, the Belgian behind Radikale, “and just wondered what would happen if I used the botanicals to make beer. We didn’t know what to expect, but it really exceeded my expectations.” Customers liked it too; it was voted fourth best beer by Beoir members in 2015. The name of the beer has now changed, due to legal threats from a UK beer company, to Radical Brew.
This is a rye beer, giving it a nice spiciness. You certainly get the juniper, plus a few other herbs, but the main flavour is hops. When I tried it at the RDS last year, I wasn’t that gone on it, but I really enjoyed sipping this one evening last week. Dekoster hopes to finish his new brewery later this year, and have a few new beers ready for the RDS beer festival.
Galway Hooker was one of the first craft brewers in the country, set up in 2006 by cousins Ronan Brennan and Aidan Murphy. Murphy is very happy with the boom in new craft brewers. ‘It’s a funny kind of thing; the competition elevates the whole craft beer market so it is mostly positive. The more beers, the more momentum we all seem to get.’ Originally set up in Roscommon, they moved to a bigger new brewery in Oranmore two years ago. ‘It is certainly a lot more comfortable’ says Aidan.
Sixty Knots was launched about a year ago, and is now a permanent fixture, alongside the original Irish Pale Ale, Stout and Amber Ale. ‘Basically we were trying to produce a traditional India Pale Ale with high alcohol content and a high level of bitterness (it has 60 ibu). It is a little bit different from other Irish IPAs in that it has a combination of the punchy citrus of American hops combined with the earthy spiciness of European hops’. Sixty Knots certainly has a lively bitterness, but it is very nicely underpinned by pine resin and a broad maltiness.
Children of the Revolution India Pale Ale, Wicklow Wolf
The Craft Brewers of Ireland love an excuse to come up with a seasonal brew, preferably with a pun or two in the name. A combination of St. Patrick’s Day and the 1916 celebrations has provided plenty of scope.
Children of the Revolution ‘salutes the bravery and vision of our countrymen and countrywomen who made possible the Ireland we live in today’. I am not sure they had today’s Ireland in mind back in 1916, but the politicians had better watch out – as Marc Bolan sang in 1972 ‘you won’t fool the children of the revolution’. This is a medium-bodied (5.7%) pale ale with a really enticing aroma and flavour of mandarin orange alongside a nice citrus bite and a smooth hoppy finish. Nice beer. ‘We were lucky enough to get a smallish amount of Amarillo hops, so we thought ‘let’s do something special, lets dump it all in to the IPA,’ says Quincey Fennelly of Wicklow Wolf.
Apparently someone took offence to the name of the beer, arguing it encouraged underage drinking. After an appearance on Joe Duffy, it went viral online. Quincey Fennelly says his phone hasn’t stopped ringing since. ‘We are all our mother’s children whatever age we are. I don’t think the name would persuade teenagers to pay €4 for a bottle instead of several cans of cheap larger.’ As the label says, the bitterness ends here!
World’s End Chocolate Vanilla Imperial Stout, Blacks of Kinsale
Sam and Maud Black have been brewing since 2013, making them old hands as far as Irish craft brewing is concerned. We have been here before; Imperial Stout is not a session beer unless you want a very heavy session. It is typically 8-12% in volume with fairly full-on flavours of roasted malt, dark chocolate and sometimes loads of hops too.
Last December saw the first release of World’s End, but it will feature every year from now on. Sam Black recommends keeping a bottle of the 2015 for a year to try against the 2016. That may not be easy, as stocks have depleted rapidly; a few shops still have it though.
“Every craft brewer should have a good imperial stout”, says Black. “We made the Model T before, and this time we took it a step further”. World’s End is made using Fairtrade cacao husks and Madagascar vanilla pods. “It is very unusual to get the cacao husks; normally it is chocolate nibs or plain chocolate. We got ours from bean to bar producer Clonakilty Chocolate. It has only ever been done once before as far as I can see, but we gave it a go and it worked very well. To be honest it was a shot in the dark as to whether it would give any flavour, but it came out great. The vanilla rounds it out and sweetens the flavour slightly giving the perception of chocolate”
World’s End is full bodied and powerful with masses of roasted coffee and dark chocolate flavour. The vanilla does stop it getting too severe; think 85% dark chocolate. This is great beer, one to sip and savour slowly on a cold evening.
We move outside the country this week to Belgium, home to so many of the world’s greatest beers. Dupont is a small family-run brewery as well as a farm, that now produces bread and cheese as well for sale in their café/shop. The farm part of the business goes back to the mid 18th century. Beer production started a few years later, brewed mainly to quench the thirst of busy farm hands. The original Saison beer was fermented in the winter for drinking later in the year. Often the beer began a secondary fermentation in the barrel as temperatures rose; nowadays carbonation takes place in the bottle. Until recently the bottles came with a champagne-style mushroom cork and wire. Saison almost died out in the twentieth century until beer nuts in the U.S. began to take an interest. Today it is made in most beer-loving loving countries, including our own.
Saison Dupont is one of the most highly rated beers in the world, with a distinctive character said to derive from a unique group of yeasts used in brewing. It is medium-bodied and complex with refreshing fruit, a light bready, yeastiness, and a thirst-quenching bitterness. Great beer.