Archive for Beer & Whiskey

Fernet Branca

Fernet Branca

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”.

Posted in: Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Radikale Radical Brew

<strong>Radikale Radical Brew</strong>

Radikale Radical Brew

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.

Posted in: Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Galway Hooker Sixty Knots India Pale Ale

<strong> Galway Hooker Sixty Knots India Pale Ale</strong>

First published in the Irish Times online, Wednesday 23rd March, 2016
Image 3
Galway Hooker Sixty Knots India Pale Ale

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.

Posted in: Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Beer of the Week; Children of the Revolution

Image 7
First published in the Irish Times, Wednesday 16th March, 2016

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!

Posted in: Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

World’s End Chocolate Vanilla Imperial Stout, Blacks of Kinsale

Image 10
First published in the online Irish Times, Wednesday 9th March, 2016

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.

Posted in: Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Dupont Saison

Dupont Saison

Image 11First published in The Irish Times, Wednesday 2nd March, 2016

Saison Dupont


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.

Posted in: Beer & Whiskey

Leave a Comment (0) →

Green Chartreuse shades it.

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday, 27th February 2016.

“With a pint of green chartreuse ain’t nothin’ seems right You buy the Sunday paper on a Saturday night”

So growled Tom Waits in Til The Money Runs Out, on his 1980 album Heartattack and Vine. Chartreuse has that sort of reputation. Strange then that it was created by an order of contemplative monks, and that French children are fed a drop of the Elixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse dissolved on a sugar cube to ward off sickness. At a heart-warming 69 per cent alcohol, it must kill all known germs. This elixir comes in a small phial, encased in its wooden case. The monks market it as a cordial, a liqueur and a “very effective” tonic on their website. The standard liqueur is slightly less potent than the Elixir at 55 per cent.

Chartreuse traces its history back to 1609 when, it is said, a secret recipe was handed to the Carthusian monks by a marshal in the army of King Henri IV. It eventually found its way to their headquarters in the mountains of Haut-Savoie, a beautiful region an hour’s drive east of Lyon. There, the apothecary succeeded in creating an elixir from some 130 herbs and spices. The exact recipe remains a secret to this day, shared only by two monks. Eventually, seeing that it had become popular as a drink, the monks created a less potent liqueur for use as a beverage. As you can also find a similar liqueur known as génépi, traditionally made by farmers in the region, it is possible that the story of Henri IV was invented along the way.

The order was expelled twice from France, once during the French Revolution and again in 1903. On the second occasion, they continued to produce the liqueur in Spain, only returning, with tacit state approval, in 1929. In their absence, an inferior copy was offered by the new distillery owners in France.Today, the complex blend of herbs is mixed at the monastery before being taken to a distillation plant in the nearby town of Voiron. You can visit the museum, and take a very pleasant walk around the high walls of the monastery, but entrance is forbidden. There are signs outside requesting visitors to keep quiet.

There are two versions of Chartreuse, green and yellow, each flavoured with a different selection of herbs. The yellow is sweeter, flavoured with saffron, and lower in alcohol. The complex flavours of the green are intensely herbal, medicinal and powerful. There is a sweetness that never cloys; it lingers and develops on the palate, lasting minutes. It is one of the only liqueurs that ages and improves in bottle and gives it’s name to the colour chartreuse.

The monks produce six different herb-based liqueurs, my favourite being the green Chartreuse VEP or (Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé) which is the standard version aged for a longer period in oak casks. It makes an excellent digestif served chilled after dinner. Green Chartreuse is back in fashion, as a drink with water, or as an ingredient in cocktails. Skiers in the resorts above the Haute-Savoie warm themselves up with a verte chaude, made with one part green Chartreuse to three parts hot chocolate, finished with a layer of cream – a French take on an Irish coffee.The Last Word, a Prohibition era cocktail, was recently revived by bartender Murray Stenson in Seattle. It consists of one part each of gin, lime juice, green Chartreuse and maraschino liqueur, shaken with ice and then strained into a martini glass.

The final tasting note goes to Anthony Blanche in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: “Real green Chartreuse, made before the expulsion of the monks. There are five distinct tastes as it trickles over the tongue. It is like swallowing a spectrum.”


IMG_1602La Vieille Capitelle 2013 AOP Languedoc

Familiar to O’Briens customers, a soft supple rich fruity red with ripe blackcurrants and spice. Great value for money.

Stockist: O’Briens

IMG_0027Ad Libitum 2014 Rioja (Organic)

Very attractive textured green apple and melon fruits, good acidity and a crisp finish. Great price for a wine with real interest.

Stockists: Cabot & Co, Westport; No.1 Pery Square, Limerick.

Grégory Pérez Mengoba 2013, Méncia del Espanillo, Bierzo
13.5% €33.50

Expensive brilliant wine, nuanced and sophisticated, with wonderful smooth dark cherry fruits, a subtle oakiness, and a lovely finish.

Stockists: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers; 64wine.

Posted in: Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Duxie Grapefruit Tea Pale Ale, Jack Cody’s Brewery

<strong>Duxie Grapefruit Tea Pale Ale, Jack Cody’s Brewery

Geoff FitzPatrick of Jack Cody’s

Duxie Grapefruit Tea Pale Ale, Jack Cody’s Brewery

First published in the online Irish Times on 24th February, 2016

Yes, you read it correctly. A beer that lists pink grapefruit , lime and earl grey tea as ingredients alongside the usual barley, hops, yeast and water. The label says drink in the sunshine, something that is currently in short supply, or with salads, smoked mackerel or Thai red curry. I had none of these to hand, but gave it a go anyway. It has aromas of candy and orange peel, and a light, refreshing, lightly bitter palate of fruit and candy again and some grapefruit. It also has the slight yet definite soapy perfume and flavour of earl grey tea. I liked it but could see how others wouldn’t.

Set up in Drogheda by Geoff FitzPatrick, Jack Cody’s has been going since the summer of 2014, making a good name for itself with Smiggy Amber Ale and Puck Pilsner. The brewery also has Hail Glorious Saint Patrick Extra Stout out for the coming national day.

Posted in: Beer, Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Stone Barrel Oatmeal & Coffee Stout

Image 4

The Rotation Series Episode 4 Oatmeal & Coffee Stout
Stone Barrel Brewing Company

First published in the online Irish Times Wednesday 17th February, 2016

What do bankers do when they tire of taking our money? Make beer if Stone Barrel is anything to go by. Niall FitzGerald and Kevin McKinney had been friends for a long time. “We both worked in financial services in the glory days. We were low level though” stresses Kevin, “if we had been real bankers we have a really fancy brewery by now.” For the moment they brew in Craftworks, the brewing facility in Broombridge. However, they have now bought their own kit and hope to set up their own operation in the next eight to ten weeks.

“We were home brewers for a long time and like a lot of people, always wanted to have our own brewery.” Their first beer, Boom, was released in November 2013. “We made a conscious decision to develop one product and push it as much as possible. We are hugely proud of the result; it is our bread and butter.” The oatmeal and coffee is the fourth in their rotational series. “Whenever we have a bit of spare capacity we try a once off to keep us and the beer drinkers interested,” says Kevin.

The label is not the easiest to read. “We had a mishap with the printers and the label came out a lot darker than we anticipated”, says Kevin. “But we needed to get the beer out there before Christmas so we went ahead. Label aside, this is a very nice beer, with plenty of dark roasted coffee and dark chocolate too, alongside some hoppy fruit. All of this darkness matched my mood, as I watched Ireland go under in Paris.

Posted in: Beer, Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →

Connemara Cascade – my craft beer this week.

Image 1

Connemara Cascade, Independent Brewing Company.


I am not sure Kevin O’Hara is talking to me. When we met at the Alltech Craft Brews Fair last week, I told him his label was boring. What looked like a tree on said label turned out to be maerl, a coral-like seaweed found at nearby Trá an Dóilín. Independent Brewing is based in Carraroe in the Connemara Gaeltacht, a mile from the beach. Kevin set up the business two years ago. ‘I came from a science and then home brewing background, and then I did a couple of courses to get me up to speed professionally’. The beers are widely available around Galway and in Dublin and they are exporting across Europe, mainly to Italy.

Independent Brewing do the usual range of craft beers, a stout, a red ale, a gold ale and an IPA, along with seasonal brews that have included a whiskey stout, and two barrel-aged barley wines. At the stand, I tasted his latest brew, Connemara Cascade made from the classic American hop of that name, and melba, a new Australian hop. ‘The melba brings a bit of fruitiness and is not as strong as the cascade,’ says Kevin. ‘Certainly the cascade is certainly more dominanting this one.’ The Connemara Cascade, released in October, has plenty of grapefruit, citrus and even pine, countered nicely by a smooth malty base. Nice beer.

Published in the online Irish Times, Wednesday 10th February 2016

Posted in: Beer & Whiskey, Irish Times

Leave a Comment (0) →
Page 2 of 5 12345