Archive for Beer & Whiskey

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.

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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.

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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.

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Stone Barrel Oatmeal & Coffee Stout

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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.

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Connemara Cascade – my craft beer this week.

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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

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A Sipping Gin – Burrough’s Reserve

IMG_4366Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Oak Rested Gin

I like the phrase ‘oak-rested’. It seems more civilised than oak-aged, and indicates that this small batch distillation Burrough’s gin spent weeks rather than years in oak barrels. The barriques concerned were from Bordeaux, and spent some time ageing the vermouth Lillet after Bordeaux wine. Last Friday afternoon, I met up with master distiller Desmond Payne to try out the gin. It is a sipping gin according to Desmond, to be drunk without tonic water or any other mixer. I shared a few sips with Payne (a master distiller who has been making gin for almost fifty years) in the bar of the Merrion Hotel. A very enjoyable way to spend Friday afternoon.

He had always been opposed to ageing gin in casks. ‘Gin is fresh and clean and new’ he said. But then he tried a barrel-aged Negroni in Portland, Oregon and saw possibilities. ‘Its what you age it in that counts’ says Desmond, ‘logic would seem to indicate used bourbon casks, but they impart a strong flavour’. Instead he headed to Bordeaux and to Lillet, who age their reserve vermouth in used Bordeaux barriques. He used second or third fill casks, and aged the gin for four to five weeks. They used an historic small still in Chelsea, which ‘had been gathering dust there’, according to Desmond. He sees it as a digestif to be sipped after dinner or with desserts or even cheese. He has been working with former Blur member, journalist and cheesemaker Alex James to find matches. This is the second edition of Burrough’s Reserve. Edition 2 Batch 01 has strong notes of juniper (‘it is a gin, it must have juniper’ says Desmond) orange peel, lemon, and subtle sweet vanilla oak that comes though on the finish. It lingers for hours; I can still taste it twenty minutes later. Limited quantities will sell for around €60, although most will go to upmarket bars.

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Wood Key Brewing, The Pilgrim Irish Red Ale


Left to right : Hugh O’Brien, Andrew Bourke, Brian Murphy, Simon Browne of Wood Key

Wood Key Brewing, The Pilgrim Irish Red Ale

Brian Murphy and Simon Browne work in McHugh’s Off-licence on the Kilbarrack Road. McHugh’s were one of the very first shops to champion real beer, initially from abroad, and then Ireland when craft brewing took off. Not surprisingly they have one of the finest selections around, and an avid group of customers. One day, the pair were approached by one such customer, Andrew Bourke, ‘He had just finished his MBA’, says Murphy, ‘and he fancied the idea of setting up his own business. He asked himself ‘what do I like?’ and Who knows about it?’. And so he came to us’.

‘That was two years ago’, says Murphy; ‘we started over and over again, experimenting. We decided to take a serious approach to a red Irish ale. Some craft brewers just put together something red and hoppy. We saw a market for a traditional red ale with a difference’. The result was The Pilgrim Irish Red Ale. ‘We have been going seven months now and are struggling to meet demand. We got amazing support from McHughs, the owner, the staff and the customers. They now have nationwide distribution and have been listed in O’Briens.

At the moment they contract brew at the Independent Brewery in Galway with one of the team going down on brew day. They released a second beer, Raven’s rye ale, just before Christmas, and that sold out very quickly. ‘We will release a new batch this week, a lower in alcohol to make it sessionable’. The Wood Key Red Ale is a very nicely crafted easy-drinking red ale that still has a plenty of character, with an appealing smoothness lifted by a light hoppy tang. A very good session beer.

From the Irish Times, 3rd February 2016

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Ginger Porter, Rascals Brewing Company

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Emma Devlin & Cathal O’Donoghue of Rascals Brewing

First published in The Irish Times, Wednesday 27th January, 2016

We all know that Enid Blyton’s Famous Five drank lashings and of ginger beer to wash down massive quantities of sandwiches on their many intrepid expeditions into the countryside. Except they didn’t; apparently there is no such quote in any of the many Famous Five books. It didn’t stop The Comic Strip Presents….using it in their parody Five go Mad in Dorset. I’m not sure if Rascals Brewing Company had this in mind when they created a ginger porter, but then Julian, Dick, Anne and George were aged between eleven and thirteen and unlikely to indulge in underage drinking.

This was the first beer ever brewed by Emma Devlin and Cathal O’Donoghuee, the team that make up Rascals. They intend making it an annual winter seasonal, available until early March, or until it runs out. This year it is available in very smart tactile cans for the first time. The Rascals ginger porter is refreshing and very drinkable, medium-bodied with a nice kick of ginger on the finish

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Eight Degrees Mór Barley Wine

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Mike Magee, Head brewer at Eight Degrees

Barley wine is not a wine at all, but a beer. It has a long history, going back to Ancient Greece, although these would have tasted very different to the modern versions, as back then there were no hops around. The wine part is a reference to its alcoholic strength, as barley wine comes in at a strapping 8-13% alcohol, making it one of the strongest beers of all. There are two styles, English and American; English tends to be maltier and rounded in flavour, American intensely hoppy and bitter. Apparently they age very well, like a good wine. However, if you want to try ageing the Eight Degrees version, you will have to be quick off the mark; the brewery is down to its last few cases.

The name says it all; Eight Degrees Mór is big and bold, with masses of American hops. The nose is deceptive, with light notes of toffee. The palate is massive, with buckets of stone fruits, caramel and spicy bitter hops. The alcohol (10.2%) kicks in nicely; this is a well-balanced robust warming beer, perfect for these cold January evenings. €4.49 for a 33cl bottle from specialist off-licences.

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Northbound Brewery 33 Sticke Alt


By rights, you shouldn’t be drinking this until next Tuesday, but we won’t be sticklers for detail. Altbier is the local brew in Düsseldorf , a copper-coloured, medium-bodied hoppy ale that is consumed in large quantities by all who head into one of the brewpubs in the Alststadt, or old town. Sticke Alt is a stronger version, invented by Uerige, one of the Düsseldorf brewpubs. It is produced only twice a year, and released on the third Tuesday in October and the third Tuesday in January.

Based in Derry, Northbound was set up by David and Martina Rogers on their return from Australia, where David worked as a master brewer at Tooheys. I recommended their Kölsch (the traditional beer of Köln) last summer. I enjoyed the Sticke; rich, deeply malty and nutty with plenty of hops and a smooth finish. Perfect for keeping the cold of January at bay. 5.5% alcohol and €3.99 for a 500ml bottle.

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