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
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
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.
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.
First published in the Irish Times, Wednesday 6th January, 2016
I was seated at the bar in McGrory’s of Culdaff, pondering what to drink. James the barman, suggested I try a brand new craft beer, ‘the only one produced on Inishowen’. Until now, the excellent Kinnegar, brewed on the next peninsula, was the nearest craft brewer. The Hairy Bullocks was very good, full of citrus hops with a lovely bite, and plenty of character.
Bog Hopper was set up very recently by David Mullan and his wife Áine, and Hairy Bullocks is their first release. ‘So far the reaction has been good’, says David. ‘We didn’t really know what to expect. We only got our licence in early December, so it is very early days. Some pubs have taken to it with gusto, others just took in a few bottles to try. A few are running out of it every few days, and to be honest, I’ve been firefighting to keep everyone supplied. We launched at a busy time of year for everyone, so we’ll go back to talk everyone in January’. At the moment, it is available in SuperValu and Costcutters in Carndonagh, and SuperValu and Gill’s in Buncrana.‘I would love to have a beer that you have to come to Inishowen to buy, but I am not sure if that is commercially viable’.
Mullan, a software engineer, worked on the administrative side of things at Pyramid breweries in California. He caught the bug, and got to know the guys who did the brewing. ‘American Pale Ale is my favourite style of beer from living on the west coast of America for a few years, so we started with that’ he says. ‘I wanted to make a beer that wasn’t too extreme but still interesting.’ Next up is Dirty Chick, ‘an over-hopped American style pilsner,’ according to Mullan. I returned to McGrory’s the following night and asked for another bottle of Hairy Bullocks. Sadly it had run out. It seems the locals know a good thing when they come across it.
Feeling a little jaded after all those celebrations? Need a little boost before the New Year’s revelry? What better pick-me-up than the hair of a dog combined with a dose of caffeine? A Beer called Rwanda is just that; a collaboration between Bray brewer Wicklow Wolf, who make a string a very tasty beers, and coffee importer and roaster Java Republic. It is 5.1 per cent in alcohol with light coffee aromas and an enticing mix of blackcurrants, redcurrants, lightly toasted coffee bean and a touch of caramel.
“We wanted to do a seasonal and we are friendly with some of the people in Java Republic,” says Quincey Fennelly of Wicklow Wolf. “It was kind of on the cards for nine months but we couldn’t fit it in. Rather than doing the obvious coffee porter we decided to do a brown ale.”
Java Republic recommended the Rwanda coffee. “The name was really just a working title but we liked it and so did they. The beer has gone down extremely well and is almost sold out. We may brew it again for next Christmas. In the meantime we have a few other ideas up our sleeve for 2016.’
This seems more of a crumble than a tart, but lets not be too picky. James Brown is not the first to make a rhubarb beer, but I haven’t seen any other Irish craft brewer produce one before.
He used 300kgs of rhubarb and 28kgs of hops hoping to create something fairly big and memorable. The result is an interesting beer, light, belying its 7 per cent alcohol, tangy and lightly fruity with a cleansing tart sourness from the rhubarb. There is a nice biscuit character and an attractive hoppy touch. When I talked to James, he was very busy with his day job as assistant manager in one of the O’Briens off-licences. He did say his next batch will be tweaked a little to give a little more rhubarb kick. In the meantime, this is well worth trying out.
Dunbrody Irish Pale Ale
Last week the Arthurstown brewery joined the ever-lengthening list of craft breweries in this country. Based in the Dunbrody House Estate, this is the brainchild of celebrity chef Kevin Dundon, owner of Dunbrody, local farmer and B&B owner Tosh Crosbie, local businessman Eamon Murphy and marketeer Niamh Ní Dhónaill. The story goes that Arthurstown had no pub, so ‘The Local’ bar was built in the grounds of Dunbrody. Kevin and his mates were enjoying a pint there one evening when someone came up with the idea of brewing their own beer.
The brewery has the capacity to produce eight thousand litres a week. The brewer is Kieran Bird, a local, or at least ‘five or six miles down the road’ he says. They produce the Kings Bay beers for SuperValu as well as Dunbrody Irish Pale Ale and Irish Red Ale. The latter are aimed at restaurants and specialist off-licences, the former as introductory beers for newbie craft beer converts. All of the base malts are grown locally, and Kieran is very happy with the soft water supplied by an ancient well on the grounds of Dunbrody. I’ll be brewing the stout in the New Year, and we are starting to think about other seasonal beers,’ says Kieran, ‘maybe a lager with strawberries to go with the other famous local produce, maybe a pumpkin ale or a lighter Kölsch for the spring. We will see.’ The Dunbrody Pale Ale is light, crisp and refreshing with a subtle citrus finish.
Stonewell Tawny 15%
From the Irish Times, Take it Home, Wednesday 9th December 2015
It’s not a cider, it’s not a beer, and it certainly isn’t a port. Daniel Emerson of Stonewell Cider likes to play around a little – witness his appetising Esterre sparkling cider and low alcohol Tobairín. The Stonewell Tawny is something else: fermented with the help of some sugar to an impressive port-like 15 per cent, it is then dry hopped, as in a beer, at the end. The result is quite extraordinary, but in a good way. There is a burst of apple spiked with spice and ripples of butterscotch. Sort of like a liquid alcoholic apple pie.
It’s all part of Stonewell’s plan to get us to drink cider in a more refined manner. “A well-produced cider can stand shoulder to shoulder with good wine,” says Daniel Emerson of Stonewell. “The reaction has been extremely positive, I haven’t heard one negative comment so far. It won a prestigious Pomme d’Or award at the Frankfurt Apfelwein Welweit earlier this year.”
Beautifully packaged, I can see this ending up in the stockings of many beer, cider and general booze lovers. My bottle went very well with several cheeses and I suspect it will go nicely with many desserts over Christmas. It sells for around €20.
From The Irish Times online version, Wednesday 2nd December, 2015
The White Hag Brewing company launched as recently as August 2014, but already has a very loyal following. ‘Our beers are different’, says American brewer Joe Kearns; ‘we don’t do an accessible red ale, stout and lager like most of the others. Our beers are big and bold, American style made using Irish ingredients where possible. We have a heather ale made without any hops. Our water comes from a bog and is very soft, ideal for stout. It doesn’t have to be treated, filtered or pasteurised.’
Imperial Stout, sometimes called Imperial Russian Stout has a reputation as the bad boy of the beer world. First brewed in London back in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century for the Russian court, it is high in alcohol – up to 12%, and coming down with dark flavours. Think roast chocolate, coffee and roasted malt. Imperial can be dry or sweet, intense or medium-bodied, it can be flavoured with extra hops, milk chocolate, coffee, liquorice, sea salt, spices, extra malt, or even chili. The use of oats in stout is fairly common. It adds a smooth texture to the beer.
The White Hag Imperial Oatmeal Stout was launched at the Craft Beer Fest in 2014, where it won the fan’s favourite award. It went on to become Beoir’s Best Stout in Ireland in 2015 and runner up for Beer of the Year 2015. This, it hardly needs saying, is not a session beer. Big (10.2% but never burns), bold and full of roasted barley and dark chocolate, with a lovely smooth texture, this demands careful contemplation on cold winter nights. White Hag will release a special version of the Imperial Stout for Christmas. Aged in whiskey casks and available in a 75cl bottle. One to leave out for Santa perhaps?