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.
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
Beefeater 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.
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.