Archive for Beer & Whiskey

Bog Hopper Hairy Bullocks American Pale Ale


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.

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A Beer called Rwanda, Wicklow Wolf

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.’

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Rhubarb Tart IPA, James Brown Brews

DSCF6221This 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.

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Dunbrody IPA

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.

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Stonewell Tawny 15%

From the Irish Times, Take it Home, Wednesday 9th December 2015

DSCF6209It’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.

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The White Hag Black Boar Imperial Oatmeal Stout

From The Irish Times online version, Wednesday 2nd December, 2015

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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?

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Irish whiskey was once held in higher esteem than its rivals over the water in Scotland and the United States. Battered by a series of economic and political misfortunes, it went into a steep decline for most of the 20th century. The last decade has seen a dramatic rebirth, with a huge surge of interest from Ireland and overseas. Whereas the Scots are best-known for their single malt whisky, our unique specialty is single pot still whiskey. This distillation method gives almost all of our whiskies a distinctive flavour that sets them apart from their rivals elsewhere.

Fionnán O’Connor, a postgraduate student in TCD, has an in-depth knowledge of all things related to whiskey and pot still whiskey in particular. A Glass Apart tells the long illustrious history of pot still whiskey, how it is produced, and most importantly what it tastes like. O’Connor takes the reader through all of the available Irish pot still whiskies, with comprehensive tasting notes on each. He takes an expert look on how to taste and enjoy whiskey, and profiles the personalities behind our national drink, including the distillers, the coopers, the blenders, and maturation experts. He provides an in-depth history of the craft in Ireland, covering many of the extinct distilleries in the towns and cities of Ireland. It is, as O’Connor says ‘an introduction and a love letter to the history, craft, and diversity of Ireland’s re-awoken firewater phoenix’. A Glass Apart is a lavish and comprehensive production, with excellent photography by Ove Grunnér. Published by Images Publishing it will be available in bookshops from next week. It is essential reading for anyone with an interest in our national spirit.

Below O’Connor explains the history behind Power’s Whiskey – the old distillery is now the National College of Art & Design in Dublin. Behind him are the three giant copper stills.


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Take it Home Mescal Red Tripel & Ch. Lorgeril

Take it Home from the Irish Times, Friday 28th August, 2015

DSCF6049Mescan Red Tripel, Westport

MescanI began hearing great things about the Mescan beers from friends in Westport, but Westport was the only place you could buy them. Eventually I made a trip down there and succeeded in trying out the Red Tripel. It was worth the wait. This is a delicious full-bodied beer with masses of rich malty caramel and peach fruits. At 8 per cent, it is definitely not a session beer, but I sipped my way slowly though a bottle while reading the Sunday papers.

Cillián Ó Móraín and Bart Adams weren’t deliberately trying to create publicity through an artificial shortage; they both worked as vets (Adams has now given up and works full-time at brewing), and simply didn’t have the time or energy to make more beer. “After twenty years as vets, we were both looking for a new challenge or interest,” says Ó Móraín. The Red Tripel is matured for ten months before release, so managing demand is a nightmare. “We have to sell it sparingly because it will be a while before the next batch is ready,” he adds.

Phil Cullen of Mountain Man BrewingTake it home: a Hairy Goat IPA and a supple juicy red
Michaela Dillon and Richard SiberryTake it home: an Irish farmhouse ale and a Portuguese wine
Nowadays most distilleries pay big money for used oak barrels that have been used to store wines and bourbon whiskyIrish whiskey: roll out the barrel

Ó Móraín is from Dublin, Adams from Belgium. They both learned about Belgian beer from many visits to that country over the years, and decided to brew Belgian style beers in the shadow of Croagh Patrick – hence the mountain logo. The reek means a lot to both men. The water used in brewing is drawn from under the mountain. The year before they started, they made a weekly ascent together to plan the brewery. According to Ó Móraín, Mescan was a disciple of St Patrick and his personal brewer (we could all do with one of those).

Classic Tripels are golden with lots of malt and are 8-10 per cent in strength. Red Tripel is made with roasted malts, hence the darker colour. O Móraín thinks they were the first to make this style, but several others have now appeared in Belgium. Mescan now appears to be available nearly nationwide, at least in some specialist beer off-licences. I also managed to snaffle a bottle of their latest creation, Westport Extra, made, as the label says, with extra hops, extra malt, extra alcohol (9.3 per cent, and extra conditioning. But you may have to travel to Westport to find a bottle. “We are,” says Ó Móraín, “small and self-contained; we recycle everything, including the water and the spent grain, which is fed to the animals and our beers get a long maturation. We are in the process of expanding but we will never be massive.”

So, not easy to find, but worth the effort.

DSCF6062Ch. Lorgeril 2011, Cabardès
Available from SuperValu at €10

The multiples swing into autumn mode once September comes, usually with a French wine sale. Lidl start theirs on September 7th; SuperValu next week on Thursday 3rd with over 100 wines on offer. I enjoyed two Bordeaux, the light, easy Ch Moulin Lafitte (€14) and the richer softly fruity Ch La Baronnerie (€12). But my wine this week comes from Cabardès in the Languedoc. I remember standing high up in the hills, in the stunning vineyards of Ch Lorgeril a few years back. From the south comes the warm Mediterranean sun, and from the north-east, the cooling Atlantic winds. This unique climate makes for wines with a certain elegance and freshness, despite being less than ten kilometres from the heat of Carcassonne. Nicolas and Miren de Lorgeril are the 10th generation of the family to have overseen the estate. Local noble Bernard de Pennautier built the impressive château back in 1620, during the reign of Louis XIII. It is available for hire for seminars, weddings and other events, and just a handy five kilometres from Carcassonne airport.The wine is soft and earthy, with some nice ripe cassis fruits. At €10, it is something of a bargain.

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Mountain Man Brewing Co. Hairy Goat

Mountain Man Brewing Co. Hairy Goat

From the Irish Times online ‘Take it Home’ 21st August, 2015

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DSCF6041€3.39 for a 500ml bottle

I keep bumping into Mountain Man at fairs, tastings and festivals. There’s usually a lot of hair around, on the logo, as well as on the man that’s pouring. It seems to attract hairy, bearded men too. Behind it all are Phil Cullen and Gordon Lucey, who met on a brewing course in 2012. ‘We were both looking at setting something up at the same time so we thought we might as well put our heads together’, says Cullen. The logo and labeling are distinctive. ‘We took great care with our labels and bottles – you need to have a really good beer, but there’s more to it than that. Nine out of ten people read the label before buying and I thought there was an awful lot of wasted space on some, so we made ours stand out. We have useful information and something to make you smile.’ As for the beards, ‘When we went to the first couple of festivals people asked me ‘Is this your beer? Then where’s your beard?’ So I started growing one. It has become a job requirement now!’ Hairy Goat is an English style IPA, with lovely plump fruits, a nicely balanced hoppiness and a dry but not overly bitter finish. Nice beer. Widely available at €3.99 for a 500ml bottle

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