Saturday, 2 January 2016

Golden Pint Awards 2015

Better late than never, my take on these popular awards.
  • Best Irish Keg Beer: Tough one as it's such a moving target. Some stalwarts have dropped in quality, and at the same time there are some great new entries... but you can always rely on Porterhouse Hop Head. Honourable mentions go to Carrig for Poachers Pale Ale, and Metalman for their once game-changing Pale Ale, which is still a great beer all these years later.
  • Best Irish Bottled Beer: That basically throws the whole floor open. I quite enjoyed Black's Black IPA, one of the best black IPAs anywhere, as I did The White Hag's excellent Black Boar imperial stout, and their Beann Gulban (Ben Bulben) sour heather ale. Pokertree's Dark Nirvana is also excellent, and a little different, but I'm giving this one to a new-comer: Kevin Dundon and his King's Bay Irish Pale Ale.
  • Best Irish Canned Beer: Not a lot to chose from but the concensus seems to be Black's KPA. I'd go along with that. 
  • Best Overseas Draught Beer: We're fortunate in that some of the best new breweries in Britain are getting an outing in Ireland, among them is Siren. While not widely available, it can usually be found in the better bars and it goes to their red IPA, Liquid Mistress.
  • Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Boon Mariage Parfait. All day long. Close seconds are similarly sour beers from Belgium that are easily gotten in Ireland: Liefmans Cuvee Brut (formerly Kriek), Liefmans Goudenband, Gueuze/Oude Geuze by Hanssens Artisanaal, Tilquin and Cantillon. Oh, and Siren Calypso.
  • Best Overseas Canned Beer: We've had an increasing number of imported canned beers, and Beavertown produced Quelle Saison, I think the only Saison that I've truly enjoyed enough to buy again.
  • Best Collaboration Brew: I'm not sure if it's a beer collaboration brew as such, but my buddy in beer Alain Dekoster of RadikAle did Curious Brew with gin botanicals from Blackwater Distillery. Alain is Belgium's premier Irish resident brewer, so it's not altogether unsurprising that he's making great beer.
  • Best Overall Beer: The White Hag's imperial stout, Black Boar. Kinnegar's Geuzberry comes second.
  • Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label: Brú probably have the clearest and most instantly recognisable branding, but I think Galway Bay go one better with more interesting names, the non-core beers especially.
  • Best Irish Brewery: For sheer business acumen, dogged determination in the face of criticism and meteoric rise this has to be Rye River, one of the biggest players in the Irish micro scene. In beer terms this goes to those who will take the biggest risks to brew great beer: Boundary and Simon Lambert & Sons.
  • Best Overseas Brewery: It's been a great year for the Brits and I've really enjoyed brews from Wild Beer Company, Buxton, BBN, and Siren this year, but ultimately it goes back to Belgium and Boon takes it as I got to visit it this year and spend two wonderful days at a beer festival there as part of Toer de Geuze.
  • Best New Brewery Opening 2015: Going to give this to the small guys, again for showing their willingness to take chances. Boundary, Simon Lambert & Sons, The Old Schoolhouse, and if contract brewers are allowed, RadikAle and James Brown Brews.
  • Pub/Bar of the Year: Brewbot Brewbot Brewbot. Brewbot of Belfast. Head and shoulders above the rest. The best selection of beer under one roof in Ireland. Great staff, great food, and all beers available for offsales at a 20% discount. Honourable mentions to the Porterhouse (Parliament St), 57 The Headline and the Beer Market.
  • Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2015:  Brewbot. Honourable mention to the Beer Market.
  • Beer Festival of the Year: Would you prefer to see your favourite band in Vicar Street or in the 3Arena? Exactly. Out this year were the mega festivals and in were the smaller boutique festivals where the vibe is more important than piling them high. Kilkenny Craft Beer Festival, as run by beer buddy and owner of Costello's Brewing Company, Gerald Costello, pips it. Fantastically organised and run by Ger and his family this was a lovely way to spend a few hours. There is nothing negative I could say about this festival. Close seconds were those run by Simon Broderick and Wayne & Janice Dunne. Overseas festival it would be Tilquin English Beer Festival, so good that it's to be repeated this year... where else could you drink Calypso and Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L'Ancienne under one roof?
  • Supermarket of the Year: I'm somewhat reluctantly giving this to SuperValu, for beer selection alone as I find SuperValu to be one of the most expensive supermarkets in Ireland for everything, including beer. A reluctant recommendation.
  • Independent Retailer of the Year: Bier Tempel. In Ireland, Drinkstore, with honourable mentions going to Worldwide Wines in Waterford, and Belfast's Vineyard and Lighthouse Wines.
  • Online Retailer of the Year: Belgium in a Box.
  • Best Beer Book or Magazine: Unusual Railway Pubs, Refreshment Rooms and Ale Trains. Considering every major railway station in Ireland had a "refreshment room" and now only three have (Connolly, Heuston and Belfast Central), this is a reminder of what we could still have.
  • Best Beer Blog or Website: Without doubt Milk The Funk, which has lifted the lid on sour beers and increased our understanding of them more in one year than any other website or publication. Though the real value is in the 5,000 strong Facebook group.
  • Best Beer App: I'm still using BeerSmith 1.4 almost daily, so I guess that must be it. Honourable mention goes to the mobile app BeoirFinder although it is decreasing in usefulness more and more now that craft beer has become so prevalent.
  • Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: Not big enough of a Twitterer to recommend anyone.
  • Best Brewery Website/Social media: Eight Degrees, simply as they are the only brewery selling beer from their website (I'm aware that Galway Bay are also selling via their website, but from what I can work out this is technically off-sales from one of their bars, and not the brewery itself selling direct).


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Brewing Irish Sour Beers in Belfast




On November 17th I packed up the car and headed to Belfast on an invitation from Matthew in Boundary to brew a couple of my own recipes in collab. You may have seen the pictures on Twitter, now here's the story behind them.

Stardog Champion is a light coloured beer heavily hopped with Cascade, Centennial and Citra hops and fermented with a slow moving brett like yeast that produces lots of fruitiness, a bit of funk and if you're lucky you'll get a hint of sour. 5.5% abv in 330ml bottles.

Chloe Dancer is very sour and has an intense raspberry flavour and colour. It has been fermented with lactobacillus in the brew kettle and then fermented again with the same yeast as Stardog Champion in French Chardonnay barrels. pH 3.3 and 4.7% abv in 330ml bottles.


The Story

15 litres of goodness, Belfast bound
Around November 10th Matthew invited me up to brew, an invitation I gladly accepted! We had a bit of a chat over the phone about what we'd brew, two were selected, and on that basis he asked me to grow up a metric shit tonne of "Trois", the yeast that I used in the original beers upon which these two were to be based. With a sense of panic I grew up the yeast from just a few ml to approximately 3 litres in record time, and it smelled and tasted wonderful. It was ready to roll, just about, by the 17th (I must thank Mark Nixon for bailing me out with a few kilos of DME which made my task a lot easier).

Cometh the hour cometh the man, and around 11am on the day we arrived at Boundary, where Matthew already had the mash on for Stardog Champion. This first brew was a slightly tweaked version of Quare Good IPA: IBUs reduced to 70 and abv reduced to 5.5%, to fit in with Boundary's "Push and Pull" series. The original hop bill remains unchanged, and this is a very hoppy beer. Once again thanks to Mark for sorting us out on the shortfall of hops (the cheque is in post!).

Come the 18th, the first brew was ripping along, which Matthew top cropped from several times for the second beer: a barrel fermented version of the infamous winner of Sourfest 2015, Raspberry Turbo. This beer requires a lot of attention and was brewed meticulously, from acidification of the strike water (to pH 5.2) to acidification of the wort (to pH 4.39) to selection of lacto starter: on the 17th I had prepared several starters and on the 18th we picked the best (and decided once and for all to abandon White Labs lacto). As this beer isn't exactly the same as Raspberry Turbo it has been called Chloe Dancer, a name which compliments Stardog Champion.

The two brews should be available to buy just before or after Christmas, I'll update here when they are. I'd like to thank my buddy in beer Matthew for the opportunity to brew these beers and I'm looking forward to them being available commercially as I think they're helping to push the boundaries of Irish beer (pun intended). I'll never forget Steve Lamond's quote at Sourfest about Raspberry Turbo being the most sour and most raspberry beer the Irish market would be able to take!

Let's hope he's right!


Evaluating lacto starters. The middle two won.

Recirculating the mash

Cleaning out the mashtun. I'm not cut out for this!

Mashtun cleaned!

Getting the hops for Stardog ready

Boiling the wort that will become Stardog Champion

All the starters in the warm room

Pitching temperature


Starter being pitched into 300 litres of what will become Stardog

Cleaning the hops out of the kettle. Stardog gets dry hopped too.

Stardog on day 2, ripping along




Raspberries in the freezer. I wonder what they could be for!


Wort that will become Chloe after acidification, pre lacto


Matt and Bill bottling in champagne bottles
Sour wort+WLP644+raspberries+Chardonnay barrel=Chloe Dancer





Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Boundary Set to Enter Second Round of Funding

Matthew Dick, founder, part-owner and head honcho at Boundary Brewing Co-op is quite a remarkable chap. Anyone who knows Matthew will know that he has a great knowledge and appreciation of beer, an infectiously positive personality, and a great drive to succeed. Combining these was always going to produce results and the first of those was achieved in spectacular style just a year ago when Boundary set a target of £70,000 and within just 8 days had raised £100,000 via a community share offering.

So it would come as no surprise that Boundary are going back to raise more capital. The business is quite successful with demand outstripping supply so it's time to take it up a notch.

Boundary will be launching another share offering to raise another £100,000, this time to buy among other things a canning line. The craft beer market is increasingly moving away from bottles in favour of cans so this would be seen my many as a wise investment.

The offering is to go live on December 7th to new members. Keep an eye here. I know I'll be investing.

Friday, 30 October 2015

2015 Harvest Apple Juice Delivery

Davy and some of the cider in Leixlip
Regular readers will know that every year I organise a bulk buy of fresh apple juice from Davy Uprichard, the man behind Tempted? Cider, for consumption among friends and like-minded appley people, this year being no different.

A bit of ping pong between myself and Davy over the last few months culminated with Davy pressing our apples at midday on October 27th, and six hours later he personally delivered almost 1.5 tonnes to Leixlip. Davy's bit of a legend anyway, but even moreso in that the juice arrives ready to just have yeast added to it, though this year a lot of the juice hasn't been sulphited on request. I had spoken to Davy about a single variety press too, and though I would have preferred Granny Smith, it wasn't available and upon his advice I ordered a few hundred litres of Golden Delicious. Davy uses GD as the base juice in his strawberry cider.


Vital stats of the blend:

  • Blend, 25% each of Dabinett, Michelin, Falstaff, Lord Lambourne. Slightly different to last year but Davy reckons it's better.
  • pH is about 3.7, adjusted with malic acid to keep microbes in check.
  • OG 1.048, should ferment to 6.3% or more if untouched.
  • Sulphited to 50ppm to keep wild yeast at bay.
My personal stash consists of 3 x blend, 1 x Golden Delicious, 1 x Golden Delicious/Dabinett blend and 1 x Dabinett, all unsulphited and left to ferment on the natural yeast... nothing added but nutrient.

After unloading the van, Davy and myself went for a bite to eat in the Courtyard Hotel, the site of Arthur Guinness's first brewery, where we had a chat about business plans. I can't reveal anything other than there are exciting times ahead... like with the juice we've just go to wait and see, but it should be good, very good indeed!


Friday, 28 August 2015

Sour Beer At The Irish Craft Beer Fest

I don't normally do beer reviews, but I decided to make an exception as these brews are available right now for you to try in the RDS.

First up we have Sour Brown Ale from Blacks of Kinsale. This is a batch of their Jester Brown Ale which has had a mixed sour culture from White Labs added to it in secondary. Jester is an exciting new British hop from Charles Faram's breeding programme which makes either version of the beer worth trying in themselves. The soured version is only ever so slightly sour as Sam Black, the brewer and owner, told me. The mixed culture was only added three weeks ago, so this is definitely one for keeping and letting the sourness develop. It's ever so slightly acetic on the nose, but not in a bad way. Worth trying, and if you can take away some in a growler and let is age.


Next up is Beann Gulban from White Hag. I sourced some wine barrels a while back and Joe Kearns, the head brewer in White Hag took two of them. Joe has blended a very acidic batch with a less acidic one, and has been aged the blend in one of these barrels. The uniqueness doesn't stop there though. Beann Gulban has no hops at all (yes you read that right), instead it has a huge amount of heather flowers added to primary and when the conditions (pH and gravity) are right Joe pitches the yeast. All the sourness is coming from the heather, and it is definitely lactic in nature, with the oak adding an extra dimension, a truly wonderful beer.

Joe also brought along the very acidic batch in a corny keg for "special guests", whoever that could be ;) This is proper hardcore Beann Gulban the way I like it, and being honest I personally prefer it, but it may be too tart for others.


I made my way over to Kinnegar's stand and had a good chat with Rick Lahart about his latest creation, Geuzberry. The wort was pasteurised and then kettle soured with yoghurt probiotics and fermented out with a neutral yeast, and for a final twist there are locally grown gooseberries added. It's like a strong (ABV-wise) Berliner weisse, and is properly tart. Just like Berliners of old, Rick offers a variety of sweet syrups which can be mixed in to take the edge off, but says himself that he prefers it straight up. I didn't try the syrups but I can see why Rick likes it: again a beautiful beer. If you can't make it to the RDS this is also available in bottles in good off-licences but won't hang around long.

So this this is a snapshot of the Irish sour beer scene as of August 2015. It's great to see the number of sour and less conventional beers increasing as the market becomes more open to new ideas. We're not quite Belgium yet, but we're heading in the right direction.

Foot note: Not beer related, but Blacks have also become a licensed distiller, bought a still, and are producing spirits in small quantities. I sampled their poteen and decided I'd procure a bottle as it's top notch stuff. Very limited availability (there were only a handful of bottles left) so I'm sure it'll become collectable.


Friday, 24 July 2015

Quare Good IPA

My mate Dave asked me to brew him an IPA which he could take away in a jerry can, ferment, dry hop, and bottle at home when it's done. Dave has been a recipient of Davy Uprichard's excellent cider juice of 2014 and has confirmed his position on the 2015 guest list, so by now he's no stranger to alcoholic beverages by the jerry can.

Dave lives in the Wexford Mountains, where everything except strawberries and Wexford queens is in short supply. Dave's initial request was for a "Double IPA" prompting me to produce a simple enough recipe along the lines of BrewDog's Hardcore IPA, which to my surprise drew horror. 9% abv was the issue. Clearly there was a problem with definitions! So after a bit of ping pong the "Double IPA" was binned and a new recipe for quaffing of around 5% drawn up, with hop fruitiness.

This meant lots of US hops and a simple grain bill. Where I decided to throw a semi curve ball was the yeast. This would normally be a US-05 or WLP-001 no-brainer, but I decided to go with Brett Sacch WLP-644. This gained a bit of notoriety this year when it was DNA sequenced and found not to be brettanomyces but in fact saccharomyces. White Labs have subsequently renamed it in an artist-formerly-know-as fashion and it's now Saccharomyces "Bruxellensis" Trois.

A few things that are unusual about WLP-644:
  1. It's slower than regular saccharomyces. Allow 2 weeks to finish primary.
  2. It super attenuates. Think 85% or more, compared to ~75% for regular sacch.
  3. With lots of wort aeration it possibly can generate a small amount of acetic acid, though this is open to debate.
  4. It can form a pellicle.
Lucan County Water
Again as it was going to be hoppy, it meant Leixlip water was out. As I've written before Leixlip water is far too hard to be suitable for brewing this sort of beer without treatment, and so I opted to use water from the Lucan County instead. As there is no such thing of course as Lucan water, they just get a blend of our Leixlip water and another very soft source, I think currently Ballymore Eustace (ironically both sources are 100% Liffey water). On the day in question Lucan water was showing 90 ppm on the TDS meter and in comparison Leixlip was at 230 ppm. TDS isn't hardness but it's a general indication, and Lucan was showing a mere 40% of whatever Leixlip was on the day.

Recipe for 40 litres

Amount Item Type % or IBU
9.50 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) MCI (5.9 EBC) Grain 95.00 %
0.50 kg White Wheat Malt Bairds (4.7 EBC) Grain 5.00 %
30.00 gm Hop Extract [51.00 %] (60 min) Hops 87.4 IBU
60.00 gm Cascade [5.50 %] (0 min) Hops -
60.00 gm Citra [12.00 %] (0 min) Hops -
90.00 gm Centennial [10.00 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops -
150.00 gm Citra [12.00 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops -
60.00 gm Cascade [5.50 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops -
0.50 items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs WLP644 (White Labs #WLP644) Yeast-Ale

Est Original Gravity: 1.056 SG Measured Original Gravity: 1.058 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.008 SG Measured Final Gravity: 1.008 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 6.3% Actual Alcohol by Vol: 6.5%
Bitterness: 87.4 IBU Calories: 542 cal/l
Est Color: 10.3 EBC Color:

Unusually for such a large brew I overshot my efficiency targets by a few percent, which is the opposite to what I'd expect: instead of 70% or so on this size of a brew, I actually hit 77%. Also, even more annoying was when I was drawing up the recipe I left US-05 as the yeast in BeerSmith as it didn't have an entry for WLP-644 (it's the old version, 1.4), which of course meant the anticipated attenuation was much lower, at around 72%. Using these two figures (70% efficiency and 72% attenuation) would have resulted in 5% abv on the dot. Mental note: put in the right yeast at the start in future!

Using hop extract in this one was a no-brainer as it meant the hop debris if I had used pellets was greatly minimised. I still don't have a way of dealing with large amounts of hops that I'm 100% happy with. Guess I'll just have to keep at the whirlpooling.

The wort was split into a 33 litre fermenter and a 25 litre jerry can for Dave to take home. I had made a moderate sized starter with the WLP-644, though I'm not sure that was necessary as it was vigorously healthy when I was slanting it. Dave got half the starter and I got the other half. I split the dry hops and vacuum packed Dave's share for the arduous journey up the mountains.

As I said earlier about WLP-644, this brew took a fortnight at 22°C to hit terminal gravity of 1.008. It dry hopped about a week in, and once terminal gravity reached it was fined with gelatine at 2°C for a few days before being racked and in my case kegged. Dave bottled his.

Tasting Notes
Bright copper and opaquely coloured with a lasting white head and associated lacing, this is quite an awesome brew! Very fruity and also quite bitter. It's definitely in the "Double IPA" league when it comes to hop flavour and bitterness. There is no perceivable acidic taste and the pH meter, showing 4.5, confirms there is no real acid present. It's one of the better IPAs I've brewed. What would I change? Well nothing really apart from the bitterness. At around 90 IBUs it's not to everyone's taste, and I think a few of Dave's mountainous mates are finding it a bit tougher going than the large bottles of McArdles off the shelf that they're used to.

Quare Good Lad

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Lambic 2.1

After the lambic barrel of 2014 was emptied I decided I wouldn't get involved in the re-filling. This was for a number of reasons, but the most relevant one to this blog is that I already brewed to this formula and used this barrel so I know what to expect from it. Been there, done that, so to speak, without wanting to sound crude. While I'm very happy with the results from that barrel I have always felt it could have had more bite. I don't recall seeing any pH meters on the brew day, but the finished beer only clocked 4.2 on the pH scale a year later. While the beer compares very favourably on the whole, the acid deficiency is clear when commercial examples are compared, which often have a pH of less than 3.5. In Classic Beer Styles 3: Lambic, Jean Xavier Guinard typifies "hard" lambic as having a pH around 3.4 and "soft" as 3.9. (page 36) and the European Union has declared the highest pH to be considered lambic as 3.9. So ignoring geographical origin that beer was not a lambic by other established standards.

I also understand the mashing process a bit better having done a bit more reading and talking to people at Toer de Geuze, so I have refined the procedure somewhat. A couple of things that seem to be missing from a lot of texts is an explanation for the small bit of barley malt that is added to the wheat during gelatinisation. There are conflicting reasons cited for this but some say it's to perform a mash of sorts to help make the gelatinisation of the wheat starches easier. Also there is no need to boil the wheat, it just needs to be kept above its gelatinisation temperature. Anyone who looks at a turbid mash schedule, which is what the genuine lambic breweries in Belgium do will notice that there is no cereal mash and at no point is the wheat boiled. For the reason I've changed some of the steps, simplifying and speeding up the process a bit:

The original quantities gave a water to grain ratio of about 3:1. This is in the regular ale brewing range but from experience I can say that with that much wheat both the mash and sparge are close to sticking point. My new step of adding 3L of boiling water to the gelatinisation pot after the 30 minute gelatinisation rest the "strike" water thins to a ratio of 3.6:1 in the mashtun while also helping to raise the temperature of the pot contents to "strike" temperature. This keeps the mash thin enough not to stick but lots of stirring is still required to aid conversion.

For 20L, revised:

1. Add 2kg wheat + 0.6kg malt to a pot with 15L water and heat to around 62°C
2. Bring to gentle boil for 30 mins
2. NEW: Hold at ~62°C for 30 minutes
3. Let cool to normal strike temp for your gear, plus 3 or 4°C (as you want to mash at 70°C)
3. Add 3L of boiling water to the pot. Apply heat and raise temperature of the pot contents to 3 or 4°C above normal strike temperature (to 80°C in my case).
4. Use as strike water and add to the remaining 2.4kg malt in the mash tun.
5. Hold at 70°C for 2 hours.
6. Sparge with 92°C water until 26L collected.
7. Boil for 2 hours, add 3-7 IBU shitty hops at 120 mins.
8. Collect around 20L in the fermenter.

I have done this procedure twice now (and lambic 2.0.1 twice), and not being restricted to a barrel has allowed me to experiment with different configurations, especially with regard to yeast. The first two were brewed to the 2.0.1 schedule and have WLP-645 grown up from dregs of a Framboise given to me by Nigel Comerford. As of 18 June 2015 these have fermented out, but have not produced a pellicle, three months in. Both done to the 2.1 schedule were actually done as a double brew, and split into 2 x 20L batches. Both were fermented out with a neutral ale yeast before having dregs added: the first had the dregs from the 2014 lambic barrel added, the second had the dregs from Boon Mariage Parfait. Two months later both smell fantastic, though the Mariage Parfait is edging it. Both are showing signs of pellicle development too.

Since I wrote this I had refined the process even more and will blog about it after my next brew. I'm going to call it 3.0 as it's different enough to warrant it. Stay tuned!