As I mentioned a few weeks ago, new Norn Iron brewer Sheelin has started supplying to the market. Brewer George Cathcart called in on his way home from a delivery run for a chat and to leave me some samples. More on those later but first a bit more about the brewery.
George had been home brewing for seven years before taking the plunge and going commercial. As with all sensible start-ups he began with a 1 barrel brew kit to perfect his recipes and he'll continue to use this for one-offs and festival specials (something special lined up for Christmas already). He does also have an 8 barrel brew kit which is enabling him to meet the demand on the back of the article in Easyjet magazine.
That high demand has seen his wife Vicky handing over the keys to the cafe they were also running to focus on the brewing side of the business for the time being, with demand growing even in the few short weeks since we last spoke. With an energetic 16month old to look after George and Vicky certainly have their hands full!
George and I have a fair amount in common, a love of good beer and good food (and the pairing thereof) but we're also both chemists, albeit heading in slightly different directions. George's fascination with microbiology and biochemistry has led to him creating a yeast bank of some 30 viable strains of yeast; allowing him to pick the most suitable strain for the job in each of his four core range beers and having plenty at hand to pep up those specials!
So what of the core range? On the face of it its the usual Irish "holy trinity" of red, blonde and black with a pale ale, so what's different? All the beers are brewed at a sessionable 4.5%, allowing for them to be drunk by the pint, but George is also aiming at the beer and food pairing market; so the beers have been brewed with a lower bitterness level to increase potential matches and appeal to the widest audience. Those specials will be where us beer geeks get our kicks, with higher strength brews, speciality yeasts/grains and perhaps even a spot of barrel ageing?
George left me samples of his blonde and his stout. The blonde ale is very much what you might expect, though without the almost metallic hops or biting carbonation you too often find in the the style. Instead there are some pineapple yeast esters and some doughy malt flavours that I normally associate with a Kolsch. I'd finished the beer within a few gulps, which is always a good sign and nothing about it would put off those used to the cold and fizzy, though the carbonation is noticeably lower than those mass market products (which can only be a good thing in my mind!).
The stout is a different beer entirely. Again, with the low hopping rate, the beer is very "mild" and I've even suggested to Gorge that the style designation be kept vague to prevent preconceptions of something dry and roasty which this beer isn't really. I see it as a proper mild (albeit at the higher end of the ABV range) with licorice toffee and burnt toast at first seguing into roast coffee beans and milk chocolate in the finish. Its fairly sweet and I reckon a dose of late hops for flavour (Bramling cross perhaps?)* would really make the beer zing and I'd love to see this on cask.
So how about food pairings? Well the blonde would work well with light meats and fish and mild cheshire cheese whereas the stout would give an extra dimension to any red meat or game stew, dark berry fruits and sweet and creamy blue cheeses. Look out for the beer in the province to try for yourself.
George hopes to have his third beer, an IPA available in cask for the Belfast beer festival in November. Hope to see you all there. My preview post will be up sometime towards the end of October but to whet your whistles there will be plenty of seasonals from around the UK, a few unusual beers and of course a growing contingent of Northern Ireland breweries and cider makers in attendance.
*I suggested as much to George and he let slip that he's been growing a few bines on the sly, one of which is Bramling cross - the first hops in Northern Ireland in a long time perhaps?