It shouldn't surprise my readers to find out that beer isn't the only alcoholic beverage that I enjoy. In fact, even the not so eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed the link to all of my whisky posts above ^. I've also enjoyed cider from a  young age, but a drink class I've been getting into more recently is cocktails. 

It probably stems from my trip to the Maven in Leeds as recommended by Neil Eating Isn't Cheating where I enjoyed a very nice rum short drink. fast forward a year and I now have a well stocked cocktail cabinet at home and a couple of interesting old cocktail books to peruse for inspiration (more on those in a later post). It helps that my wife also enjoys trying cocktails; so I have a guinea pig for my creations!

From Love & Death Inc website
But I digress. Today's post is about a specific cocktail bar, Love & Death Inc to be precise. Its Ann Street location in Belfast (perched atop the fab Little Wing pizzeria) puts it within  stones throw of trendy shopping area Victoria Square and the more touristy area of Laganside.

To enter is to be transported back in time to American speakeasies of the 1920s. Oh no, I hear you dry, taht's been done to death already: well maybe so; but no-one does it quite like Love and Death Inc. Up the stairs from street level and you reach the bar area. All manner of bric a brac are suspended from the ceiling, including a full sized bike! Its always buzzing on evenings I've been in with a mixed soundtrack of easy listening and rock n' roll, though later on a DJ is often in attendance. There's also a nightclub upstairs, which I'm yet to investigate.

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A view of the bar
From Love & Death Inc website
Staff are friendly and efficient, making cocktails with skill in front of your eyes. A number of them have entered competitions and performed well; not bad considering the bar is pretty new. The bar itself is an A-Z of alcohol with almost every liquer and spirit imaginable crammed into its many nooks and crevices, with a decent range of bitters and purees across the front. There's also food available, but I'm yet to sample this as both of my visits to date have been after dinner.

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Dum dum (right) and (i think) Paradise Lost
with the comic book menu
One thing I particularly like is the menu (PDF), a collage of old comic strips, with speech replaced by cocktail descriptions. Average price for a cocktail is around £6 which is very decent considering the quality involved. I did splash out £12for a "dum dum" because it sounded intriguing with chili and orange alongside aged Guatemalan rum and sicilian digestif. That's it in the photo to the left. I thought about recreating it at home, but the rum is £100 a bottle so maybe not!

 photo 2013-02-08211616.jpgOn my recent visit I stuck to rum creations. "Origins" features Appleton 8 and ginger and "To Have and Have Not" is an exposition in grapefruit featuring ruby grapefruit juice and grapefruit bitters alongside mint and rum. Both tasty and so appealing that I neglected to take a photo...

One thing that caught my eye this time around however wasn't a cocktail, but a half finished beer on my table. Still in its dark brown bottle with hand-written sticky label I'd discovered a new Northern Ireland brew! Turns out I'd managed to time my visit to co-inside with the release of the new house brews. I picked up the last couple of bottles, which I'll review on a later post.

So next time you're in Belfast, pay Love & Death Inc a visit, I promise you won't be disappointed.

10a Ann Street, Belfast, BT1 4EF (map)


Antipodean Gems

One of the New Zealand breweries I was most impressed by on my recent trip (and beforehand) is 8 wired. So much so that I managed to track down some of their beers at the excellent bottle shop when I got home. Here are my thoughts:

Ø for awesome is a collaboration brew between 8-wired, Renaissance and Nøgne Ø (check out the pics on this blog). It gets its name from a now cult TV appearance of a former heavyweight boxer. Dark garnet-mahogany with fluffy ochre head. Very dull musty pine needles and caramel on the nose. Some initial resin up front, then cardboard, toffee and warming alcohol. Touch solventy in finish. Can see the nogneø and renaissance influences, sadly hops have long since faded.  A shame as its only been out for a year. (Release date was that wonderful palindrome 21/02/2012).

Saison Sauvin was the beer I was most keen to try and had actively searched for it in New Zealand but to no avail. To me it sounded the perfect combination of Belgian yeast and New Zealand hops. The actual beer was slightly disappointing though. cloudy amber with pithy tangerine and dusty saison yeast. Sweet passion fruit and gooseberry flavours followed by a mix of yeast esters and warming dry malt. The alcohol is a bit heavy in the finish. Fairly biting carbonation and medium body. 

In complete contrast Fresh Hopwired is my highest rated beer in the 8 Wired lineup, besting even their excellent iStout. Looking at the hop line-up its unsurprising as the big hitters and my favourites are there...Pacific Jade, Nelson Sauvin and Motueka. As the name suggests, this is Hopwired with the added lupulin hit that only using wet hops can provide. very hazy amber with strong passion fruit and gooseberry. Plenty of damp hops woody notes too. High carbonation, juicy medium bodied, gooseberries up front, lupulin punch on tip of tongue. Long pithy tropical bitter finish. 

Finally we have C4 double coffee brown ale. Hopped with Pacific Jade, Pacifica and new Zealand Cascade its a clash of coffee and hops. Chestnut brown fruity coffee with grey brown head. Milk chocolate and some ashen notes. Pithy orange hops come first. Plum pudding and rich fruit coffee with increasing alcohol warmth down glass. Medium body with high residual sugar, low carbonation and slight burnt toast bitterness in finish.

So a mixed bunch then, probably my fault for not drinking them fresh enough but disappointing nonetheless.

On another note I really like the 8 wired website, lots of useful information and (more importantly) each beer has its own page for linking purposes! Follow them on twitter.


200 Not Out

Its been almost 2 years since I sat down to write my first blog post and I'd never have thought then that I'd still be doing it 2 years (and numerous beers!) later. I'm under no illusions that its a long time in blogging, there are plenty who have been about for longer, but I'm happy with what I've achieved.

I've found a community, and many friends through doing this. There is an interested crowd of followers on Twitter, many of whom I've met and enjoyed beer with. I've learnt more about beer (when I thought I was already pretty knowledgeable) and helped to bring to attention the improvements in Northern Ireland beer and cider availability. I've joined the Guild of Beer Writers, been to a blogging conference and am I'm even writing a book (which I need to hurry up and finish).

Recently I've been struggling to find the time to blog, or anything interesting to talk about, but recent reappearances of bloggers on hiatus, bumping into old acquaintances and discovering new beers has renewed my enthusiasm. Expect posts on Vienna brew pubs, Belfast cocktail bars and the usual multi-beer reviews. Who knows I may even get round to doing  a cheese and beer pairing again soon! All this in good time to liven the place up before heading to the Beer Bloggers' Conference in Edinburgh this year. Hope to share a pint with some of you there, here's to another 200!


SPBW - the source of keg bashing

From Fictionaddictions.com
Aside from having an acronym unnervingly close to JK Rowling's "Society for Protection of Elvish Welfare" (SPEW), the Society for Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) had not really created a blip on my radar. That is until I picked up a membership leaflet in Belfast Bridge House (Wetherspoon pub) yesterday.

Apparently this venerable beer organisation is 50 this year, with almost 10 years on the better known Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). I perused at leisure whilst watching TV last night. At first I thought it might be quite fun to join (£4 for quaterly newsletters and a new social group), they are (self-admittedly) a lot like CAMRA. However when I got to the societies aims I stopped dead in my tracks. Point 3 states:  

"To denigrate the manufacture and sale of keg beers and to discourage the use of extraneous carbon-dioxide in the serving of beer. "

Aside from severely limiting the number of pubs they can drink at* (even those pubs which specialise in cask invariably provide one or two keg products) they are giving the rest of us cask campaigners a bad name. Boak & Bailey seem not to have mentioned this in their analysis of UK beer groups (or maybe i missed it?) Could this be where the unjustified opinion that CAMRA are keg bashers stems from? Notice the wording, not just discourage, but denigrate that is "to belittle or disparage the character of". 

A group with this as an aim isn't doing good beer any favours at all and just perpetuates the myth that keg=automatically bad beer and prolongs the bickering amongst different factions of the beer community. I don't need to point out the sea-change in beer available in keg since both organisations began.

So perhaps CAMRA members who want to talk of the "evil"s of kegs should leave and join SPBW instead to let the rest of us point out the positives of cask conditioning and let the beer do the talking in letting people make up their own minds.

*How The Northern Irish SPBW get around this I'm not sure, there are no cask-only outlets here!

Unlikely Places

Sometimes you bump into people in the most unlikely of places. 

A trip down to the Linen Green craft village last week ended with a coffee in the cafe : who should bump into me but Davy from Tempted Cider. He'd been delivering juices to  the farm shop on site and was refuelling for the journey back to Portadown.

Davy (right) with Mac's cider's Seán
at Hilden Beer Fest August 2011
A cry of "cider!" led me to recognise him and we chatted a while about the apple harvest for the year just gone (pretty poor) and the year to come (signs are good at the moment) and success of his cider south of the border. Some orchards which had produced 16 tonnes in 2011 barely managed a tonne after last years wet weather.

For the first time; some cider apples have been included in the blend, sourced from orchards in the Republic. This should bring more tannin to the mix to make ciders more reminiscent of Somerset which I grew up on.

He's recently secured a large order for a well known large pub chain for their summer cider festival. It will be the first time that a Northern Ireland producer has been featured alongside those from across the water and another great sign that an area that was once dominated by the big boys South of the border is coming into its own with artisinal production. Hopefully they'll take their rightful place in Pete Brown's and Bill Bradshaw's new World's Best Cider.