Red Brick Beer Fest

Factoberfest, Bristol Beer Factory's answer to that infamous Munich event. I enjoyed the event back in September 2011, so was high time I paid the Tobacco Factory a visit again. 

After a fantastic feed in the Souk Kitchen opposite, we popped across to the venue for some beers.

Lots of lovely cask beer!
It's grown in size somewhat in the last two years with 45 cask beers, 13 kegs and 5 ciders appearing over the weekend. The place was packed due to the pissing rain outside, but it wasn't long before Daisy, my dad, his friend George and myself were safely ensconced in a sofa.
Keg this year too! As modelled by brewer Jonny.
 The range of beers was fantastic and it was great to see all of the Bristol breweries represented for the opening night.Wiper and True's Amber in the Pines (back beer below) was highlight of mine Full bodied pine, citrus zest, mango berries a melange of flavours, really impressed. Fairly high residual sweetness balances hefty hopping with a long hop finish. I also really enjoyed St Austel Big Job and Bristol Beer Factory's own Cafe Latte. Saying that all beers on the evening were in superb condition, except the Fyne Ales Rune which I suspect wasn't as it should be.

Beer in all the major colours!
It was great to chat with brewer Jonny Mills and manager Simon plus bumping into Luke from the Bag O'Nails is always a pleasure, even if we only had 5 minutes to chat before I had to run to the bus.

The only downside for me was that I had to leave parts of beers un-drunk as thirds weren't an available measure. This could have been worse though as beers were a very reasonable £1.50 a half or 7 for a tenner and they did get passed around four people!

Yours truley enjoying a half of something tasty.

I'll be back to Bristol next weekend for Bristol beer week (see my t-shirt!), where I hope to try more tasty Wiper and True beers alongside others from Bristol and environs. Give me a shout if you're coming and we can meet up for a beer or three!


Some Sheelin Brews

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?


Wild at Heart

A much anticipated brewery came flying onto the scene in 2012 and now have over 20 different beers under their belts as diverse as bretted stock ales to luxuriant imperial stouts and aggressively hopped IPAs. I wrote about their hybrid apple beer Ninkasi earlier in the year. Here are my thoughts on a few more of their range.

Instantly recognisable stags head logo

Up first is one of my favourite styles- a saison but with a twist. This is blended in a similar way to gueuze with a young (jonge) and old (oude) saison blended out of a solera system*. Each batch will still have some of that original first barrel in it; so its one to try over time.
Dark hazy amber with light off white head. At first musty then spicy yeast esters on the nose. Very Belgian, wit like at first with building biscuit sweetness and yeast complexity, bready notes, dry herbal hops, medium carbonation, quaffable yet layered and v easy drinking.  

Less wild perhaps but still fantastically put together is Madness IPA. Brett missed the West Coast IPAs he could pick up on almost any corner in his native California and decided to recreate one for us lucky Britishers. Slightly hazy pale amber with fluffy white head. Rich aroma of citrus pith and resinous pine alongside grassy hop freshness and mango rind. Spiky carbonation, pithy hops, chalky bitterness, rich hop flavours up there with the best UK IPAs. Full pithiness, lemon freshness and mango rind right through to a long finish. 

A beer that went down a storm at the recent B-cubed festival was schnoodlepip, a crazy collaboration concoction with Kelly Ryan of Good George, Mark Tranter (normally of Dark Star, soon to be Burning Sky) and of course Brett at Wild. On paper it sounds as if it may not work, passion fruit? hibiscus? pink peppercorns?!? I've had the good fortune to try all of these ingredients in beers before*, but never at the same time. Add to that the obligatory spell of barrel ageing and wild yeast magic and you have a really special beer on your hands.
Scarlet tinged amber with white lacing. Rich tropical fruit nose, Belgian yeast esters and a slight pepper tingle. Moderate carbonation, tart at first, lots of hibiscus like Goose Island's Fleur, pepper tingle on tip of tongue, sharp passion fruit and dry malt finish.

They've just recovered from a fairly serious fire; so why don't you support them to recover by buying some of their bottled beers, or better yet head to Bristol for Bristol Beer Week to try them in situ at the various bars taking part.

*Goose Island Fleur, Cigar City Papsoe's Passion Fruit Porter and Elixir's Jump the Shark


Irish Beers to Watch Out For

Following on from Boak and Bailey's suggestion (I think) here's some of my favourite beers available from (Northern) Irish Brewers. Its not an exhaustive list,I've not tried everything and with new breweries coming online all the time the next gem could be just around the corner!*

Whilst the majority of these beers are available in bottled form, i think they taste better on draught (cask/ keg) with the exception of one. Some of these beers started off as seasonals and became regulars, I hope the others don't remain as one offs.

White Gypsy's sessionable Weiss (aka Blond), 4%, really impressed me out of keg at Hilden Beer Fest a few years ago. Proper German weisse banana esters on the nose, hazy, full bodied with handsome foamy white head and spicy wheat and clove esters mean it can hold its own against stronger German offerings. Its now a part of the core range; so may be easier to come by. 

Tiny Beoir Chorca (West Kerry) produces a fantastic porter in the shape of Carraig Dubh. I've had it on both cask and bottle and both are lovely. A complex and mouth-filling porter with smoke, chocolate, coffee red berries and a touch of roast barley in the finish. Just how I like my porters.Condition spot on too. This may be a little harder to track down but drinkstore.ie often has bottles.

Via Beermack (Alex)
A recent trip to Waterford for the Beoir AGM saw me drinking Metalman Sahara (6%) at the brewery. Its a modern take on a Vienna lager with the deep amber colour and toffee malts but the addition of sorachi ace creates subtle cheesecake/ custard creams flavours that build and interact with US hops to give tangerine pith and noble hop dry bitterness leading to a long finish. I could still taste it half an hour later.

Another modern take on a traditional style is Brown Paper Bag Project with Doxie a 5.6% wheat ale with magnum, amarillo and cascade, which was released for a blind Twitter tasting.
In bottle form it has an interesting Belgian ester saison character, despite being fermeneted with a neutral US ale yeast. This is apparently due to warm conditioning post bottling and doesn't appear in keg form. Immensely drinkable, with plenty of pithy hop character, try side by side to see the differences dispense method can make to a beer.

Trouble Brewing Dark Arts is another from the porter spectrum at the more robust end. Thick bodied with roasted coffee and chocolate notes. They're expanding which should hopefully mean this beer becomes more widely available.

Another beer which really stood out recently is JW Sweetman's Pale Ale. Out of the growler the carbonation had diminished somewhat allowing the dank hops leafy freshness to shine through with grapefruit balanced by shortcake malt making this marvellously refreshing and a real showcase of cascade.

Sneaking into export stout territory is Carlow's Leann Follain at 6% It brings aromatic pipe tobacco, chocolate and a touch of lactose on the nose, dry roast barley up front and finishing with chocolate malt  and caramel.

Whitewater Hoppelhammer smashed onto the Northern Ireland scene last Novemeber at Belfast beer festival and really impressed me (finally a Norn Iron beer with hops!) Plenty of citrus fruits, oranges and tangerines to the fore...could be simcoe. Doesn't matter what it is its a hop bomb and very moreish.

Via Chilli and Chocolate
Ards Ballyblack is another newish addition from the newest (until recently that is) Northern Irishbrewery.
Dark brown black with lively white head its a dry stout how they should be made. Chocolate, roast barley and a slight chalkiness and very easy to knock back by the pint when served at (the correct) cellar temperature.

Another of Whitewater's specials that seems to have survived to be brewed again is McHugh's 300. At only 3.5% and often kegged, you'd be forgiven for thinking this is justa bog standard lager substitute/ golden ale but you'd be wrong. Alongside the biscuit malt and clean hop aroma there's a pleasing level of bitterness and somegrapefruit flavours which I suspect just might be cascade. Perfect summer refresher.

Back to black again for College Green (Hilden) Molly's Chocolate Stout. Unlike some, this derviews all of its chocolate flavour from the malt. Definitely worth hunting for in cask (try Molly's Yard in Belfast) It pours an attractivegarnet-brown with hints of beech-smoke then rich roast barley on the nose. A giid robust body withplenty of burnt toast, coffee and rich fruits thatlovers of high cacao chocolate would lap up and certainly drinksmore than its 4.3% ABV would sugges.

Perhaps the longest established Belgian style beer in Ireland is Hilden Barney's Brew. It gives a cough candy spicey medicated aroma on the nose with plenty of the requisite corriander. However this from a wit when a peppery punch of ginger sneaks up on you unawares demanding you to take another gulp. Its difficult to say no. Its available right now all over the UK as part of Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt, though sounds like it may not be at its best by some accounts.

Also look out for Dungarvan's Coffee and Chocolate Stout if its released in bottle form again, white gypsy's weisse which I loved, Franciscan Well's Bell Ringer and Eight Degrees Cyclone/ Hurricane #IPAoff duo. These were not included in the main post as they're not regularly available and may even have been one offs.

*Looks like this couldn't be truer with at least 12 breweries due online in 12 months and a whole host of specials available at the recent ICBCF. I reckon I'll need to do a new beers post in 2014.


Apps for Boozehounds

Smart phones are ubiquitous these days and they've become a useful tool for roving (beer) drinkers. Not least having Google Maps to hand can help prevent walking in the opposite direction to where the pub is! I've assembled a collection of apps I use regularly below, no doubt people will be aware of some, but hopefully there will be others that come in handy.

Finding decent beer is often a challenge, especially when in unfamiliar territory. the first three apps are all beer finders of one sort or another.

Good Beer Guide is the venerable CAMRA publication now available in app form. It allows you to locate nearby pubs and "tick" pubs if that's your thing alongside all the content from the printed book in a much more travel-friendly format. Charges a small annual fee.

Craft Beer London is an app from journalist Will Hawkes covering decent beer bars, pubs and breweries all over London. One off purchase price.

Beoir Finder is a free app to find Irish Craft Beer all over the island of Ireland. Regularly updated (full disclosure: I'm a Beoir member)

For those whom reviewing and cataloguing beers consumed is a force of habit, both Ratebeer and Untappd have mobile apps.

Untappd (from repatriated Bristolian Lee Williams) allows check-ins via foursquare and awards to collect, whilst the Ratebeer app (designed  by site user Eric Kok)  is a great catalogue of beer information, allows offline rating and also has a places finder.

Aside from beer apps, there are some great apps for keeping up with beer news, or getting yourself organised whilst on a day out.

Train Times UK is indispensable for planning train journeys and checking current status of trains. You can find out whether you've time for another before heading to the station...
One off purchase price

Catch Notes (apparently its shutting down, disappointing!) is a handy app for making review notes, or if you're like me and have your best ideas whilst trying to sleep, handy for making quick notes if you can't find a pen and paper without getting out of bed!

RSS Demon is what I use as a blog aggregator, add whatever you want to read on there and posts autosync to your phone. Great for long bus journeys.

Pocket is another handy little app to bookmark and cache long articles/ blog posts for later reference. Thanks to Boak and Bailey for mentioning this one!

Dropbox is a great way of transferring files between phone and computer or vice versa. It saves having to use a USB lead to transfer those snaps captured whilst on the go.

Feel free to suggest other apps people should be using in the comments below.


A decatet of brewers!

Northern Ireland brewer numbers will have near doubled by the time 2013 is over. Northern Ireland is finally waking up to the beer resurgence going on in both Britain and Ireland! Along with the Red Hand brewery in Donaghmore and a top secret brewery development in County Down in conjunction with Belfast's Love and Death Inc, we're gaining new breweries in both  Fermanagh and Tyrone.

The first brewery I read about in Easyjet's in flight magazine of all places! I'm not sure how George wangled that but its certainly gained him a lot of notice, with orders and enquiries for his flagship blonde ale flooding in over the last week. Have no fear that this will be another generic golden ale/lager substitute producer as a stout and an IPA are also both on the way.

As a chemist he should certainly know his stuff and I'm looking forward to trying his first beers in the coming weeks and months. He's delivering to the vineyard in Belfast this week; so be sure to go check it out. The brewery itself is housed in a picturesque building, with George and his wife Helen also running a tea room next door.

Closer to home for me is Pokertree Brewing. Darren is also planning a blonde ale, alongside other such Irish staples as a red ale, stout and pale ale...but with a twist. Ghrian (blonde) will be hopped to the hilt with tasty antipodean hops - galaxy, green bullet and Nelson Sauvin whilst the red ale Ruby Earl will be robust with a darkside. Completing the quartet are Tain a Rye Pale Ale and a Treacle oatmeal stout. 

All of these beers have been through pilot batches and are moving onto the shiny new full size kit with the first brew due this week. Bottle conditioned beers should hit the market in time for Christmas and in the meantime we may get our appetites whetted with the cask he hopes to have ready for Belfast Beer Festival.

I look forward to sampling these new beers and chatting further with both Darren and George, perhaps even having a nose around their breweries if they'll let me!

So by my reckoning that gives us two brewries each in Co. Tyrone (Red Hand and Pokertree) and Co. Fermanagh (Innishmacsaint and Sheelin), four breweries in Co. Down (Ards, *secret*, Strangford Lough, Whitewater), Clanconnel in Co. Armagh and Hilden in Co. Antrim. Come on Derry/ Londonderry brewing potentials, pull your finger out!

You can read about other breweries in Ireland on my new Irish beer page

Edit: Beer Nut remidned me Clanconnel are now contract brewed at Hilden, meaning Armagh are strictly sans brewery too.
Strangford Lough Beer Co may no longer exist due to a $1.7m lawsuit ruling. Certainly their main staff were laid off.