Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Northern Ireland Class of 2016

It's been a great year for beer in Northern Ireland, with a noticeable increase in the number of beers brewed here and then being sold on shelves/tap, as well as the selection of imported beer from the rest of the world.  There's now such a wide range from so many NI breweries, both new and established - the future is exciting.

At my last count we have 25 physical brewery sites here in Northern Ireland with 5 contracts.

Interactive Google Maps NI Breweries 2016


First up, the newest kid on the block - expect the opening of Heaney Farmhouse Brewing in Bellaghy in the next day or so.  Best of luck to Mal and co.
Northbound (Campsie), 
O'Connor (Greysteel), 
Walled City and Dopey Dick (Derry City)

Knockout, Boundary and Hercules (Belfast), 
Hillstown (Ahoghill), 
Barrahooley (Martinstown), 
Lacada (Portrush)
Glens of Antrim (Ballycastle), 
Hilden (Lisburn) and brewpubs Brewbot (Belfast) & Speckled Hen (Black Mountain brewery, Derriaghy) 

Pokertree (Carrickmore) and 
brewpub The Brewer's House (Red Hand brewery at Donaghmore)

Sheelin (Bellanaleck) and Inishmacsaint (Derrygonnelly) - Sheelin has scaled down production recently and Inishmacsaint will make an announcement very soon about its future.

Station Works (Newry - is this classed as a micro any more? Anyway, I believe it's soon moving to County Louth), 
Mourne Mountains (Warrenpoint), 
Whitewater (Kilkeel but soon to be Castlewellan), 
Farmageddon (Ballygowan), 
Ards (Greyabbey) and 
Bullhouse (Newtownards).

Contract companies (registered in Northern Ireland but brewed by other breweries) include Clanconnel/McGraths, Clearsky, Gallopers/NightCap, Cloughmore and Sailortown)

Maltmeister from Bangor came and unfortunately went in the last year but there's a new brewery in the piepline a few miles down the road in Donaghadee - keep an eye out for Twisted Kettle sometime in 2017.  
I'm sure there are others on the way, let me know if you know.

Let's hope Northern Ireland's Class of 2016 will be able to sell directly to the public in 2017 if Stormont MLAs get their backsides in gear in the first half of the year.  Things are happening folks, slowly, but it's happening.  A Craft Drinks Bill has been launched in the Republic which is proposing a change in the law there to allow breweries to sell onsite.  With any luck and persistent social media contact, a #NICraftDrinksBill won't be far away.  

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Ulster Newbies - from Mourne to Muff

Some new releases recently so let's get wired in.

From Portrush's co-operative brewery Lacada, branded as a North Coast IPA and recently pouring from cask at CAMRA's Belfast Beer Festival, Devil's Washtub.  5.2% ABV and actually a black IPA (perhaps this should be on the branding so not to scare anyone who's expecting a golden coloured IPA?)  As with most black IPAs there's a decent malty base with an aroma and subtle taste of smooth dark fruits.  The hops seem to be lurking in there somewhere but you'd need a torch to find them.  A decent enough beer and highly drinkable but needs a whack more hop action to satisfy the IPA hopheads out there.

Photo courtesy of Paul Donaghy
From east Belfast, Knockout Brewing upped its game considerably at the festival. Six beers were supplied - a stout and two variants (choc and orange/ginger) and a citra IPA and two variants (Vic Secret and Sorachi Ace).  I liked all six - I know, I know, think what you like - but for me the Sorachi Ace IPA really stood out above the rest.  It exudes a lemony bitterness but is counteracted by a soft, smooth orange flavour.  Joseph McMullan is the first craft brewer in Northern Ireland to put his brews into cans (it's the future folks) and hopefully this will see its way into them too.  Go on Joe, you know you want to.

Away from the festival, Warrenpoint-based Mourne Mountains Brewery ran a competition back in April 2016 to create a flavour for their new brew.  Andrew Hamilton was the lucky winner with his suggestion of Whiskey and Vanilla, the beer was duly made and poured into a whiskey cask in July.  Four months later it's in bottles.  I think at least a couple more months in the cask would have been beneficial as I'd have liked a bit more vanilla - you have to look for it but the whiskey is closer to the mark. Not overpowering at all and very subtle for this 8.2% ABV winter warmer. Nice one.

Next, practically sat astride the NI border is Bog Hopper Brewery from the Co. Donegal village of Muff.  So let's dive in *cough*.
Technically speaking their Hairy Bullocks American pale ale isn't a new beer.  It launched the brewery in late 2015 but it's the first time (I'll resist saying virginal...oops) I've been able to grab as bottle as it's just starting to become available outside of Inishowen.  So there.

First off this 5% ABV pale claims to be hop forward but I get more malt than anything.  Maybe the good folk of the area are unused or afraid of a good hoppy beer but this has the potential to be so much better.  It just left me wanting something....anything more.  Some slight citrus elements in there, granted, but just not enough to make me rush to Muff for a second one.  (Did I just say that?)  The label artistry for all Boghopper beers is fantastic though.

Finally for now, from Bullocks to Bullhouse Brewery near Newtownards, and Willy Mayne's newish barrel-aged Quest for the Milky Whey.  This first saw the light of day at ABV Beer Festival in early September and was greeted with critical acclaim among the beer fraternity.  I missed out as it was only on for one session but now it has returned, like some sort of pink coloured panther in the guise of a French detective.  This 10% ABV imperial milk stout made its way into 500 wax-sealed bottles... so find one if you still can.  There's little in the way of carbonation which results in a tiny head but the whiskey aroma comes through nicely as does a good whacking dollop of liquorice and datey-molasses on the first sip, followed by a generous milky-lactosey second sip. Another tip of the hat for the artwork.
If you're on Facebook, the history of QftMW can be seen here .

Fair play to all the breweries mentioned for continuing to expand their range.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Pick of the Crop

It was that time of year again, when around 130 real ales and cider became available at the Belfast Beer and Cider Festival.  One of the biggest single bars in Ireland was constructed over a couple of days inside the majestic Ulster Hall in Belfast - all done by Campaign for Real Ale volunteers.

An incredible sixty Irish beers, yes 6-0 (from North and South) were on tap from seventeen breweries.  This year pleasingly saw a noticeable increase in i) Republic of Ireland brews, and ii) keycasks/keykegs - thirty of which were available with the help of drinks distributor Prohibition.

Here's a quick resumé of some of the beer that caught my eye and tastebuds.  First off, 8:01 Mint Choc Stout (6% ABV) from Rascals Brewing Co in County Dublin.  When I initially had this on the first night the mint was quite subtle with the chocolate dominating, but when I returned to it 24 hours later the mint was more prominent and what I had originally hoped for.  To steal a line from an old After Eight advert, it's cool, dark and sophisticated.  It justifiably jointly won the Belfast Festival's new category of Best Irish Beer along with a Farmageddon/Renegade collaboration - Red Eye - a lovely hoppy red IPA.

Staying with the Farmageddon crew, last year their 6.3% ABV Mosaic IPA was my favourite beer of the festival - as you would expect from Mosaic hops plenty of passion fruit and mango with a delicious bitterness - and this year the judging panel crowned it overall Champion Beer of the Belfast Festival.  A superb achievement considering the competition.

Moving on to North Yorkshire and Rooster's Baby Faced Assassin, a delicious 6.1% ABV American IPA bursting with Citra hops that oozed mango, grapefruit and pithy orange.  Already an award winner from the Society of Independent Brewers, the Assassin was itself annihilated by the festival public and sold out quite quickly.


The festival saw the return of Pokertree's cascadian ale/black IPA, Dark Nirvana.  It had been off the radar for a wee while and was one of my favourite new brews of 2014. I believe it had a new improved recipe this time around and I have to say it's bang on the money.  At 6.5% ABV, there's a very faint smokiness - some coffee coming through but not overpowering (the way I like it) - and evokes a reaction that makes you open your eyes a little wider and smile to the person beside you while saying "Oh yeah!"  Definitely the best from Pokertree's range.

Then from Nottingham came Flipside's Russian Rouble, a 7.3% ABV stout that was as smooth as Roger Moore's one liners.  I could actually imagine him sipping one of these (if vodka martinis weren't his thing) enjoying the bucket load of roasted malt interspersed with a creamy chocolate and coffee blend.

So far I've given a little snippet of five beers that I really enjoyed at the Belfast Beer and Cider Festival and with a little trepidation I have to confess that this beer blogger's favourite drink in the Ulster Hall was .... um ... a cider. *where's the embarrassed smiley?*

I'm not the biggest cider fan but this just blew me out of the applewater.  From Lisburn, Tempted's 6.4% ABV unpasteurised and unfiltered Festival Scrumpy was just a beezer of a tasty brute.  It's based on their bottled Medium Dry, but with less added apple juice so the alcohol and flavour is more prominent.  Owner Davy Uprichard told me that night that half the bittersweet apples used in the festival scrumpy are French which gives a slightly more rustic and smokey flavour.  This flavour is then balanced by being sweetened so it ends up medium sweet as opposed to medium dry.
The end product is so smooth, no sharpness or tangy bite at all.  Just imagine a liquid apple pie that is missing a generous dollop of warm custard.  Yeah, that's where we are with this one.  I was so Tempted, I had a second glass.

(Honourable Irish mentions also go to Knockout's Sorachi Ace IPA, Lacada's Devil's Washtub, Eight Degrees Amber Ella, Mourne Mountains Festival Export Stout and Northbound's Magnum 70 IPA.)

Wednesday, 9 November 2016


Cancer sucks.  We all know that.  We've all been affected in some way by cancer.  I've lost grandmothers, aunts, uncles and friends to the disease.  I learned only this week that my godmother is battling it.

So to highlight the issue, @BeerO'ClockShow in the UK and @IrishBeerSnob/@MrsBeerSnob in the Republic of Ireland have come together to help raise funds for two charities that deserve your attention, time and donation - and they're not asking you to give anything up.

The idea is simple.  This Friday, 11th November, is #BigBeeryNight16.

When having a beer this Friday, donate the cost of that beer to MacMillan Cancer Support if you live in the UK or the Irish Cancer Society if in the Republic.  Share pics of your beer on social media and use the hashtag #BigBeeryNight16

Be part of the biggest beer and charity initiative across the British and Irish isles.

Donate here for MacMillan Cancer Support or the Irish Cancer Society.

Cheers and sláinte.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Germany to Bangor - Auf Weidersehen Maltmeister?

I was unsure if I should write a review of some beers made by a brewery that doesn't exist anymore.  What's the point in reviewing products if the public can't get hold of them, but then I remembered that I managed to buy them a few days ago in Neill Wines in Groomsport, so there may still be a few bottles left.  Maltmeister from Bangor had hidden well below the radar of a lot of beer folk in Northern Ireland.  Brewer Geoff Nuttall started selling his German-influenced brews last year in the immediate locality but ceased production in the summer.

First off, Wheathaze, labelled as a 5.2% ABV Munich-style wheat beer.  Well carbonated but without much of the banana or bubblegum taste usually associated with hefeweizen.  Nevertheless, a decent start.

Next, Maybock, a 7.5% ABV bock variant. This practically leapt out of the bottle but the massive head surprisingly dissipated within a few seconds. A shade paler in colour than traditional bocks, this was the first maybock I'd ever had to my recollection.  It wasn't the best start, any original hop aroma in there was totally overpowered by the alcohol (and I say that as someone who absolutely loves a good 10% double IPA or imperial stout).  Maybocks are traditionally brewed in May so I'm wondering if this was brewed then and has gone past its optimum drinking window.

What I did finish with ease, however, was the 6.1% ABV spiced Icefire. A red ale with a warming hint, just a hint, of cinnamon and nutmeg.  The delicious sweetness of the honey faintly came through which meant this is a Maltmeister beer I think you could enjoy twice in a row without it being overly sickly.  Twice in a row, that is, if you can find any more of them.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Siren Sounds with a Pumpkin Alert

Siren Craft is a big name in UK brewing.  I first became aware of it in 2014 after having a very appealing Soundwave, a US west coast IPA.  Siren Craft hail from the west of London direction near Reading and three of their recent offerings had me praising any 1 of the supposed 5 made up patron saints of beer.  Religion sucks by the way.

First up Hillbilly Wine, labelled as a passion fruit and oak IPA. Damn they weren't wrong there, oodles of juicy passion fruit coming through and as you would expect, a light smokiness from the oak.  The 9% ABV is fantastically well hidden and this Hillbilly ain't no gormless redneck neither. Beautiful.

Next, the Cigar City collaboration 8.4% ABV Barrel Aged Caribbean Chocolate Cake.  I'm a fan of the original Caribbean Choc Cake which is like liquidising a Death by Chocolate dessert and ramming it in a bottle. Now imagine before the bottling process, sticking it in a bourbon barrel for a year. Maybe not to everyone's taste as the vanilla and bourbon may be a little sweet for some, but I love this style and I loved this.

Suitably salivating like a demented window-licker, the taste buds were equally in for a treat with another collaboration, this time with New Zealand's Garage Project for the 2016 Rainbow Project.  Blacklight Banana at a hefty enough 9.2% ABV has a lovely smokey aroma from the barrel aged coffee beans that lead into a subtly sweet molasses/banana combo upon tasting.  Crazy ingredients but wow do they work superbly.

Moving onto this year's pumpkin beers (or at least the ones that are available in Northern Ireland)... there aren't many.  I did a review of pumpkin beers a couple of years ago where I managed to track down five.  Alas this year I managed only two.  Thankfully my preference of the five was available again this time around - 7.2% ABV Stingy Jack by Beavertown.  What used to be a 660ml bottle is now a 330ml can and all the better for it.  Very fresh, slightly fruity with a sweet spiciness of maple syrup, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.

Finally from New York, Brooklyn's 5% ABV Post Road Pumpkin Ale.  Nothing wrong with it, but it doesn't have that little punch of spicy excitement that comes with Stingy Jack.  A little nutmeg but a lot less boom for your buck.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Portrush - Land of Barry's, Chips & Beer Festivals

Make no mistake, I love Portrush.  It's where the family would take day trips when I was a child and it's where I now take my family for the same - driving the dodgem cars and sliding down the helter skelter at Barry's amusements, eating a 10% meat (probably) sausage supper in a chippy and generally enjoying life.  Life got even better last weekend when the town's co-op brewery Lacada hosted the 1st Portrush Beer and Food Festival in the impressive town hall. As well as the host, north coast local breweries Northbound, Glens of Antrim and O'Connor were present alongside Farmageddon, Knockout, Co. Donegal's Kinnegar, 8 Degrees from Co. Cork and Yellowbelly from Co. Wexford.  Add to that Bushmills and Long Meadow cider.

First was an interesting new brew released for the festival.  Lacada already have a sour, Eldersauer, but Sauer Beans has the addition of coffee beans in collaboration with Portrush's harbour cafe, Babushka.  Putting it gently - beardy hipsters look away now - I'm not the greatest fan of sours, but Sauer Beans (4.2% ABV) ticked some of the boxes that most sours don't tick for me.  It wasn't overpowering and there was a gentle belly tickle of coffee.  Mrs W really liked it and I must confess I sort of liked it too - it was interesting mix of light gooseberry and coffee bean (is there another Irish coffee sour on the market?)

It was great to see three well respected southern breweries represented and fair play to the organisers for securing them.  Kinnegar from Rathmullan in Co Donegal already have a very visible presence in Northern Ireland but less so Yellow Belly from Wexford.  The brewery lies beneath Simon Lambert & Sons pub and they brought a seriously impressive range of nine beers with them - from fruity sours and pale ales to imperial IPAs.

My choice of Yellow Belly's was the cask Imperial IPA Queen Lizzie (8.3% ABV) - a single dry hopped English ale. Some hints of citrus fruit at the start following on with a welcoming dryness. Congrats to Yellow Belly for their branding - every one of their pumpclips is, literally, a work of art.

It was also great to see County Cork's 8 Degrees at the festival.  Co-brewer Scott is from New Zealand and I wonder how much influence one of Lacada's founders, Kris of Kiwi's BrewBar in Portrush, had in their appearance?  Anyway, on tap when I was there on the Friday were the Amarillo IPA, Kolsch style Going Out Out, DIPA Supernova, which I'd tried at the recent Irish Beer Festival in Dublin, and the always tasty Full Irish - brewed using 100% Irish malt.

A tip of the hat to Michael O'Connor of O'Connor Craft Beer near Greysteel for the Game of Thrones inspired A Beer Has No Name.  He confessed that after brewing the amber he still didn't have a name shortly before the festival started.  However his GoT loving brother came up with the title, much to Michael's confusion as he doesn't watch the show.

Again congratulations to all involved with the creation and smooth running of the 1st Portrush Beer and Food Festival.  I've only mentioned a small snippet of what was available so if you fancy seeing more I'm sure the organisers are already planning 2017's festival ... aren't they?

It's great to see another reason for heading to the Port - man cannot live by chips and roller coasters alone.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Another Weekend, Another Festival

Another festival?  Boom, as Klopp would say.  Following last weekend's ABV festival in Belfast, this time it was the turn of the Irish Craft Beer Festival at the RDS in Dublin.  Hotel and train tickets booked, Mrs W and I were there on the Friday. It's a fantastic opportunity to see so many brewers in one place who have to listen to all kinds of gubbins from punters like me - the gubbins intensifies the more the night draws on.

Anyway, some top quality beers were had.  (Unlike the awful plastic pint glasses we were handed. Organisers, ditch them. They sucked.)  I'd compiled a list (you need a list) of brews that I thought the cocktail and red wine drinker would like and one for me too.  First up, Metalman's 5.3% ABV Raspberry Chilli Sour on cask.  "Fruity, light and refreshing with a nice kick" was her verdict.  That'll do nicely.


You know when most of your list comprises of beers at or over 7% ABV?  Yeah...  7% Lublin to Dublin first from O'Haras (collaboration brew with Polish brewery Pinta).  I'd heard plenty in the past but never experienced for myself.  Matter rectified - oh yeah - Choccy McChocface.

Next, down to see the Wicklow Wolf guys.  New 3.8% ABV session IPA Easy Lover was certainly easy going and a tasty sessionable beer for those who wanted a bit less of an alcoholic punch.

I love a good milk stout and hadn't had anything from Trouble in a while so was quite keen to get my chops around their 5.8% ABV vanilla and choc collaboration brew with Danish outfit Coisbo.  Another smooth chocolate milk stout that smelled stronger than it tasted.

Back up the hall for a sit down and then a welcoming yarn with the Carrig boys who I'd seen a couple of months back when I visited the brewery.  A swift half of their faintly peachy IPA Grand Soft Day.

Of course a photo opportunity arises when I'm sharing the Mrs' plum and ginger cider from MacIvors.


Next, a good blether with newish Co Dublin brewery, Hope Beer, and a try at their 6.6% ABV Handsome Jack IPA.  A decent double hopped IPA with a tasty citrus bite at the end.

O Brother next, and the return of the much anticipated dark IPA Bonita.  Their DIPA Brutus was my beer of last year's festival and I was eager to see if the 7% ABV lady matched up to the 9% brute.  Hints of fig and chocolate made for a tasty keg beer though I'd love to have compared it with the cask offering that was pouring the following day.

Finally it was over to torture, sorry chat to, Scott at Eight Degrees who poured me a quality new double IPA, Supernova.  Maybe it was because it was the end of the night, I don't know, but this DIPA seemed to be smoother than a lot of other doubles, yet managed to retain the massive hopkick. I'll have to grab some of it when it's released in bottles in a fortnight.

Didn't manage to complete my list, I missed out on cask offerings of N17's Chilli Porter and O'Hara's barrel aged Leann Folláin stout among many others so only one thing for it, I'll have to stay two nights next year!  Roll on 2017!


Saturday, 20 August 2016

I Would Ride 500 Miles But I Won't Ride 500 More

They said I was mad.  Well that's not really true, though Mrs W did look at me weirdly in the dark when I proposed the idea at 1am one February night.  That idea being motorbiking to all of Northern Ireland's physical micro/nano brewery sites in a short designated period (later to be decided at 36 hours).  I love my craft beers and I love riding my bike but the two don't like each other for obvious reasons.  However this was an acceptable way of combining them both.

So once I got the idea in my head, that was that.  Lots and lots of emails/texts/DMs later, 24 breweries were contacted (there are other contract breweries in NI but they couldn't be visited for obvious reasons) and a route planned - all for a specific charitable cause which can be found here.

August 15th arrived and I set off at 8.10am on a gorgeously warm and sunny Monday.  I had 36 hours to bike 500 miles and visit 24 breweries.  Let's do this!

ROUTE 500:
Carrickfergus, Mid Antrim, Ballycastle, Portrush, Derry City, Greysteel, Plumbridge, Donaghmore,
Enniskillen, Derrygonnelly, Armagh, Newry, Kilkeel, Ballygowan, Greyabbey, Belfast, Hilden, Derriaghy.

1. Hillstown, Ahoghill - MONDAY 8.55am
2. Barrahooley, Martinstown 9.30am
3. Glens of Antrim Brewery, Murlough Bay 10.30am
4. Lacada, Portrush 11.15am
5. Dopey Dick, Derry 12.30pm
6. Walled City, Derry 1.00pm
7. Northbound, Campsie 1.30pm
8. O'Connor Craft Beer, Greysteel 2.15pm
9. Pokertree, Carrickmore 4.15pm
10. Red Hand Brewery/The Brewer's House, Donaghmore 4.45pm
11. Inishmacsaint, Derrygonnelly TUESDAY 10am
12. Sheelin, Bellanaleck 10.30am
13. Station Works, Newry 12.30pm
14. Mourne Mountains Brewery, Warrenpoint 1.10pm
15. Whitewater, Kilkeel 2.00pm
16. Farmageddon, Ballygowan 4.30pm
17. Ards Brewing, Greyabbey 5.15pm
18. Bullhouse, Newtownards 6.00pm
19. Hercules, Belfast 6.30pm
20. Boundary, Belfast 6.50pm
21. Knockout, Belfast 7.00pm
22. Brewbot, Belfast 7.20pm
23. Hilden 7.45pm
24. Black Mountain Brewery/Speckled Hen Pub, Derriaghy 7.55pm


So many thanks to mention...
- First of all, to Darren at Pokertree who helped me pick the bike up when I dropped it in his drive!!! :-(
- To every single brewer who answered their email/texts/messages, gave up their time to meet me on the run, encouraged me and donated money or stock to be balloted for charity.  Anyone wanna win some beer?
- To Kim at Fastway Couriers NI who enthusiastically gave her support and pledged to transport the donated stock after the run.
- To the Westville Hotel in Enniskillen for discounting the family rooms on the Monday night. (Mrs W and the kids drove to Fermanagh to meet me at the halfway point)
- To everyone on social media who liked, shared and retweeted my progress over the 36 hours.
- To the higher entity who provided the massive orange ball in the cloudless sky for the entire two days.  The dry roads made for a wonderful and memorable ride around Northern Ireland.
- And finally to everyone who donated to the charitable cause, again details here.  Over £1,100 raised.  I'm genuinely humbled by your generosity and kind words.

Thank you,