January was a busy old month for me, but the light at the end of tunnel was my jaunt over the Irish Sea to the wonderful city of Dublin and the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair and my chance to explore the results of the craft beer mushroom cloud which has popped up over there.
As venues go this was the least old school beer festival I’ve ever been to. Dublin Convention centre is a clean, warm, incredibly efficient venue more used to catering with large corporate conferences than bearded hipsters. But I cant tell you how welcome that was. The main room was light, spacious, never over-crowded and bars were easy to access and clear to see from a distance. I’m sure traditionalists might be reeling in horror at the thought of this but trust me, I found this a very easy atmosphere to relax in. Imagine having nice clean toilets not drafty portaloos. Seriously impressed with the venue, felt so grown up and professional.
It was all laid out in a fashion which made it a big area to wander round. And we did a lot of that, wandering to and fro chatting to the different brewers that were there. Here’s a serious plus point for me. As with Indyman, the bars are staffed by brewery employees and in many cases the brewing staff themselves. Which meant they were knowledgeable about what they were serving and also passionate about what they had on offer. None more so than the staff at the McGargles bar who simply couldn’t wait for me to try the Francis Big Bangin’ IPA, which won the overall gold medal in the Dublin Beer Cup. And Bangin’ it was. As I was handed a pint, I was informed very enthusiastically that they were very proud of this. And so they should be. There’s an point at which your glass gets close enough to your nostrils for the aromatic hops to hit you. And from that moment on it was abundantly clear that this was a beer brewed with as fresh a hop as you are ever going to try. Citrus, piney, slight floral edge but so well blended together.
Nothing appeals to me more than fresh hops. And there was a strong theme of just that throughout the festival. Given how many assaulted my taste buds I’m in no position to formally review any of the beers I tried but stand out beers for me, were Double Irish from 8 degrees brewing (tremendous big biting double IPA, incredibly fresh and was a beer I kept returning to over the weekend), White Hag brewery had a oatmeal stout which they were serving through a coffee infusion using a randall and it was double, nay tripple espresso strength amazingly good, and while my aim was to try all the Irish beers, I was lucky enough to get some of Buxton’s Ice Cream Pale Ale, which I’m convinced is simply a vanilla ice cream float/milkshake disguised to look like a beer. Amazing stuff!
Next up, meet Joe. Joe Kearns is the head brewer for a brewery called White Hag. When I first met Joe, he was stood behind the brewery bar with all the medals they’d won that weekend around his neck. Joe’s a man who has brawn in abundance and with those round his neck, he looked very much like he wasn’t getting in no plane…. But by the end of the weekend, we’d gotten to know Joe very well. And not only is he a great bloke, he’s also a brewer of some distinction. The beers on the White Hag bar were all incredibly high quality and as diverse as you could ever hope for. The bar was set up on the far wall which took alittle bit of discovering but once there, they stood proud with a very colourful display of signs detailing what was on offer. Now here’s a brewery who have embraced the notion of craft and invention. My first thought was that there were an awful lot of beers available and yet once I’d tried a couple, I wanted to try more. My first choice was a nitro oatmeal stout, which was very good quality. A nice contrast to the abundance of hoppy pale beers that I’d had in the build up. Incredibly smooth, deep roast flavours yet light enough in flavour to not overpower your palette. I was also lucky enough to try their Brett Pale Ale, which as the name tells you was a well bodied pale ale, funked up to the max with Brett. The aroma was pure funk. Like a Belgian holiday on juicy berries, but in flavour you got the light easy going pale malt character with a finish of that funky fruit. Made for a very drinkable, flavourful beer. And as I say that coffee infused oatmeal stout was strong enough to blow away even the most hardy of cobwebs.
For me the key to what I hope for in a brewery is quality and invention. Get that balance right and I’m all over it. For me White Hag brewery are the ones that appeal to me most from my time in Ireland. There were others too which are well worth mentioning, including Blacks of Kinsale and Trouble Brewing who again both had some incredibly good beers on, High Vis (again a double IPA) was stonkingly good.
Other beers of note, Goodbye blue Monday, a oatmeal pale ale. Hoppy and delightful but also that oatmeal gives the body a real smoothness. The other oatmeal pale I tried was Wired IPA from Trouble Brewing, again the oatmeal texture didn’t put them off hopping this to high heavens. This is a style which greatly appeals. Goodbye Blue Monday was the first Irish beer I had when I landed in Dublin and very welcome it was too. Another oatmeal pale ale with a delicious amount of hops but beautifully balanced overall.
One other brewery to mention is Bru Brewery, who had kegged their Darkside IPA for the first time and I’m reliably informed got more out of it as a result. It certainly was a great IPA. And speaking to them I discovered that they have been invited over to Tyneside in September for the Great North Run festival. So seek out their beers while they’re here! I certainly will!
The whole weekend was all about warm welcomes. Every single person I came into contact with were welcoming, engaging and bright happy people. Special mention must go to Maeve Desmond and the Alltech media support girls at the festival went above and beyond in their efforts to look after us, they had to put up with a lot from us but it really was appreciated and not once did they ever display anything other than being happy to be of assistance. They made the whole experience so easy for us and the media facilities are something I think many other UK beer festivals could learn a lot from.
There’s part of me felt that this festival was better than Indyman. It certainly had fewer sour/fruit beers and more hop forward beers which are the beers I love. There was very little beer snobbery in the room, it felt more like a closely knit beer community coming together with mutual respect for each other. All in all, a very nice feel to the room.
Speaking of Snobs, my biggest shout out goes to Janice and Wayne, aka the Irish Beer Snobs who were my guides/landlords/hosts for the weekend. I had a cracking time and a right good laugh, and feel I made a lot of new friends. I’m already looking forward to whenever it is that I can get back to sample these beers again!