Friday, July 30, 2010

Beer Review: Dungarvan Helvick Gold, Blond Ale

Following on from the delight that was Dungarvan's Black Rock Stout it was with anticipation that I opened the seond of their three offerings, Helvick Gold, a bottle conditioned and unfiltered blonde ale. I was not to be dissapointed.

Dungarvan's Helvick Gold,
highly recommended
Helvick Gold pours a light golden amber with a thick white head. It has a very hoppy aroma with hints of pine needles and citrus, it is a very enticing aroma. Light bodied with a very smooth clean taste on the palate. Very refreshing. The malt profile offers a good platform for the hops to shine and like the aroma the pine and citrus are present in the taste with a nice subtle level of bitterness on the end.

As with their Black Rock Stout, Dungarvan have brewed a very high quality, complex beer. The piney/citrussy flavour and aroma, coupled with the clean refreshing mouthfeel, make this the perfect summer session beer. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

ICB gets into Trouble

Trouble Brewing was established only this year, however it has great ambitions to bring hand crafted, quality beer to the Irish market, beginning with its first offering Ór*, a golden hoppy ale that it hopes will establish it as the beer of choice for discerning drinkers in Ireland.

* Ór is Irish for gold

Last weekend Thom and all the crew from Trouble Brewing invited members of to a tour of their brewery with refreshments and a BBQ. Situated in Allenwood the brewery is housed in a light industrial unit just outside of the town. On arrival we were given copious amounts of Ór and allowed to explore the brewery at our leisure.

This was my first visit to a microbrewery and the first impression I got was that the scale of the set-up was larger than I had expected. A large mash tun and kettle was surrounded by six large fermenters, two of which were being used as bright tanks. Other equipement included a heat exchanger, hot liquor tank, filter and of course a large boiler.

The equipment had been sourced second hand in the US and looks to be top quality. It was interesting to hear about the brew day problems that Thom (on the left in the picture above) had encountered, very similar to home brew headaches that would be experienced when using unfamiliar equipment. Stuck mashes were a current problem to be figured out as was the ability to get consistantancy in the batches.

ICB members desend on Trouble's brewery

As would be expected from a group of homebrewers with aspirations to one day follow Trouble's lead, there was a plethora of questions for Thom to answer, which he duly did. One interesting comment he made to me was that if you are an all-grain brewer then what they do is no different, it's just a matter of understanding the scale and getting used to the equipment.

From L to R, Thom (Trouble Brewing), Sean and John (ICB)

Discussing the brewing process for Ór, Thom gave us an insight into the ingredients for their flagship beer. Maris Otter pale malt is the base malt, also included is Munich malt. The hops are a combination of Northdown, Challenger and Cascade, while the yeast is US-05 dry yeast, incidentally the same yeast I use for the majority of my homebrew batches. While this sounds like an average ingredients list for a homebrewer, where the difference lies is in the scale. In each batch Thom pitches 1kg of dry yeast, while the hops come in 1kg bags.
Slighty Larger than my Mash Tun at home

On the bus journey home, I am sure I was not the only ICB member to be digesting the days events and thinking of how I could transform my homebrew hobby into a commercial enterprise. For most of us it will only ever by an unfulfilled aspiration, however it would be fantastic for more homebrewers in Ireland to make the leap into commercial brewing, I for one will be sure to be supprting them every step of the way.

Trouble Brewing's Ór is currently available in a select number of pubs, including a regular rotation on the guest tap in the Bull & Castle in Dublin, go on, why not get into some Trouble!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monthly Tasting Night

Each month members of meet up for their monthly homebrew tasting night in the Bull & Castle in Dublin. Last weeks meet saw a great range of beers including; a number of pale ales, a brown ale, a Witte, an IPA, a ginger blonde beer and an export stout, along with my two offerings, a steam beer and a stout.

The quality of the beers was very good, as always, but in particular for me The Beer Nut's Pacific Gem Pale Ale stood out. It was a pale ale made exclusively with Pacific Gem Hops, 100g in total. The beer was unbelieveably smooth, despite its 6.1% ABV, and had a very light and refreshing taste with a lovely berry like aftertaste. A brew definitely to emulate.

As for my own beers, the reception was very good. The california common beer, Steam Punk, went down very well, while my ISO Standard Stout got a very good reception. I was really happy about this as I felt that the stout was certainly my best brew to date.

We also had a guest attend last weeks meeting. An American homebrewer over in Dublin for a few weeks had come accross our meeting notice and had come along to see what the local homebrew scene was like. He seemed to be impressed with the quality of beers on show, it is always great to meet other homebrewers and hopefully in the future more visiting homebrewers can come along to our tasting nights*.

* tasting nights are held on the second last thursday of every month in the Bull & Castle, for further information see the events thread on the forum.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The style debate

I recently read the following essay on, the essay makes the argument for a new classification of beer to be entered into the style guidelines. The new beer style was named Mid-Atlantic Pale Ale. I also recently read an article in BYO that promoted another new beer style, Cascadian Dark Ale. With all of these proposed new beer styles floating in the ether I thought it would be a good time to discuss the role that beer styles play in the world of homebrewing.

The late, great Michael Jackson
Firstly here is some background. The BJCP maintains a list of beer styles and provides guidelines as to the characteristics (i.e. colour, bitterness, strength, ingredients etc) of each style and sub-style. This list currently stands at 23 styles of beer and 78 sub-styles (not including ciders, meads etc). Although the BJCP was only established in 1985, being able to distinguish between different types of beers has been something that people have been doing for centuries. However it was with the 1977 publication of Michael Jackson's book The World Guide To Beer that a methodical approach began to classifying different beer styles. Michael Jackson's list of beer styles can be found here. The BJCP list of styles is a relatively organic document that can be updated and changed as new styles or trends emerge, possibly the next iteration will contain the aforementioned contenders.

Among homebrewing circles 'the style debate' is a very emotive topic and the debate is characterized by strong opinions and a certain lack of flexibility. In essence I would see the battle lines being drawn along the following arguments:


The style guidelines offer homebrew competition judges a framework in which to analyse a particular sample of beer, this is of course very pertinent for the US homebrew community where competitions are very important. The guidelines are there to be descriptive not prospective and as such offer much needed help and guidance to beginner homebrewers, as well as more experienced homebrewers that want to experiment with different beers that they may not be familiar with.


The style guidelines by their very existence stifle creativity. Homebrewers at all levels should not have to brew within a structural framework, but should rather experiment with ingredients, bitterness levels, colour levels etc. Although not a big issue outside of the US, all homebrew competitions sanctioned by the BJCP must judge beer based on these strict style guidelines and as such this is stifling the hobby.

My View:

I have to admit that when I am formulating a new recipe the first thing I will do is pick a style, the second thing I will do is to look at that styles particular characteristics and parameters in order to give myself an idea of how to formulate the recipe. After that I am not too concerned if my beer ends up crossing over styles and falling outside of suggested parameters. I personally think that the beer style guidelines offer beginning brewers an invaluable resource for starting to formulate their own recipes, without this information the process would be unbelievably daunting for a new homebrewer.

More experienced (and gnarled) homebrewers will wave a hand in the air and say "down with that sort of thing, brew beer you enjoy", however as a starting point it is a great resource. Let the style guidelines grow and grow, mid-atlantic pale ale, cascadian dark ale, oirish ale, let them all in. However do not feel that they must be strictly adhered to, brew beer that you enjoy in the first instance, even if that beer may be a raspberry flavoured imperial stout!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Resurrecting Dead Beer

No the title does not refer to a batch of homebrew that has died and I am trying to resurrect, but to the fact that Dogfish Head have brewed a beer based on traces of a drink that was found in the remians of a pot from China that is estimated to be 9,000 years old. The beer is called Chateau Jiahu. This continues their series of ancient ales which also includes; Midas Touch and Theobroma.

Here is a little on the process used, taken from the Dogfish Head website:

"In keeping with historic evidence, Dogfish brewers used pre-gelatinized rice flakes, Wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers. The rice and barley malt were added together to make the mash for starch conversion and degredation. The resulting sweet wort was then run into the kettle. The honey, grapes, Hawthorn fruit, andChrysanthemum flowers were then added. The entire mixture was boiled for 45 minutes, then cooled. The resulting sweet liquid was pitched with a fresh culture of Sake yeast and allowed to ferment a month before the transfer into a chilled secondary tank."

Unfortunately they are only making a few thousand cases and so it probably won't be exported, but it is certainly an interesting idea.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Beer Review: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA

Continuing my journey through the great American craft brews, next up is the 60 Minute IPA from Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware. 60 Minute IPA gets its name from the fact that during the one hour boil hops are added at every minute over the course of the boil, they use a blend of Northwestern US hops and this beer is the little brother of their 90 Minute and 120 Minute IPA's. The beer is 6% ABV and comes in at 60 IBU's.

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA,
highly recommended.
The beer pours a lovely rust colour, with a thin white head. The aroma is beautiful, dominated by a lovely grapefruit and lemon zest on the nose. Medium bodied with a nice level of carbonation. Coats the tongue but not in a bad way. The finish has a smooth bitterness with a little alcohol burn on the end. This beer is all about the hops, but in a very balanced way, good flavour and aroma with a nice smooth bitterness that does not overpower the palate, combine this with a nice malt profile and this beer, although hoppy, is very well balanced.

A beautiful beer, a hop monster, but one which does not leave your mouth feeling like it has just been assaulted. Highly recommended and I look forward  to trying some of the other Dogfish head beers that we can get in Ireland.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beer Review: Wychwood Hobgoblin

Hobgoblin by the Wychwood Brewery is a beautiful looking beer in the glass, pours a dark ruby red with a thin white head. Aroma is dominated by fruity English hops with a sweet malt backbone. There is also a nice hint of caramel that comes through on the nose. Mouthfeel is a little dissapointing, although clean the beer is quite thin, I certainly would not agree with the bottles description of this beer being "full bodied". Hints of chocolate and caramel on the palate with a relatively strong bitter bite on the end. The fruity hop characteristics are very subdued by the malt profile and as it warms up it has a slightly tinny aftertaste (when I was younger and one of my mates drank Smithwicks, I used to refer to this taste as like 'dirty two-pences').

Hobgblin is not a great beer in my opinion, light and refreshing but nothing that would make me reach for a second bottle. This is really dissapointing as aesthetically this beer looked great in the glass.

Should you wish to try and brew this beer at home there is some good ingredients information on the Wychwood website:

Malts: Pale, Crystal and Chocolate
Hops: Fuggles and Styrians

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Negative Perception of Homebrewing

One thing that I have noticed when I began to homebrew was that there was an inherent negative perception towards it in Ireland, and I would guess in any country where it is not an established practice. The negative perception comes from a belief that homebrewing is all about making cheap beer with lots of sugar that will get you drunk for cheap. There was certainly some element of this in Ireland as elsewhere, however homebrewing is much more complex and rewarding than this belief suggests. In order to get a better understanding of this it is important to look at a country that has led the way in terms of homebrewing, the US.

The Homebrewers Association in America purports to represent a community of 20,000 homebrewers. This is a startling number for what is in essence a niche hobby. Couple this with the hombrewers in America who are not members of the association and you could be talking about a brewing community somewhere near the six figure mark. By contrast Ireland has probably a few hundred active homebrewers! When you read American brewing forums you are constantly met with the acronym LHBS, at first I struggled to understand what this was until I leaned it meant Local HomeBrew Store. In America it would seem that the large active homebrewing community is supplied by a large network of local bricks and mortar shops that provide everything from equipment to ingredients, again contrast this to Ireland where there are two bricks and mortar shops and a couple of online outlets. Now many will argue that it is unfair to compare Ireland to the US, however it is simply used to make a point. And the point is that in an environment in which homebrewing is actively practiced and supported, it creates the platform on which craft breweries can emerge and be very successful. This has been demonstrated very clearly in the US in the last twenty years.

Grains I used to make my recent
ISO Standard Stout
Homebrewing has come a long way from the kit and kilo days of college bedsits. Today in Ireland all grain brewers are experimenting with techniques and ingredients that produce beers that are the equal of commercial examples and certainly far more flavoursome than the majority of draft beer sold in pubs. People unfamiliar with homebrewing look at me disbelievingly when I tell them that what I do with my homebrewing is exactly how commercial brewers make beer but on a smaller scale. The ingredients are the same; grain, hops, water and yeast. The techniques are the same; mashing, sparging, boiling and fermenting. The main difference is that due to the fact that homebrewing is done on such a small scale that the homebrewer has a lot more freedom to experiment. 

I hope that the attitude towards homebrewing in Ireland is changing. Some homebrewers have made the leap from back yard breweries to commercial enterprises, Dungarvan Brewing being the most recent example, and hopefully this trend is set to continue. If you are a homebrewer, or craft beer enthusiast, you should make it your mission to evangelise good beer, whether that is your own creations, or some of the excellent beers on sale in Ireland from micro breweries. Only through spreading the word will we in Ireland who appreciate beer make the case for more quality beers being stocked in our local off-licenses and pubs.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Beer Review: Mendocino White Hawk IPA

I certainly have not hidden the fact that I am a huge fan of American craft beer. Today I got to sample a beer from a brewery that was a trailblazer for the American craft beer movement. Mendocino Brewing Company from California was the first brew pub to be opened in California since prohibition and it was only the second brew pub in the US when it opened its doors in 1983. The White Hawk IPA that I tried boasts an ABV of 7% and IBU's of 60, certainly an IPA that I was destined to love.

White Hawk IPA, highly recommended
The beer pours a lovely amber colour, highly carbonated with a thick white head. Hops dominate the aroma (a mixture of cascade and fuggles) with an enticing citrus characteristic, a slight hint of caramel is also apparent. Nice sharp mouthfeel, light to medium bodied but very smooth. You can taste the 7% strength of this beer as it imparts a lovely alcoholic warmth at the end. Not as highly hopped as some US IPA's but the relatively high hop rate coupled with the ABV is the essence of an IPA and White Hawk combines these two characteristics to great effect. My one observation would be that the bitterness is slightly harsh on the end. Although this is something I actually like in a beer an increase in the late addition hops would help to balance this out.

An excellent example of why the American micro-breweries have overtaken their English counterparts when it comes to brewing IPA's, ironic as this is the quintesssential English beer style. Highly recommended and is a beer I will certainly seek out again.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Drink with the Wench

Here is a link to an interview I did with The Beer Wench that was published on her site yesterday.

The Beer Wench's goal is 'Drinking through the world one beer at a time', it is a great site with lots of interesting articles and interviews, check it out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beer Review: Quilmes

Some countries are synonymous with beer, Germany, Belgium, USA, even little old Ireland. But when you think of beery countries, one of them certainly wouldn't be Argentina. However you have to give Argentina credit for taking the wine world by storm in the last twenty years and from that perspective putting it towards the top of the list when it comes to purveyors of fine alcoholic drinks. I had never before heard of any Argentinian beer until I stumbled accross Quilmes in my local off license. Proudly stating on the bottle that it was Argentina's favourite beer, I was intrigued.

Quilmes, not a beer I will be trying again
Having done a little bit of research I found that this statement was very true. Quilmes beer appears to be a bit of an institution in Argentina. The brewery was founded in 1888 and is credited with helping to create the Quilmes area of Beunos Aires. Incredibly Quilmes accounts for 75% of the domestic Argentinian beer market. Through a series of mergers and takeovers in the last decade, Quilmes is now owned by the global brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev. So what does it taste like?

The beer pours a very light golden colour with a fluffy white head that dissipates quickly to leave a beer with no head! The aroma is not that pleasant, it is quite harsh and it is difficult to pick out any of the ingredients, certainly not much of a hop aroma. The mouthfeel is slightly syrupy and gives you that feeling that it has coated your mouth and throat. The taste is not good. The only way I can describe it is to say that it has a strongy soapy characteristic. There is no hint of malt or hops and is quite harsh at the finish.

Certainly not a beer I will be trying again. Argentina may be a heavyweight in the wine world, but when it comes to beer it most definitely still fights in the amateur class.

Monday, July 5, 2010

AG #3: ISO Standard Stout - First Taste Test

Having tasted the sample of my ISO Standard Stout when I was kegging it I was really looking forward to tasting the beer once it had been carbonated. The stout has been force carbonating for five days at 11psi and so this evening I pulled the first pint.

ISO Standard Stout, certainly my
best brew to date
It pours a jet black with a large tan head. The head dissipates to leave a thin creamy collar. The aroma is dominated by the roasted malts, with the roasted barley and chocolate malt very much to the fore. Very smooth mouthfeel with a nice creamy characteristic. Medium bodied with a slightly dry finish. The key thing that makes this beer so good is how 'standard' it is, it is really well balanced and at 4% is a really good session beer.

This is the first time that I have used a liquid yeast in my brew and so I would be interested in brewing this with a Danstar Nottingham dry yeast to say what flavour characteristics the Irish Ale yeast contributed.

Very, very happy with this beer, certainly my best brew to date. I would not consider changing the grain bill for future versions (of which there will be many), but I would possibly up the hops slightly and maybe try brewing it with a different yeast.

I will be bringing a few bottles of this to my homebrew meeting next week with the guys from and so it will be interesting to see what they make of it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Beer Review: Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted

Since trying Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil, I have been looking forward to sampling some of their other beers. Their blonde beer, Bitter & Twisted, was next up for sampling and I have to say that it did not dissapoint.

The beer pours a brilliant clear strawberry blond colour with a small white head. The aroma is dominated by lovely Hallertau Hersbruker noble hops with a nice citrussy background. Light bodied with a very clean taste and very refreshing on the palate. A very smooth refreshing taste, nicely balanced hop profile with a nice smooth background bitterness.

A great summer session beer (only 4.2% ABV). Not surprising that this beer was a WBA (World Beer Awards) winner for best ale in 2007. Highly recommended. This and Old Engine Oil are two great beers from Harviestoun and I look forward to sampling their other wares.