Thursday, 20 July 2017

Travel & Food: Valencia, Spain Part II - Bueno Burgers

 

Okay so I know that burger restaurants are hardly synonymous with Valencia or indeed Spain but during our week in the city we sometimes craved something different from the more traditional Spanish fare, which I will cover at a later date. But in reality it's a testament to the ever evolving food scene in most countries that as well as a craft beer explosion we are also seeing great burger bars - other than the usual globalised suspects - cropping up in most cities. And as I was going to try some of the local beers it seemed only fair that we also sampled some local burgers, and so on three occasions when the mood for a meat sandwich hit us we tried three different spots in the city...


Mediterranea de Hamburguesa
First up was Mediterranea de Hamburguesas on Calle San Fernando (It has a sister restaurant in the trendy Ruzafa area...) quite close to the the huge food market that dominates this part of the city. Valencians don't really start to strap on their nose bags until well after nine so unsurprisingly we arrived to an almost empty restaurant. We were seated near the door beside an American group who were obviously used to eating early like ourselves. It had rained pretty hard that day and as there was a bit of a pong wafting in from the street we decided to move further inside the restaurant. It was only when we were sitting down again that we thought that the Americans may have thought we were moving to get away from them ... the fact that they were black exacerbated that feeling and our discomfort. (It is quite possible that somewhere out there someone has written a blog post discussing the racist Irish family that they came across in Valencia...)

Anyhow, hiding our embarrassment we studied the menu, which boasts 14 different types of burger - with a choice between veal or beef - and includes a vegetarian and vegan option, as well as a selection of starters and sandwiches. I chose the Ibérica - an Iberian pork burger with ham, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and crispy onions - served in a rustic Mediterráneo bun, while the rest of the family went for a Mediterranea - a veal burger with goat's cheese, baby spinach with apple and mango chutney in an Americano bun; a Panceta - a veal burger with emmental cheese, bacon, lettuce and onion in a Mediterráneo bun; and a kid sized burger for the smallest in our party. Incidentally there were three types of bun servings available including a topless version!

The beer list didn't seem to run past macrobrewery stuff and anyway I wasn't really in the mood for beer so I plumped for a sparkling water - teaching our confused waiter a new English term in the process. Service was quick, unsurprising I guess given how empty the restaurant was at this time, and my pork burger was decent sized with an undersheet of lettuce leaves and a snug duvet of ham on top, with the crispy onions cleverly scattered on the mayonnaised bun. The fries were pretty standard but inoffensive and nicely cooked. The burger tasted good with the succulent pork combining with its piggy cousin perfectly and complimented by the crunch of the lettuce and crispy onions - but I still looked jealously at the burgers being devoured by the rest of the family as we sat quietly eating our meals and taking in our surroundings, which were a nice mix of urban (If that's really a descriptor?) with a rustic modern feel, and a few bicycles and advert-throwing projectors thrown in for good measure.

We had room for a chocolate and a cheese cake afterwards, with ice cream for the kids (Well I say we had room ... in truth it was a tight squeeze.) before paying the bill and waddling out onto the square where most normal people were only just considering that they may go for a meal in a couple of hours time ... it was 8pm.

Our Opinion: Very pleasant and efficient service plus quite tasty food. The lack of beers that I like might have been an issue on another day but is hardly a deal breaker. The atmosphere was a bit quiet but that was down to our early visit we presumed - but were all happy all with the choice of restaurant and the food itself.

---


Berny's Burger
few days later, we arrived at Berny's Burger on Carrer dels Valencians a little after its supposed opening time of 8pm to find it shut, but as we were walking back down the street we heard the rattle of shutters and turned to see it opening up for the night. We decided to give them a chance to properly open up before heading in so we grabbed a quick drink close by and wandered back half an hour later.

As with Mediterranea de Hamburguesas it was pretty quiet when we got there with just one lone guy munching on his burger. This place has an arty/music vibe and theme with movie star photos and some cool looking t-shirts, which were for sale, hanging on the walls. Indeed the menu is music themed too, as each burger is named after a musician or movie star it seemed. The very freindly Berny himself - we presumed - was in attendance and quickly translated the menu for us with no fuss, explaining the menu carefully and concisely. We decided on the Berny's Nachos for a sharing starter and then the kids went for plain beef burgers, one with an egg on top, while I went for the Jackson - a veal burger, crispy bacon, mushrooms, loads of cheese and a bourbon sauce - while herself went for the Boris (Karloff?) - a veal burger with goat's cheese, rocket, alfalfa and salsa del bosque.

From my research I knew that they had some craft beers here but sadly he was out of stock when I asked, so instead I was recommended an Alhambra Reserva Roja. This was a doppelbockesque red lager - far from exciting but pleasant and clean enough, and suspiciously easy to drink given its 7.2% abv.

The nachos arrived quickly, laden with guacamole, chili and what appeared to be a mascarpone-style cheese. Personally I would have liked some jalapenos too but it was still all very tasty and nicely balanced when scooped up together. Our burgers arrived soon after, served with a handful of potato wedges and in a nice floury bun. My own burger was a wonderful combination of juicy meat with the cheese, bacon and mushroom raising the flavour profile up a notch ... as only bacon can do! The wedges were fine if a little boring, but then they are only the supporting cast and not the stars so that wasn't a huge deal for us. The rest of the family were well impressed too and as we sat there discussing our day the place started to slowly fill up, with Berny greeting everyone - many by name - with a great smile and a genuine interest in their choice of meal and drink. This came across as a real local hangout as well as well as attracting the odd (literally) pale looking Irish family with their monolinguistic issues.

We had no room for desserts after the nachos and our burgers - I'm not sure if any were available - so we paid our bill and made our way out into the darkening streets of the city to walk off our meal and perhaps find somewhere along the way for a digestif...

Our Opinion: We really enjoyed the personal service, the laidback vibe here and the quiet street it stands on, you could easily wander past it and not give it a second look - I was lucky I had researched a little before heading to Valencia. The lack of microbrew beer was a little disappointing but again it was wasn't a big issue, and seemed to be just a temporary blip. We were all very impressed with the food though!

---


Burger Beer
When I spotted that there was a spot called Burger Beer in my research of Valencia I knew that my life would be somehow incomplete if I didn't give it a try. This is another burger joint that has an outlet in the Ruzafa area of the city but we visited the one on Calle de Luis Bolinches, as it was less that ten minutes from Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) where we had spent an enjoyable and educating morning wandering through exhibits and gazing in awe at the ultramodern buildings, pretending to be time travellers - or at least I did! Having spent a good while there we were a little tight for time as we wandered in through the easily-missed door of the restaurant a little after 3pm, as they close at 4pm but open again in the evening until late night.

We were seated quickly and shown menus in English which helped ... even if it also helped to highlight once again how useless we were with foreign languages. An impressive range of mostly Spanish and Belgian beers were cleverly listed on our place mats and I decided on a Tyris CCCP IPA (Pronounced Ee-Pah seemingly!) while my other half decided to forgo her normal Ribera del Duero and tried the Zeta Hell. Foodwise I chose the B&B - a beef burger with pork belly slices, lettuce, tomato, gherkin with a mustard and tarragon sauce. Herself went for the Pastor - a lightly spiced lamb burger with tomato, lettuce, yogurt sauce and caramelized onion - while the boy went for a plain burger with bacon and cheese, and the girl a kid's sized hot dog.

The place had a clean clinical but not overly harsh look that I liked and I could imagine that this was a busy spot at night, processing orders and turning seats quickly. My beer was pleasantly citrusy and relatively clean, and I enjoyed it more than some others from Tyris that I had tried. (More about that in another post.) The Zeta Hell was criticised for being, 'Too flavoursome'. Go figure... (More about this in another post too, as I had enjoyed it at a well-timed-for-me tap takeover a few days earlier.) Again service was quick and efficient and our food arrived at our table in no time.

The food was nothing short of superb. The burgers seemed to me to be cooked over charcoal as they had that wonderful smoky flavour and tasty charred bits. The succulent pork belly, trimmings and the toasted bun were all top quality, as was the sauce that covered the burger itself. The fries were incredible too, and strangely shaped as you can see from the top photo, with the right amount of crunch and lightly covered in seasalt. The rest of the family agreed with me with our youngest declaring her meaty, grilled hotdog the best ever!

At 3:58 pm we paid our bill and wandered back into the heat of the Valencian afternoon - full, happy and reeking of meat and contentedness - we heard the door click closed behind us...

Timing is everything, remember that.

Our Opinion: Excellent food and great service, and a pretty good looking beer list. We certainly couldn't fault them on anything and we were tempted to try their place in Ruzafa another day but time got away from us sadly. To be fair their burgers are slightly more expensive than the previous two places but in our opinion they were well worth it. Top marks Burger Beer, we were very impressed!

---

As mentioned earlier it might seem strange for a tourist to search out burger bars with all the great tapas and paella around but they do seem to be a big part of the food offering in the city so it would have been remiss of us not to try some. Overall our favourite was Burger Beer but we did like the food and personal service in Berny's Burger ... and in truth had no real complaints in Mediterranea de Hamburguesas, so choose your pick and try one!


(Just a quick note on the meat...

As you can see veal is popular, and you will be asked how you would like your burger cooked ... there is a good deal of conjecture about the cooking temperature/colour/preparing, etc. of minced beef. We chose medium each time and had no adverse effects but as with everything, make your own decision - I am not a meat-cooking-sciency-person!)

Liam

Part 1 is here by the way ... Travel: Valencia, Spain Part I - Wonder Walls

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Travel: Valencia, Spain Part I - Wonder Walls



The city of Valencia is probably not at the top of most peoples wishlists when it comes to holiday destinations, but my long suffering family are quite used to my 'Great Ideas' when it comes to trips away, as they know I'm not a lazing-on-the-beach kind of person, and neither are they in truth. So when the combination of a cheap hotel deal and an affordable - for July - flight synced up on the various screens that are now required to coordinate a non-package holiday, they had a quick look at what we could do and see and decided that maybe my innate frugalness might work out ... this time.


One of my other adorable traits is the need to traipse and poke around every city I visit, as I have a fear of missing out on something wonderful that could be around the next litter strewn corner or down an alley that stinks of cat pee, or worse. And this yet-to-be-be-defined phobia led us at various times through the hot and sticky streets of Valencia, but what it uncovered was an unexpected bonus of fantastic wall art/murals/graffiti or whatever term suits your sensibilities.


Here amongst the now normal tagging and inane scribbles that seem to infect every city in Europe were some masterpieces of art that brightened up some of the plainer and perhaps less visited areas of the city. Indeed we saw very few other visitors admiring these wonderous walls of the city as our sandal-shod feet traced a path through the city, leaving a trail of perspiration and the occasional melted jelly baby in our wake.


So for this post I'll keep the words to a minimum and let the collages of these art works do the talking. It is certainly a side of Valencia that I suggest you explore if you have the time and the inclination. Most of these were in the north western quadrant of the city centre inside Carrer de la Blanqueria and Carrer de Guillem de Castro but there are probably works likes these throughout the city if you keep your eyes peeled. Many cluster around Espaivisor which was closed on our ramble but whose colourful shuttering can be seen in one of the collages.


Even the shop shutters of the city don't escape an aesthetic makeover ... and many a retailer could take note here!


... And where paint can't be applied then art can be hung to brighten up an otherwise bleak wall.


Finally, lets not forget the character, christened 'The Tic Tac Ninja' by my son, who seems to have taken up residence on every street in the city! See how many can you count...


I have no doubt that these works of art encourage the above mentioned tagging, some of which can be seen in some of the images but if we can't have one without the other then I'll take both. Of course some of these images are obviously created to elicit social commentary but many are just art for art's sake ... and that I like.

More on Valencia to come...

Liam

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Beer History: Strength of Liquors - 1837


STRENGTH OF LIQUORS - The liquor which contains most of the pure spirit of alcohol is Scotch whiskey [sic], being upwards of fifty-four per cent. Contrary to what is generally supposed, the proportion of alcohol in rum is greater than that contained in brandy; the former being 53.68[?] and the latter 53.39. the next liquor in order of strength is gin, which contains about fifty-one and a half percent of alcohol. Port and Madeira contain much about the same quantity, namely, twenty-two per cent. Cider contains nearly twice as much as London porter, being 7.54 to 4.20; brown stout and Scotch ale contain  each about six and a half; while Burton ale can boast of nearly nine per cent.

{The Carlow Sentinel - 1837 via the local studies room, Carlow library}

Here's an interesting list of the alcohol levels of various beverages from 1837, although unfortunately it gives no reference as to where the original information came from...

It also hasn't referenced exactly whose beverages were measured but it seems to have been lifted from an English report give the mentions of London and Burton.

Nevertheless I thought I should put it up on the Blog as a point of discussion if nothing else!

Liam

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

History-ish: Imperial India Pale Ale - What's in a name anyway?


I tweeted this previously but I felt it needed a more permanent position on the web, as it's the first mention I've come across in old local newspapers of Imperial India Pale Ales, which are supposedly a new invention but I'll let wiser minds than mine argue that point and tell you more about McNellan & Co ... feel free to Google both.


(The Carlow Sentinel - March 1868)

But perhaps there is a point to be made about expecting too much from beer descriptors and some of the more official style guidelines. A time traveller from our current beer obsessed world might be sorely disappointed by the above mentioned beer if he walked into a public house and order one in 1868. Style guides can give an idea of roughly what to expect from a product we are about to drink but do they have any place outside of homebrew competition? And even in those are good beers being overlooked as they are 'not to style'?

The word imperial here is just a marketing ploy meaning the best of its kind, and I've come across it before in relation to perry, so perhaps we read too much into certain words and let them taint our appreciation of a good drink.

Can beer not just be beer, judged on whether you like it or not? Are there not enough taste influencers around without adding style parameters to our poor deluded tastebuds?

I'm not suggesting we label all beer as 'BEER' by the way, I'm just wondering do we get a bee in our bonnet about what a brewer calls their beer at times?

And don't get me started on IBUs...

Liam

{With thanks as usual to the local history room in Carlow library}

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Recipe: Anchovy, Bacon & Potato Pie


I really like old cookery books...

It's a mix of the almost-musty smell combined with the softness of the well-worn pages, plus the curiosity of who owned them before me. Often there's a name but in one I found recently there was only a handwritten recipe for a Porter Cake, which I have still to make ... but this was still a connection to a previous owner and their cooking, which is something special.

The book is called 'The Good Cook's Encyclopedia' and was published in 1962 so it's hardly ancient, and while I was thumbing through the pages for a recipe for a meaty pie I came across this one instead:


Something appealed about it - probably the thoughts of the salty anchovies combined with the mini-chips and a silky smooth creamy sauce. So I decided to cook it with a small amount of variation. I felt a little bacon would help - as it often does generally in life -  and added a little extra zing with a bit of mustard, black pepper and a sprinkle of parmesan

So here it is...

Ingredients:

  • 4 Large Shallots chopped in rings
  • 4 Medium Potatoes cut in to mini-chips, rinsed and dried
  • 50g of Anchovies in oil
  • 300ml Cream
  • 1 Streaky Bacon cut into thin strips
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Mustard
  • Black Pepper
  • Parmesan


Recipe:

  • Fry the bacon in olive oil until crisp and remove
  • Soften the shallots in the same oil
  • In a small ovenproof dish add half the chips, then a layer of anchovies combined with the bacon, top this with the shallots and then finish with the rest of the chips
  • Dot the top of the pie with a small amount of butter and drizzle some of the anchovy oil over too for good measure
  • Cook in a hot (200C) oven for 10 minutes
  • Mix a teaspoon of mustard with the cream and pour into the dish, top with a dusting of parmasan and black pepper
  • Cook for a further 30-40 minutes until the chips are cooked and there is some colour on the top of the pie
  • Let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

Liam




Thursday, 13 April 2017

Beer History: Kilkenny Porter - An Alternative Reality Perhaps?


TO BREWERS
An experienced porter brewer and accomptant who for some years has brewed for, and conducted the business of two eminent breweries in the City of Dublin, well knowing the great advantage that must certainly arise to the person brewing of porter in Kilkenny or its vicinity, from the great consumption of the article there, and the decided preference he must get, on account of the material difference between the present price, and that which he would be able sell it for, will engage to brew porter equal, if not superior to any manufactures in Dublin, at a very trifling addition to the capital that may be at present employed in business by the proprietor.
Ample security will be given for the perfecting any engagement he will make. Application to be made to John Gorman Kennedy, esq. Porter Brewer, No. 28 King-street, Stephen's Green, before the 3d of April next. 
March 18, 1791
(Finn's Leinster Journal -  March 1791)

A bold claim by a Dublin brewer to be able to produce quality porter in Kilkenny, which was seemingly consumed in large amounts in and around the city. My reading of the advert is that, he is implying that no porter is being produced there and he feels that there is enough consumption to justify taking out said advert - in the top left of the front page!   Why else would he be offering his services if he - as an accountant/brewer (what a combination!) - didn't think it a lucrative plan? If his offer had been taken up (Assuming it wasn't of course!?) perhaps Kilkenny would now be synonymous with porter, and those micro and macro brewers that tout their Irish Red Ales might be pouring pints of the black stuff?

Or perhaps Mr. Kennedy was engaging in some clever marketing himself ... it's only ink on paper after all?

An interesting side note is that according to internet sources John Gorman Kennedy, a brewer from Dublin was to be transported from Ireland for his part in the 1798 rebellion at the same time as John Sweetman, the more famous Dublin brewer. (I have already discovered that allegedly a Carlow brewer was forced to sell up and leave the country before he suffered a similar fate.)

I can't find out where J.G.K. ended up but wonder did he continued to brew porter somewhere...

Liam

{With thanks as usual to the local history room in Carlow library}

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Food: Recipe - Pickled Hop Shoots


My hop plant husbandry took an unexpected turn recently, but one that tied in neatly with another of my interests...

Faced with a bunch of prunings from cutting back the first growth on my hops, and not wanting to waste the wonderfully coloured and fresh shoots, I decided to try my hand at pickling them. I've pickled before, especially eggs, and I knew that asparagus could be treated in this way so it seemed like an interesting experiment. Looking online the processes and ingredients seemed to vary somewhat so I ended up just doing my own thing - as usual.

So here we go...

Ingredients:

  • A Big Handful of Fresh Hop Shoots (See Photo)
  • 1 tsp Dried Juniper Berries
  • 1 tsp Black Peppercorns
  • 1 tsp Mustard Seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Caraway Seeds
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • 1 cup (250ml) Cider Vinegar
  • 1 cup (250ml) Water


Recipe:

  • Wash and rinse the hop shoots removing any bugs or large leaves.
  • Sterilise a thick, sealable pickling jar.
  • Add all the ingredients except the hop shoots to a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  • Meanwhile blanch the hop shoots for a few seconds in boiling water and wind them carefully inside the jar, taking care not to break any.
  • Carefully pour the boiled liquid and spices into the jar with the hops, adding boiled water to top up if needed.
  • Leave to cool, then store in a fridge for at least a week so that the flavours blend and permeate into the shoots.

The shoots take on a good deal of the flavours of the vinegar and spices so feel free to add your favourites. They also retain a vegetal bitterness, which can probably be increased by reducing the blanching time. This was probably overkill but I was concerned about sterilising the shoots, in theory the acid in the vinegar should keep everything  safe anyway... (Please do your own research on this - I'm not a food bacteria specialist!)

I served them with some cheddar, pork pies and celery salt, paired with a nice almost savoury, thyme and orange peel saison called Curious Orange from Dungarvan Brewing Company but the shoots also work well on cheesy omelettes, bacon quiche or even on a hot dog with a dollop of mustard!

It's certainly whetted my appetite for trying to pickle more plants.

I must try some nettles next ... but they will need blanching...

Liam


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Beer History: What's your Poison?

I jumped ahead 50 years in my research out of an interest in seeing how the paper I am currently trawling through - The Carlow Sentinel - had changed in the interim, and to see what beer was being advertised in the town. I landed in January 1901 to be greeted by the following advertisement:


[The Carlow Sentinel January 1901]

According to an excellent article on the arsenic-in-beer epidemic of 1900-1 by Matthew Copping on The Brewery History Society website, the poisoning was traced back not only to the sugar production process but also to arsenic transmitted onto the surface of malt during the kilning process.

Either way it seems that scaremarketing was being used to sway consumer purchasing habits then as now.

I'd love to read Professor McWeeney's book but sadly I can't find it online...

[With thanks to the Local Study Room at Carlow Library]

Monday, 20 March 2017

Travel : A Return to Kaffee de Planck, Ghent - Poor Poes...




My last visit here probably tells you all you need to know about one of my favourite bars in Ghent - and beyond it - but this return visit was worthy of note too as a poignant if soppy tribute to Poes, the wonderful cat who lazily watched us on our previous visit - checking us out with vague interest as we entered, and perhaps a hint of deserved disdain when we left.

Unfortunately Poes passed on in 2015 at the ripe old age of 20 and if the small shrine with postcards of him/her and the lit candles are anything to go by that cat is very sadly missed in the De Planck. I missed it too and I only met Poes once, but that cat was part of our original experience and received a special mention in that original post.

Ellezelloise Hercule Stout (Apologies for Photo Quality)
I toasted Poes with a a couple of really great beers. First up was one of my favourite Belgian stouts - Hercule from Brasserie des Légendes - presented to me in a wonderful branded tankard. It's all about the chocolate flavour with a vanilla hint and a spicy quality I can never quite place. (Perhaps liquorice?) For a 9% beer it's incredibly easy to drink, especially in such surroundings, but I paced myself and savoured its richness.

De Leite Cuvée Soeur’ise

Next up was a new one for me - Cuvée Soeur’ise from De Leite, which was really superb. The brewery adds cherries to their tripel, Enfant Terriple, and lets it all sit in oak wine casks for 5 months, which produces a beer that tastes of cherry bubblegum mixed with sour cider - a wonderful smooth bitter-sweet flavour with a little heat from its 8.5% abv. It was probably my favourite beer of that trip, and I had some excellent beers in Ghent.

Myself and my companions sat drinking a chatting for a while, enjoying the ambience, music and really good toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. The service was excellent as ever and the beer list and food menu perfectly sized, big enough to be interesting but not too large as to intimidate.

That krieked tripel was a fitting tribute, and I raised my glass to the seat where I'd last seen Poes.

Somehow I think that cat will always live on here...

It was obviously​ a part of this place.

Poor Poes...


Kaffee De Planck, Ter Platen (opposite Kinepolis), 9000 Ghent

Visited December 2016

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

History: Beer and Loathing in 17th Century Ireland

If I had come across the first two lines in the following extract a few years ago I would have probably drolly commented that things had come full circle since this was first written in the early part of the 17th century. Thankfully a lot has changed in the last few years...*


'Scarce anywhere out of Dublin and some few other towns will you meet with any good beer or any reasonable bread for your money, only you may have some raw, muddy, unwholesome ale, made solely of oats, which they buy for 5d the quarter at the dearest and commonly for 4d, and yet they sell their ale pots dearer than here they do the best beer. Now if barley were sown there in plenty, seeing it is so fruitful and so profitable a grain, (for that land is as profitable for it as England) and that likewise, in head towns and parishes, thoroughfares and villages of note, malt house, which prove so beneficial to the owners, public and common brew houses were erected, and men experenced [sic] in those trades were there from hence employed, which here might be spared, it would prevent this general mischief, which, if any weighty exigent would call thither any number of British men, would soon cause them to perish by this poisonous drink and bread, and therefore a thing not to be continued.'

The editor dated the original document to 1623 and given the context and wording it was written in England. There are some interesting points raised, such as that beer was being made wholly with oats(?); that it was more expensive than the 'good' ale of England; that there was a huge opportunity for the growing of malt in Ireland, for the establishment of malthouse and breweries, and a need for good brewers; and that any British men that arrived over here would be poisoned by our beer...

I think it's safe to say that didn't happen!

* There are still many places in the country that lack any decent beer for those who want something a little different - or at the very least a choice. Dublin and the major cities still have the best of all worlds, a fact that many who live, and brew, in those places often fail to comprehend...

[Extract from 'Advertisements for Ireland', Edited and Transcribed by George O'Brien, Dublin 1923 - via the Local Studies Room in Carlow Library]

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Alltech Craft Brews & Food Festival 2017 - A Sense of Belonging...


For me the Alltech Brews & Food Festival is unmissable and I was lucky enough to wangle a media pass this year. Previously I had thought about applying but felt that it would be deceitful, as I wasn't blogging regularly enough and the honest streak inside of me would make me blush bright red if anyone asked me, 'Hmmm ... So what do you do to receive one of those?' But now my blog posting and interaction is regular if not riveting, and although it now incorporates some beer history to take up my lack-of-travel's slack, at least I'm developing a rhythm and gaining some traction and attraction on social media in general...


I arrived with a few friends a little too early to The Convention Centre in the Dublin Docklands and waited patiently in the atrium as those from Alltech and from the CCD hustled and bustled around getting things ready for the crowds - the event was sold out today. Soon everything was in place and I left the others to sort out their tickets, glasses and passes, and I went up to the media room on the first floor to collect mine ... and that's when I twigged that something was different...

I have never been to a festival before where I felt so much like I really belonged. Of course I have attended many festivals over the years and I've enjoyed them but it always felt like there was a separation between the event itself and those attending it - like a them and us scenario - whereas here and now I felt part of the festival. This is of course down to the attention, friendliness and professionalism on hand, but it's more than that. It's about how those who run an event can be so good at what the do that there's an effortlessness and seamlessness in attending...


Back down in the venue itself I caught up with the others and saw the same sense of 'Being There' in their mannerism, comments and moods. It seemed to me that it was like relaxing into that comfortable old armchair with your warm cardigan on, a good imperial stout in hand, glowing embers in the fire and your favourite music on in the background. Maybe it's an age thing, as with it doesn't come wisdom but does come appreciation of 'Experiences' and not of 'Things' anymore - perhaps that is the wisdom.

You may think I'm gushing too much and the media pass went to my head, and maybe it did! Who knows? But this would not explain the same sense from those around me and those I talked to both behind the stands and in front of them. And this whole feeling made me realise that us Bloggers, Tweeters and Facebookers spend way too much time commenting on and rating the beer and not enough talking about the people, atmosphere and feeling we have at these events or even the elation we feel when we drink a good beer or eat a good meal. We shouldn't rate it we should describe it... but maybe we rate because it easier to quantify something as relatively tangible as a product whereas it's more difficult to rate experiences.

Not to mention the fact that it makes you sound like some kind of lovey-dovey, beardy-weirdy, fruitcake, but hey if the bobble hat fits...


Having said all that, I guess I'd better do a short roundup of some the festival itself, people I talked to and the beers I tried and liked. As is often the case, I avoided some of my favourite breweries that I knew I could pick up easily at bars and bottle shops such as Wicklow Wolf, Rye River, Trouble, Blacks and the rest - sorry folks no offence! Also, the sheer number of beers to be tried in a relatively short period of time combined with some virus-like bug that had infected me - You're welcome, Alltech Saturday Crowd! -  meant that the complicated maths of time divided by beers plus many variables could never work.



People
With my social skills perked up and on a high, I was drawn to Bridewell Brewery from Clifden by a beer mat that appeared on the barrel/table that we were using as a base. There was a brewery on Bridewell Lane in Carlow in the 1800s so curiosity brought me over to talk to Barbara-Anne and Harry, whose brewery is in the shadow of Clifden's old jail. They brew just one beer - a blond - and don't bottle, so I was glad to have come across them as otherwise I'd have to wait until I was visiting one of the many places it's on tap in their local area.

Their beer is a lovely, dry version of the style, with a subtle, almost smoke-like quality. I liked it alot and felt it would be a great companion for food. Specifically, I could imagine myself sitting in a bar in Clifden drinking this beer with a big bowl of creamy chowder and butter-smothered brown bread, with that sea-side smell in the air as I gaze out across the bay. (Disclaimer: This may not be possible...)

They say that beer people are good people, and I'm not sure if that's always true (In fact I know it's not!) but these people certainly come across as good people, I hope they do well!


On the Sullivan's stand I caught up with Alan, who I had met previously in their taproom in Kilkenny. Their flagship beer is Maltings Red Ale and he promised more brews were on the way when I complained that their barley wine was currently missing from their portfolio! I did get a sample taste of the export version of their red, a lot of which is destined for Buffalo, New York seemingly! At 5% it's a more marketable product in the US than the domestic 4% version and had pretty much the same malt-forward flavours of its little brother, but was perhaps a little bolder.

Sullivan's are gathering an interesting and hugely experienced team around them, they are doing some pretty heavy marketing at the moment and have big plans for the future. They are the cheese to the chalk of Bridewell Brewery in one way but by the same token they also come across as good people. And they are relatively local to me so I have the same interest in them as I have in 12 Acres, O'Hara's and Costellos, and I like what they all produce so I'll be keeping a close eye on them in the future.

(And yes I do promote 'local' as long as it's good local, too many people promote local produce just because it is a buzz word at the moment ... I think you all know my feelings on this from previous posts.)



Irish Beers
While wandering around the festival I did try a fair few other Irish beers, although not as many as I would have liked. I was helped by the fact that those with me didn't mind sharing their beers and running the risk of getting whatever virus was afflicting me.

My favourites in no particular order were the pre-oak-aged Special Brew from Wicklow Brewery, this was the unbarreled version of their 12:12:16 beer from last Christmas and tasted of satsumas and caramel digestives biscuits; Independent Brewing Company's Coconut Porter and wonderfully labelled(!) Connemara Bock, the former tasting of Macaroon bars and the latter of orange Miwadi with a fizz of lemon sherbert ... and was somewhat unbock-like but delicious; Kinnegar's Olan's Tart, a collaboration with Dan Kelly's Cider had a sweetish brown sugar meets Granny Smith quality that I liked, although the similar collaboration between The White Hag and MacIvor's CiderSilver Branch Apple Sour - with its dryer and sourer palate cleansing effect might have shaded it for me; then another White Hag collaboration, with Kinnegar this time, was The Hare and The Hag, a nitro coffee stout that was pretty phenomenal, although a taste I had of White Hag's good old Black Boar confirmed that it is still one of my favourite beers; 8 Degrees Bandit sang to me and had more smoke than I remember, it was pretty special; Lough Gill Brewery's MacNutty brown ale was a gorgeous velvety version of one of my favourite beer styles with that macadamia nut aftertaste.

These are not all those I tasted but they were certainly the ones I prefered, although I admittedly missed a few crackers from what I heard and saw on social media later.

(Having said that a couple of recommendations for one particular beer left me wondering what all the fuss was about when I tried it!)



Imported Beers
Next up is the imported beer category, again I only got to try a tiny fraction of them.

There was a lot of talk about Stone's Farking Wheaton w00tstout when the festival opening on Thursday, so I was very surprised to see it still on tap on Saturday afternoon. It was only being served as sample size given its strength and rarity I guess. The smell assaults your nose like good mustard and then you get a coffee liqueur taste with a lingering alcohol heat, I could imagine it becoming quite sickly in quantity so I was kind of glad it was only a small measure. Beside it was Stone's Imperial Saison, a beer style I had never tried before and this one certainly packs a punch of hibiscus flower tea wavering towards cheap perfume, especially given it's 9.4% abv! I actually quite liked this one but I can imagine many would hate it, although again the sample size was perhaps enough today - but I'll keep an eye out for it. My taste buds are still not convinced that Stone are worth their hype but then again Xocoveza was my favourite beer over last Christmas so I'll sit uncomfortably on the fence for now.

I have a soft spot for Thornbridge because the brew Wild Raven, another of my all time favourite beers, so when I spotted their two taps I decided to try both offerings. Carlota is a 7% mexican stout but I couldn't pick up any chili in it. I did get a rich dark chocolate quality and a not unpleasant chalkiness. I will try a bottle of it on a cleaner palate if I come across it, as it certainly sounded like my kind of beer. Valravn is presumably the big brother to Wild Raven and has many of the same tropical hop with a dash of sweet cocoa mix - but intensified as you'd expect. It's an 8.8% abv beer and seems to me to be a brutish bully to Raven's subtler charms - although my infatuation with it's little sister may have clouded my judgement so it's another to try again at some stage.

I also tried Brewdog's Blitz Strawberry & Vanilla Berliner Weisse - and that's exactly what it tasted like...



Barcelona Beer Company
One stand that intrigued me was Barcelona Beer Company. I was interested to find out what the Spanish craft beer scene was like, as I would be heading to Valencia on a weeks holiday during the summer and wondered what my options would be beer-wise in Spain generally.

I chatted with Viet who deals with exports and he filled me in on the beers as I sampled my way through them. (He nearly ended up in my 'People' section above but I didn't get a photo of him and we didn't chat too much as he was quite busy. Plus I felt his range deserved a separate piece!)

La Bella Lola is a Blonde with a nicely spiced cardamom flavour and a dry finish; Nicotto is a 'Japanese Style Beer' that I very much enjoyed, probably because of the subtle coconut and lemon meringue flavour that was coming from the use of Sorachi Ace; Piquenbauer is a wheat beer a dash of ginger cutting through the cloves, not my favourite style but good for hot climates I'd imagine; last was my favourite, La Niña Barbuda a brown ale with a taste of milk chocolate and liquorice, with a tiny hint of bitterness in the tale end. Brown ales have really become my favourite style at the moment...

Barcelona Beer Company are exporting to a good few countries in Europe and beyond, and I'm sure they'll make it down the road to Valencia!



Food
I must admit that my mind wasn't really on the food at the festival. Strangely for me my appetite seemed to have gone AWOL, but when the Brisket Klaxon™ went off in my head after looking at the sign over the Smokin' Bones stand I decided I'd better eat. It was perfect ... gorgeously smoky and tender served on a bun with just a little mayo-mustard. (I can never understand how people think they can give an honest review and rating for a beer after having a load of mustard and onions on a garlic sausage or red hot chilli chicken! By all means eat what you want, but don't pretend it doesn't mess up your palate for the rest of the day.)

I was luck to try some of the fantastic raclette with gherkins and baby spuds from The Ploughman's Daughter too, and vowed to go for some of my own later - then promptly forgot!

I can't comment too much on the rest of the food but I didn't hear many complaints, apart from maybe a few who thought the prices versus portions were a little steep...



Conclusions...
Well what can I say that I haven't already? Not a lot...

For me Alltech's festival leads the way in how a festival should be run. They are the benchmark that others need to measure against ... and its not just about its size, location, entertainment, quality, organizational skills and the people, it's about that sense of inclusion that cocoons you while you're there.

And thats what Alltech brought to the party more than any other festival - a feeling of belonging...

I have been accused in the past of only promoting beers, food, events and places that I like - of course I do! But purely for selfish reasons, as the better a bar does - for example - with craft beer then the more they will stock, and therefore the better selection for me. Any major negative comments I have I generally pass directly to those involved, providing its fact of course and not just my opinion or taste.

And I'll happily promote this festival - among others - for similar selfish reasons...

But for the love of god, change those bloody glasses!

Cheers,
Liam

Visited 25th February 2017



Epilogue
As we were getting the bus home we popped into Brew Dock to use the jacks and a grab a quick beer. We were lucky to find both Farami from Whiplash/Otterbank Brewing and Unto The Breach from Yellowbelly/Hope Brewing on tap, two collaborations that I'd hope to pick up and they didn't disappoint.

The place was buzzing and after a rather embarrassing, 'I'm your biggest fan!' moment when I spotted Galway Bay's Andy behind the bar, we ran for our bus and headed out of the city back to the hinterland.

I slept much of the way home.

(Apologies Andy, if you ever read this.)







Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Travel: Kilkenny City - A Trail of Red Ales, and More...

'... in the immediate neighbourhood are several very extensive flour-mills, three large distilleries, four breweries ...' Samuel Lewis - 1840


I don't visit Kilkenny as often as I should, as it suffers from being too close to my Carlow base to seem like a 'proper' day out destination, which is of course, ridiculous, unfair and illogical but that's how my mind operates...

When I do make the short journey from station to station it's usually for an event such as Savour or the Kilkenny Beer Festival, so my itinerary is usually forced by the schedule of events that I wish to participate in or attend. I never go just for a leisurely wander, to chat, drink and eat at no one else's pace apart from those nice people in Irish Rail, who incidentally appear to have no concept of a night or late evening train along the Dublin-Waterford track that jaunts into Kilkenny station and back out again in reverse, much to the confusion and panicked looks from many a tourist.

But myself and my travelling companions decided that Kilkenny would be the best place for this social trip given that some of us were caught for time both before and after this trek and needed a close-by destination to scratch that itch of - well - beer, food, travel...

As you can see from the opening quote by Mr. Lewis, Kilkenny has a huge brewing and distilling history, but that history has been eroded by the slow death of brewing in this once beer-focused city with the loss of breweries literally changing the skyline and even affecting how the city smelled, although a resurgence is coming as you will see...

Stepping from the train into a dreary, cold late morning we decided that somewhere for a coffee and sustenance should be our first destination so we heading past the beautiful St. John's Church with its strange, unfinished steeple, then down John's Street and over the bridge before turning right onto St Kieran's Street and past a plethora of busy coffee shops that have sprung up along the narrow street.


Mocha Days
One of the least inviting and quieter looking establishments was Mocha Days, but its menu promised us crepes and coffee and looked like it could accommodate us so up the steps we bounded, past the large covered outdoor seating area into the cafe itself. We were greeted immediately and proceeded to be attentively served with assorted coffees, teas, crepes and salads. They have a pretty extensive menu of sandwiches, wraps, jacket potatoes, pizzas and more. Unfortunately they seem to stock just macro beers if my quick glance in their fridge was anything to go by ... but we weren't looking for beer yet so this didn't affect us.

My '3 Formaggi' crepe was excellent, with a nice amount of gorgonzola giving it a wonderful funky kick, and I was so hungry I ate half of it before remembering to do the Blogger thing and snap a photo! We found out it had just opened under its present guise the previous Wednesday, but the seem to have the service and food pretty right in our opinion, as we were all very impressed with our choices and attention. We'll be back, but they could do with adding a little colour and softness to the rather stark entrance - and a few microbrewed beers to the fridge!


The Hole in the Wall
Although the term 'Hidden Gem' is overused, I think it does apply to our next destination, which we arrived at by retracing our steps along St. Kieran's Street before cutting right up the steps and along St Mary's Lane, past the soon to open Medieval Mile Museum, and on to High Street. The Hole in the Wall is just across the road down a narrow alley that would not be out of place in a Harry Potter film. Even with its name and date of original construction daubed on a sign at the entrance you could easily miss or dismiss it as you wander along the main shopping street of the city, with its bright shop signage and windows full of enticing-to-someone, shiny wares.

Ms. Rowling would be equally au fait with the look of the entrance into the snug and what lay behind the modern-ish front door. We stepped inside and lifted a latch into the snuggest snug I have ever squeezed in to, with the counter and serving area taking up at least half the space. There are one or two other rooms to this pub but we stayed put in this bar and looked at the selection of beers. There were the usual macro bottles and most if not all of the O'Hara's core range including Leann Folláin. I spotted a sign for Costellos Red too, but decided to wait until later for that local tipple. Being in Kilkenny I decided a different red ale would be appropriate and went for O'Hara's Red. (I will leave it to wiser minds than mind to debate the age, authenticity and parentage of 'Irish Red Ale'...)

O'Hara's produce a solid version of this much maligned style and it was certainly a perfect choice to sup, as we chatted with Anna - from Germany - behind the bar. The bar was full of old doors and bric-a-brac with notes and history lessons posted or scribbled on the walls. The countertop is an old rafter with a few pieces of slate resting on top, which made balancing your drink and bottle a exercise in patience, bravery and frustration.

This is a tourist bar, as the ubiquitous row of dollars and other currency pinned to the shelf over the wall testify to ... and it's a 'Talkers Bar' with low music and perfect acoustics for both intimate conversations and shouting matches, and I dare say it has entertained both. Seemingly it's a great bar for live music too, although we were there too early - and possibly in the wrong room - to appreciate that...

We finished our drinks just as some tourists entered, and with a knowing wink we headed out and up the main street to a little piece of Carlow in Kilkenny City, as we left I heard them ordering three cans of Kilkenny Ale...


Brewery Corner
Brewery Corner is on Parliament Street, which extends on from High Street towards St. Canice's cathedral. It's nestled in a row comprising 4 or 5 other pubs opposite the entrance to the now closed Smithwicks brewery. Carlow Brewing the brewers of O'Hara's beer range, opened here in 2013 and took the brave decision to only stock microbrewed beers. Their own full range plus a few seasonals are always on draught along with a few guest taps from other Irish breweries, so choice is rarely an issue.

It's a nice blend of old and new with traditional timber, quirky posters and paintings - many leaning towards its focus as a music venue - games and a nice beer garden at the back. Behind the bar I noticed Craigies cider in prime position, no surprise given their recent acquisition of than business!

Resisting the urge to try their own red ale on nitro, first up for me was O'Hara's Styrian Wolf IPA, the latest in their Hop Adventure series, a beer brewed with Slovenian hops, which I drank before as a bottle at home, but comments by The Beer Nut who claimed this hop tasted somewhat like Sorachi Ace - one of my favourite hops - made me choose it here on tap. And he was right - of course, dammit - but whether I would have picked it up without the prompt I don't know ... but I don't remember tasting it in the bottled version. They Sorachi Ace flavour was more muted perhaps with a light peppery note and that meringue-ish quality ... regardless it was a very nice beer, although I can imagine some style junkies questioning its IPA pedigree.

We chatted with a very knowledgeable guy behind the bar, watched a rugby match and had our crotches sniffed by a lovely old dog who seemed vaguely at home here, if slightly bewildered by us. It really is a bar you can feel at home in, and it has the best selection of beers in town by a long shot. They do food too, pizzas certainly and I think other bits and pieces too, although we didn't eat or inquire this time.

Next up was Gose to Leipzig from YellowBelly Brewery in Wexford, a brewery I enjoy most of the beers from and who are always coming up with quirky styles and strange combinations. Unfortunately their beers are rarely seen in Carlow, so I tend to keep my eyes peeled for them when I'm out and about. This was an interesting one and my notes say 'mild rock shandy with the dregs of Andrew's Liver Salts...' a description I am happy to stand by. It was a glorious palate cleanser after sharing a few other bottled beers that my companions had, some of which were very good but a few of which were not to my taste, to be polite.

In danger of becoming too settled we decided to make a move and head back toward the town centre, but we didn't get far...


Cleere's Bar
Cleere's Bar is right next door to Brewery Corner and we couldn't resist having a peep inside, as I'd never been here before. It's a very traditional bar known for its, er, well, traditional music. It was fairly busy but I spied a 12 Acres Pale Ale tap at the bar so I decided on a glass to support my local Laois-based brewery. Behind the bar I spotted a row of strange but somewhat familiar bottles that turned out to be specials brewed across the road in the aforementioned Smithwick's brewery. Unfortunately they were just for show so we headed off to to grab a pint and a pizza!


Sullivan's Taphouse
We reached Sullivan's Taproom via John's Bridge (the street) and the newish pedestrian bridge that spans the brooding river Nore and deposits you on John's Quay just in front of the attractive but a little austere city library. After that it's a quick jig left and right through the carpark and into the back entrance of Sullivan's. The site was a garden centre up to quite recently and the glasshouse structure that dominates the site is where the brewery will be built at some stage in the future - for now the beer itself is brewed in Boyne Brewhouse but using Kilkenny grown malt.

[At this point I must confess that my last visit here was with a Beoir contingent that got a sneak peak at the taproom before the official opening. We were well looked after that day with food and drink so if you think that influences my comments or opinions well ... that your decision. (Edit: I also received a growler of their beer just prior to publishing this post...)]

The idea is for most tourists to enter through the The Wine Centre (The taproom is a joint venture with Sullivan's.) or the archway beside it from John's Street and to make your way past the merchandise, mugs and a growler station to the bar proper. This large and airy room then exits onto the covered beer garden with a wood fired pizza oven taking up the space at the end of this area. (By coincidence the pizza oven is made in Wolfhill in Laois where my father's family came from, not far from where I grew up and where I got the name for my home brewery!)

With the smell of woodsmoke hanging in the air and all of us developing a hunger we decided on the pizza-and-a pint-deal. On tap was Sullivan's Maltings Red Ale along with two guest beers from O'Hara's and 9 White Deer. I ordered Sullivan's own brew as well as a chicken and bacon pizza and we sat down for a rest and a chat as we waited for our pizza to cook. In the beer I picked up flavours of childhood red lemonade and really good soda bread, with more body than I'd expect from its 4% abv. It's hugely drinkable and probably the type of beer that we need to drink more of, it's certainly one I'd go for if I was out for one or two leisurely pints and not beer ticking.

Our pizzas arrived promptly and we all tucked in, swapping slices - as you do - and making positive comments all round. I like this addition to the Kilkenny beer scene, it has a good atmosphere and they are certainly spending money on the brand, story and the promotion of their image. But I do feel they need more of a draw to get more people in their door(s) such as a slightly extended food menu, more events and perhaps some more collaborations with other Kilkenny experiences like they have had with Savour. Anyway, I'm expecting big things from them in the future...

It was starting to fill up now and unfortunately they were out of their barley wine, which I was planning on sharing with the others, so after a quick visit to the ridiculously scarce toilets we made our way out towards John's Street, past all the branded goodies and out under the sign that states sorta-factually but a bit cheekily in my opinion states 'Established 1702'.


Billy Byrne's
Our last stop before our early evening train home was Billy Byrne's on John's Street just 2 minutes from the station. I had been here a few times previously, most recently at the Kilkenny Beer Festival run by Costellos Brewing, who's red I hoped to catch here. This is a lively spot with the added bonus of The Bula Bus parked out back serving great food. We stayed in the front bar and sure enough I spotted The Red from Costellos at the bar on tap. Costellos are just starting to brew on their own kit here in the city, not too far from where I was drinking this pint, before that it was brewed at Trouble in Kildare.

I had a gulp at the bar conscious of our train time ... this is another flavoursome beer given that it is only 3.5% abv, there's a whole coffee and toffee malt flavour with just the smallest hint of bitterness for balance. It's another sessionable one for sure, although I'm not entirely comfortable with that term. Enjoying it I sat down near the front window, and promptly walloped the back of my head on a low shelf at the back of a couch, seemingly placed there by the sadists in Billy Byrne's for just that purpose. I suspect that they film it and that there's a whole YouTube channel dedicated to videos of people doing this!

Rubbing my head and feeling sorry for myself I thought back on how perfect a day it had been, from our brunch earlier to sitting here - albeit with a headache, but a good beer - it had all the hallmarks of a successful day ... great company, great beer, great bars, all in a great city.

I would highly recommend the route we took but we did miss a bar or two (I wish I had missed that shelf!) as we ran out of time, we might need a revisit again soon...

Cheers Kilkenny!

Liam

Visited 11th February 2017