Tuesday, 26 August 2014

What Lies Beneath...

Rathmullan beach has a lot going for it. Soft, gently sloping sand that runs down to lapping clear water, very little seaweed or flotsam, and an abundance of assorted wildlife – both human and animal. More importantly given my predilections, it has a sneaky little entrance into Rathmullan House about halfway along its length. The house itself – although beautiful - didn’t hold much of a calling for me, it was the Kinnegar Tap Room in what was previously a cellar bar that lured me in from the shore.

I wasn’t alone in my travelling, as I also had dragged along my beloved and my two offspring on the pretence that it would be a nice place to eat after a few hours on the beach, which I really hoped it would be!

So down the steps we trotted, past the outdoor seating area and the mobile pizza oven (How they got it down the steps I don’t know!), and on into the bar/restaurant itself. From what I overheard and read this is a joint venture between Kinnegar Brewing, a slow food pizza company and – I presume – Rathmullan House.

We plonked ourselves and our sandy baggage down at a table and took in the surroundings. The bar is very cellarish obviously with low ceilings and whitewashed rough plaster. Brewing, whiskey, fishing and ship paraphernalia hang on the walls and in many nooks and crannies. Kinnegar bottles with an alphanumeric code mark the table you sit at, and to order a pizza you tick your order on the provided menu slips, as well as what table you’re at, and hand it in at the bar when you choose your drink.

We went for the special – Gorgonzola and smoked sausage – and a charcuterie - tomato, Irish mozzarella, Milano salami, Gaeta olives and capers – both were excellent and enjoyed by all of us. Lovely thin bases, fresh ingredients and a decent size too.

I of course worked my way through the beers with the help of my better half, who loved the Limeburner pale ale. All the beers were very tasty and true to style - especially for my perceived thinking of what farmhouse-style brewing should be (but where’s the Saison?!) - and very drinkable, especially here given the location, food and ambience. My favourites were Yannaroody, a nice full bodied dark-chocolaty porter with the barest hint of coconut that has an ice cream available to match, and the spicy-bitter Rustbucket rye ale. I wasn’t expecting them to brew a double IPA or imperial stout so no surprises or disappointments, just good beer.

We left after chatting with the barmen about the beers, our stomachs full and my curiosity sated too. The family were happy too and we set off back to Rathmullan village after another pleasant hour or two following the hops!

Visited 14th August 2014

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Still Following the Hops...

The White Harte sits looking out over the pier and slipway in the town of Rathmullan. Its bright façade and red doors are hard to miss, even if it sits a little forlornly on a corner opposite where the now demolished Pier Hotel would have given the seafront a little balance. Maybe it’s just the red doors and big picture window, through which you can watch the comings and goings of the locals and tourists alike, but it seems to call to you as you walk past like a siren to a sailor.

I’m still on my solo wander through the town and I’ve strolled up from The Beachcomber to see what’s happening in another pub that stocks Kinnegar beers in the town.
‘I only have three of the yellow ones left’, says the friendly lady behind the bar, who’s wearing a Kinnegar top and welcoming smile. This seems to be a recurring theme in the bars of Rathmullan, supply seems to be an issue.
‘They can’t keep up with demand. People don’t understand but that’s the situation at the moment’, she adds, as she pours only half my beer into a glass. (Not the normal procedure for a bottle conditioned beer but I don’t mind.)

The place feels more like someone’s front room than any pub I have ever visited. There’s a mixture of personal memorabilia, old pictures, advertisements for table quizzes and all kinds of glasses and other paraphernalia that you feel all have a story to tell.

It has a more homely feel than The Beachcomber, more laid back and less frantic. Personally I like it a lot, it’s perfect for a nice quiet read and a good beer. Although from the kindly attitude of the lady behind the bar I think she would chat with you for the night if that’s what you wanted.

Tourist and locals wander in and out as I sit and drink my Scraggy Bay, which to mind is exactly as it should be. A bitter, medium bodied golden ale with a zing of lemon that refreshes the palate. A musician arrives with an electric accordion and begins to set up as I sit quietly reading my book. I gather that this is a good traditional music bar and I can see how it would appeal to any tourist wandering by.

I just hope the restock the beer soon!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Super Moons, Rainbows and Mispronunciations in Donegal

The snow-washed denim clad barman in The Beachcomber bar on my third night in Rathmullan walked away muttering to another member of staff as I sat at the bar after asking for a pint of the local pale ale. All I heard were mutterings of ‘Kinnegaaar’ (think Mullingar) and ‘Kinnegr’ (think vinegar), as my ability to make out more than the odd word spoken in a Donegal accent was exacerbated by distance and he was at the end of the bar pulling a pint of Limeburner for me.
Beer-name-pronunciation has been a recurring issue with me ever since my first trip to Belgium when I caused an entire bar to fall silent as a waiter reprimanded me for pronouncing Duvel in a junior cert French ‘Dooveel’ way instead of the curt Flemish ‘Doovl’.
I didn’t understand what he said either but in both cases I think the equivalent words to ‘tool’ and ‘tourist’ were used in good measure - and perhaps rightly so. And as for Nøgne Ø…

But don’t get me wrong, this hasn’t put me off The Beachcomber. It’s a great bar with possibly the best fish and chips I’ve ever had, plus views that would make a Scandinavian fjord seem plain and ordinary. The staff are friendly, approachable and talkative, and nothing seems to bother them – apart from mispronunciations obviously.

And so far this week Rathmullan had rainbows, super moons and hightides to keep us amused too.

Our first visit was on a busy Saturday night, the pub full of Dubs, Norn Ironers and locals as well as the odd strays like us. The Gaa was on the TV and the place was hot and hopping. We – my other half, kids and a few stray relations – crammed ourselves into a few seats and I approached the bar with the knowledge that a Kinnegar Limeburner tap was clearly visible.
‘It’s gone,’ the Barman said apologetically, ‘and we’ve got no bottles either,’ he added, pre-empting my next question. A sad face and a pint of Smithwicks followed…
But the next day it was back on. ‘We got in two wee kegs,’ the same barman said as he pulled my pint. ‘They won’t last long.’ My better half had asked for a pint of a macro lager and when I came back down I put the two pints in front of her and asked her which was which, and which she preferred. She wasn’t sure about the first question but preferred the pale ale…

And so, back to my third night, which was a solo mission, based on a lack of interest from any of the others in our group (A day trip to the incredible Ballymastocker beach, Fanad lighthouse (from a distance!), Sheephaven Bay and a detour that almost took us INTO Lough Salt had worn them out.) and as I was admiring the my beer – as you do – a man and woman rushed up to the bar via the back door.
‘Do you have than Line burner back in yet,’ she asked. When the bar man told her than indeed they did have Limeburner back in she asked for two pints, and I noticed that her companion was looking at me funny.
‘He-arsten-fursten-cloudy-beer-tee-as-Limeburner?’ he asked in a language that sounded part Dutch but mostly Norwegian and spoken with a Donegal accent.
‘Sorry?’ I replied – but he just repeated the same string of words in a louder voice. His partner, and I presume translator, had gone missing so I just sat looking at his inquisitive face and said, ‘Yes, Limeburner, it’s unfiltered,’ hoping this was the answer he required.
‘De-gerten-as-to-Germany-in-forten-fur-de-lemon-in-de-orsen-too!’ he said, following this statement up with a mighty laugh. I just smiled at him inanely and nodded - as you do. Luckily just then his minder/carer/partner arrived and encouraged him away, so I’ll never know exactly what he said or what language he was speaking. Knowing me it was English but just not in a way that my ears and brain could assimilate.

Back to the beer…

Kinnegar’s Lime Burner would not be my first choice of ale but in a macro-brewery-dominated world it’s a better choice to most other tipples in a bar. Not to mention my fondness to support Irish craft beers when they are good. And Limeburner is good if not spectacular, but that’s just a question of taste really (and from what the barman said it was certainly popular in the Beachcomber). I like unfiltered beers in general but I did feel that Limeburner would benefit from filtration to remove that slight chalky, almost Witt quality that I perceived from it. I’m not a major fan of wheat beers - Limeburner isn’t one I know - but I got that same quality from the beer which left it feeling slightly imbalanced to me. Not clean and crisp enough for a pale ale – although I still enjoyed it as drinking beer is not just about the beer...

I hope that I’ll get a better handle on the pronunciations soon, at least I’ll know if I’m being skitted!

More Rathmullan assessments to follow including The White Harte and The Tap Room in Rathmullan House Cellar Bar…

Friday, 1 August 2014

Recipe: Pickled Pink

An online search for ‘pickled eggs Ireland’ you will get a fair few comments on blogs and recipe websites mentioning how they are one of the staple provisions in Irish cupboards and that many pubs sell them still. Admittedly most of these comments are made by people who have never set foot in the country or are confusing trips to Ireland and the UK into one flawed memory perhaps...

Because I never remember them in shops here, or in pubs. Maybe I grew up in a pickled egg free zone? Maybe the people of Laois/Carlow were against the idea for some reason? Perhaps there was a shortage of vinegar? Was it because we were in some sort of chicken heartland where eggs were aplenty so no need to preserve them? I’m not sure…

My first encounter with pickled eggs was - as with pork scratching - in England a decade or more back when I came across them in a pub somewhere, and I remember thinking they were ok… Not spectacular or good, just ok. (Although wherever it was I do remember them being fished out of a large jar by a brute of a man with hairy fingers and a surly demeanour, then plonked on a piece of toilet roll on the bar - I really frequented classy places back then. )

I came across them again a year ago when searching online for snacks to go with beer for a tasting night I was organising. Many of the recipes I tried were from US based sites, as just like beer, they seem to be more experimental with flavours and additions. I’ve made a good few different types and tweaked them over the last year but my favourite and those of my guests is one that includes beetroot.

So, here it is.

You will need:
10-12 Eggs – I use small or medium size
250ml of clear malt vinegar
250ml of drained liquid from 670g jar of baby beets
1 Tablespoon each of salt, sugar and black peppercorns
3-5 baby beets from the jar
1 large jar (I use an empty 950g olive jar)

What to do:
Boil eggs for 10 mins and leave them sitting in hot water for a further 10 mins, then place in cold water for 15 mins.

While waiting on the eggs to cool sterilise the jar and lid. I do this by washing them in hot water, rinsing well, then pour boiling water in to the jar and put the lid in a bowl with more boiling water. (Warning: It has been suggested that the glass might crack by doing this so choose whatever way to sterilise that you feel is safe.)

Add the vinegar, drained liquid from beetroot jar, salt, sugar and pepper to a saucepan, then bring to the boil to dissolve sugar and salt. Add beets to boiling water and leave simmering gently.
Carefully empty the water from the jar, peel the eggs and fill the jar - placing beetroots from the saucepan between each layer. When you’ve added all the eggs (Don’t pack too tight or they’ll stick together), fill the jar with the simmering liquid including peppercorns.

Carefully place the lid on and tighten. As the jar cools the lid will de-press and seal the contents. Rotate the jar as it cools to stop the eggs from sticking together.

Store in the fridge until you need them. I find that the beet flavour – and pink colour – starts to travel into the eggs after about 3 days and that they are at their best in about a week or so. Even when opened I have found that they are fine for up to 10 days, which is as long as they have ever lasted in my house – just keep them in the fridge. They do pong a little when you open the jar but that’s normal… I think!

Give them a shot. They are a little sweet and not too vinegary so they go well with most beers but adjust the recipe to suit your palate. I serve them with just a little salt.

Maybe they will start appearing in homes and pubs around the country!

(There’s a lot of discussions on various websites about sterilising and storage but this is what works for me with no issues so far. But I’m not a trained food handler so use your own knowledge and common sense.)