Monday, 27 October 2014

Day Trip - Savour Festival of Food Kilkenny and More

The train was late.

Standing shivering on the platform in Carlow I was reminded that after graveyards, the coldest places in Ireland are train platforms. I was waiting for the Dublin/Waterford train and for the first time in a while I was travelling solo, which is something I've never been very comfortable doing to be honest. Kilkenny is only half an hour from Carlow by rail so it wasn’t as if I'd be in a strange, confusing new country by myself, but I always seem a little self-conscious and awkward when travelling. Travelling in a group, or with at least one other person, seems to dilute that feeling or at least makes me less aware of myself. As I stood there lost in these thoughts the train arrived and soon I was sitting among hen parties, weekend trippers and the odd food-lover on their way to all points south of Carlow. They juggled babies, jostled in and out of seats, shouted as if they were in separate carriages and laughed way, way too loudly for a confined space. I was suddenly aware of the benefits of solo travel and the thought of locking myself in the toilet for the journey did briefly cross my mind.

Kilkenny's Savour Food Festival had captured my attention because it was trying to integrate craft beer – a subject dear to my heart, if shunned by my liver - in to its schedule, stalls and discussions. One thing in particular attracted my attention and that was a beer/cider versus wine food pairing 'Smackdown' that was to take place in one of the marquees.

But there was a problem.

My initial look a week previously at the listing of what was on said that this event was free but the night before I was traveling, while doing a little more research, I discovered that although it was free I should have registered online for it! Checking the booking part of the site showed that it was booked out...


But there was plenty to tempt me to the festival itself anyway and rumour had it there would be a craft beer tent there too, so I decided to head down regardless. And that is how I found myself on a train full of restless noisy people pulling in to MacDonagh Junction in The Marble City.

The Parade in Kilkenny where the main part of the festival is held is just a shortish walk from the station. The walk passes a lot of pubs and the excellent Asian/world deli called Shortis Wong, with The Wine Centre opposite it - which can always be counted upon to have few new or unusual beers to tempt me. I made a mental note to call in to both on the way back to the train.

The festival was just starting to get going when I arrived so I grabbed a bag of delicious homemade crisps from a stall near the entrance and went for a wander. Every type of food imaginable was up for grabs; beorwurst, falafels, crepes and burgers were all available, and coffee, sweets, honey and jams were also on show. The new festival staple - pulled pork - was available on loads of stalls. Even those afflicted with vegetarianism were well catered for including at least one whole stand dedicated to their cause. I spent a while fluttering from stand to stand, looking, listening and taking it all in. Kilkenny is a great city for this type of event, perhaps it's the population size or the attitude to try something different, maybe it's the influx of tourists whose accents I could hear as I walked around but whatever it was the buzz and excitement was palpable as the closed off street started to fill up.

At this stage I decided it was time for a beer or two so I made my way to the craft beer tent that I had already scouted twice. Not wishing to be the first in the door I had hung around for a while before entering. It was still quiet in there as I made my way over to Carlow Brewing - AKA O'Hara's - to tick off a couple of beers I hadn't tried at the beer festival in Dublin earlier in the year. As I sipped my Blackberry Lager (Don't judge me!) I took in the other breweries represented. Trouble, Costello, White Gypsy, Metalman and Dungarvan made up the rest of the occupants of the smallish tent, a tiny but select selection of the incredible number of breweries than are now on this island. Seamus from O’Hara’s – who is responsible for getting this beer festival here and a lot more besides - was rushing around putting the finishing touches to the stand. I chatted to him briefly before he was called away to solve a crisis, or perhaps he just needed to escape from me!

The lager was nice blend of lemon bitterness and mild biscuit with a very delicate - perhaps too delicate - touch of blackberry. I followed that up with an O'Hara's Dunkleweizen, a lovely, mild, almost stout-like version of the style, like a liquid bourbon cream biscuit with a tiny bit of clove added. This would make a great home-drinking winter beer so I hope it will be bottled at some stage...

I finished off this tasting session with a glass of White Gypsy Scarlet, a weird/wonderful sour beer that tastes of sweet soda bread with a dash of vinegar. A great palate cleanser and although very much an acquired taste it would be great with a cheesy food pairing.

Back out in the festival I wandered back up and down the stalls, taking in the overlapping flavours of grilled meats, cooking crepes, breads and coffee - and the great atmosphere. I found myself outside the marquee where the beer versus wine talk was going to be held. A talk was just finishing and a lady was telling an anecdote about how someone’s child had broken his foot when tins fell out of a cupboard. She maintains it would not have happened if the lady had always cooked fresh food! An interesting notion and she might have a point about fresh food, but personally I couldn't do without my tinned produce when cooking. Think tinned tomatoes, kidney beans, etc. And how could you not have tinned beans in your house? Beans on toast must be one of the best comfort foods of all time! Maybe I missed the point though...

Anyway. There was produce for sale in the marquee and no real security so I decided that I might get away with standing at the back behind the set out chairs, near the exit. The talk was about five minutes away from starting and no one had come near me to ask for a ticket or question my being there, so I discreetly slid on to the chair in front of me, ever mindful of a tap on the shoulder or glaring look, which never came. (Confession over!)

The 'Smackdown' was brilliant. Sommelier Colm McCan, Author and beer aficionado Caroline Hennessy, and Pascal Rossignol from Le Caveau entertained, fed, 'watered', and cajoled us for an hour with great banter and produce. Goatsbridge trout caviar paired with Longways Cider and Menade Verdejo 2013, Lavistown sausages with Costello's red ale and Chaume-Arnaud Vinsobres 2011 and we finished up with Caroline's own extra special double chocolate stout brownies (those words could be out of order) with 8 Degrees Knockmealdown Stout and Banyuls Rimage ‘Mademoiselle O’ sweet red wine. All the food was local and so was the beer – well localish. The wines were not local of course and supplied by Le Caveau in the city.

It ended as a draw but by my reckoning beer won two, only missing out on the sausage course by a whisker.

Having said that - and me being very much a beer person - one of the discoveries for me was that sweet red dessert wine! I will be definitely getting that for after my Christmas dinner...

After that I grabbed a chorizo-style sausage in a bun with chimichurri sauce from an Argentinian grill in one of the tents and went for a walk around the grounds of the nearby Kilkenny castle before wandering back towards the city soaking in the history that this city seems to seep out of its stones. Back on the High Street the 'Slips' that run down to St Kiernan Street multiply this feeling a hundredfold, as these narrow-stepped alleys give the feeling of stepping back in time, albeit with the need to mentally remove the modern sights and sounds of the city. Kilkenny is a good shopping spot too so I spent a little time wandering in book shops and picking up yet another addition to add to our buckled bookshelves back at home.

Finding myself not far from O’Hara’s Brewery Corner I felt that it would be rude not to call in and see what was on tap there. I was greeted by a super-friendly barman who filled me in on what was new. He mentioned that they had just put on a new cask from White Gypsy and I said, ‘Sold!’ I suspect that their Garden's Wild Ale is the cask version of their Emerald Ale - made from 100% Irish ingredients - and the bar man told me I was the first to have a glass from the cask. It was a delicious smooth and subtle pale ale with a bitter, nettle-like quality with some almost honey sweetness. I followed this up with a gorgeous glass of White Hag Fleadh Red, a favourite of mine from the beer festival in Dublin, before heading back to the Festival.

Back in the beer tent the place was hopping (hah!) with tourists, locals and beer nerds. The latter marked out by their our obsessive need to take notes and annoy those serving by inquiring about the hops used in a particular beer or what additions the put in their water.

And so I finished the day talking to a few locals and having a glass of Metalman Rubus, a pleasantly refreshing fruity ale with plenty of raspberry flavour and a backwash of grapefruit. Next I had a White Gypsy Dunkel that was all milk chocolate, a bit of smoke and quite nice. I finished with a black IPA - one of my favourite styles - from Trouble called Oh Yeah! I really like that bitter-but-balanced-by-sweetness taste, and hint of acrid burnt toast.

The tent was now closing and my palate was pretty much done, so I bought a bottle of White Gypsy Emerald for my home stash and tottered back to the train station via The Wine Centre to add even more beers to my collection. I hadn’t time to call to the Asian deli too!

Reflecting back on the day the only thing that would have made it better was having some company or me being more sociable - something I should really, really work on! Hats off to the organisers of the festival, it was a grand day out.

Saturday 25th October 2014

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Recipe - Smoky Chili with Leann Follain Irish Stout

It was one of those days... cold, miserable and I was a little out of sorts. I wanted some comfort food and I fancied a 'chili-like'* meal. Trawling through the many recipes online I noted than some featured coffee, chocolate and stout, so the idea of cooking with a beer that already possesses those flavours was hardly a huge leap in the culinary thought process.

O'Hara's Leann Follain is a local stout so it made sense to use it, not to mention the fact that it's a particular favourite of mine. As for the rest of the ingredients, well the beef is from our local craft butcher but most of the other additions were leftover items from the fridge combined with a few cupboard staples.

And that's the secret of this kind of recipe. Pick a style - I wanted something smoky, peppery and chocolaty - and build around it with ingredients that compliment or perhaps even contast with one another. Not to mention the need to use up those left over bits and pieces so they don't go to waste.

And like and good chili - or curry - it tastes better the next day!

Anyway, here's the recipe so adapt and enjoy.


1 tsp Mustard Oil
1 bottle O'Hara's Leann Follain Stout

1 kg Minced Beef
1 cup Smoked Bacon - chopped
1/2 cup Chorizo - chopped
2 cups Meat Stock

1 Large Onion - finely chopped
1 cup Sweet Red Peppers - chopped
3 Garlic Cloves
1 whole Red Chili Pepper
1 whole Habanero Chili

1 tin of Tomatoes
1 tin of Kidney Beans
1 tin of Butter Beans
4 dashes of Smoked Chipotle Sauce

1 tbsp whole Coriander
1 tsp whole Cumin
2 tsp whole Mustard
1 tsp Oregano
3 tsp Smoked Paprika
2 Bay Leaves
1 tsp Chili Powder (Optional)
1 tsp Black Pepper
Salt to taste

Plus leaf coriander and grated cheese when serving.


Toast the whole spices in a dry pan until the mustard starts to pop. You might want to cover them with a saucepan lid to avoid mustard-seed-eyeball!

Blend the tinned tomatoes, toasted seeds, oregano, garlic cloves, smoked paprika, red chili pepper, black pepper, chipotle sauce and chili powder (if using) to a fine paste and leave to one side.

Brown the beef with the mustard oil in a large saucepan, remove and set aside.

Cook onions, bacon and chorizo in the same saucepan until the bacon starts to brown and sizzle.

Add the beef back in to the pan along with the spiced tomato paste, stock and bay leaf.

Stir and add in the stout!

Simmer uncovered for about an hour until the liquid has reduced and thickened.

Add the beans, sweet red pepper and habanero chili. Cook with the lid on for a further half an hour.

Taste and add more chili powder or chipotle sauce if you want it hotter. Or a little brown sugar or plain old tomato ketchup if you want it sweeter. Remove the habanero before serving.


Sprinkle with grated cheese and coriander, then serve with roast potatoes and a beer.

* OK, so the reason I have the word chili in parenthesis is because I don't want all the pedants telling me that it's not a real chili as it has this, that and the other in it. You're probably right, but I couldn't think of another word that encompasses the style of dish so live with it!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Chez Moeder Lambic Saint-Gilles - Brussels

We made the decision to divert on the train back from Mons, a pretty town choc full of history ( Hah! Belgium? Choc? See what I did there? Never mind...) and with a close connection to the two world wars. It had surprised us by its charm and quirkiness, not to mention the architecture and distinctly French feel, which was understandable I suppose given its location close-ish to the French border, and in Wallonia.

Earlier, my companions had headed out from Mons to see one of the many war cemeteries that keep the memory of what happened early in the last century alive in the minds of locals and visitors, while I had decided to wander the town and see what it had to offer. It truly was a gorgeous town so with the sun shining and a pep in my step from being somewhere new, I wandered around the sites for an hour or so looking at gardens, admiring churches and rubbing monkeys on their heads for luck. (Google's not a fetish!)

I had exhausted the sites when I came across an exhibition on Fritz Haber in a gallery on Grand Place. I had never heard of him but the gallery looked cool - in the climatical sense of the word - and for €2 it seemed worth a look.

Fritz Haber I found out, is perhaps one of the first hero/villains of the last century. He was an interesting character who, it could be argued, saved the lives of millions with his work on developing artificial fertiliser and thus aided in the food production for many people who would have otherwise have died of starvation, but he was also responsible for chemical warfare production in the first world war, and this work was also linked to the gasses used in the concentration camps of the second world war. His life is well worth researching and reading about, and this exhibition by David Vandermeulen, a renown comic book artist, was well put together and thought provoking. Books about Haber, facts about his life and contemporaries were combined with Vandermeulen's artwork and pieces of war memorabilia. It's not a happy tale for any of those involved or affected by him...

I left the exhibition in a somber mood and although back at the train station the sight of my companions running for the train back to Brussels with their lumbering zombie-like gaits somewhat lightened my spirits, my mind was unfocussed and disjointed on the journey back. On the train I was conscious that on this trip to Brussels we still hadn't visited what was one of my favourite bars - Chez Moeder Lambic - the original bar that opened before its younger sibling that occupies Place Fontainas just off Anspach. I brought this subject up and we decided that three of us would get off the train at Gare de Midi and trek south in search of it, but it would mean a short visit as we were meeting a friend from Antwerp in a couple of hours back in the city centre for dinner.

The walk from the station brought us through an interesting neighbourhood of Art Nouveau houses butted up against 60s and 70s Brutalistic buildings. Strange people stalked us even though they were ahead of us - something I thought would have been an impossible task. One guy in particular was having an animated conversation with himself and seemed to be itching for us to catch up with him. We crossed to the other side of the road in forced conversation with each other in order to avoid him.

On we went past tiny neighbourood bars blaring frenetic ethnic beats, past abandoned cars and a dog toilet that seemed to be composed entirely of sand and dog turds in equal ratio. Even the local dogs seemed to avoid it apart from a few deformed creatures that looked like the had been crossed with wargs, or perhaps had been inbred to within a generation of being their own grandparents..

Eventually we hit Chaussee de Waterloo and it was like someone had flicked the 'On' switch for party time. The street had an carnival atmosphere and appeared to contain at least one family from every nation on the planet. Sellers of underwear, fabric conditioner and deodorant were competing for space with energy drink vendors and people cooking food on the sort of barbecues that would make the average health and safety officer have an apoplectic fit. I'm not sure whether this was a normal Saturday evening here but as we strutted up the street with Bobby Womack's Across 110th Street's chorus playing in my head, my mood lifted and it reaffirmed something I had thought on previous visits to this part of the city, that Saint-Gilles - how ever you spell it - is the coolest neighbourhood in Brussels.

And so in flying form we reached Chez Moeder Lambic, which is hidden in plain sight on a corner behind the gorgeous but unvisited treasure that is the Saint-Gilles Town Hall - Stadhuis van Sint-Gillis. Moeder Lambic is a pretty unassuming place and you could miss it or dismiss it if you weren't 'In-the-Know' so to speak. It's a nice building with parasols outside emblazoned with the Moeder Lambic logo, shading the numerous drinkers from the evening sun. We went inside and took a seat while the very busy barman hopped from customer to bar and back in a no-nonsense but professional manner.

The bar itself is not like its sister bar in the city centre. It has a rougher more lived in feel, a bit like the plain but more interesting older sister of the snooty big city girl that had moved in to town to be with the beautiful people. Sure, the younger one gets all the attention and action but if you want a long term commitment then stick with the sister who's been around a bit - in a good way of course. (Don't get me wrong I love the bar in Fontainas, but they are a little bit like chalk and cheese.) It's an interesting bar, the floor is a checkerboard of black and white, and its position on a street corner means it has an irregular, disjointed shape. And it's small, very small...

But small can mean cozy or cramped and this is definitely cozy. Timber furniture, brick walls and chalk boards complete the look and it was to these chalk boards that our eyes were drawn. Chez Moeder Lambic has a relatively small but excellent tap selection and an excellent bottle selection including many rarities and hard to get imports. So after a quick glance at the bottle selection on the chalk board above the bar it was to the taps we went first.

I went for the Mont Saleve Black Indians that tasted of rich and creamy cocoa. I alsosampled my companions beer, Brasserie de Bellevaux Black had a rich flavour of fishy coke - not as unpleasant as it sounds - and Ganstaller Brau Golden Frankincense Myrrh, a dry beer with a nice orange marmalade quality.

We were enjoying our beers, conscious of the time mind you, and I was looking once again at the long chalk board over the bar...

And there it was - roughly written and without pomp, fanfare, underlining or multiple astrerixes - Struise Black Albert.

You see I had read about Albert before. I had tried to drink him before. I had tried to buy him before but he was always this just out of reach - or out of stock. Questions entered my head. How could I have missed it when first I looked? Had it magically appeared? Surely it would be different this time and I would get to try it? Hopefully? Maybe? Perhaps?

Our hurried waiter returning fleetingly to our table so I asked for Albert in an almost resignated way, assuming it would be out of stock or he would laugh at me in a way that suggested I was unworthy of such a beer, with my rotund physical attributes, scraggy beard and bad dress sense... But wait, maybe that's 'The Look' that's required?  Like a visual password to open the fridge of happiness so to speak. He said nothing to either confirm of deny this, he just took my order plus my companions' and scurried off.

My Holy Grail of beers arrived with very little aplomb and no fanfare, and it was served with the same flourish as my fellow travelers' selection. Perhaps it wasn't as good as I'd heard? I'd been here before with other beers...

Well, what can I say... Only that yes, it is all it's cracked up to be.

And then some.

It's rich and sweet like alcoholic treacle and it hides it 13% abv very well. Too well perhaps, as it was easier to drink that I thought it could be. My companions were suitably impressed with it too and I think the might have even suffered from a little beer envy. This was possibly one of the best beers I have EVER tasted.


The Orval like Li P'tit Gayoule and the Cuvee Alex le Rouge, a sour licorice porter, that my friends had, which were great by the way, paled into insignificance compared to my Black Albert.

But time was running out and we needed to get back to our hotel to shower and revitalise ourselves for the night ahead. We thanked the bar man, promising to return later. (We didn't get back though...)

We hadn't even had a chance to try the food, which I presume from the chalkboard menu was the fantastic cheese and charcuterie that I remembered from my previous visit.

So it was with a mix of elation and regret we headed back towards the city centre and our hotel. It took us half an hour to walk back and apart from an animated argument I had with a driver who had the nerve to beep his little horn at me while I crossed at a green-manned pedestrian crossing (That ended lamely when I had to curtail my language because I saw he had kids in the back of his car.), we arrived back at our hotel safe and sound with my mood lifted ... and with Bobby Womack still singing in my head.

'Across 110th Street
Pushers won't let the junkie go free...'

(Visited 13th September 2014)