Friday, 30 December 2016

Travel: Notes from Ghent - Blue Birds

If you stand on St. Michael's Bridge in Ghent when it's dark - carefully avoiding getting poleaxed with a selfie-stick or boom mic from the tourists and film crews that seem to a permanent feature of the structure - and gaze to your left past St Michael's Never-Open-Church and Ghent Universities' Het Pand you will see one of the most striking artistic light installations I have ever seen...

View looking towards St. Michael's Bridge
By taking the steps down from the bridge and walking along Predikherenlei you can get a closer look at this master-piece, indeed the view (above) from the bridge on Jakobijnenstraat is probably the best place to appreciate it from, as it takes in St. Michael's Bridge and the beautiful old buildings on Graslei in the background.

It's unimaginatively but accurately called the Blue Birds but its full title is 'Les Oiseaux de Mr Maeterlinck' by the French creative studio Pitaya. It references a story called 'The Blue Bird' by Maurice Maeterlinck - who was born in the city - to commemorate his Nobel Prize for Literature. It was originally a part of Gent's 2012 Light Festival but was then bought by the municipality and is now a permanent installation.

The origami-like birds seem to be frozen in startled flight from their tree, and their reflection in the canal - enhanced by the odd ripple - adds another dimension of movement and depth to the work. They are mesmerising, elegant and vibrant, and perhaps worthy of a trip to Ghent in themselves.

It is stunning ... and I could have looked at it for ages...

But the thoughts of food and imbibing in what is surely Belgium's best city eventually dragged me away...

View from Predikherenlei


Thursday, 15 December 2016

History: Guinness's Small Cask vs Hogshead in 1842

Carlow in 1842 was a busy and prosperous place. The streets were full day and night with shoppers and travellers from the excellent coach system, and the barges that travelled regularly on the Barrow river, hauling products from Dublin, Waterford and all points in between.

The shops in particular stocked a fine array of teas, coffees, exotic fruits, meat and spices ... and beer, spirits and wines of course. Henry Birkett's grocery store was positioned in a fine location on the southern end of Dublin Street, close to where it intersected with Tullow Street at Market Cross, where most of those who lived or visited the town past through on a daily basis.

His customers we can presume were many of the landed gentry that owned the best houses in and around the town, and those customers appeared to have a problem with the their Guinness double stout porter. It appears that they weren't impressed with hassle of bottling it, and were losing too much during the messy process. So Henry decided on an enterprising plan to bottle the beer for them instead, thus insuring he keeps his sales of porter, and made a few more shillings in the process.

To let his customers know of this service he decides to place an advertisement in the local paper - The Carlow Sentinel:

As you can see, as well as promoting his bottling service he makes some bold claims about the quality of hogshead versus small casks, claiming that the former 'is always superior' to the latter. Would a larger barrel of porter travel and store better than a smaller one? Hogsheads would be less likely to suffer temperature fluctuations but how else could they affect the beer? Was he receiving older small casks perhaps?

Either way his comments did not go unnoticed by Edward Byrne, who I assume* was the local distributor for Guinness and the following week this rebuttal of the accusations appeared in the paper.

But it seems that Henry stuck to his guns, as the original advertisement appeared on the front page with Guinness's defence of its beer at the bottom of the page, and the same advert appeared for a few weeks afterwards.

Whether it was just a perceived difference on his part or not, it appears that Henry had enough of an issue with it to have it put down in print...

And one wonders if it was, like with so many a present day beer drinker, tainted by other influences?

[Thanks again to the local history room in Carlow library]


*I am aware of its offspring...

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Travel: Germany Epilogue - Airport Snobs & Aged Doppelbocks

Waiting patiently at a checkout...



'Oh, hello. Just this please.' I place a bottle on the counter.

'That is not pils.' He says in a Teutonic accent. I get sniffed at...

I hate getting sniffed at.

'Er, I know.'

'This is a strong beer.' He holds it up to my eye level, tapping the bottle with manicured finger nails.

'Yes ... I know.'

'You can not drink it like a normal beer.' A finger is waggled at me, as if I'm a bold child.

'I know. Can I just buy it please?'

'I suppose so ... but do not open it here.' He looks me up and down taking in my dishevelled appearance, which is my default look to be fair.

I pay.

'You obviously don't need it wrapped.' The sniff again and bottle is shoved toward me with two fingers...

Then he gazes past me and pats down his overly perfect hair, picks a piece of lint from his emmaculate black shirt and turns his back, to do something noteworthy to caviar or something French and bubbly.

The above interaction took place in The Caviar and Champagne Emporium of Snooty Service or something like that in a German airport, and prompted me to utter a slightly high pitched 'Harumph', grab my bottle from the counter and march indignantly away muttering about beer and food snobs and hoping that the next bottle of champagne the guy opened took his eye out.

Or at least ruined his hair...

This started because wanted to bring back a beer from my Wiesbaden and Mainz trip and as usual there was nothing amongst the whisk(e)ys, wines and liqueurs in the airport's duty free or whatever it's now called. I had spotted the above establishment and took a chance that they might have a local beer or two. The had a few bottles hidden in the back of a fridge and the Lahnsteiner Martinator I spotted was localish, and as it ended in 'ator' it seemed a safe bet as something that might appeal to me. I presumed it would be a doppelbock or something close given its 8% abv but either way I just wanted a souvenir to bring home and perhaps have at Christmas ... but after all of that I forgot to have it then and kept putting off opening it, never finding a suitable moment.

Almost 12 months later I find the beer lying forlornly at the salad drawer of the fridge surrounded by wrinkled carrots and a disturbing blue substance that may have been cheese in a previous existence. I'm heading off on a Christmas trip again in a few days time so I thought I might as well crack it open now. It is 5 days past its best-before date so I am not hoping for freshness...

But it's very lively, with a big fluffy head creeping up over the top of the glass.

I took a big gulp...

I tasted ginger at first and then a little clove, then came a big sweet rush of honey as the softness of the beer coated my mouth and when that slowly receded there remained a slight hint of something fruity like sweet glacé cherries. There was little or no discernible bitterness, so the hops had either dropped out over time or were well blended with the other flavours.

Perhaps time and my fridge were kind to the beer but for whatever reasons I really enjoyed it, although I do feel that my tasting notes were sprinkled with fairydust, laden with lebkuchen crumbs and glühwein essence...

But that guy was right in fairness, it's not a pils.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

History: Carlow's Lost Breweries - The Story so Far...

My Tuesday mornings have become predictable...

At 9am I grab a coffee at the optimistically - but in truth accurately - named Tea & Coffee World on Castle Street in Carlow town. It helps focus my mind for the task in hand as this is one of the sites of the town's lost breweries, and it's ironic that I still get to enjoy a brew here ... albeit with more caffeine and less alcohol. They stock a wonderful range of coffees that I've started to work my way through and tag on Twitter with #coffeeticking - and they stock a huge range of teas too of course. (Ironically my other haunt is across the river at The Lazy River Cafe in Graigue at the site of another local brewery ... and they do great poached eggs and bacon!)

With my coffee fix swirling through various parts of my body I walk 3 minutes up the street to the local library and get ushered politely up the stairs to the local study room where I start up the microfilm viewer and load up a newspaper reel. I get my eyes in focus - my newly acquired glasses don't seem to work on a pixelated screen - and trawl through the columns looking for keywords such as 'Beer', 'Brewery','Distillery' or any other brain-imbedded keywords that cause me to pause my scroll and click on the zoom button.

I've become an organic search engine...

I started this research last March after a seeing a video on old Dublin breweries by The Beer Nut on The Irish Craft Beer Show and some correspondence on old Irish breweries with Barry Masterson ... and something that I thought would take a few weeks to compile has become a drawn out affair, and perhaps a labour of love/hate. There are days when I find nothing, and these can be a bit defeatist and deflating, but generally I find some nugget of information or at worst get sidetracked by other unrelated information that catches my eye.

But I havent given up and nor do I intend to, as I currently have 3 folders of information from various sources such as the aforementioned papers but also from commercial directories, various books and a few other online resources. Some of these are questionable - and require further research - but at least they are providing me with a world of information about the breweries in Carlow that existed in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. And so from having just a vague knowledge about two I now have names of breweries and brewers, what they brewed and their approximate locations.

From talking to local historians and contact with the local museum it seems that this kind of research has never been attempted before for the town and the information I am recovering has never seen the light of day, and possibly never would ...  and this keeps me motivated every time I spend fruitless hours on research that turns up very little concrete evidence.

But here are a few snippets of the information I have recovered so far...

  • I knew that there was a brewery where the town hall now stands but in 1849 during the famine it was closed, used by The Guardians of the Poor as a workhouse for 661 girls and had just 2 school mistresses.

  • The Bridewell Lane brewery changed hands on a number of occasions, and at one time had a 'Mr. Arthur Darcy late of Anchor Brewery in Dublin' employed as head brewer, when it was called the Shamrock Brewery. I doubt any Carlow people knew a brewery of this name existed in the town...
  • What about the aforementioned brewery on Castle Street which was sold after the illfated 1798 rebellion in the town when the owner was forced to sell up and leave the country in haste, having been implicated in the uprising? It was news to me anyway...
  • In Graigue, just across the river from Carlow town, there was an impressive distillery that was producing almost 40,000 gallons of spirits in 1828 and had capacity for over twice that when it was sold 1840.
  • There was a brewery on - probably - the same site as the above distillery that was producing 'Brown Stout Porter, Stout Ale, Pale Ale (Bitter) [&] Table Beer in 1862.

  • There was an attempt to set up 'The Carlow Brewery Company Ltd.' in 1863 on the Graigue site. (This failed to materialise, and I have a listing of the equipment in the older brewery it was to redevelop when it finally went bankrupt in 1865, but that's not the end of its story...
  • I have breweries and brewers listed on Tullow Street, Burn-Street[sic], Chapel Lane and Dublin Street that need research and corroboration.
  • Plus information on the Irish barley and malting trade, the effect of the Total Abstinence Society on brewing, trade on the Barrow river, imported beers for sale in the town from Dublin, Waterford, Enniscorthy, Mountmellick, Drogheda and beyond.

Plus I still have a lot of information to dig through, disseminate and record before I can produce anything of real note or interest.

What will I do with this information? I'm not sure at this point, as I still haven't found the exact endpoint of some of the breweries, not to mention the beginnings...

I guess you will all have to wait and see.

As will I...


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

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Travel: Christmas Market, Wiesbaden, Germany - Sated Senses, Steam and Sustenance

The spectacular living Poinsettia Tree in the Kurhaus, Wiesbaden

I'm not a big Christmas fanatic...

In fact I have a slight Scrooge-like attitude to all the spending and nonsense that's associated with the so-called festive period. This is probably due to spending too long in retail, purchasing and then selling all the shiny Christmas tat that people feel obliged to cover every surface of their house in at that time of year.

But if I'm being honest then I must admit that there are parts I enjoy too, such as seeing how much kids enjoy Christmas, the chance to unashamedly cook goose, wear loud jumpers and play with lasers, LEDs, fibre optics and other ways of lighting up the house and causing my hair to stand on end.

The other big Christmassy thing I do is visiting European Christmas markets, and it's something I really look forward to every year. It's probably because of my deep seated wanderlust, combined with all of the new sights and sounds of course but it's also because a good market waylays your other senses too. The taste of new food, the smell of various roasting meats, or spiced aromas of Christmas tipples ... and the feeling of being wrapped up snuggly in folds of cotton and wool, mingling with my own layer of bacon-laden fat.

But I tend to shy away from the more traditional Christmas market destinations in Germany such as Cologne, Berlin, Stuttgart and Munich and instead try to seek out places off the beaten track, as I hope that these will be slightly less commercial(!), cheaper and most importantly more interesting than the larger ones. I prefer markets that are more local than touristy, which I know is tinged with irony given I am a tourist..

This means that I've seen Düsseldorf, Augsburg, Hamburg - which was a big one admittedly - amongst others, and now Wiesbaden - pronounced 'veece-bah-den'. I visited Vienna too but it was too large for a short trip and although I enjoyed it immensely, I regretted too much the things I had missed ... but vowed to get back there again.

Wiesbaden wouldn't be first on many people's list of Christmas market destinations but that was one of the appealing things of course. It also helped that it is easily and quickly accessible from Frankfurt airport, as a key part of these trips is finding somewhere with early flights in and late flights out to make the most of my precious few days. It's not full of the traditional wood framed house one expects from certain parts of Germany and instead is a pleasant and striking mish-mash of neo-gothic, baroque and other classically flouncy styles.

Okay, I won't bore you with too much detail but here are a few photo highlights from the trip with a few notes...

Marktkirche - An imposing and dramatic brownstone edifice in the centre of the city.

A beautiful art nouveau mural on Bahnhofstraße close to our hotel. It's great to see this type of accessible art sneak into Irish cities too like Limerick and Waterford.

A fantastic food market with a great range of unusual and colourful produce. I'd love it on my doorstep!

Nice brunch in the trendy  Du & Ich - Focaccia with a bottle of Hamburg's finest Astra Urtyp with its mild but bitterly acrid taste.

A Giant cuckoo clock outside a shop whose staff followed us around as if we were shoplifters! Needless to say we bought nothing in the place but I had fun picking stuff up and walking around with it before putting it back on a different shelf, much to the annoyance of said staff.

The remains of some Roman - and not-so-Roman - ruins tucked up a side street, interesting viewing tower too.

One of the many gorgeous buildings dotted around  the city.

We took a break in Der Andechser in the Ratskeller under the Neues Rathaus. I enjoyed a very nice Andechser Dunkel with an ubiquitous pretzel -  my dunkel tasted of bitter malt and ginger, with an acidic-metallic quality and a dash of cola perhaps. The very cool bottling machine sits in the entrance hall, ignored by all but me it seems!

Neues Rathaus and Marktkirche looking elegant on a winter day, viewed from Warmer Damm.

Church doors with the now familiar brownstone of this area of germany.

The fantastic thermal spring on Kochbrunnen Platz. This also explains why we spotted steam escaping from manhole covers around the city, and the rotten egg smell that lingers in this spot!

Bäckerbrunnen - A nice old fashioned bar where I had a very drinkable Diebels Altbier with its very mild ginger and digestive biscuit flavour. 

Extremely well merchandised christmas shops with an obvious slant towards European tastes.

Sternschnuppenmarkt -  The Twinkling Star Christmas Market was packed every evening and full of the usual foods, novelties and decorations. It sprawls in a good way along a number of streets but is easy to get around and well laid out.

Beer and a burger in the excellent Nassau Burger & Beef Company - They stock both German micro beers and a few foreign imports. Its a rustic spot with loads of wood and very friendly staff. I had a Wiesbadener Pale Ale that was mild for the style but extremely tasty with hints of cardamom and ginger biscuit too. I followed this with a Hanscraft & Co. Nizza Wheat Pale Ale  that had a lovely balance of clove and citrus with a bacon-like aftertaste. I paired it with a bacon jam burger cooked medium with the most fantastic fries. The burger itself was nicely pink but a little bit over seasoned, even for me. I finished up on Hanscraft & Co. Backbone Splitter - one of my favourite beers of the trip, bitter as hell with a big kick of spicy grapefruit hops. 

Dunkel in Weihenstephaner on Taunusstraße - It tasted of sweet barley sugar and clove, with brown soda bread. I was also given the Possmann Frau Rauscher Speierling cider by someone who hated it. It was extremely bitter after the beer but really refreshing, reminding me of a Belgian Oude Gueuze!

Maisel & Friends in Spital Bar (Now Closed) - We shared these three Maisel & Friends bottles - The Bavarian Ale was all mandarin oranges, clove and funky cheese with a chewy-sweet finish. The Chocolate Bock tasted of of cocoaed Bovril with maybe a hint of smoked bacon -  rich and chewy too with tons of body. The Pale Ale had a whiff of old cheese with some lemongrass and perhaps custard cream biscuits. All three were excellent, as the suited the mood and company. We also bought a couple of those cool glasses to bring home!

My final morning breakfast of bacon and eggs - naturally - in La Maison du Pain.

The fantastic walk way under Gustav-Stresemann-Ring near Wiesbaden Hauptbahnhof - This reminded me so much of the Chagall stained glass windows in Mainz that I posted about here.

So that's a quick photo reel of some of my highlights of Wiesbaden. It's certainly an excellent city to visit for its Christmas market and makes a change from the timbered old-style german towns we normally frequent. It's easy to get to and you'll have plenty to do, we missed out on a couple of places such as Baron von Richthofen's grave and the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Elizabeth to mention just two! Don't forget Mainz and Frankfurt are close too...

You'll find more information on the city here.

Auf Wiedersehen!


Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Fine Art of Well Timed Travel

I would never class myself as a seasoned foreign traveller (... pickled maybe?) but I've certainly fell beneath the spell of wanderlust over the years, and found myself on a few planes, boats and trains. Some of these trips were so-called sun holidays lasting a week or two but over the last 10 years or so my travel has become short-burst city visits. I try to fit all my 'must-dos' into a stupidly small amount of time, like squeezing a size 9 foot into a size 8 brogue, while wearing too-thick socks - it's possible but requires planning, persistence and perhaps a small amount of pain!

Over time I've perfected this shock and awe (... and occasionally, 'Aw!') method of travel to a point where I have formulated a few golden rules that suit my demeanour, budget and my beer-food-travel wants when I feel the tug of travel.

What I've learned can be broken down into one main point...


Time is Your Enemy!

So, how do we combat it? Well here are a few quick pointers:
  • Stay in the city centre, or close to the sights you want to see. Even if it costs a little more you'll save time, and feel more a part of the city itself. Think of the three Cs ... cheap, clean and central when looking for accommodation.
  • Fly to an airport that has early flights inward and late flights outward, this will give you a few extra hours to see that last museum or gallery.
  • Get up early! An obvious one but often disregarded. My favourite time to walk a city is early Sunday morning. Sure you get more rubbish stuck to your shoes but you see the city in a different light, often literally.
  • Avoid long sit-down meals. Graze instead in good bars, from street food vendors and at decent fast-food places.
  • Download offline maps of the city to your app and highlight your must-sees, these you can access while away without incurring costs. Also, make sure the place you want to see is at that location - streetview apps are your friend here.
  • Note museum, gallery, restaurant and bar opening times via their web pages, Google isn't always up to date, and many places close on Mondays too. Check before you plan your days.
  • If travelling as a group, an airport transfer can cost less than public transport and get you to and from your hotel quickly, depending on your location and the airport's. And these days pricing and booking can be done online.

Those are the main time-based pointers I can think of, but here are a few other things to remember:
  • Ignore the actual ratings on travel, restaurant and bar review sites but read any relevant 'facts' when choosing somewhere to go. Immediately discard and very high or very low ratings.
  • Bring a shoulderable handbag/manbag to keep your notebook and pencil (If you're a blogger or writer...), water, phone powerpack, and a change of shirt, plus plasters, deodorant, wipes, etc. - be prepared!
  • Wear practical, light walking shoes/trainers with cushioned insoles, and comfy unrestrictive clothes.

There you go, those are the main ones but there are others that I've probably forgotten...

And don't do anything stupid like drink too much, especially without a wingman, or lose your bearings late at night. Be safe and relatively sensible ... and most importantly, enjoy your trip!


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Recipe: Pulled Pork Shoulder - Real, Cheap, Slow Food...

I thought it was time to share a favourite recipe of mine, although one that I have changed - and continue to adjust in different ways - over the years.

I've bought pork shoulder from the same local butchers for a long time, and I buy it there because of the quality, price and convenience as much as - logically - the local aspect. Not all butchers have it in stock but most should source it for you easily.

As I say, the recipe has changed a bit over the years and I've cooked it on the barbecue and in a slow cooker, but this is the oven method, as it will suit more people. As ever, remember I am not a trained cook so use common sense when handling food and follow best practice when cooking anything.


1.5-2kg  Pork Shoulder - deboned, and if it's tied up untie it.
1 Apple - Sliced
1 Onion - Sliced
1 Garlic Bulb - Split and cloves slightly crushed
6 sprigs of Rosemary or 2 tsp of dried
I tsp of Caraway Seed
1 tsp of Fennel Seed
1 tsp of Juniper Berries
1 tsp of Yellow Mustard Seed
1 tbsp of Cider Vinegar

1 tbsp of Mustard
1 tbsp of Tomato Sauce
1 tbsp of Barbecue Sauce
1 tbsp Brown Sugar
1 tsp of Smoked Paprika


Anything else you fancy!


  1. Set the oven to 150°C.
  2. Make a bed with the apple, onion and garlic in a large, deep roasting tray and place the shoulder, skin side up, on top.
  3. Put good splash of water in the tray, enough to cover the 'vegetables' half way up then add the cider vinegar, caraway, fennel, juniper, mustard and rosemary into the water.
  4. Season the pork with salt and pepper, and cover with two layers of tinfoil. Place in the oven and cook for at least 4 and preferably 6 hours.(Check when cooked that the inside temperature is at least 185-190°C.)
  5. Remove tinfoil and put the shoulder on a rack on a new tray, remove the skin and place on another tray. Place both in the oven at 200°C for 20-30mins until the shoulder starts to brown a little and the separated skin is crisp and blistering.
  6. While this is happening heat the tray that has the vegetables, spices and liquor on a hob until it starts to boil. Mash the vegetables and add the mustard, tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, smoked paprika and brown sugar, stirring constantly. Add more water, or pork - or chicken - stock if necessary to prevent the tray from burning.
  7. Sieve contents into a saucepan and boil on the hob, reducing to a thick gravy consistency, skimming off any fat. Adjust flavour to suit your palate by adding more of the core ingredients.
  8. Remove pork from oven and let sit for 15 to 20 mins, then shred using two forks. (I cheat by cutting the beef into large, thick slices first!) Discard any large pieces of fat.
  9. Place meat in a large saucepan and add the reduced, hot gravy. Let sit for a few minutes.
  10. Remove crackling and let it cool, season to taste.

That's it!

Serve whatever way you like, but I prefer it in a bread roll or or a wrap with mustard coleslaw and bacon jam, with a serving of roast veg, stuffing and the crackling on the side.

It's great the next day in a pie too, just add peas and parboiled potatoes. (Make up a little stock and add it to the mix to keep it moist.)

Kids love it on a sambo for lunch too with tomato sauce and mustard!

It should do you for 4 to 5 meals at the very least, just be sensible about its storage, so it works out great value for money.

Enjoy your cheap meat!

Woo hoo!


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

History: Potato Beer? A Whole New Meaning to 'Mashing In'...

At the risk of overdoing the whole beer history thing here's another curious one that caught my eye during my research...

'NEW BEER FROM POTATOE STALKS - The progress of M. Kircoff, for converting the amylalecus faculae (starch) into sugar, by means of sulphuric acid, has already received some useful applications, but the most useful, is doubtless, the conversion of this sugar into Beer, mingles in a proper quantity of water, set in fermentation and hop'd according to the method of Brewers. This syrup furnishes a beer which is light, brisk, strong, and of an agreeable savor; this refreshing and healthy beverage may be prepared any where; it requires neither mill nor expensive vessels, so that the cultivator and artisan may make it in their dwellings. Already two manufacturers are employed in preparing it in quantities, and the estimate that it will cost them only a sentine the livre. (1/4 d the gallon.) - Journal de Parmacie'

[Carlow Morning Post – 1818 via Carlow Library Local Studies Room]

A hopped potato stalk beer? Any brewers try this or fancy giving it a shot?

Not sure about the whole sulphuric acid bit though...


Wednesday, 12 October 2016

History: Brewing a 'Scotch Ale' in 1837 - More Questions Than Answers?

I came across this today in the library and felt it was postworthy...

'SCOTCH ALE - I would also say a few words on the method of brewing beer, lately introduced from Scotland, which English farmers may find it convenient to adopt. The wort is made and also boiled with the hops, in the usual manner, adding three fourths of an ounce of ising-glass to every hogshead of wort; but instead of cooling it, and adding the yeast to produce fermentation, the hot liquor is put immediately into the cask, and in some days it cools, and then ferments in a peculiar manner, without the addition of any ferment, and in the usual time is found to be converted into an excellent liquor, quite fine and mellow. I am told it generally turns out to be superior to beer brewed in the usual way, at the same time there is a saving of one-fourth part of the malt, three bushels producing as good a cask of beer as four by the old method. - Correspondent of the Buck's Gazette'

[Carlow Sentinel – 1837 via Carlow Library Local Studies Room]

Notwithstanding the fact that I am a not-very-successful homebrewer with a poor understanding of fermentation, I have a few issues with this piece...

Would the near-boiling heat of the wort not kill off any yeast - or other fermentation bacteria - in the barrel and therefore produce a sterile environment? Could yeast re-enter the barrell somehow?

Would this be a Brett, Pedio or Lacto strain?

How would this method actually reduce the quantity of malt required?

Allowing that this is a repost, of a repost, of possible hearsay, from 1837 perhaps something got lost along the way. I'm also aware that this is not the 'normal' definition of a Scotch Ale and I assume here it just means an ale from Scotland ...

I'd be interested in any comments anyone might have on the process and how it could work.


Tuesday, 4 October 2016

History: 'Spontaneous Combustion of Drunkards' - Bloody, Burnt & Blue, with a Twist...

My now regular trawl through the papers in the local library throws up some interesting snippets of information every now and again that distract me from my research. Here is one example that seems too bizarre not to post.

It brought forth images of some kind of vampirical sambuca-like shots with a legion of bloodsuckers lining up to drain the poor rum gorged victim.

Is Bloody, Burnt & Blue a good name?

'SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION OF DRUNKARDS – It appears well authenticated that a confirmed drunkard is as combustible as a powder house, and as liable, every moment of his life, to blow up. His safety only depends upon the contingency of not coming in contact with some material of ignition. Mr. Hanson, a student of medicine at New York, lately tried a curious experiment. A fellow who had drunk two gallons of rum in the five preceding days, came staggering into the office where Mr. H. was a student. Mr. H. told him he was in danger of exploding by spontaneous combustion and persuaded him to be bled, in order to avoid such a tragedy. He was bled, and a lighted match being applied, the blood burnt blue, and continued to burn freely for 30 seconds.'

[Carlow Sentinel – 1836 via Carlow Library Local Studies Room]

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Opinion: Poor Taste?

I've learned a great deal from homebrewing.

I've learned I'm not very good at it for starters, but I've also learned patience, timing, extremes of cleanliness - and that I really, really need to use less Sorachi Ace when I brew.

But I've learned another valuable thing too, that beer tasting and therefore opinion-voicing for me is more than just subjective, it's deeply, deeply flawed.

In short your palate can't be trusted.

Or maybe it's just me...

But consider any batch of homebrew ... treated equally, bottled separately and usually consumed over a relatively short period. Although the general flavours - or serious defects - remain the same there can be a huge gap in your opinion from bottle to bottle. This can depend on what you have eaten, what you drank before, what humour your in, where you are drinking, and who you are drinking with, to name just a few tastebud-disrupters ... and it's not just those tastebuds you need to blame it's your general mood and that of those around you.

Sometimes you hate it, sometimes you love it and sometimes its just ... okay.

If this is true for homebrew then it surely must be the same for all beers? Therefore all this notetaking, tweeting and rating is all rubbish, as we could taste the same beer in an hour, a day, a week or next year and have a completely different opinion ... perhaps not on certain obvious flavour notes but certainly on whether we liked it or not, and how much we liked or hated it. Especially if tasted blind...

That taste can even be affected by a comment someone makes:

   'It's not as good as it used to be.'

   'They have a new brewer.'

   'They're owned by a macro now.'

   'It's coming from the east coast now you know?.'

   'Do you smell cabbage?'

I'm prepared to concede that there are a very small minority who have some kind of cyborg-like tastebuds and brains, which are not affected by a thousand different distractions, but those people are very, very, very rare...

The rest of us are deeply flawed in how we even mentally rate beers, especially after only one glass, pint or bottle...

So burn your notebooks, delete your blogs and remove your apps, it's all pointless! Just drink the beer, enjoy it or don't...

But try it again next week...



Thursday, 15 September 2016

Recipe: Naturally Fermented Ginger Beer - Getting the Bug

It all started with a book...

I had come across food fermentation at Savour Kilkenny last year and was intrigued by the idea, so when I spotted this book for sale on a trip away earlier this year it seemed like a good starting/continuation point.

For me fermentation isn't really about the much touted health benefits, it's about taste and my need to experiment with food, drink and processes. It was about how these wonderful and varied bacteria breed, interact with and - hopefully - improve food, changing it into some more tasteful in the true sense, and something more interesting and complex too.

The book deals with every aspect of food fermentation but right now I'm focussing to the drink side of the book, as the thought of having a naturally fermented beverage was appealing ... and ginger beer seemed like a good starting point...

The first step is to produce a wild yeast/bacteria starter called a Ginger Bug. This involves grating 5cm of ginger root - including the skin. A tablespoon of this along with a tablespoon of sugar is then added to 250ml of water in a sterilised lidless jar. Cover the jar with muslin or similar and add an extra spoon of both per day for 5-6 days, mixing well. Leave it out of the light at room temperature.

It should be ready in a week or so, there should be plenty of small fine bubbles breaking the surface when you stir the mixture.

My first batch didn't ferment at all but the second batch with organic ginger did, presumably it still had the necessary bacteria on the skin whereas the regular ginger had been cleaned or irradiated?

Then it was time to make the ginger beer itself, for this I varied a bit from the recipe in the book, as I often do!

20cm of Grated Ginger Root
4 Litres of Water
500g of Sugar
8 Crushed Juniper Berries
8 Crushed Green Cardamom Pods
8 Crushed Black Peppercorns
100ml strained ginger bug liquid

  • Add the ginger and all of the spices to 2 litres of water and bring to a gentle simmer for 30 mins.
  • Sieve the liquid into a larger saucepan and leave aside.
  • Add the other 2 litres of water to the saucepan with the ginger and spices, and simmer again for 30 mins, add this strained liquid to the bigger saucepan and discard the ginger.
  • Mix the sugar with the ginger liquid until dissolved.
  • Allow the mix to cool to room temperature before adding to a sterilised demi-john.
  • Add 100ml of strained ginger bug liquid to the demijohn and shake and swirl gently before adding a stopper and airlock

(I had much of what I needed from my homebrewing escapades but your local brew shop should sort you out for equipment.)

Then you need to wait, and then wait some more...

Mine took an age to get started, and the whole process took 3 months from bug making to bottle opening!

When the airlock stops bubbling (and if you're lucky enough to have a refractometer you can more accurately check when it's really done) pour the liquid into sterilised 500ml bottles and add a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar to each one, cap, shake and leave at room temperature for a couple of weeks to carbonate before placing in a fridge to arrest the fermentation process.

(Warning: This is a naturally fermented product so beware of exploding bottles! Keep them secure and safe for the warm conditioning phase - use common sense during the whole process!)

So what does it taste like?

The wild bacteria give it a refreshing sour twang and the spices and ginger combine to give sharpness and heat. It ended up at 3.5% abv so it's not overly alcoholic and it's easy to drink. Carbonation is a little low but pleasant enough, I might leave the bottles back out for another two weeks to see will it increase.


Well next time I might add more spices, as they don't come through as strong as I'd like - especially the juniper. I might also add honey or brown sugar to give another layer of complexity and body too.

Maybe some chili?!

But overall I'm happy with my experiment - and can thoroughly recommend that book!

Happy fermenting...


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Travel: Mainz, Germany - Part 2 - Bibles, Brews and Feeling Blue

(Part 1 is here)

My love of books, and reading in general, has influenced my life since I was a kid. One of the first books I got seriously immersed in was Tolkien's The Hobbit, which led me on to The Lord of the Rings and then on to the brilliant, melancholy-inducing and often ignored stories in The SilmarillionTerry Pratchett too, still gives me huge entertainment on rereads, and I got my kicks from Bob Shaw in the past, although his books were hard to source.

And not just books of course, as I grew up in the heyday of the weekly comic. I evolved from The Beano to Tiger, and then on to drooling over 2000AD's Halo Jones in my teens, drawn by the brilliant Ian Gibson. (My only other print related crush was -  perhaps bizarrely - Estella in Great Expectations, which perhaps tells a tale in itself.)

My tastes changed over the years and at this point I'm reading Bill Bryson repeatedly and letting a deeply disturbing John Connolly haunt my thoughts and dreams in a thoroughly creepy fashion with his novels and short stories ... and there are many others too.

So with this in mind you can imagine my interest in the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, the city where Johannes Gutenberg was born and died, as this was a shrine to one of the greatest innovations and perhaps innovators of all time. Like many inventors I'm pretty sure it's better to say he improved on the the idea of using movable type and the printing press more so than inventing it. Either way he was responsible for revolutionising how books were made and therefore who could access - and learn from - them. Gutenberg and his 'invention' influenced the thought process of many and in the long run probably inspired, directly and indirectly, more people than any other inventor in history in my opinion.

My other travelling companions decided to head off and do some shopping so it was just myself and my other half who headed across to the east side of the cathedral to the museum. It was founded in 1900 in honour of Gutenberg and has since been expanded to include all type(!) of printing methods and examples from ancient to modern times. We excitedly headed in and paid the entrance fee, eager to learn more and enthusiastic to see the history of printing and of Gutenberg himself.

But my was it hard going...

I love the idea of recording information and disseminating to the greater world and I have always had an interest in how printing came to be. I'm not knowledgeable enough to know how and where the concept of writing, painting, stamping, imprinting, etc. began but this place goes a long way to answering that, although obviously the main focus is on the Gutenberg and post Gutenberg era of printing. My downfall was the amount of information, printed texts, images and items on display. Straining to see gorgeous lithographs, interesting books, early newspapers, beer bottle labels, and tons of other printed items take their toll on your eyes, spine and brain until you feel weary and exhausted from doing nothing but ... well ... looking at minute texts, many in languages you can't comprehend, but driven to continue by your interest in the topic.

As fascinating as it all was, they could really do with a bar or café half way through!

But I still really, really enjoyed it all so much. The highlight was getting to see two of Gutenberg's original 42 line bibles from the 1450s. These were the books that started the printing revolution as they were the first to be printed with his moveable type system and the first to be mass produced - relatively speaking, as only 150 were produced. To view the books we headed into a secure, guarded, safe-like room where the bibles along with other rare texts are displayed by spotlight and treated with the reverence they deserve, which is less about their content and more to do with their rarity and actual existence.

It was the highlight in every way of the museum, and although the  actual printing process has moved on from Gutenberg's process the basic concept remains the same.

Ecstatic but tired we wandered on through some more rooms showing printing and script from the Middle and Far East but at this point we were physically and mentally exhausted, and ready for food, rest and a well-earned beer.

(This image of the bible was provided by the museum and is subject to their copyrights and permissions of use.)

We met up with the rest of our crew and headed to the south of the city, back through the altstadt. A short but pleasant walk took us to Eisgrub Bräu on Weißliliengass. It's not the easiest place to find but we soon spotted the sign outside a very pretty building with bags of character, and we wandered across the road and headed inside.

My first impression was that this was very much a sports bar, as there were televisions showing football and plenty of noisy people decked out just like all all other sports fans from every part of the world. We passed beautiful copper kettles to our right on the way in, strategically placed to catch the eye and reinforce that we were in a brew pub. We made our way toward the back and found some seats close to the bar where we were quickly attended to by an efficient member of staff who apologetically informed us that they had just changed their menu and that they hadn't any English versions yet. He gave us English copies of the old menus and promised to guide us through the new menu if we needed it. Tired and thirsty we chose our beers first, with my choice being a Märzen, which arrived quickly in a branded glass.

I would hardly claim to be an expert on the style but this was certainly clean and dryish with a taste of malted milk biscuits and a touch of cane sugar, with sparing hop use ... a fine beer and exactly what I wanted at that point.

The bar area itself was clean and tidy, and surprisingly devoid of customers as most seemed to be eating at tables while engrossed in the match, which I now realised was being played by a local team. This also explained the lively crowd and all the noise!

The whole brewpub was very well laid out - decorated with copper fitting, those midcentury enamel lampshades that have become so popular, and comfortable wooden furniture. The curved ceilings gave the place an intimate feeling and added to its charm and enhanced that 'comfortable' feeling I get when I find a place that syncs with my mood and eclectic taste.

After looking at the menu, and with help from our friendly staff member, we made our choices and chatted for a while. Nige had finally shown up after getting slightly lost but he too was in good form. As the others filled him in on our day so far I went for a self-guided tour of the bar and brewing process, from the aforementioned kettles at the front all the way through to the storage tanks, which appeared to be feeding directly into the taps at the bar. I was surprised by the open fermentors on display, although they are in their own isolated room, as I had just assumed that they would be closed, or at least covered ... but from tasting the beer the system obviously works. After a good nose around I headed back to my table to be greeted by my food...

As you can imagine from the picture I was more than a little disappointed...

I had ordered meatloaf with and egg and potatoes and I had imagined a slice or two of moist, minced pork meatloaf, with a poached or lightly fried egg and some oven roasted potatoes, perhaps some relish and bread on the side - not a fried slice, crispy egg and crinkle chips. The sachets of mustard and ketchup added little to the image.

But looking to my right I saw that my other half had chosen more wisely...

She had picked the smoked sausages which came with gherkin, a gorgeous fresh salad with sweetcorn, brown bread and the seemingly ubiquitous condiment sachets. As often in my life I was filled with food envy, especially when I sampled her meal, as those sausages were tubes of smoky wonderfulness.

To be honest my own meal was okay ... the meatloaf was nicely seasoned and when combined with the chips and a little mustard was actually quite tasty, if a little stodgy.

I ordered another beer to wash this all down and this time went for the Schwarzbier, which tasted of mild, milk chocolate. It was sweet and easy drinking with a fluffy head with very little bitterness - very fresh and enjoyable, an ideal dessert.

Don't be put off by my meal ... this is a nice bar and restaurant. It's lively, interesting and full of character and characters. The beer is fresh and very drinkable, and you can see the brewing process in action. The service was excellent and most importantly we had a great afternoon. My other half even bought me a souvenir glass because ... well ... you know, she's comfortable with my healthy love of glassware.

Time was pressing on and the light was beginning to fade so we made our way out, as I was afraid we would miss out on what I hoped would be one of the highlights of our Mainz trip.

I must admit that I knew very little about Marc Chagall before researching this trip, outside of the fact that he was an 20th century 'modern' artist that dabbled in various media from paint to ceramic to stained glass. I don't plan on outlining his biography here but there has been a lot written about him so a quick web search will tell you more.

St. Stephan's Church to the west of the city, and just a short uphill walk from the brewpub, is the only German church that has stained glass by Chagall. We headed there now as quick as our beer and pork-filled bodies could wobble, in order to see the church while it was still bright outside. The building itself is relatively plain with little ornamentation. Like the Dom this church has seen more than its fair share of damage, so repairs are ongoing and varied. It sits in a good location looking down towards the city centre and the Dom, with the Rhine in the distance.

Walking inside I was immediately struck by the surreal feeling of being underwater, it felt harder to move ... as if someone had pressed the slow-motion button on my body and I was now walking at half my normal speed. The sound of an organ playing a sluggish, morose hymn added to this subaquatic feeling as the sounds reverberated around the building. I sat down and felt more peaceful and relaxed than in any building I had ever been in before, even the organ pipes seemed to be floating in midair. It felt like you could almost reach out and touch the colour blue itself - feel it, capture it and hoard it.

The stained glass windows that were causing this effect were beautiful and ethereal.Words - and certainly not mine - can't really describe properly how wonderful it looked and felt. It was possibly the highlight of that German trip...

But eventually we had to go, and we trooped out the door and made our way back to the train station, full of chatter, emotion and exuberance for a city I had only recently heard of and whose surface we had barely scratched, as we'd missed the Landesmuseum, Kunsthalle and the Zitadelle to name but three.

But it has left some large positive imprints in my mind and memory and if I'm ever back again I'd go back to all these sites, and more too.

I might not order the meatloaf though...


Mainz is easy to get to from Frankfurt city or airport, with a regular and efficient train service. We stayed close by in Wiesbaden, about which I will post soon.

(Apologies for picture quality)