Thursday, 30 November 2017

Drink History: Hop Bitters - For New Life and Vigor!

Here are a three of adverts from the late 19th and very early 20th century, two of which make great claims of the benefits of Hop Bitters...

In this second advert we can see the ingredients listed as 'Hops, Bucha, Mandrake, podophyllin and Dandelion' - all of which are still available today in various forms - but what attracted my attention was the £500 that would be paid to anyone it didn't cure! I wonder did anyone claim it?

Judging from the advert below even our local bottlers got in on the act - without making any such bold claims I might add...

Anyhow, it's all food - or drink - for thought and I think it deserves an airing, I'll return to the topic as soon as I find some more information on it.

Who knows? I might even make some!


(With thanks again to my local library...)

Friday, 24 November 2017

Beer & Whiskey: Did Jameson get it wrong?

(This post relates to free product I received from Jameson - although there's more to it than that - so back out now if that bothers you...)

As I've said previously, I'm not really a whiskey person.

Although I do like the idea of sitting back in my armchair with a nice warming single malt and a pipe, basking in the glow and warmth of an open turf fire with a little bit of vinyl jazz tickling my eardrums, as I read the latest dispatches from abroad with my obedient King Charles asleep at my feet...

Okay, so perhaps that's overkill but the fact is I've never really been exposed to spirits in any meaningful way until recently, and even now a bottle can last me an awful long time, so perhaps my hearts not really in it ... I may need to cancel the spaniel and the load of turf.

Spirits such as whiskey were never something that featured in my past. My parents and grandparents didn't drink much, although allegedly when my great grandfather came back from WW1 with undiagnosed (and unheard of) PTSD he took to whiskey to blank out his past and spent his journey home from the local pub saluting the telegraph poles that were erected along his route, perhaps in tribute to fallen comrades.

I was for a brief time partial to the odd whiskey myself in my younger days when my constitution was better and I needed that warming alcohol hit without the stomach-filling volume of a pint. But in recent years my 'Drink Less, Drink Better' mantra (which I may have stolen from The Beer Nut) has kicked in and although I still enjoy alcoholic beverages, it's more likely to be beer or wine and taken in a different, more analytical and sometimes-social, way where the alcohol content can be an unwanted but necessary part of the consumed liquid.

But I still do buy the occasional bottle of spirits, which are slowly consumed and rarely commented on. Therefore I was surprised to receive a free gratis bottle of Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition a few weeks ago via their marketing company - not that I refused it because, let's face it, I'm not that stupid! (Hush now...)

Anyhow, the whiskey came with a memory stick which contained a blurb about the whiskey and some images ... which I quickly deleted and it's now full of beer and whiskey related history research - cheers Jameson! It also arrived with a can of Franciscan Well Chieftain IPA to pair with the whiskey, as the whiskey was finished in casks that were previously used for flavouring an IPA.

This struck me as a little odd as surely the IPA would mask any hint of hops, which already had to fight for its place on my palate with the whiskey flavours themselves? Nevertheless I did what I was told and sure enough, although they were quite pleasant together they didn't give me the contrast I was looking for ... 

So I went off-piste and ignored Jameson and their silly ideas ... Sure what would they know about whiskey anyway?

I tried drinking the whiskey with one of my all time favourite stouts from Galway Bay Brewing - Buried at Sea. This was better for me, as the contrasting sweet stout brought out the subtle citrus quality of the whiskey. I'm sure other stouts would also work by the way - just differently.

A different night I tried another experiment with a half measure of the IPA Caskmates and the same amount of the older Caskmates Stout Edition of the whiskey, which I'd purchased myself by the way. This was better again as the sharp contrast between the vanilla-like stout edition enhanced the hoppy-citrus notes of the IPA version and vice versa, this part of the experiment impressed me the most.

Lastly, I tried the Stout edition of the whiskey with an IPA and again found this a much better partner, as that contrast in tastes worked much better for me. Again the nice vanilla sweetness of the whiskey enhanced the hops in beer and even bought out a different side to the malts.

So ... where does that leave us? Well for me Jameson did get it wrong...

They should have shipped the IPA edition with a stout and the stout edition with an IPA - but that's just my palate of course - and if you want to pick up the hops in the IPA whiskey in any meaningful way try it after the stouted version.

Then again some people like to match yellow with orange and others like the contrast of yellow with blue ... so maybe you like complements, where I like contrasts...


(Thanks again to Jameson & Co.)

(Responsible Bit: This experiment took place over a couple of weeks, I don't suggest doing it all in one night!)

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Food History: Hams! Hams! Hams! Christmas in Carlow - 1891

As I've mentioned previously, Carlow was a pretty cosmopolitan and prosperous place back in the 1800s and here's a nice advert from 1891 showing the range and variety of food and drink available at this time. Perhaps it's also testament to the sheer number of people who could afford these items within the town environs and in the many Big Houses a little beyond.

And this was just one shop of a few that sold these kind of products ... some lucky local people were going to have a good Christmas that year...

The Carlow Vindicator 1891 - Local Library

Morris's stood on the corner of Burrin Street and Bridewell Lane, on part of the site where the town's hideous post office now lurks. Judging from the maps at this time, it was quite a large establishment - as it would need to be to stock such a range. Calling itself an 'Italian Warehouse' - with the subtitle of 'The Marsala House' with fancy-shmancy script - is a superb piece of marketing exoticism that would appeal to the landed gentry returning from trips abroad back in the day.

I will draw your attention to some of the lines listed:
  • Coffee roasted and ground on site daily
  • Doomvera tea - 'The Tea of the Future' (Nope, I have no clue either...)
  • Whiskey, scotch ... even old Islay malt
  • Old Cognac in wood and 21 year old brandy
  • Large range of champagnes, plus Hock and Moselle wines
  • Gin, rum and liqueurs
  • Guinness's stouts, Bass and Allsopp's ales and Royal Pilsener
  • Fruits and nuts - fresh, tinned, preserved and crystalised
  • Rices, spices, jams and jellies
  • Cossaques [sic] (Christmas crackers), biscuits, chocolates (Cadbury's and Fry's) and other confectionary
  • Meat, fish and cheese ... including Gorgonzola
  • Those special Hams! Hams! Hams! (No turkeys of course...)
...and much more as you can see.

Part of me would love to have seen this place at Christmas ... busy with customers, packages being loaded up for delivery around the town, plus new lines arriving from far flung places...

Perhaps it's no different to shopping in any supermarket now in a way, but my romantic, nostalgic - and possibly naive - side makes me think I'm somehow missing something special, like some kind of food-focussed time-traveller's FOMO.

I'll leave you to mull over the stock with this last bit of 19th century marketing blurb that's stuck on to the end of the advert...

'Whiskey that needs no eulogy.'

What does that even mean?


Friday, 10 November 2017

Travel: Wexford Town - Be Entertained...

Okay, I admit it ... I have a bit of a gra* for Wexford...

I'm not 100% sure what the actual draw is but I can tell you that it started with a visit to Lambert's Bar and Yellowbelly brewery a couple of years ago and grew from that to the point where I try to get down at least twice a year, to lurk in strange corners of the town gazing at walls, doors or windows, drinking quietly in bars or just staring out to sea. Perhaps that's part of the attraction as I have a love of being close to the ocean but an intense fear of water, which means that maybe my psyche might be literally trying to psych me out, daring me to be close to the edge of terrafirma but not in the sea itself.

This time I was down with the other half - and by far my better half (well, she may be reading this...), who is also half Wexican I might add - on a quick overnighter, to relax and have a little alone time, which gets increasingly rare when kids, work and life's various bumps and bruises need attending.

Arriving in town in the early afternoon we checked into our lodgings at Bugler Doyle's and headed for lunch in the aforementioned Simon Lambert & Sons, or Simon's Place as it's also called. It was in the bowels of the cellar here that Yellowbelly beer was born and thrived, outgrowing its cramped surroundings and flexing its prodigious muscles into a bigger, better space just out of town. I had a tour of the cellar on my visit back in 2015 by head brewer Declan Nixon, whose passion for experimentation has birthed a thousand (or so it seems) different beers over the last few years, very few of which haven't appealed to me. Following the various Yellowbellys on Twitter is akin to watching a dysfunctional, manic family argue, joke and express some kind of quasi-love in what is quite frankly a disturbing - if endearing and entertaining - way ... but regardless of that, they produce great beers that rarely disappoint and are very likely to elicit 'Oohs!' and 'Aahs!' from the first sip.

Anyhow, Lambert's also do a very busy trade in lunch and we were fortunate to get a seat, as the place was extremely busy on the saturday we visited  ... luckily I'm not above elbowing little old ladies out of the way if there's a promise of good food and drink. I ordered a salad with chicken, black pudding and a fried egg, which may sound like a strange combination but was exactly what I needed, especially when washed down with a cask pulled Rascal's Wunderbar ... wunderbar indeed! Herself had a tasty looking steak sandwich which mustn't have offended her much, as she left very little of it behind her. I even convinced her to have a Yellowbelly lager instead of her usual - and frankly embarrassing-to-ask-for - Bud ... a minor miracle in itself.

We finally felt guilty about the amount of people looking for seats so we paid up - refusing to make eye contact with the little old ladies we had wrestled for our table - and toddled out into the town, very full and happy with our lunch, drinks and service.

Wexford is great shopping town and we wove our way along the very busy South & North Main Streets past shoppers, tourists and herds of feral-looking teenagers, glancing in the many windows that line the street. We weren't really shopping just browsing but I did end up in a quirky secondhand shop and managed to accidentally buy an old embossed, skittle-shaped beer bottle and get my ear bent by the owner. We wandered on to the old town walls and the gate that once guarded the town dwellers from marauding Carlow men no doubt. I guess the locals take all this for granted - a substantial part of the walls still remain - but when you live in a town that has lost all traces of its walls it makes you appreciate these lumps of rocks and mortar all the more...

Wexford has a long and colourful history which is worth looking into, so I'd suggest when you're finished reading this you delve a little deeper if that's of interest - you won't be disappointed.

We bookended our dinner that evening with return visits to Lambert's where I had a very pleasant McGargle's Toothless Dec brown ale and an absolutely sublime sour saison dry-hopped with Irish hops from Yellowbelly called The Harvest King, my favourite beer of the weekend. (No pints by the way, just half ones - drink less drink better remember?)

Later on in a then much busier bar that was full of the after-show crowds I had Are You Not Entertained?, a full-on double IPA which is exactly what I needed after dinner to scrape my palate of rabbit and pork fat...

We had that dinner in The Yard just off Lower George's Street, a rather nice if quite loud restaurant that was very popular on this Saturday night. I chose the potted rabbit for starter followed by a miso glazed pork belly dish, while herself had some excellent goat's cheese croquettes followed by lamb rump, and we shared a very nice, fruity bottle of Les Amies Chanteuses. (As well as a great looking wine list they also stock a selection of micro produced beers, so don't worry if wine is not your thing.)

My rabbit was served with radish, pickled blackcurrants and a slab of soda bread ... this fantastic combination worked really well and was one the nicest plates of food I've had while eating out in Ireland in a long time. The pork was served with a kimchi parcel, rice, cashew cream and pickled mouli ... and  those little parcels of kimchi were the highlight on the plate and I was quite sad when I'd finished the last one! I had some issues with the pork, as the miso glaze seemed to have over-salted the meat to the point where the lovely crackling was inedible and even the rest of the belly slice was just barely tolerable for me - a salt addict. It was still a very enjoyable meal but the salt did overshadow it a tad ... perhaps I'm not as salt tolerant as I think I am? I did mention this to our waiter and she said she'd say it to the chef ... if she did he either took it on the chin or decided I didn't know what I was talking about, which was perhaps the correct assumption. Service was excellent from booking to leaving, where we were given a voucher for a couple of free glasses of bubbly in a related bar on Monch Street, which was a nice - and clever - touch.

When we got to the bar we realised it wasn't our kind of spot, as it seems to have a endless procession of noisy, wobbly hen parties coming and going ... as entertaining as watching them might be it was too loud and brash for us middle-aged, slightly bloated, stick-in-the-muds to enjoy. Instead we rambled on along the quays where we witnessed a man in a van threaten the bouncers of a nightclub while shouting profanities. I'm not sure what his problem or agenda was but I'm pretty sure that hanging half out of the window of a Volkswagon Caddy waving a hurley and name calling was going to get him too far.

We watched the spectacle for a while before cutting back up onto North Main Street where we discovered poor Barry...

Barry was getting a ferocious telling of from his partner. She accused him of bringing shame to her family - among other things - and called him a number of choice words that I won't repeat here. Barry was rambling in our direction with his hands in his pockets and head down, when he finally cracked, turned to face her and voiced his disagreement with her assessment of how their evening had went with a few germanic words of his own. This only caused his accuser to raise her voice louder - which I didn't think was possible - and give him a shove for his troubles. I presume some primitive survival instinct kicked in then as he avoided her next attempted contact and detoured up Rowe Street looking for sanctuary, as his soon-to-be-former-partner tottered after him, flinging more insults in his wake...

Five minutes later as I sipped my 'Are we not Entertained?' in Lambert's I thought ... Why yes, yes we are...

The Sky and the Ground is the other main my-kind-of-beer bar I frequent in Wexford and it was here we decided to have a night cap. Earlier in the day I had a pleasant drink from their more than decent tap selection and a read in the quiet, lovely little snug just inside the door. Tonight we headed up to the Suas bar on the first floor, as the last time we were here they had a great bottle range and I was hoping for something special to finish the night in style. The range on the chalkboard seems to have diminished since my last visit but I spotted two brett stouts from Otterbank Brewery - Declan from Yellowbelly's own brand - either of which would have suited my needs. Unfortunately the chalkboard wasn't up to date and both were gone ... a huge disappointment! I asked about any imperial stouts that might be lurking in the fridge, shelf or cellar but there were none, and sensing the barperson's impatience I settled on a gin for myself and a coffee liqueur for herself, and sat like a grump in the corner, cross and disappointed, mumbling about stouts and getting into a strop.

That changed...

This place is possibly the best place to be on a saturday night to people-watch. Notwithstanding hen parties, hurley bearing fruitcakes and poor Barry ... watching the comings, goings and interactions of people here was fascinating. Merry ladies spilling gin and hitting on whoever the could; a guy having a snooze as his girlfriend sat sourly beside him on a couch - only perking up when a lothario in a too-tight suit and wicked facial hair sidled over to sit beside her; someone at the bar who kept getting asked for selfies by a group of hangers on (Was he famous? Obviously not in my circles...); and a gaggle of ever changing drinkers and schmoozers wandering in and out, interacting with each other and giving the place a huge, buzzing atmosphere.

We sat sipping our drinks, being thoroughly entertained by all of these wonderful people. So if this kind of conspicuous voyeurism is your thing then I thoroughly recommend this spot ... just harangue them about their beer selection! (In truth it's quite good but perhaps needs a little filling out to appeal to contrary curmudgeons...)

The next morning we were up early wandering the deserted town, taking in a few sights that we missed the previous day and having a nice walk along the quays, feeling refreshed by the sea air, views and sights - more churches, gateways and walls. Eventually we also found somewhere open for breakfast - a rare thing on a Sunday morning in Wexford town it seems - before heading back to collect our bags and walk uphill to where our car was parked in the Bride Street Church carpark. (Which is great value by the way...)

We wandered into the church to check out the Harry Clarke stained glass window, which no matter what your religious views are is one of the must see things in the town in my opinion. We gazed and studied it for a while, checking out the detail and admiring the superb use of colour before heading out to the car and the shortish road back to Carlow.

Our trip only reinforced my love of Wexford town. Sure it's not perfect - no place is - but for a one night break it comes close as far as sights, shopping, food and drinks are concerned. And as for entertainment? Well, this trip would be hard to beat...

So huge thanks to all the places we visited, even those I may have berated slightly.

Oh, and if you see Barry, let him know we were thinking about him...


*Love - for those of you not from Ireland or acquainted with this stolen Irish word.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Beer History: Allsopp's Pale Ale Adverts - Facts and Figures?

Paper never refused ink they say, and I've learned than you certainly can't believe everything you read, but I came across the following advertisement by Allsopps in the Dublin published The Freeman's Journal of 1844.

The figures may be of interest to some people as they claim that their beers are best by virtue of the quantity that is shipped to India and the price it achieves in the ports there versus Bass and Hodgson...

It also contains a list of the places in Dublin where it was available if any of my scarce readers there fancy rooting in a cellar for a stray cask...

Not forgetting Cork, here is a advertisement from The Cork Examiner in 1856 again for Allsopps, but this time letting us know how wonderful their pale ale is for our constitution!

Well if you can't trust someone called BARON LIEBIG then who can you trust?!


Wait a minute...


(Ron Pattinson over at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins has more on the above price spat here.)

With thanks as ever to my local library...