Dry January options

January is now the month of dry-ness in Ireland (for some) and it leaves beer drinkers like me looking for a decently flavoured and satisfying malt based beverage – alcoholic content aside. Low and non alcoholic beers are seeing decent growth worldwide recently so the options are increasing.
Ive picked up all of these beers locally between a few different retailers so this is what was at hand, no special effort was made to track any of these down but there are a lot more out there if you feel the need to find them.

Brewdog – Nanny state pale ale – 330ml bottle
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This is one of the more accessible newer non alcoholic offerings you will find in decent beer retailers. Nanny State has lots of hops in it, all the big name hops from Centennial, Columbus, Cascade, Amarillo and Simcoe backed up with a pile (EIGHT) speciality malts. With that sort of a hop and malt bill you would be expecting this to be phenomenal and I suppose its not bad.
The hops are evident from the moment you open the bottle, its definitely hopped up, its got a decent amount of bitterness to begin with but personally I would find the bitterness grating after a few but where it falls down is bodywise. Unfortunately the usual thinness associated with non alcoholic beers is here despite the heroic grain bill its got. Its worth a try I suppose.

Mikkeller – Drink’in the sun – 330ml bottle
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Similarly enough to Nanny State this is a relatively new regular addition to Irish shelves from Danish brewing outfit Mikkeller. Its an American style wheat ale coming in at 0.3% abv. This is not like any other non alcoholic beers you may have tried previously. Its pours a nice hazy golden colour with a fluffy white head. Tropical and citrus fruits foremost with Drink’in the Sun, super easy drinking, bright and refreshing. Bodywise the wheat carries it nicely, you would be forgiven for thinking this was a session ale with an ABV higher than 0.3%. Recommended.

Heineken – 0.0 – 330ml bottle
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This, along with Erdinger Alkoholfrei will most likely be the most readily available non alcoholic offering you will find in your local pub/retailer.
Im not a Heineken fan, I find their regular pilsner to be weak, watery and tasteless. This is no different, its all of those things – with no alcohol. Its got that skunky aroma that comes with beers in clear and green bottles and seems to be a trademark of our Dutch friends. Would I buy this again? No, I definitely would not.

Erdinger Alkoholfrei – 500ml can
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A German brewing legend like Erdinger should fill you with confidence that they can make fine beer consistently. Im a big fan of their usual offerings from Dunkle, Urweiss, Oktoberfest and Schneeweiss but unfortunately this falls way short of anything else Erdinger produces. I am a fan of nearly everything from these guys but not this, its a got a weird tin/metallic aroma off it, very weak bodywise for a Weissbier and a sweetness thats associated with NA beers. Its probably the most readily available non alcoholic beer you will find but for me this doesn’t taste like beer at all. With a better selection of other NA’s now available I would not pick this up again.
(I tried both the bottled and canned Eridinger Alkoholfrei and both have the same metallic aroma so its nothing to do with the packaging in my opinion)

Weihenstephaner – Alkoholfrei Munich Helles – 500ml bottle
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Munich Helles is one of my favourite beer styles. Its a simple German classic, doesn’t rely on a mountain of hops, it shows off the malt beautifully and you can easily drink a few of them so when the worlds oldest brewery makes a non alcoholic version of their helles I’m on it. This was the first real good non alcoholic beer that I have ever had. Its got a great bready aroma thanks to the malt being allowed to shine. The NA version of this beer works well for me because the regular version has a light enough body and mouthfeel to begin with so this doesn’t feel like its missing anything. The hops deliver a nice spiciness to the finish that will refresh you. I really like this beer from Weihenstephaner, its a good alternative to its regular Helles.
Recommended.

Thornbridge – Big Easy – 330ml bottle
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Another beer thats newish to Irish shelves but falls into the same category as previous non alcoholic beers, lacking in any sort of body. The Big Easy pale ale is hopped with Amarillo and Cascade bringing out the tropical aromas and flavours as the dominant features for me, The body is really thin, disappointingly so. I got the feeling of drinking a flavoured fizzy drink more than a beer which is odd. It pours like, looks like and smells like a decent beer but it falls short of something I would rebuy.

Maisel Weiss – Alkoholfrei – Weissbier – 500ml bottle
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For me this is the best non alcoholic beer I could get my hands on. Maisel Weiss Alkoholfrei delivers that full bodied, tasty and satisfying beer that everyone associates with German weissbiers. I think I might struggle in a blind taste test to distinguish between this and the full alcohol version. As you would typically expect from a weissbier theres lots of clove, banana and mild bubblegum going on here. While this would be my personal go to for a low/non alcoholic beer it was also was the cheapest at €1.60 per 500ml bottle so its got great value in its corner too. Of all that I sampled this is by far my favourite.

Open Gate Brewery – Pure Brew – 330ml bottle
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Not quite sure how long this one from the Open Gate Brewery in Dublin has been around, a matter of months to a year maybe? Its a non alcoholic lager brewed differently, by that they mean it hasn’t been brewed as a full strength beer and the alcohol boiled off as per many other non alcoholic beers, its to do with a specially developed yeast strain according to Guinness.
All I have to say about this is that its priced appropriately (€5 for 4 330ml bottles) to garner plenty of sales. Its going to have its regular buyers – I won’t be one of them. Weak, watery, thin, aroma and flavour free. No thanks.

Baltika – Zero – 475ml bottle
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Baltika Zero is my final non alcoholic option. This really is a poor beer. Another green bottle disaster, definitely lightstruck/skunky with more than a touch of oxidation by means of a cardboard aroma. Taste wise this is sweet from the corn used in brewing it, again not something that I go for. Colour-wise this is about as pale as you can get without it being completely water – think all of the light American big name lagers out there, this is right up there with them. Honestly this is one beer I will never buy again or recommend to anyone.

Other decent options
While none of these meet the spec to be classified as non alcoholic they definitely deserve a mention and should be considered if you are looking to stay under the 4% abv mark for any reason.

O’Brother Brewing – Freewheeler – Super Session IPA 3%

Whiplash – Northern Lights – Micro IPA 2.8%

Stiegl – Radler – 2%

Larkins – Galaxy Quest – 3.8%

Very special mention:
Yellowbelly Brewing & Black Castle Drinks – Designated Driver – Dry hopped Craft Soda

Larkin’s Brewing Co. – Märzen Lager

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Its been a few weeks since my last review so I will continue with a relatively new addition to the Irish brewing scene with a 5.7% ABV Märzen Lager from Kilcoole in County Wicklow by Larkin’s Brewing Co.

A small bit of brewing history first… Märzen/Märzenbier is a combination of the German word for March and beer (d’uh) when traditionally the Märzen beer was brewed and then lagered over the next few months and consumed towards the end of the later summer months (due to a ban on brewing in the summer months to avoid the risk of fires from wood fired brewing mash tuns and kettles) and then the final bottles would be served around September until October of that year.
Traditionally and typically by style the Märzen is a darker coloured, malty lager with a somewhat dry and clean finish – little to no hop bitterness, it doesn’t rely on sweetness like that of a traditional bock a toasted flavour from the malt is a characteristic of Märzens alongside a toasty bready aroma and a balanced finish overall.
Larger use of Munich malt gives it its bready and toasted aromas and adds to its colour nicely. Vienna malt used in a much smaller proportion than that of the Munich malt adds its very slight sweetish taste.

Now, on to the beer itself.
I found this particular offering from Larkin’s to be pretty much true to style.
Colour-wise it was spot on. Copper in colour while clear in appearance, its not as dark as some other Munich lagers like the Dunkel in my opinion (the common commercially available and most famous example of a Dunkel being from The Erdinger brewery)
Aroma is bready and toasty as a more of a dominant feature and its there in just the right amount.
No noticeable hop aromas or bitterness, again true to style its more about the malt profile in these beers.
The taste is not overpowering or sickly sweet by any means, its fantastically balanced by the use of noble German bittering hops (Im presuming Cian used Hallertau here) and keeps body of the beer in check throughout and finishes exactly as it should – clean and dry.
Märzens may not have been brewed specifically so you could drink a few of them in one sitting but yes, you could. They aren’t too full bodied that you need to switch to something lighter or too high in alcohol that you have to go home.

Im not German so I can’t be 100% sure but I’d guess Larkin’s Märzen lager would pass both a German beer judges test and the BJCP guidelines too.

Cian (The brewer at Larkin’s) seems to have somewhat of a liking for all things lagered and the range contains a Dopplebock, a Munich Helles lager, a Baltic porter and this Märzen which is unusual but impressive in the current day for an Irish brewery to follow this route.
There seems to be a keen attention to detail paid here in terms of style and getting it right.
What’s remarkable about these three styles is they don’t appear to be one offs (?) while they still offer the usual craft favourites of a pale ale, an IPA and a saison too.

I expect solid and consistent things to come from Larkins over the next while and if you’re a fan of traditional beers brewed to style then definitely pick up some of the German beers coming from them.

You can find out more about Larkin’s Brewing Co. on Larkins website
and their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Available in most good beer outlets across the country right now

Certified Cicerone (Level 2) Post #1

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I have started preparing to take the Certified Cicerone (Level 2) exam when they roll around again (probably sometime in 2019) and I will be posting periodic updates of my progress here. Cicerone is a beer sommelier title/qualification.

Certified Cicerone Beer Server (Level 1)
A little bit of backstory: I passed the initial Certified Cicerone Beer Server (Level 1) exam in September 2017 while in Canada working for Village Brewery as a cellar man. Village is where I learned essentially everything that I know about beer in a brewery setting from the brewing process in the brewhouse, on to the fermentation stage, bright tank conditioning, packaging in kegs, bottles and cans and warehouse storage etc so the exam itself was a lot of things I learned about and experienced as part of my job.
This is the only online exam from Cicerone and you need a 75% pass rate to acquire the Level 1 exam.

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cicerone.org

 

Certified Cicerone (Level 2)
With Level 2 things begin to ramp up significantly in terms of the volume of information you need to know to pass the exam.
The syllabus for Certified Cicerone (Level 2) is a lot more extensive in comparison to what is required to pass Level 1, Level 2 covers more topics in more detail.
Part of Level 2 is a written test which includes questions on retail, service and storage, beer history (there is a LOT), as well as an in-depth knowledge of all beer styles (ABV’s and SRM etc) both new/current styles and traditional and historical styles as well as also including an off flavours sampling test.
Food pairing with beer, beer and its ingredients (grains and hops etc) and the brewing process from start to finish are all examined over a 4 hour period. Cask/real ale is also a feature of the UK syllabus, not something we have a whole lot of in Ireland.
Some people take up to two years to prepare and study for the exam, others have done the preparation in as little as six months, according to Cicerone.

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Galway Bay Brewery – Vignette Session ale

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So the most recent offering from Galway Bay Brewery is here. I tried this about a week ago. Vignette opens bright, dry and hoppy, the head was nice but disappeared quite quickly.

For me I could pickup fantastic mango, peach and citrus aromas. Its got an almost Belgian yeast/mild saison characteristic about it that works so well with an on the money carbonation.
With such a summery beer this is ideal for sinking a few.

For arguments sake I would say this is a good comparison to GBB’s earlier release of Weights and Measures. That said, Vignette appears hoppier to me with a slightly lower ABV than Weights and Measures.
Vignette is not as thin as you might imagine for a 3.5% ISA, that’s impressive.

Over all this is great, exactly what you would call for on a summers day but possibly JUST a bit expensive for its ABV. Considering its locally brewed and served in a bar associated with the brewery it just seems stretching it at €6 a pint.

GBB – Vignette 3.5% ABV ISA €5.50 with beoir.org voucher/€6 per pint without.
€4 for half pint/glass.

It’s a draft only small batch release on tap at Galway Bay bars and maybe one or two other dedicated beer bars around the country.

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(EDIT – I have been reliably informed (Thanks BeerNut) that Vignette has been released in bottles too so it should be easier to find countrywide in all the usual good stockists)

Great value quality Irish beer deals

Im not a cheapo beer buyer/beer drinker but getting a good beer for good value is important to me and should be for you too.

I am aware of the obvious and the not so obvious costs incurred during brewing, especially for the smaller new guys.

These range from complex hop and grain bills, overheads like electricity, rents, rates, insurance etc, cleaning agents, co2, brewers hoses, tanks, kegs, filtration, bottling machines, the rental of mobile canning operations (believe it or not, not all breweries are in a position to purchase even the most basic of canning lines yet not to mention big spending on centrifuges, the grand daddy of filtration) design work and printing, advertising, transportation and haulage plus a myriad of other smaller costs not to mention wage bill for staff and THEN the retail markup when it hits your local shelf.
Getting a brewery off the ground and keeping it afloat is an expensive game, make no mistake about that.

It’s a challenge to be able to offer quality beers at relatively affordable prices so I recently took a look at some of the better value retail/off licence deals consistently available in my area from independent Irish breweries, maybe there are better or different deals where you live?

GREAT value beerscraftybrewingCrafty Brewing Company/Rye River
(From around €2 each, 500ml bottles)
This range falls under the Lidl umbrella of exclusives brewed for them by Rye River Brewing in Kildare and covers a very wide range in eight (?) different styles from Irish pale ale, IPA, dry Irish stout, an Irish red ale, a saison, an American style wheat ale, an American style brown ale and a lager.
Here we see Lidl’s bulk buying power and their ever expanding retail locations working with Rye Rivers production ability and quality in full flow and then reflected in the prices. Being able to try one of each of the eight styles for between €15-€16 is a steal.
Lidl also stock some of Rye Rivers McGargles offerings alongside a selection of the bottled core range from Trouble Brewing.

Multi-BuyDeals

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The White Hag
4 for €10 (Core range 330ml cans)
The White Hag from Sligo won the 2017 Beoir.org Oliver Hughes “Best Brewery in Ireland” award plus multiple time winners at the All Tech brewing festival held annually in Dublin. The White Hag have a real solid core range covering all the usuals you would expect, regular small batch releases, a sweet barrel ageing programme – not to mention their now annual “Hagstravaganza” festival at the brewery.

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Galway Bay Brewery
3 for €9 (Core range 500ml bottles, except for Of Foam and Fury)
A true leader in terms of Irish independent breweries whose quality and creativeness is always front and centre. Its hard to find another Irish brewery with a core range as solid and consistent as Galway Bays. One off small batch releases are a regular feature from Galway Bay. Check out their bars across the country to catch some of their pub only exclusives.

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Independent Brewing
3 for €9 (Core range 500ml bottles)
Another brewery in County Galway with a very generous selection of various styles widely available. Personal favourites of mine are their Connemara Stout and Connemara Pale ale.

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9 White Deer
3 for €9 (Core range of gluten free 500ml bottles)
I wasn’t sure what to expect from 9 White Deer with regards to their gluten free range as many if not all GF beers I’ve had previously were a disappointment, not so with 9 White Deer. Their gluten free stout will leave you wondering how the hell they managed to do it so well. Highly recommended.

8degrees

Eight Degrees
Citra Single hop, Full Irish Single malt IPA, Neon Velvet – FPA – Sessiún – IPA
3 for €10(440ml cans in some locations)
4 for €10 (Core range 330ml bottles)
From Mitchelstown in Cork you can be sure whatever you pick up from them that it will be a quality product whether that be the newly released range of cans, the 330ml bottles or even the 750ml barrel aged specialities.

I think these deals and offers are important for keeping the breweries themselves afloat as well as the many ancillary local industries and communities that get the spin off business from breweries.
Local famers growing barley, maltsers malting that barley, transportation and haulage companies delivering the malts/collecting shipments of finished product in bottles, cans and kegs, bars and restaurants serving that finished product, taxi firms taking home the happy customers, tourist companies providing information to guests of our towns and cities on where to go and what to do.
Historically, local breweries and local beers have played a hugely important role in local economies and now also too in Ireland alongside really great locally sourced and produced food.
It is important as beer lovers to support them when they are making great beers and are not breaking you financially. For me when theres a choice, I choose local.

Being as competitive as possible while maintaining quality for Irish breweries is important now and will be even more important in the future with the addition to the Irish market of cheaper European imports often available in 4 for €10/5 for €10 deals, the American big hitters like Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Ballast Point and Stone along with the recent launching here of really good UK breweries like Cloudwater, Northern Monk, Magic Rock, London’s Five Points Brewing and Gipsy Hill Brew Co. (who are also offering multi-buy deals)
Not to mention those macro brewers and major retailers able to sell 24 large cans for €20 or often less.

It is not about a race to the bottom in a price war and it never should be. Quality will win out and a quality product is always great for the consumer.

Please leave a comment with your best local deals and their locations, I would love to hear about them.

J O Connell’s pub, Skryne Co. Meath

This past weekend in Ireland was a bank holiday weekend and the plan was to visit some friends in the East of the country, more specifically Navan, Co. Meath.

First stop was the incredible Hill of Tara. Ashamedly this was our first visit to the Hill of Tara and it was indeed one worth making. We started the walk around these ancient grounds with the staple of any Irish good weather day – the obigatory 99 ice cream cone.

After about an hour and a half of a walk around the site itself we moved onto the nearby famous J O Connell pub in Skryne Co. Meath for post walk refreshments in the form of pints of Guinness.

Referred to affectionately as Mrs O’s by our friends and the locals, this is the pub shown in the now very famous Guinness Christmas television advertisement (Pictured below)
The pub is small inside, as original as possible in decor as it was when it opened 170 years ago.
There are no televisions, there is no wifi, just good local chat and stories from both the bar man, local drinkers and tourists in the area for a nice refreshing pint of the black stuff.
Local Gaelic games scores are written on a chalkboard behind the bar and updated when they get around to it. Alongside traditional alcoholic beverages you can keep the kids (and yourself) busy with some bottled fizzy drinks, peanuts and crisps.

This is a place to leave your phone in your pocket, kick back and relax on a beautiful sunny day.

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Sierra Nevada – Torpedo Extra IPA

What is an Extra IPA you may ask?
This is Sierra Nevada’s own take on what most other breweries commonly call a double IPA.
Sierra Nevada invented what’s known as their ‘hop torpedo’ for more effective and efficient dry hopping of this beer, the torpedo really draws every last drop of hop oils and resins from the whole hop cones by cycling the hops through the fermenting vessel over a period of time.

This is a classic American DIPA packaged in a 16oz American pint can (or 473ml for those of us imperially challenged in the West)

Upon opening the can it releases a fantastic hop aroma at arms length.
I would call it close to copper in colour with a lovely fluffy white head.

Weighing in at 7.2% ABV, loaded with citrus and pine notes from the whole hop cones they use in every Torpedo XIPA brew, this is no sissy beer.
The overwhelming characteristic of this beer is its hop profile, not, surprisingly to some it’s alcohol content.
The 7.2% ABV is well hidden behind the fine balance between the hop and malt bill, in reality its pretty easy to forget it is a beer of relatively decent strength so sip, enjoy and relax with this beauty.

Being one of Sierra Nevada’s biggest sellers and hugely popular with its fans – this is a beer not to pass over if you find it out there.

Rating: 8/10