Saturday, 18 February 2017

Blog update

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Sunday, 12 February 2017

Double the Fun

With the Cloudwater double IPA monthly release (now at v11) coinciding with the return of the now legendary and award-winning Of Foam and Fury by Galway Bay Brewery, I thought I'd line them up for a head-to-head and throw in a couple of similar others - McGargles Big Bangin IPA and Stone's Ruination double IPA.  Not one of these beasts sit under 7% so it proved to be a rewarding evening!

Despite being in existence just over a year, Manchester's Cloudwater is now a brewery of extremely high repute with their new releases regularly selling out in a matter of days or even hours. In 2016 their double IPA limited releases caused frenzies up and down the UK and in 2017 they've promised to release a new DIPA version every month.
So, to v11.
At 9% ABV this is a thick and fruity delight, orange pithy but not too sharp as a gentle sweetness pulls it back from the edge.  Luscious is a word used on the label and I have to confess I can find no better adjective.  Murky, swampy, juicy and citrussy beer goodness.

Galway Bay has re-released their award winning DIPA, Of Foam and Fury for 2017.  It's much clearer than Cloudwater but still retains a pleasant slight haziness.  8.5% ABV and tastes a lot smoother than the previous incarnations.  Good just got better, I certainly welcome that.

My favourite Irish beer of last year was McGargles Francis' Big Bangin' IPA. (not a double)  Congratulations to them for having a beer title with more apostrophes than is really necessary.  Now in 330ml cans instead of 500ml bottles so how does it compare?  It's chewier than Of Foam and Fury and there's no doubt it's a touch different from last year.  There's a slight toffee and caramel base mixed with a tang of blood orange sweetness up top and while this 7.1 % abv IPA is still very tasty and one of the best Irish beers out there (it's definitely McGargles champion by a long way) I can't help feel it's not as good as last year.

And so to the final DIPA for the night, Stone's Ruination.  Stone is a well respected American brewery but has recently set up a European brewing base in Berlin hence you'll see more Stone brews now in NI than before.  The alcohol in Ruination is much more prominent than in the previous beers and you certainly know you're drinking a higher abv beer - it's 8.5%  For me this was less flavoursome, whether that was due to the actual beer or maybe my taste buds had been shot to pieces by this stage of the night, who knows?

I make no apology for admitting DIPAs are one of my favourite styles.  The order of the reviews is the order of preference for me but opinions are like backsides - everyone has them.  You may have completely different thoughts and that's grand.  Just go buy them and make up your own mind.

Monday, 23 January 2017

A North West Tom, Dick but no Harry

I recently took a weekend trip up to Derry/Londonderry/Legenderry/The Maiden City that place with far too many names and relished the opportunity to visit some of the city's prominent beer establishments of an evening, as you do.

The Guildhall Taphouse is, as you would expect, just around the corner from the Guildhall.  An impressive building both inside and out, it has a very cosy ambience during the afternoon and a vibrant atmosphere in the evening.  The main reason I visited was to partake of new brewery Dopey Dick's wares after brewer Paul Eastwood told me of his two brews, a lager and an American pale ale.

So into the taphouse we venture mid afternoon and just a half of each, for now.  The evening shall bring its rewards.  An array of taps bearing labels of local and national craft beers are available: Whitewater's Maggie's Leap IPA, Northbound's 26 pale ale, Kinnegar's Otway pale ale, Brewdog's Punk IPA and both Dopey Dick offerings.

Lager first, boy.  5% ABV and a real guzzler.  Light and slightly grassy with a touch of lemon and floral thrown into the mix - a summer beer that could find its way out of a glass all too quickly on a warm summer's day.  Or even a cold January one.

Next was the American pale ale - no % abv visible but Untappd has it at 5.3.  Instantly I'm hit with a soapy/washing up liquid taste on the first sip, and again on the second.  A third sip was enough before this half pint was put down never to be drunk.  It couldn't have been washing up liquid remnants in the glass as it had been in the same batch as the lager glass, I'm hazarding a guess at fermentation timing issues.  Anyhow, it was a shame.

Popping back into Derry later that night we headed for Dopey Dick's other bar, Grand Central on Strand Road.  Only the pale ale was available on tap along with Sam Adams' lager and the usual other macros.  Plenty of local bottles though from Boghopper, Hillstown, Northbound, Farmageddon and Kinnegar.  Deciding to give it another go in a different establishment I asked for a taster of the pale but again found it soapy.  Bottle of Northbound it is then!

Grand Central has a smaller floor space than Guildhall Taphouse but has a great atmosphere with a band playing in the corner and a 'cosy' environment with the person sat next to you.

A couple of breweries have opened on the Republic's side of Inishowen over the past year or so.  Boghopper from Muff started selling in late 2015 and Evans' Brewery from Carndonagh became commercial in the spring of 2016.  The Derry and Donegal wans will probably have tasted Evans' Foyle's Gold (and also maybe the seaweed stout called Selkie) as brewer Tom Evans was serving at Sippy Fest in December.

As I was in the area I drove up to see the Welshman at the brewery, plus it's always good to have a yarn with brewers concerning stuff that they know a lot more about than me.  He brews over 200 litres of Foyle's Gold at a time so there's enough to go around the peninsula and one bottle made its way back to mine.  4.3% ABV is just right for this golden ale, some snooty beer folk scorn the word 'quaffable' in write ups but stuff you.  Quaffable, it is.  So jog on.  Just right for the locality - a pleasant, inoffensive golden beer that's a good starting point for anyone wanting something that's not a macro.  I preferred his seaweed stout Selkie - Tom forewarned me it was quite sharp but it must have conditioned and mellowed a good bit in the bottle as I found it had the right balance of light saltiness and smooth stout.  Sorry no pic - I forgot - but here's the deal, it was black and tasty.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Aloha Ya Boy Ye!

Hawaii, the 50th and most recent state to join the USA is renowned for its volcanoes, good weather, flambuoyant shirts and Magnum PI.  What many folk in Northern Ireland may not know, however, is the existence of a Hawaiian-inspired restaurant in Belfast's Victoria Square.  Kua 'Aina serves an abundance of quality burgers, fish, chicken and salads while also being the only eatery in Ireland to pour Kona Brewing beers.  I was invited to their first birthday bash just before Christmas where I indulged in some of the imported bevvies, so ... E ke ka hoʻomaka. (Let's get wired in)

First off and easing me in gently to the tropical vibe was 4.6% ABV Longboard Island Lager.  Poured a crisp golden colour with aromas of grass and lemon (not lemongrass) - I'm generally not a fan of lagers but I really enjoyed this one.  Was it because 'first beer of the day' syndrome kicked in or was it really because of that crisp lemony edge running through it?  Who knows, either way, delicious.  Summer days (in December)...

Moving on to the 5.8% ABV Fire Rock Pale Ale.  Looked more copper and tasted maltier than I expected for a pale, there's a soft and sweet honey and peachiness gently floating around and it went very well with a medium-rare Ahi tuna and avocado burger!

Kua 'Aina also serves one draught beer (I know the picture has two pumps but only one's in operation), Big Wave Golden Ale.  At 4.4% ABV this is more sessionable than Fire Rock but everything about this was... just average.  Some very light traces of Citra hops in there, however Big Wave needed a bit of a firecracker up its wotsit to give it some life.  Sessionable?  Yes.  Inoffensive?  Yes.  Lacking a wow factor?  Yes.

Hophead that I unashamedly am, I was more pleased that a small firecracker, of sorts, had been inserted into the wotsit of the 6% ABV Castaway IPA.  A more pronounced fruitiness coming off this one but just stopping short of being something REALLY good.

Finally, enter Koko Brown a 5.5% ABV brown ale that's brewed with the addition of toasted coconut.  I'm a big coconut fan and really enjoyed the first few sips but the more I had, the more it started to lose me.  The sickly sweetness increased exponentially after half a bottle and dominated any of that tasty coconut flavour that had now packed its bags and gone surfing, shame.

So despite not being a lager enthusiast, the Longboard Island lager was probably my favourite of the five with Castaway IPA runner up.  Sometimes Marks & Spencer stock Kona beer, but failing that get yourself along to Kua 'Aina for some seriously tasty grub and grab a beer while you're there.   Thanks to Massive PR and all the very hospitable and friendly Kua 'Aina staff.

Huli Pau!  Hau'oli Makahiki Hou. (go look it up)

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Irish Golden Pints 2016

There's an online thing that does the rounds in late December called Golden Pints or #goldenpints if you wanna be really nerdy.  It's where folk (usually English) who like beer enough to write about it vote for their favourites. But why should the English get all the glory?  The Irish beer scene, north and south of the border, is thriving and riding the crest of a fantastic hop-filled wave.  So it's time to throw down the stereotypical shamrock encrusted gauntlet, raise up a glass of non-Diageo stout and declare my Golden Pints #goldenpints for our emerald isle.

Best Irish Cask Beer - Lacada Utopian Stout
Irish cask is a rarity to say the least with only a handful of Irish breweries semi-regularly using this dispense method.  This stout from Portrush's co-operative brewery is a smooth blend of bitter coffee and sweet chocolate.

Best Irish Keg Beer - Galway Bay Change of the Guard
This fantastic triple IPA was Galway Bay Will's first brew after joining the brewery and Chris's last before he went to White Frontier in Switzerland, hence the name.  A very limited release, it made an appearance at the 1st Belfast Craft Beer festival in the spring and hop-bombed everyone out of the tent.

Best Irish Bottled Beer - McGargles Francis' Big Bangin IPA
McGargles didn't have the best introduction to the beer scene a few years back with less than favourable reviews but they've upped their game considerably this past year. Big Bangin' is indeed that.  Hoppier than a roo on a trampoline and with such a delicious citrus aftertaste.

Best Irish Canned Beer - I've not had enough Irish cans to make a decent comparison.

Best Irish Collaboration - Kinnegar Cage Fight
Donegal brewery Kinnegar teamed up with Belfast's Sunflower Pub and released Cage Fight to celebrate the popular bar's independence from Diageo and the like.  Also in keg but this porter is better in bottle, there's a bitter choc start with the faintest of sour cherry.  This is soon swept aside with a lingering but not overpowering chilli heat.

Best Overall Irish Beer 2016 - McGargles Francis' Big Bangin IPA
No more needs said.  Buy it if you find it.

Best Irish Cider - Tempted Festival Scrumpy
This deservedly won my best overall drink at the Belfast Beer and Cider Festival.  Smooth apple pie in a glass and all that was missing was custard.

Best Irish Pumpclip or Label - Yellowbelly
Astounding artwork from Odin Graphics' Paul Reck for the Wexford brewery.

Best Irish Brewery - Farmageddon, 
The Co Down co-op just pips bigger boys Eight Degrees and Galway Bay by the tiniest of margins (according to my Untappd ratings)

Best New Irish Brewery Opening 2016 - Bullhouse
Willy Mayne is the man behind this new Newtownards brewery that has already produced an impressive array of brews, including a potato saison and barrel aged imperial milk stout.

Best Overseas Draught Beer - Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Belly
Not to be confused with the Yellowbelly brewery, this 11% ABV imperial stout is a collaboration between England's Buxton and Sweden's renowned Ominpollo. A beautiful beast.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer - Cloudwater DIPA v2
Everyone knows Cloudwater and everyone knows about their double IPA hype machine.  The first I had of theirs was in February and it was an eye opener.

Best Overseas Canned Beer - Evil Twin Even More Jesus

Best Overseas Brewery - Siren Craft and Cloudwater
I really can't split these two. Siren Craft's BA Caribbean Chocolate Cake, Hillbilly Wine and Blacklight Banana were all amazing as were Cloudwater's DIPA v2, v3, v8 and Three's Company

Irish Pub of the Year - Kiwi's Brew Bar, Portrush
This north coast haven wins for the second year.  It would be all too easy to pick a bar from Belfast, Derry, Dublin, Galway or any other city.  Portrush is a small seaside town on the north coast, not renowned in the past for craft beer or craft bars.  New Zealand born owner Kris is changing all that with a good selection of alternative beers served by great staff.

Best Irish Festival of the Year - Irish Craft Beer Festival RDS Dublin
I love this festival.  It has wide range of Irish brewers serving their own brews with great food sold out the back with a DJ pumping out some tunes while you eat.  Any festival that has music away from the main hall and not drowning out a conversation while you drink is on to a winner for a start.

Supermarket of the Year - M&S
Tesco? Asda? Sainsbury's? Nah, M&S just edge it though I'm not jumping through hoops about it.

Independent Retailer of the Year - 
Support local.  If you don't, your local indy stores will disappear all too quickly.  Neill Wine from Co Down opened a new premise in my Co Antrim town of Carrickfergus in late 2016.  That's why they get this award.  If you're in the area, drop in.

Best Beer Blog/Website - The Beer Nut
Always an informative and educational read from Dublin-based John Duffy.

Best Beer App - Untappd
Ratebeer is dead.  Very few folk I know use it any more, it's rarely up-to-date and is convoluted to use.  Step up to the mark Untappd.  I love it.  It's easy to use, make comments, add new beers and rate them (ironically).  Simplicity is the way forward.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer - Beer Doodles
I love this.  Go see it now if you haven't already.

Friday, 16 December 2016

My NI Faves of 2016

In case you hadn't noticed, it's that time of year again.  Apart from continuing the strange ritual of putting trees in our living rooms and seeing plenty of overweight men in ill-fitting red polyester/velvet outfits, mid December means a review of our favourite Northern Irish beer of the past twelve months.  Of course I didn't have every single beer that was locally brewed this past year - though I did have a fair few - so this list isn't exhaustive.  It's also my opinion, yours will be different.  And that's good, so don't be gurning if your favourite isn't listed.

Best Porter -  KINNEGAR in collaboration with The Sunflower Pub - CAGE FIGHT

Celebrating the Belfast bar's independence from Diageo et al.  Although Kinnegar hails from Co Donegal, this has an NI influence as the bar staff helped in the brewing so it counts in this list.  Also available in keg but I preferred the bottle (yes I did have both to make a comparison).  A bitter chocolate start with the faintest of sour cherry but this is swept aside soon after with a lingering chilli heat that stays on the better side of tasty rather than overpowering. 


A cracker of a stout from the north coast co-operative, this appeared as part of Lacada's Limited Edition Salamander Series range.  Rich with hints of chocolate and coffee.  It's also available in cask sometimes if you're lucky - I prefer it in cask just marginally more but others prefer the bottle.  More on this later...


This is also available in bottle form but it's a much better beast in cask, and I had the privilege of enjoying plenty of it in the Ulster Hall where it won overall beer of the Belfast Beer and Cider Festival.  Lots of smooth passion fruit and mango up front with a delicious bitterness that reminds you this is a beer, not a fruit juice.  Praise also for their Citra and Gorse IPAs earlier in the year.

Best Pale Ale - ARDS - HIP HOP 5

Ards Brewing Co from Greyabbey in County Down turned five years old this year (in 2011 Northern Ireland had 5 breweries compared to 30 today) and to mark the occasion, brewer Charles created - in my humble opinion - an improved version of his Hip Hop pale ale.  This one was brewed using five different hop varieties which made the beer a touch sweeter and more aromatic than the original.


Collaborative brew between Farmageddon and English outfit Renegade Brewery.  Slight citrus fruits at the start give way to a great Columbus/Galaxy/Centennial hop bite with a slightly sweet biscuity malt remaining constant throughout. 


Mourne Mountains Brewery in Warrenpoint brewed this amber to celebrate the race event of the same name that starts in Co. Sligo and ends in the Mournes in Co. Down.  Tasty chewy hoppiness with a light caramel and butterscotch aftertaste.

Best Speciality - LACADA - IVY HONEY

Another one in the limited edition Salamander Series range, this was launched at the Belfast Craft Beer Festival at Custom House Square.  Shame it was in short supply as I found this to be an outstanding beer with the addition of ivy honey from brewer Laurie's own bees.  Could another one be on the horizon for 2017?

Best Irish But Not Northern Irish -  McGARGLES - FRANCIS' BIG BANGIN IPA

There have been so many great beers from across the border in the past year, coming from the likes of Galway Bay, Yellowbelly, White Hag, Brehon and Eight Degrees among others. But for me McGargles Big Bangin' IPA blew me out of the water.  Hoppy as you like with an aftertaste that oozes subtle citrus fruit - superb.

Overall Best Northern Irish Beer of 2016 - LACADA - UTOPIAN STOUT

If you're drinking this in the company of someone from Portrush and they turn to you and say "it's a wheeker, sham" then it's a good beer.  When I first had this in January I described its qualities as bitter, then sweet, then chocolate.  I've had it quite a few times since and still stand by those words.  A great stout from the Lacada co-op and deserves to be in its core range in future.

This is just a small cross section of the range of styles now available in Northern Ireland.  As well as the list above, expect saisons, sours, wheats, smoked oaks and many more.  And fair play to all the brewers brewing them.

Again I emphasise this blogpost details some of the best Northern Irish beers I had in 2016, there are plenty more.  Go find them!  

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Northern Ireland Class of 2016

It's been a great year for beer in Northern Ireland, with a noticeable increase in the number of beers brewed here and then being sold on shelves/tap, as well as the selection of imported beer from the rest of the world.  There's now such a wide range from so many NI breweries, both new and established - the future is exciting.

At my last count we have 24 physical brewery sites here in Northern Ireland with 6 contracts.

Interactive Google Maps NI Breweries 2016
Knockout, Boundary and Hercules (Belfast), 
Hillstown (Ahoghill), 
Barrahooley (Martinstown), 
Lacada (Portrush)
Glens of Antrim (Ballycastle), 
Hilden (Lisburn) and brewpubs Brewbot (Belfast) & Speckled Hen (Black Mountain brewery, Derriaghy) 

Northbound (Campsie), 
O'Connor (Greysteel), 
Walled City and Dopey Dick (Derry City)

Pokertree (Carrickmore) and 
brewpub The Brewer's House (Red Hand brewery at Donaghmore)

Sheelin (Bellanaleck) and Inishmacsaint (Derrygonnelly) - Sheelin has scaled down production recently and Inishmacsaint will make an announcement very soon about its future.

Mourne Mountains (Warrenpoint), 
Whitewater (Kilkeel but soon to be Castlewellan), 
Farmageddon (Ballygowan), 
Ards (Greyabbey),
Bullhouse (Newtownards),
Station Works (Newry - not a micro at all as it's owned by Alltech in the USA. Anyway, I believe it's soon moving to County Louth), 

Contract companies (registered in Northern Ireland but brewed at other breweries) include...

Heaney Farmhouse Brewing from Bellaghy (though currently brewed at Boundary in Belfast)
Clanconnel/McGraths (brewed by Rye River in Co. Kildare), 
Clearsky, (brewed by Hilden)
NightCap/Gallopers, (brewed by Sadler's near Birmingham) 
Cloughmore (brewed by Whitewater) and 
Sailortown (brewed by Carrig in Co. Leitrim)

Maltmeister from Bangor came and unfortunately went in the last year but there's a new brewery in the piepline a few miles down the road in Donaghadee - keep an eye out for Twisted Kettle sometime in 2017.  
I'm sure there are others on the way, let me know if you know.

Let's hope Northern Ireland's Class of 2016 will be able to sell directly to the public in 2017 if Stormont MLAs get their backsides in gear in the first half of the year.  Things are happening folks, slowly, but it's happening.  A Craft Drinks Bill has been launched in the Republic which is proposing a change in the law there to allow breweries to sell onsite.  With any luck and persistent social media contact, a #NICraftDrinksBill won't be far away. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Ulster Newbies - from Mourne to Muff

Some new releases recently so let's get wired in.

From Portrush's co-operative brewery Lacada, branded as a North Coast IPA and recently pouring from cask at CAMRA's Belfast Beer Festival, Devil's Washtub.  5.2% ABV and actually a black IPA (perhaps this should be on the branding so not to scare anyone who's expecting a golden coloured IPA?)  As with most black IPAs there's a decent malty base with an aroma and subtle taste of smooth dark fruits.  The hops seem to be lurking in there somewhere but you'd need a torch to find them.  A decent enough beer and highly drinkable but needs a whack more hop action to satisfy the IPA hopheads out there.

Photo courtesy of Paul Donaghy
From east Belfast, Knockout Brewing upped its game considerably at the festival. Six beers were supplied - a stout and two variants (choc and orange/ginger) and a citra IPA and two variants (Vic Secret and Sorachi Ace).  I liked all six - I know, I know, think what you like - but for me the Sorachi Ace IPA really stood out above the rest.  It exudes a lemony bitterness but is counteracted by a soft, smooth orange flavour.  Joseph McMullan is the first craft brewer in Northern Ireland to put his brews into cans (it's the future folks) and hopefully this will see its way into them too.  Go on Joe, you know you want to.

Away from the festival, Warrenpoint-based Mourne Mountains Brewery ran a competition back in April 2016 to create a flavour for their new brew.  Andrew Hamilton was the lucky winner with his suggestion of Whiskey and Vanilla, the beer was duly made and poured into a whiskey cask in July.  Four months later it's in bottles.  I think at least a couple more months in the cask would have been beneficial as I'd have liked a bit more vanilla - you have to look for it but the whiskey is closer to the mark. Not overpowering at all and very subtle for this 8.2% ABV winter warmer. Nice one.

Next, practically sat astride the NI border is Bog Hopper Brewery from the Co. Donegal village of Muff.  So let's dive in *cough*.
Technically speaking their Hairy Bullocks American pale ale isn't a new beer.  It launched the brewery in late 2015 but it's the first time (I'll resist saying virginal...oops) I've been able to grab as bottle as it's just starting to become available outside of Inishowen.  So there.

First off this 5% ABV pale claims to be hop forward but I get more malt than anything.  Maybe the good folk of the area are unused or afraid of a good hoppy beer but this has the potential to be so much better.  It just left me wanting something....anything more.  Some slight citrus elements in there, granted, but just not enough to make me rush to Muff for a second one.  (Did I just say that?)  The label artistry for all Boghopper beers is fantastic though.

Finally for now, from Bullocks to Bullhouse Brewery near Newtownards, and Willy Mayne's newish barrel-aged Quest for the Milky Whey.  This first saw the light of day at ABV Beer Festival in early September and was greeted with critical acclaim among the beer fraternity.  I missed out as it was only on for one session but now it has returned, like some sort of pink coloured panther in the guise of a French detective.  This 10% ABV imperial milk stout made its way into 500 wax-sealed bottles... so find one if you still can.  There's little in the way of carbonation which results in a tiny head but the whiskey aroma comes through nicely as does a good whacking dollop of liquorice and datey-molasses on the first sip, followed by a generous milky-lactosey second sip. Another tip of the hat for the artwork.
If you're on Facebook, the history of QftMW can be seen here .

Fair play to all the breweries mentioned for continuing to expand their range.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Pick of the Crop

It was that time of year again, when around 130 real ales and cider became available at the Belfast Beer and Cider Festival.  One of the biggest single bars in Ireland was constructed over a couple of days inside the majestic Ulster Hall in Belfast - all done by Campaign for Real Ale volunteers.

An incredible sixty Irish beers, yes 6-0 (from North and South) were on tap from seventeen breweries.  This year pleasingly saw a noticeable increase in i) Republic of Ireland brews, and ii) keycasks/keykegs - thirty of which were available with the help of drinks distributor Prohibition.

Here's a quick resumé of some of the beer that caught my eye and tastebuds.  First off, 8:01 Mint Choc Stout (6% ABV) from Rascals Brewing Co in County Dublin.  When I initially had this on the first night the mint was quite subtle with the chocolate dominating, but when I returned to it 24 hours later the mint was more prominent and what I had originally hoped for.  To steal a line from an old After Eight advert, it's cool, dark and sophisticated.  It justifiably jointly won the Belfast Festival's new category of Best Irish Beer along with a Farmageddon/Renegade collaboration - Red Eye - a lovely hoppy red IPA.

Staying with the Farmageddon crew, last year their 6.3% ABV Mosaic IPA was my favourite beer of the festival - as you would expect from Mosaic hops plenty of passion fruit and mango with a delicious bitterness - and this year the judging panel crowned it overall Champion Beer of the Belfast Festival.  A superb achievement considering the competition.

Moving on to North Yorkshire and Rooster's Baby Faced Assassin, a delicious 6.1% ABV American IPA bursting with Citra hops that oozed mango, grapefruit and pithy orange.  Already an award winner from the Society of Independent Brewers, the Assassin was itself annihilated by the festival public and sold out quite quickly.


The festival saw the return of Pokertree's cascadian ale/black IPA, Dark Nirvana.  It had been off the radar for a wee while and was one of my favourite new brews of 2014. I believe it had a new improved recipe this time around and I have to say it's bang on the money.  At 6.5% ABV, there's a very faint smokiness - some coffee coming through but not overpowering (the way I like it) - and evokes a reaction that makes you open your eyes a little wider and smile to the person beside you while saying "Oh yeah!"  Definitely the best from Pokertree's range.

Then from Nottingham came Flipside's Russian Rouble, a 7.3% ABV stout that was as smooth as Roger Moore's one liners.  I could actually imagine him sipping one of these (if vodka martinis weren't his thing) enjoying the bucket load of roasted malt interspersed with a creamy chocolate and coffee blend.

So far I've given a little snippet of five beers that I really enjoyed at the Belfast Beer and Cider Festival and with a little trepidation I have to confess that this beer blogger's favourite drink in the Ulster Hall was .... um ... a cider. *where's the embarrassed smiley?*

I'm not the biggest cider fan but this just blew me out of the applewater.  From Lisburn, Tempted's 6.4% ABV unpasteurised and unfiltered Festival Scrumpy was just a beezer of a tasty brute.  It's based on their bottled Medium Dry, but with less added apple juice so the alcohol and flavour is more prominent.  Owner Davy Uprichard told me that night that half the bittersweet apples used in the festival scrumpy are French which gives a slightly more rustic and smokey flavour.  This flavour is then balanced by being sweetened so it ends up medium sweet as opposed to medium dry.
The end product is so smooth, no sharpness or tangy bite at all.  Just imagine a liquid apple pie that is missing a generous dollop of warm custard.  Yeah, that's where we are with this one.  I was so Tempted, I had a second glass.

(Honourable Irish mentions also go to Knockout's Sorachi Ace IPA, Lacada's Devil's Washtub, Eight Degrees Amber Ella, Mourne Mountains Festival Export Stout and Northbound's Magnum 70 IPA.)

Wednesday, 9 November 2016


Cancer sucks.  We all know that.  We've all been affected in some way by cancer.  I've lost grandmothers, aunts, uncles and friends to the disease.  I learned only this week that my godmother is battling it.

So to highlight the issue, @BeerO'ClockShow in the UK and @IrishBeerSnob/@MrsBeerSnob in the Republic of Ireland have come together to help raise funds for two charities that deserve your attention, time and donation - and they're not asking you to give anything up.

The idea is simple.  This Friday, 11th November, is #BigBeeryNight16.

When having a beer this Friday, donate the cost of that beer to MacMillan Cancer Support if you live in the UK or the Irish Cancer Society if in the Republic.  Share pics of your beer on social media and use the hashtag #BigBeeryNight16

Be part of the biggest beer and charity initiative across the British and Irish isles.

Donate here for MacMillan Cancer Support or the Irish Cancer Society.

Cheers and sláinte.