While the Irish brewing scene hasn't grown as much in the last twelve months as it has in recent years, the task of picking a best beer from the hundred or so operational breweries has not got any easier. In this the eighth edition of the competition, 73 different beers received a preference from a Beoir member, cutting across styles, strengths and county of origin. As always, every beer brewed on the island and available in the previous year was eligible and voting was open to current Beoir members.
When all the counting up was complete, three winning beers and a winning brewery were selected. And they were:
The Irish laws governing taxation on beer, including where the various tax breaks are applied and to what, are largely controlled by European law. Specifically, Directive 92/83/EEC allows member states to grant up to 50% excise duty relief on brewers producing up to 200kHL of beer annually, and allows for extra-low rates of excise duty on beer below 2.8% ABV.
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The second annual Indie Beer Week begins on Friday 22nd June and runs through to the following weekend. This is an initiative by the Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland and is made up of a series of events all across the country. 28 independent Irish microbreweries are involved, from Kinnegar to Black's of Kinsale and Bridewell to O Brother.
2018 is the seventh consecutive year in which Beoir has chosen a Beer of the Year and two runners-up. As always, the net is cast as widely as possible, with votes coming in from Beoir members all over Ireland, and abroad, and beers selected purely on merit alone, regardless of style, strength, availability or brewery size or ownership. The only criteria is that beers be brewed in Ireland and commercially available during the previous twelve months. It is the purest impression possible of what the discerning drinking public appreciates in Irish beer.
This year a total of 107 different beers received a preference from the voters. From this a top three was chosen mathematically and for the second year running the highest-scoring brewery overall was awarded the best brewery prize.
2018 Beer of the Year
a double IPA by Whiplash Beer, of no fixed abode
It has been a momentous year for Whiplash, beginning of course with it winning Beoir's 2017 Beer of the Year for a previous double IPA, Surrender to the Void. Since then there have been no fewer than five new beers in the same style using different hop combinations. Despite this variety, quadruple-dry-hopped Saturate won drinkers' hearts, topping the table by the highest margin in the history of the competition. The recipe showcases Mosaic hops, employing 20g of hops per litre of beer, and captures their tropical essence perfectly.
Late 2017 saw Whiplash move from its usual headquarters at Rye River and become fully independent, with co-owners Alex and Alan making the project their primary occupations. Alex is working temporarily at Larkin's Brewery in Co. Wicklow, and it's expected the next batch of Whiplash beers will be from there.
a pale ale by Trouble Brewing, Kill, Co. Kildare
Despite a number of near misses over the years, and some very deserving beers, this is the first time Trouble Brewing has featured in the Beoir awards. Ambush's success is a combination of persistence, fashion and of course sheer beer quality. Version 1.0 arrived in early 2017 and two further numbered editions were to follow, all excellent, before the brewery settled on the recipe which is now regularly available, on draught and in cans.
There's a nod to the New England style in here, with its cloudy appearance, soft texture and low bitterness. It avoids the extremes, however, keeping everything fun, juicy, and very drinkable.
At the 2017 Alltech Brews & Food Festival, Kinnegar and The White Hag shared a stand and launched this collaboration beer, brewed on the White Hag kit and presented as the first in a North-Western collaboration series. Though there's nothing new about putting coffee in stout, or ageing it in whiskey barrels, and certainly nothing new about serving it nitrogenated, the combination of these elements here is greater than the sum of its parts. It's smooth without being dull; warming without being boozy and flavoured without being a gimmick.
Of course, as a special edition beer, it may never return to draught again. There might still be a rare bottle or two around, however.
The Oliver Hughes Award for Best Brewery
no fixed abode
OK, so it's not a brewery as such. Recently, Whiplash has produced beers at Rising Sons in Cork and Boyne Brewhouse in Drogheda, as well as its original home of Rye River. We've had collaborations with Galway Bay (Ireland), Max Lager's (USA) and Beerbliotek (Sweden). Though pale 'n' hoppy is the principal specialism, with a significant portion of recent output being double IPAs, 2017 saw the first Whiplash Berliner weisse and its first quadruple. A black IPA is apparently in the tanks for early 2018 release.
Though Saturate (above) garnered far and away the most votes, the other double IPAs scored highly too, indicating that Whiplash is very much in tune with what the Irish beer enthusiast enjoys drinking.
Thanks as always to everyone who voted, and congratulations to all the winners.