This Saturday, our friends at the National Homebrew Club will be hosting what is probably Ireland's first homebrew beer festival. This is a completely free event both in terms of entry and beer. In fact, it has been worked out that there are roughly 500 pints of homebrew going for free.
This isn't any old homebrew either, this is award wining homebrew. The winners of the NHC national homebrew competition earlier in the year are back with their brews so everyone can have a taste and ask questions of the brewer. This festival will highlight the sort of quality you can achieve with amateur brewing and this in turn can lead to brewers going on to open their own brewery and add to the ever increasing list of Irish micro breweries in Ireland, a number that should be over 40 by this time next year.
I will be there myself with my Dark Stranger Stout which won silver medal in the stout category and was also one of the few beers to get 44, the highest points on the day.
The beer will be served from corny kegs in a cask setup with hand pumps and since the beers are keg conditioned, this will be a real ale affair.
The overall winning beer, Ormeau Dark will also be there if you haven't had it yet. The beer was brewed commercially by Trouble Brewing.
The event kicks off at the Bernard Shaw at 12pm and all are welcome.
Every year I travel to Kilkenny with a group of friends to attend the Cat Laughs comedy festival. It has always been a great festival; and add to that some fantastic restaurants and pubs and a good time is had by all.
However, there was always one thing lacking: craft beer. In previous years we have pretty much camped out in The Grapevine as it was the only place I was likely to find craft. Then last year two more venues appeared: Cleeres and The Pumphouse; Both serving a decent range of bottles.
This year the availability was a lot better. Not only have Carlow Brewing opened a craft pub (right beside Cleeres and The Pumphouse) but craft taps have started appearing. And two of the restaurants we visited also had craft on their wine list. Only one minor downside, another venue that had craft bottles for last years Savour festival no longer carried them, so we didn't spend much time there.
So where do you go if you are in Kilkenny and looking for a locally brewed craft beer or cider:
Friday: It starts with a trade session. A good number of people come through the door. Many are pubs looking for new options for their customers. They've picked the right place to come. With the major exceptions of Hilden, Dingle and Clanconnel, almost all the Irish Craft Breweries are here. Hilden, just having finished their Hildenfest have run out of beer; Dingle Brewing are at the Dingle Foodfest and don't have enough people to cover both festivals; Clanconnel are moving into their new premises. So all can be forgiven for not making it.
4pm, the doors open to the general public. As can be expected the footfall was a little slow to start but by 8 o'clock the hall was well filled. And a word about the hall. It's a great venue with a lot of character: old Victorian Ironwork posts which break the space up nicely. The breweries are placed on both sides of the hall and all of them have bars set up. Attendance was decent; though it was competing with Culture Night, the kickoff of Octoberfest and the Arthur's Day hangover. Talking to the brewers afterwards, they certainly seemed happy with the footfall. The comedian Joe Rooney was a no show (he demanded more money at the last minute) but the final set from Jerry Fish was fantastic - worth the entry price alone.
Coinciding with the growing number of microbreweries in Ireland, and the pubs that serve their beers, there’s also an increasing number of special events around the country where Irish craft beer can be tried. Often, the brewers use these to launch special edition beers that can’t be had anywhere else.
Several of the specialist beer pubs also run events during the year: both the Porterhouse and Bull & Castle have special Irish beer promotions in March, plus an Oktoberfest in the autumn, as does the Bierhaus in Cork. You’ll also find Irish breweries represented at food and drink events like the Waterford Festival of Food (14-17 April) and the Belfast Christmas Market (19 November - 18 December [TBC]). This article, however, is about the full-sized festivals where you can have a day out and sample the best our native brewing industry has to offer.
Cuilan from White Gypsy is not what I would picture as a champion of fair-trade eco-aware local produce. But behind the Munster jersey is a very clear vision of where Irish brewing should go. And I mean vision. Here is a brewery that avoids the target-marketed focus-grouped inanity that infests our age. White Gypsy's stated aims are for a good beer brewed with local ingredients bought at a fair price and drank by people who actually care what they drink.