“Those Crafty Irish” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
This was our ninth trip to the Emerald Isle and she continues to be one of our favorite countries to visit. Throughout our trip, we focused on Irish Craft Beer, including ending our trip by attending the Easter Beer Festival in Cork. Over the years, we have met and befriended a number of people in the Irish craft beer community and this episode is really about their efforts to promote good beer in Ireland.
So enjoy our latest Irish adventures…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
Easter Sunday was a glorious day in Cork. The sun was shining and the weather warm, maybe the nicest day of the trip.
To be honest, I was a little worried about how to act on such an important religious holiday in a Catholic country. Going to a beer festival seemed a little odd and the last thing I wanted was to be branded a blasphemer on Easter Sunday.
Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Unlike Good Friday, which was dry, Easter Sunday was wet; very wet indeed as the following day was a bank holiday. Plus, two Heineken Cup quarterfinal rugby matches, one involving the Irish team Munster and the other Leinster, were on tap for the day. The Irish are mad rugby fans and the matches guaranteed a serious party.
Before we headed to the festival, we had a brewery tour. One of the breweries at the festival was the Pilot Research Brewery at University College Cork (UCC). The festival is their one public event of the year. On Saturday, Merideth met and chatted with one of the students, Alex, a PhD candidate in the program. He was kind enough to offer us a tour before the festival on Sunday. We were excited because not only could we add it to the list but we had never been to university research brewery before.
What happens at a university research brewery you ask? They really don’t research beer. Rather they study the ingredients that make up beer. Part of the University’s Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, the brewery is a vehicle for analyzing proteins, enzymes, etc. The department has other tools, such as a bakery, where similar type research is being done. Alex went into much more detail, especially about his research, and we did our best to understand.
Alex, like most of the students in the program, is from Germany. And it turns out, he worked with the hop breeder we met on our Hallertau tour in September.
As for the beer, we were able to drink a very nice lager. We also tried two versions of a non-alcoholic drink made from wort. I didn’t quite understand the process of how it was made. A soda-like drink, one was cranberry flavored and the other mandarin orange. Both were quite refreshing and delicious. As for the important question…yes, the program students get to drink their research.
After the brewery tour, we headed back to the Franciscan Well for day two of the festival. We arrived an hour after opening and the crowd was sparse. Was the small crowd due to Easter? Not at all. Once the rugby matches ended, in which both Irish teams were victorious, the Irish streamed into the Well and the party started in earnest.
Sunday was pretty much a repeat of Saturday. We chatted with our brewer friends and ICB friends. We also met some young students at UCC who do beer reviews on Youtube. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of their show.
Our beer rotations were also very similar. I stuck with the Galway Hooker IPA, Carlow Druid’s Brew and White Gypsy IPA, while Merideth focused on her Chocolate Truffle Stout from the Porterhouse.
As the hours passed and nightfall came, it was time to wrap up another chapter of our Ireland adventures. We have been traveling to the Emerald Isle and drinking Irish craft beer for a decade now. We witnessed the ups and downs, seeing breweries, good and bad, come and go. But we left the Easter Beer Festival and Cork with a good feeling. Something special is brewing in Ireland and we have been there to see it.
We finally reached the culmination of our trip, the Easter Beer Festival at Cork’s brewpub, the Franciscan Well. Held on both days of Easter weekend, the fest is the best gathering of Irish brewers and beer.
Ten breweries from both Ireland and Northern Ireland were set up in the Well’s expansive beer garden pouring dozens of beer ranging from Kölsch-style to Imperial Stout. In a country where beer travel can be challenging, it was nice to have most of the country’s breweries gathered in one place.
Arriving at opening time on Saturday afternoon, we were joined by several hundred fellow Irish craft beer fans in savoring the beers.
Hilden Brewery, from Northern Ireland, had a nice array of handpumps, which immediately caught my eye. I tried their beer for the first time at the beginning of the trip at the Porterhouse’s craft beer festival. I quickly zeroed in on Ireland’s Call, their St. Patrick’s Day brew. At the fest, you can order a pint or half pint. My first inclination, since it was going to be a long day, was a half. But the brewer encouraged me to get a pint and a nice pint it was.
Merideth, of course, bee-lined for her favorite Chocolate Truffle Stout from the Porterhouse. She would go through a few of them over the weekend.
There were plenty of new beers to try and try them we did. Galway Hooker’s Dark Wheat, Franciscan Well’s Phúca (a spiced Christmas Ale), and College Green’s Headless Dog were some of the brews we tasted for the first time.
The newest entries on the Irish craft beer scene were also on hand. White Gypsy, from Templemore in County Tipperary, debuted its beers at the Easter Festival. Started by Cuilan Loughnane, who also brews at Messrs Maguire in Dublin, White Gypsy made quite a splash with a 5.2% ABV India Pale Ale. An English IPA, the brew had quite a hop bite to it; so much so that I swore Cuilan was using American hops. He’s not.
The other newcomer debuting in Cork was Barrelhead Brewery. Based in Dublin, it is presently brewed on White Gypsy’s kit. They brought Bull Island Pale Ale, a solid debut beer. Not currently available for sale, the Pale Ale will be a great addition to the Irish beer scene when it’s available.
At the festival, we met up again with our friend, Beer Nut John and several other members of Irishcraftbrewer.com. During the month of March, ICB conducted a poll of its members to vote for their favorite Irish beer. The results of the third annual Irish Craft Brewer Awards were announced at the festival on Saturday.
The Grand Prize winner was Galway Hooker’s Irish Pale Ale, a beer we have been enjoying and plugging for a couple of years now. A well-deserved award, congrats go out to Aidan and Ronan for their wonderful brew.
Also awarded at the festival by ICB was Beer of the Festival, a vote in which we were able to participate. This went to Carlow Brewing’s Druid’s Brew, a ‘Velvet Irish Stout’ on cask. Only available at this festival and Great British Beer Festival, Druid’s Brew was “transcendental”, as a friend would say. Given that we are missing GBBF this year, I made sure I got my share of Druid’s Brew.
As the day evolved into night, my beer rotation became set to my favorites of the festival. Galway Hooker IPA, Carlow’s Druid’s Brew and White Gypsy’s IPA.
The most humorous event of our Saturday involved Druid’s Brew, Merideth and the clothes John was wearing. I have known Merideth for 26 years and in all those years of drinking beer with her, this was a first. As we were all chatting, Merideth suddenly had a violent twitch or something and tossed half her beer all over John. She was embarrassed and apologetic. But after the initial shock was over, we all got a good laugh out of the incident.
Dumping a good beer on a good friend is pretty much the signal to wind down an evening. We said our goodbyes and headed back to our hotel to rest up for Easter Sunday when we would do it all again.
On a blustery and rainy Holy Thursday, we boarded the Stena Europe for our journey back to Ireland. We were sad to leave Wales, a country we thoroughly enjoyed, but were excited about the last leg of our trip.
We situated ourselves in the bar area for the three and a half hour journey to Rosslare. The bar area was filled with rugby players ready for some serious partying. Not wanting to feel like an outsider, I decided to have a beer too. Passing on the Stella, Carlsberg, etc., I decided to drink a couple of our Welsh beers. Procuring a half pint glass from the bar, I pulled out a bottle of Evan Evans Cwrw from bag.
Then the seasickness set in. It was quite a rough ride and between the feelings of queasiness, all I could think was how can a 25 ton ship could rock and roll this much. Halfway through the journey, I did get sick, though I give myself credit for being able to actually make it to the toilet. Not everyone could make that claim. Merideth didn’t have the greatest journey either but the ‘protector of the sea’, that is what Merideth means, never had to make the trip to the toilet.
After almost four hours at sea, we finally landed at Rosslare. Back on dry land but still feeling queasy, we climbed into a taxi to take us to our hotel in Wexford.
We wanted to find an off license in Wexford town to see the Holy Thursday phenomenon. Because Good Friday is dry, the Irish, apparently, go on a alcohol buying frenzy the day before. We wanted to see this for our own eyes and the video camera. But we couldn’t find an off license so our Holy Thursday ended with us sitting in the hotel bar enjoying a few Guinness and watching football on the TV.
Good Friday was the most anticipated day of our trip. If not the most anticipated, it was certainly the most talked about. What were we going to do on a dry day in Ireland? The answer was act like normal tourists.
Picking up a rental car, we headed down to Hook Head. On the southeast coast, Hook Head is home to the oldest working lighthouse in the world. Like normal tourists we took a tour of the 800 year old lighthouse which was the first non-brewery tour we have taken in a long time.
Then it was on to Cork.
There are ways to get around the Good Friday alcohol ban. Besides the obvious answer of drinking the stockpile of booze bought the previous day, there are a couple of other options. The taxi driver in Wexford told us that groups of friends will take the ferry over the to the UK and back; sort of a booze cruise. For us, another ferry ride was definitely not an option.
We also heard that some pubs are discretely open and a secret knock will get you in the back door. We never saw any evidence of this or rather, we were never invited.
Finally, hotels are allowed to serve alcohol to residents after 6pm with a meal.
So when the magical hour struck, we joined quite a large contingent of residents of our Cork city hotel in the bar. It felt all very secretive as our name and room number was checked by one of the hotel staff. To make the atmosphere complete, they drew down the shades so outsiders wouldn’t be drawn in by the sight of alcohol and merriment. Our very first dry Good Friday in Ireland ended for us in the hotel bar with our pints of Beamish Stout.
After a series of uneventful flights, we arrived in Dublin early on April Fools Day. We’re familiar with the city and there is something very comforting about Dublin for us. It was a nice place to recover from a long day of flying and start a European journey. We left our bags at the hotel and went to get some coffee. Then it was off to meet our friends Ute and Wolfgang.
Our first beer stop was The Palace on Fleet Street at the opposite end of Temple Bar from the Porterhouse. The Palace, a famous old Victorian pub, is one of the few mainstream Irish pubs that stock Irish craft beer. This was important, as our theme of the Ireland portion of this trip is to try to forgo the mass-produced, foreign-owned Stouts and drink only Irish craft beer. The Palace pours two craft beers, Galway Hooker IPA and Temple Bräu, a lager from the Porterhouse.
Ute and Wolfgang came over from Germany to meet us and they love Dublin as much as we do. Both Guinness drinkers, they surprised us and ordered Galway Hookers along with us. In the ten months since I last had the beer, I had forgotten how good it is. After a few rounds of beer and lots of catching up, we all moved on to the next pub.
At the Porterhouse we met our Irish friend John, better known as the Beer Nut. Not only a genuinely nice person, John is part of Irish Craft Brewers and a great resource on the Irish beer scene.
And, as if the Porterhouse knew about our theme, our time in Dublin coincided with their Independent Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival. Not only could we get Porterhouse beer, but also brews from the other Irish craft producers.
I was particularly excited because I had my favorite Porterhouse beer, Wrasslers XXXX, as well as, cask beers from the Northern Ireland brewery Hilden. Merideth was pleased because Porterhouse brewed a Chocolate Truffle Stout, a beer she compared very favorably with Young’s Double Chocolate.
After a number of beers at the Porterhouse, Ute and Wolfgang needed some rest and we needed to check into our hotel and shower. We decided to meet back up later at the Porterhouse to watch some football.
On our way to the hotel, we decided to take the scenic route and stop by the Bull & Castle to drop off some Russian River beer to the manager, Declan.
Declan was there. So, of course we ordered beers and started talking. One beer led to another and next thing we knew, it was time for us to be back at the Porterhouse. So much for showering… it’s overrated anyways.
At the Porterhouse, we met back up with John, other ICB members, and Ute and Wolfgang. While enjoying a few more beers, we watched Ireland score a late equalizer in their World Cup qualifier versus Italy.
We finally made it to our hotel around 11pm, 12 hours after we had dropped off our bags. Tired from the jet lag and beer drinking, these are our favorite kind of days here in Europe… drinking with friends.