Ireland and Wales Preview

We are finally making our first big beer trip of 2009, a journey to Ireland and Wales. Originally, the idea was to go over to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day but an Irish friend told us to wait and come over for Easter.

Easter is when the ‘best’ beer festival in Ireland happens in the city of Cork. Put on by the Franciscan Well Brewery, the Easter fest is the largest gathering of the Irish craft beer community on the calendar.

And this trip keeps evolving. At first, we were going to spend the whole time in Ireland. But the offhand comment by the friend a couple of weeks ago, “haven’t you seen it all…” got me thinking. Though we haven’t ‘seen it all’, maybe something different was in order. My first thought was Cornwall. Another Celtic nation, Cornwall has been on our list of places to visit for years. Unfortunately, Cornwall is not that easy to get to from Dublin.

But Wales, a short three hour ferry ride from Dublin, is virgin territory for us. If we spend the whole trip in Ireland, we can only add, at the most, three new breweries. But with six days in Wales, we will be able to add hopefully a dozen new breweries to The List. Our knowledge of Welsh brewing is limited to Brains Brewery and its sponsorship of Welsh rugby. We are really curious about the Welsh brewing scene.

After a few days of getting acclimated and seeing friends in Dublin, we will cross the Irish Sea to Holyhead, our gateway to Wales.

Our time in Wales overlaps with the National Cask Ale Week in the UK. We have the opportunity to attend a kickoff event at Kilverts in Hay-on-Wye. While Merideth is not too excited, any chance for a real ale event has me salivating.

We will also be climbing, weather permitting, the highest mountain England and Wales, Snowdon. At a mind-boggling 3,560 feet, the round trip journey takes five to seven hours from what I have read. Hopefully, there will be some beer at the top.

Returning to Ireland on Good Friday Eve, we will be confronted by a soon-to-be dry country. Good Friday is one of three days in the year that the pubs and off licenses are closed. And even the grocery stores get into the act by roping off their alcohol section. Luckily, it is only for Good Friday.

Staying in Wexford, we will have the dual responsibility of getting some pints in us as well as hitting an off license to stock up for Friday. On Good Friday, we are off to Cork. Since the pubs are closed, we will do a few touristy things, like visit the Kennedy homestead.

The main event of our trip, Franciscan Well’s Easter Festival, takes place in Cork. And the festival is actually on Easter Sunday. It will be a good opportunity to sample Irish craft beer all in one place as well as hanging out with our Irish friends again.

Cork is also home one of our favorite beer bars in Ireland, the Bierhaus. And, from what I hear, there is a new one too, Abbot’s Ale House that we will have to visit.

We will return to Dublin for one more day before flying home. It should be a good trip. Seeing friends and adding breweries to The List is what beer travel is all about.

New beergeek.TV Episode – Summer Solstice in Ireland

YiB-6“Summer Solstice in Ireland” is the latest Year in Beer episode of One Pint at a Time.

This was our ninth trip to Ireland and our second during summer solstice. Summer solstice in Ireland is pretty special – not for any hippie, new age reasons – it’s just really cool to stumble out of a pub at half ten and have it still be light out.

No matter how many times we travel to the Emerald Isle, we always meet interesting people and discover new things. It’s different every time. Familiar and comfortable, yet fresh and exciting. That’s what keeps us going back.

Wrapping Up Another Fine Trip

As Chris’s last post talked about, the weather in County Wicklow left us a bit soggy. Did you know that it rains 175-200 days a year in that part of Ireland? In any case, we tried to the make the most of it and for the most part we succeeded.

But before I tell you about the last day of our trip, the coolest thing ever happened on Friday night at Lynham’s, the only pub in the tiny town of Laragh.

YiB-6There we were, sitting at a table enjoying the free wireless, rivoted to our respective computers and drinking pints. The couple at a nearby table was apparently looking at us and whispering. As they got up to leave, the guy said “Bye Chris” and shook his hand. He then showed us that he had pulled up on his phone. They walked out before we could catch their name or invite them to sit with us.

Luckily, they came back to the pub, since it’s the only one in town. Chris and I started a brief “You do it. No you do it” discussion about going up to them. Luckily again, after they got their drinks, they came to sit at the same table as before. It turns out that they saw our shirts and decided to look up the site. We ended up talking to Glen and Alissa the rest of the evening! We now have some new friends in Dublin, which is where they live, and they may even meet us at Oktoberfest in September!

YiB-6Saturday, we finished up our Ireland trip with a pub crawl around Dublin. We went to a few new pubs that Chris had seen in a travel guide and they were well worth it. The authors obviously preferred the old school ornate pubs. They were on the quiet side and off the beaten path.

Pub #1 was a new one for us… the Stag’s Head. Located down an alleyway off of Dame Street, the Stag’s Head screams old school. Opened in 1870, the pub has leather seats, stained glass windows, a mahogany bar – and yes – a stag head. They also had Guinness in the bottle so Chris could continue his streak. And I continued mine.

YiB-6We moved on to Pub #2 which was a return to the Bull & Castle, the pub that we first visited last December.  We knew we would be able to get some pints of Galway Hooker… we couldn’t leave Ireland without quaffing a few more.

And we got some keen insights into the Irish craft beer industry from Declan, the manager at Bull & Castle.

Next stop was the Porterhouse. Originally, Chris wanted to just stop there to see what time Sliotar was playing but then remembered they had their new beer on tap; Hophead. So, we ended up stopping for a few.

YiB-6For the end of phase one of the pub crawl, we headed back in the direction of our hotel and stopped at the Long Hall, another ornate Victorian-era pub. And yet again, Chris was able to get his large bottle.

Located on South Great George’s Street just off the city center, a pint at the Long Hall is a nice change of pace from the Temple Bar craziness. The staff is friendly and the Guinness is plentiful.

After checking into the hotel, we returned to the city center to revisit Messrs Maguire, the other brewpub in the city. Chris actually got in wearing shorts and it was already the evening. They must have known who we were.

When we last visited Messrs Maguire in December 2006, they didn’t even have any of their own beer. But this visit, they did. We split a sampler tray and the beers continue to be respectable.

YiB-6We finished up our Ireland trip back at the Porterhouse to see the house band Sliotar. We first saw Sliotar 10 years ago and on our Ireland trips we plan to be in Dublin on a Saturday or Sunday so we can see them perform.

To sum things up, we did a few of our usual Ireland things (Gus O’Connors in Doolin, listened to Sliotar at the Porterhouse in Dublin, and ate dinner at Wagamama), but we also had some new experiences that made it another fine trip!

Nitro Update: The final tally was 47 pints of beer on nitrogen. We will be donating $235 to the Angel Project.

To see all the trip pictures, click here.

Up next month, Oregon Brewer’s Festival at the end of July.


Rain Rain Go Away

I commented to Merideth before we left on this trip that we were probably going to be punished for all the good weather we had last month in Germany. That was the impetus for us leaving an offering to St. Brigid.

YiB-6Unfortunately, the offering hasn’t been enough, as we suffer through another day of rain. We have pretty much finished up the shooting for One Pint at a Time, but instead of enjoying the natural beauty of the Wicklow Mountains, we are in a pub in Laragh enjoying pints and free wireless.

We did try to get some hiking in today. The plan was to do a 9km around the Upper Lake at Glendalough National Park. And even though it was raining lightly, we tried to tough it out but we ended up getting soaked doing a shorter 3-4km loop.

To cure our rain soaked chill, we drank a couple of pints at a nearby pub. And while we were sitting there, it stopped raining so we decided to give it another go. Guinness IS strength…

But after 3kms, it started raining again, so we packed it in for good.  Oh… and these little mosquito-type things bit the crap out of my legs.

But to catch you up on the last couple of days… the other morning, we left Cork, driving east to our last major beer stop of the trip… Carlow Brewing. Many people in the States will be familiar with their O’Hara’s Stout.

Located in the town and county of the same name, Carlow Brewing is one of the Irish breweries we first visited in October 1999. And things looked pretty familiar, as the train station was still next door.

We were able to meet with the brewer, Liam Hanlon, and he was kind enough to take time out of his busy day to talk beer with us. And I do mean busy. To keep up with demand they are currently brewing twice a day. Due to Liam’s limited time, we skipped the brewery tour and went straight to tasting.

Carlow has three main beers; Curim Gold Wheat, O’Hara’s (formerly Molings) Red and O’Hara’s Stout.

The Stout is definitely the star, with a flavor that is much more assertive than the big brand Irish Stouts.

But the Red and Wheat are also good, with the Wheat really standing out for both of us. It is an American-style wheat hopped with Cascade. If you can imagine a warm summer day in Ireland – something hard for us to do right now – Curim would be the perfect beer.

We are off to Dublin tomorrow for the last day of our trip and we’ll be flying home on Sunday. As promised, we are going to check out a few new pubs and see if I can get into Messrs Maguire wearing shorts.

Nitro Challenge Update: Merideth has yet to order a large bottle of Guinness from the shelf… she says it is too carbonated. Meanwhile, for me, there has been only two pubs that have not had bottles… The tally is now 41 pints.


St. Brigid & Me

One of the many holy wells in Ireland dedicated to St. BrigidSince we are in Ireland right now, I have been thinking more than ever about St. Brigid. Something I haven’t talked about much is my connection with one of the most beloved saints in Ireland. Known as ‘the Mary of the Gael’, St. Brigid is known for a great many things, including her generosity, her compassion toward the poor, and her ability to turn bathwater to beer.

When I was in the 10th grade, I went through the necessary hoops to become a confirmed Catholic. The saint name I chose was Brigid. I even added it to my name at my high school graduation. I don’t remember why exactly I took that name, but I do remember looking through a book to peruse my choices. Little did I know at the time, the depth to which fate would have led me to choose St. Brigid.

The first connection is the love affair I would eventually develop with Ireland. When I was younger, I had no concept of travel. No one in my family ever traveled abroad and it was difficult for me to think much beyond California, even. But, as you know, Ireland is one of our favorite countries to visit. As a sea faring girl (my name means protector of the sea and I grew up on the beaches of Carmel), the west coast of Ireland calls to me. In the rugged beauty and harsh existence, I find comfort and coziness. To me, the rough Atlantic Sea sounds of music as it hits the rocky shores.

Next, Brigid is known to have been generous and compassionate toward the poor and disenfranchised of her day. A social worker of sorts. This included providing staples to the poor and care to the sick. One of the primary myths (or miracles, depending on how you view it) associated  with St. Brigid is how Ireland became the Emerald Isle. The story goes that Brigid approached a miserly king to request aid to the poor. He sarcastically responded to her that he would provide as much as her green mantle (cloak) could cover. Thinking that the cloak would barely cover the few feet in front of her, St. Brigid threw her mantle out and it miraculously spread throughout the entire countryside, cloaking the land in green. This, of course, came as a great shock to the king. As a social worker, I find these stories of her generosity and compassion very inspiring.

Most recently, I have become aware of St. Brigid’s miracle of beer. She worked in a leper colony and when the people of the colony implored her for beer to drink, she found there to be none. By the sheer power of her blessing, she turned water meant for bathing into beer for all to drink. She was also said to have turned her own dirty bathwater into beer for clerics visiting her monastery to drink. Another story endearing her to beer drinkers is that she was reported to supply 18 churches from just one barrel of beer.

A poem attributed to St. Brigid and often quoted by beer lovers, states ‘I would like a great lake of beer for the king of kings; I would like the people of heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.’

What more could a beer loving social worker aspire to be than a woman who wishes upon all the people of the world, rich and poor, sick and well, a steady supply of beer.