Birthday Wishes

For many people birthday wishes include sleeping in, spa treatments, and having friends and family wait on them hand and foot. I guess I wish for that, too, but my birthday doesn’t usually turn out that way.  And I’m okay with that.

The last few years I have been whisked away to great beer places on my birthday, including Belgium, Australia (via San Francisco), and Ireland. Admittedly, however, this year started with a bit of grumbling.

We arrived in London the day before my birthday then proceeded to spend the afternoon and night drinking beer. With only a few hours sleep, Chris and I were on a train to Heathrow at 6:30am the next morning; not exactly the leisurely morning of birthday wishes. I was tired and cranky, but the complaining stopped when we reached Dublin city center later that day.

Pork belly at Bull and Castle

My first birthday treat was a pork belly lunch at the Bull and Castle near Christ Church. One of Dublin’s first craft beer bars, we’ve been going there for a number of years. They have a good selection of American craft beer (the bartender recognized my Speakeasy sweatshirt from the eyes on the back), but of course, I didn’t travel to Ireland to drink American beer.

The birthday girl and her Galway Hooker

I enjoyed a Galway Hooker from Roscommon to start, but eventually moved on to Buckley’s Golden Ale, a beer brewed by Carlow Brewing especially for Bull and Castle. Chris was happy to try Black Rock Irish Stout from Dungarvan Brewing for the first time and loved it. Dungarvan opened in April of this year to rave reviews and continues to do well in the still growing Irish craft beer market. However, Black Rock’s smoky flavor was a little out of my taste, so I ended my lunch with the tried and true O’Hara’s Irish Stout from Carlow Brewing.

The birthday girl at Against the Grain

Our friend John (aka thebeernut) told us about another great beer bar, Against The Grain, that opened a few months ago. Not too far from Bull and Castle, we braved the icy sidewalks to get there. When we found it, we weren’t sure the corner pub was open, but fortunately it was. The quiet pub was a lot brighter inside than it first appeared. It’s quiet and mellow (there are no TV’s or blaring music) and they have a stack of board games for patrons to play. It was the perfect place to continue recovering from my jet lag and lack of sleep to get more into the birthday spirit.

The Belfast Blonde, a clean and refreshing 4.3% pale ale, from College Green in Belfast, was my beer choice at Against The Grain, while Chris drank a Galway Hooker. Despite confusion about the pub being open (while we sat at the bar a pair of guys came and went thinking it was closed), the staff was friendly and so were the other few customers seated near us. If you’re looking for Irish craft beer in a pub off the beaten track, this is the place.

Some of the beer available at L Mulligan Grocer

We then made a quick stop at the Porterhouse in Temple Bar, so Chris could get his Wrassler’s 4X before ending my birthday night at L. Mulligan Grocer in Stoneybatter. This “eating and drinking emporium” opened in July 2010 and serves an amazing food selection along with Irish craft beer.

At the back of the long and narrow bar area is the warm and cozy main dining room. Each of the thick wooded tables had a ‘reserved’ sign made of Scrabble tiles, which made it all the more endearing to me and Chris. One of the waitstaff seated us at a table for 10, which confused me at first. As our friends trickled in, it became clear that Chris had something special in mind for me. He also had something special in mind for the people who so generously came out to celebrate my birthday, a California beer tasting.

The California beers were indeed enjoyed by our table, but I stuck with Trouble Brewing’s Ór, a refreshing golden ale. The food at our table was amazing. From the parsnip and chestnut soup and the potted crab to the turkey and ham roulade and fish special, everything was cooked to perfection. Conversation was never lacking, as we were all jolly and the Irish gift of gab was alive and well. The only thing that quieted us down was the dessert, a chocolate cake made with Trouble Brewing’s latest brew, a porter called Dark Arts. Crunchy on the back edge, moist inside, and topped with a cream cheese frosting, it was one of the best birthday cakes I’ve ever had! Plus, made with beer, it was a girl beer geek’s birthday dream.

The moral of the story? Birthday wishes come in all shapes and sizes. While my birthday started in an early, harried, and extremely tired state, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Early departures can be unsavory and difficult prospects during vacations, but I didn’t come all this way to stay in my hotel room. It was a magical and fun-filled day and we wouldn’t have gotten in nearly as much as we did if it wasn’t for Chris seeing the bigger picture during the planning stages of the trip. Go raibh maith agat to all who made my birthday wonderful!

View all the Dublin images

New beergeek.TV Episode – Those Crafty Irish

“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.

An Irish Easter

What an Easter treat!

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.

It’s true!

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.

I think it is a 10 barrel brewhouse

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.

Chris with Alex, our tour guide.

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.

Pouring a pint of Hooker

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.

The happy beer travelers on Easter

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.


Celebrating Irish Craft Beer

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.

A nice crowd on Easter Saturday

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.

Northern Ireland was represented by Hilden

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.

Ireland’s newest brewery White Gypsy

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.

Ronan and Aidan of Galway Hooker

At the festival, we met up again with our friend, Beer Nut John and several other members of 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.

Best beer at the fest

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.

dumping a beer on a friend is an Irish tradition

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.


Holy and Good

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.