Never has the country’s whistle been so comprehensively wetted! From 20th birthday Imperial Stouts and historic whiskies to small-batch gins and premium vodkas, we celebrate the very best that the Irish drinks industry has to offer. Plus, the insider’s guide to the Irish Craft Beer Festival in the RDS and Joe Elliott leads the tributes to Oliver Hughes.
We doubt that Santa or any of his elves will be in attendance, but nevertheless it will be Christmas Day on September 8 when the Irish Craft Beer Festival returns to the Dublin RDS with over 50 brewers, cidermakers and distillers showcasing their wares for three glorious days. They are – cue fanfare! - Arthurstown Brewing, Beavertown, Black Donkey, Black’s, Boyne Brewhouse, Bushmills, Carrig, Dew Drop, Dungarvan, Eight Degrees, Galway Hooker, Hope, Independent, Jack Cody’s, Killarney Brewing, Kinnegar, Long Meadow, Longueville House, MacIvors Cider, Metalman, MONT, Mountain Man, N17, O’Hara’s, O Brother, Odells, Porterhouse/Dingle, Rascals, Reel Deel, Scotts Cider, St Patrick’s Distillery, Station Works, Stonewell Cider, Sullivan’s Brewing Co, Toby’s Cider, Tom Crean’s, Trouble, West Kerry, Western Herd, White Hag, Wicklow Brewery and Wicklow Wolf. Needless to say, Team Hop Press will be in the thick of the RDS action with our man Stuart Clark hosting a number of the panel discussions and regular festival updates and photo galleries on hotpress.com.
“Every year it gets broader in terms of who we have taking part,” enthuses the man who launched the festival in 2011, Seamus O’Hara, and whose Carlow Brewing Company is currently celebrating its 20th birthday. “We’ve our own cider now, Falling Apple, so that’s a side of the industry we want to highlight along with the growth in independent Irish distilling,” he resumes. “The ‘independent’ part is key; we don’t have any big corporate sponsor, which adds I think to the togetherness of the festival. There are quite a few new Irish breweries who I’m delighted to have on board, plus guests like Beavertown from London who’ve been making a real name for themselves and Odell’s who are American craft beer royalty. That comparing of experiences is really important. I’m also delighted that Kevin Dundon, who’s producing some excellent beers in his Arthurstown brewery, is doing a cookery demo on the opening night.” As Seamus rightly points out, it’s not just a craft beer golden age we’re living in with Ireland also producing a world-class range of ciders, whiskeys, gins, vodkas and mixers. Some like Dingle and St. Patrick’s Distillery are still in their babygrows while Bacardi, Guinness, Bushmills, Jameson and Hennessy are among the household names building on centuries of proud tradition. We’ve also been treated to such marriages made in heaven as Jameson swapping barrels with Franciscan Well for their Caskmates Irish Whiskey; the Foreign Affair Red IPA collaboration between O’Hara’s and Virginia’s Starr Hill Brewery and Radikale’s using Blackwater No. 5 gin botanicals instead of hops to give their aptly-titled Radical Ale its remarkable flavour.
“The getting together with like-minded people is hugely important to us,” Seamus resumes. “I think that transmits out to craft beer lovers; we’re having fun doing what we do. We’ve a Blackthorn Export Irish Stout that we also did with Starr Hill, and a third collaboration, From Lublin To Dublin, with a Polish brewery, Pinta.” Never ones to let the grass grow under their feet, O’Hara’s made their debut this year at Knockanstockan and have collaborated on a series of events with Whelan’s. “For me, craft beer and the independent music scene are a natural fit,” Seamus proffers. “We’re both creative industries looking to expand our audience.” Music and the arts are very much at the core of the Be Kreativ Foto Series, which turns the camera on such bright young Irish things as BARQ, the Dublin outfit fronted by soul siren Jess Kav, and buzz band VOXX who played a stormer at Forbidden Fruit. Curated by Hot Press on behalf of Beck’s, the latter will be gracing our pages shortly.
The business side of things is moving at a furious pace with, in the last week alone, the aforementioned Franciscan Well announcing a doubling of its brewing capacity in Cork; cult Milwaukee beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, confirming its imminent arrival in Ireland; the unveiling of an €11 million redevelopment programme for the Old Jameson Distillery in Smithfield, and a Canadian firm pumping €5.5 million into the Glendalough Distillery. “It’s incredible how much is going on at the moment,” Seamus reflects. “We’re still only at 3% in terms of craft beer’s overall share of the Irish market, so the potential for growth is massive.” Asked what O’Hara’s have up their Irish Craft Beer Festival sleeves, Seamus smiles and says, “I don’t want to give too much away but we’ll be bringing a couple of barrel-aged beers for their first outing. We’ll be doing some fruit beers and pale ales, and will have our anniversary celebration Imperial Stout. We’re still playing around with a couple of things, so there’s also an element of, ‘I don’t know yet!’”
Irish Craft Beer Festival Talks
6pm: Kevin Dundon Cooking Demo (right)
7pm: The Beer Necessities
6pm: Bushmills Malt Masterclass
7pm: The Beer Necessities
4pm: The Beer Necessities
5pm: Brew Kids On The Block
6pm: The Craft Pioneers
See hotpress.com and irishcraftbeerfestival.ie for details