I am summoned to the Irish Embassy in London. Have they decided I'm too plastic, I ponder? No, nothing like that, the Embassy is hosting the Irish Food Board (Bord Bia) event 'Spirit of Sharing', and I've been invited.
The event showcases 20 drinks producers across whiskey, gin, liqueurs, poitín and, of course, beer. The UK is a huge market for this sector, with sales last year of over £280m (€365m) and growth of around 10%. The Food Board are keen to drive this growth further, and presumably this is part of an ongoing programme to connect producers with new markets.
Brewers made up a quarter of the producers, and represented the established - Carlow and Galway Hooker - and the new - Wicklow Wolf, White Hag and Clever Man.
White Hag were voted best new Irish brewer by Ratebeer, and half a dozen of their beers will be featured at The Rake's 'Thank Goodness, No Guinness!' fest over 17th to 20th March. They'll have 36 beers from ten breweries, and I think I'm correct in saying this is the first UK event to profile so many Irish brewers.
|Are there still wolves in Ireland?|
Quincey from Wicklow Wolf
|Malcolm Molloy, a Clever Man|
Their Beann Gulban Heather Sour ale is a nicely tart gruit, which had lovely mouthfeel and a gently tart finish. They also showed off Black Boar, which is their Oatmeal Imperial Stout aged in (of all things for an Irish brewer) Scotch whisky barrels. Justin Mason, also in attendance, thought it was a bit 'hot', while I felt the whisky was a bit overpowering. I think we both felt it could do with more time in the bottle.
|Caskmates. Unlikely but true...|
My palate tends to protest when I drink spirits, but Jameson had something that needed to be tried. As they related it, a conversation at the bar at Franciscan Well in Cork City between Shane Long, FW's head brewer, and the head distiller from Jameson, led to barrels the brewer had used to age a stout, being returned to the distillery, where they filled them with whiskey, The whiskey picked up chocolate and butterscotch and, on a very long finish, I also got Seville oranges. Most of the batch has seemingly gone Stateside, but it's stocked in some UK on-trade outlets.
So, no Ferrero Rocher, although Ambassador Dan Mulhall introduced the event and was a voluble and approachable host. Still, there were some excellent Irish chocolates and some leftovers...
Time will tell whether this event and others like it, represent a breakout for Irish craft. While it's remarkable that a country with a population less than half that of London's can support over 80 breweries, the scene is growing up fast and it's natural for many of those brewers to want to try their luck in other beer markets. If you, and you're curious and in/near London, get along to The Rake for their event. I'll be looking forward to re-acquainting myself with White Hag, and catching up with 8 Degrees and Black's of Kinsale.
Thanks to Bord Bia and Charlie McCarthy for the invite