Raising the standard for beer festivals across the country. Alltech 2017 - take a bow.
As the dust settles from the weekend and with a cup of coffee helping me to navigate the Monday Morning blues I find myself happy and satisfied following an enjoyable time in Dublin at Alltech 2017.
I've been to many beer festivals in my time, most of them in England where I lived a few years back. So Alltech in Dublin was experience that I was very much looking forward to. From Thursday night I had been enjoying the social media reports coming back from the convention centre and I was already taking notes and making lists about which medal winning beers I'd most like to try. As the list crossed into double figures, alarm bells were beginning to ring but excitement was building none the less - Roll on Saturday!
The Camel Ride (Bangor to Dublin)
Friday passed by and my vow to remain teetotal for the day left me in good stead. An early start on Saturday morning saw me bright eyed and bushy tailed as I caught the train to Belfast and then the Enterprise to Dublin's Fair City.
One thing that I hadn't prepared myself for was the reception I was to receive at Central Station of long queue of people (nearly out the door) wearing green and waiting to board the train that I was due to catch myself.
Unfortunately, the Festival coincided with the Ireland France Rugby match meaning that travel was busier and more expensive than usual and I heard from other people that hotels were also extortionate prices. Anyway, relieved in the result of having managed to secure a seat and happy in the knowledge that I wasn't staying at a hotel, earphones in and book in hand, I continued my trip towards the Big Smoke.
Belfast Central Station (the queue carries on around that corner! 😩
Luckily I had Mikkeller to keep me company on the train 🤓
Show Time - The Convention Centre, Dublin
After getting into Connolly Station, I met my friend Enda and following a brief and pleasant 10 minute walk along the canal, we arrived at the venue. A quick check in at the entrance saw us both greeted with our prior purchased beer tokens (nice touch), a wrist band and... a plastic, branded beaker each!
Yes, drinking beer out of a plastic cup - I will come back to that in more detail later.
As we excitedly walked into the main building my first impression was - Nice!!
The lighting was ambient, the floor was carpeted and the stalls for each brewer had plenty of space. The layout was really good.
This was not one of those 'spit and sawdust' type affairs were you can expect to drink plenty of similar tasting warm beers and feel like somewhat of an outcast if you're not wearing socks and sandals. Oh no, the Alltech Festival oozed class. It was a fresh, clean and tidy environment with a warm and friendly atmosphere. Staff were friendly and very helpful and the brewers were more than happy to chat about their beer - which in my personal opinion is one of the best parts of these events.
The Festival as you walk in the front door. I love the chap in the background with his arms out who clearly spotted me taking the photo 😄
The Lay of the Land
As I touched on previously, the Festival was laid out really well. It had a bit of an old school style to it. There were big barrels lying around with stools so you could sit down. Other seated areas consisted of a load of benches in front of the stage (and large screen).
The was a recreational area with pool tables (nice touch), and it was laid out in a way that you could find all of the breweries pretty easily and some food should you want it. There was a good selection of munchies from sausages, pies, nachos or even a pulled pork bap which I happily wolfed down in between plentiful cups of beer.
Toilets were ample and clean. There were sinks to rinse your cups and best of all, drinking stations for you to cleanse your palate in between beers. In my opinion, this is a necessity at all beer festivals. It is so important to have drinking stations and it's great to see that Alltech had this in hand.
Pool tables (and apparently, men hugging) were a popular feature of the festival 🎱
Just a girl who I caught eying me up 😉
So what about the beer?
Yep, the main part of the blog and it's taken me a while to get there. Overall, I was super impressed with the beer choices and quality. There are so many that I tried and could talk about.
Worthy mentions are as follows:
Although not Irish, the first beer that we made a beeline for (before it would sell out), was the Brewdog/ Cloudwater collaboration New England IPA (or Vermont IPA as it was named at the festival). I had reviewed this last week having been lucky enough to sample a bottle of it at home (check the review out here) and I really enjoyed it. On tap it certainly didn't upset either. It's flavours were certainly toned down as the aroma wasn't helped from the plastic cup and it was maybe a little bit colder than I would serve it at home but it was very smooth and easy drinking and it didn't feel anywhere near 6.8%.
Brewdog vs Cloudwater Vermont (New England) IPA - with added foam 😳
I was lucky enough to get a half pint of Boyne Brewery's Sherry cask aged Imperial Stout which was a Hard Hitting, Cracker of a beer. At 10.8% it was the beer I finished my evening with before running (staggering) to catch my train. It was really nice to chat to the guys at the stand and I really enjoyed their Saison a bit earlier in the day too.
A great Saison from Boyne Brewing Company unfortunately in a plastic cup 😐
It was also nice to spend some time at the McGargles stand. Alan was kind enough to talk us through the range of three IPA's that they offer, Little Bangin IPA (a session IPA), Big Bangin IPA and Double Bangin IPA (DIPA). It was interesting to learn that all three use completely different hop combinations and it was refreshing to hear how much effort goes into creating the best body for each beer. Personally, my favourite was the DIPA which was fantastic and incredibly easy drinking.
Trying to choose the beer of the day was proving difficult until our penultimate drink
- When my world was turned upside down!!
At this stage we had met up with another beer blogger, Mark (his handle is antrim_man on Instagram - definitely worth a follow) and we all decided that we would give the White Hag/ Kinnegar Brewing Collaboration Coffee Milk Stout a go - The Hare and the Hag.
It was that moment that something very special happened. It's when you taste a beer that is truly exceptional. After taking a mouthful of this Nitro Stout it was impossible to remove the smile from my face for at least 5 minutes. Like three Cheshire cats grinning and nodding in agreement it was obvious that we had a winner.
The Hare and The Hag is an outstanding beer. It has such a smooth mouthfeel that slides down your throat and the flavours of chocolate and coffee dance playfully around your tongue leaving a lingering sweetness on the palate. Really, this is a Top Class beer and at 6.5% it is more sociable than some of the other 'Imperial' Type Stouts that boast similar fantastic flavours.
I am just gutted that this is only a limited run and that I won't get a chance to review it properly. I've tasted a lot of great stouts in my time and honestly, this is right up there with them. Nailed it!
Guys, please get another meet up sorted and brew some more of this!
My Beer of the Show - The Hare and The Hag by White Hag and Kinnegar Brewing 🍺
So, all in all, a great time was had at a very well organised Craft Beer Festival.
Really well laid out
A great selection of Beers (although I would love to see more attendance from the Northern Irish Brewers)
A fabulous atmosphere
Excellent Facilities (water stations, cup rinsing, seats, toilets)
Big screens to watch the rugby (I had to leave before the end of the Ireland game to catch my train but the presentation and atmosphere throughout the game was fantastic)
Good people management - Saturday was sold out but during the times that I was there it didn't feel too busy. This is a massive plus point and shows an example of organisers who care about their customers, over and above pushing numbers to grind out more profit. Really well done 👍🏼
PLASTIC CUPS - I'm sure by now you will have realised that I had one major bug bear of the Festival, yes being served beer in plastic cups. I understand, the budget may not have covered producing glasses but seriously this must be taken into account for next time. Even the ability (dare I say it) to pay extra for a glass would make all the difference. The frustration of not being able to properly enjoy the aroma of so many fantastic brews (IPA's in particular) was just so disappointing. I wonder if it was a wine festival would the attendees get plastic glasses? Please explore this for next year good people at Alltech 🙏
Event Timing - Whilst I appreciate that it's difficult to coordinate, it would be so much better for people who are traveling to the festival if it wasn't held on the same weekend as an Ireland Rugby home game. Don't get me wrong, having the rugby on the big screen was great but it would have been perfect if it had been an away game meaning cheaper and more accessible hotel rooms and public transport options.
So that is it, overall, Alltech 2017 was a fantastic Craft Beer Festival, genuinely one of the best organised that I have been to over the years.
Three things are clear for me following the great time I had:
I will be back next year
I will be staying in a hotel and attending the festival over two days
I will be bringing the Mrs (she would have loved it!)
Well done Alltech, see you in 2018 🍻
Mark, Myself and Enda - Alltech 2017
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