In it's 6th year now and following a fantastic event 12 months ago, The Alltech Craft Brews & Food Festival needed to be at it's very best for 2018. It certainly didn't disappoint.
The question is though... Was this the best Alltech Brews festival yet?
As the dust settles following a long weekend of general celebration and over-exuberance, I sit at my computer and begin to round up my thoughts into a more structured order. Coffee poured and a well known film score from Howard Shore creating a bubble around my dimly lit office, I cast my memory back to last Thursday Afternoon as I boarded the train from Belfast to Dublin for the Alltech Craft Brew and Food Festival 2018.
All set for my train journey to Dublin
As the hours ticked away and Irelands capital city was approaching ever closer along the steel girders on the rail track, I was lost in anticipation and salivating at the prospect of what beers would be awaiting me at the Convention Centre later that evening. I attended the event last year and it was excellent so the 2018 festival already had a lot to live up to (to check out my review from 2017 then click here).
A quick hotel check-in, freshen up and bag change and it was off to the Convention Centre. I was to arrive for 5:45 ahead of a Media Tasting Event and thankfully found my way there on time. This was an excellent opportunity to meet other writers and some of the brewers who talked us through a selection of their beers before the Festival officially opened it's doors.
A few talks and tasters later, it was into the main hall and as with last year, a similar neon, warm and colourful environment greeted us. Small branded bars were spread around amongst numerous benches and comfortable looking chairs. What soon became apparent was how much space there was. I don't know what the official capacity is but it would take a hell of a lot of people to pack the place out.
Dublin Convention Centre
At the front of the hall, a stage was set from where various music was played throughout the event, live musicians would also perform and I believe that a large screen was also used from this central vantage point, to show the Ireland Six Nations match against Scotland on the Saturday afternoon.
People will always have their own views about music at Beer Festivals and Alltech is no different. Some prefer an ambiance at which to converse about beverages and life, others prefer something to tap their feet to, or indeed dance and sing should the moment take them. Personally I enjoy both. Music can bring a hospitable and welcoming atmosphere to a place but it is important to have areas far enough away from the festivities to be able to talk and of course, compare tasting notes. Alltech ticked both boxes very well and that in part comes from the benefit of having a large enough venue to cater for each scenario.
All in all, the environment was buzzing and there was a warm and lively atmosphere around the hall. Smiles on peoples faces and laughter in the air, the craic was great and the beer was damn good as well.
Check out my Festival Walk-through Below...
So, let's talk beer, that is what we're here for after all. Overall, Alltech is made up of Irish Breweries with a few bigger UK and International players thrown into the mix. This is really good to see as it serves as a platform to promote local and it gives Independent brewers a fantastic opportunity, not only to promote their beer, but to directly talk with customers and also meet and mingle with other brewers. That being said, and purely from being a proud Ulster man, it was disappointing not to meet many exhibitors from North of the Border (although it was great to see Conor from Mourne Mountains Brewery there helping out).
Whether it was for financial, logistical or personal reasons, this is an event that absolutely lends itself to promoting great beer in the Irish Market and I would recommend participation be seriously considered by our Northern Irish Brewers for 2019, if indeed viable. I know I'm not alone when I say, it would be great to see you there.
That aside, from the many breweries and beers that I sampled, there were a few that stood out and I have summarised my thoughts below 🍻:
Wicklow Brewery - Helles (4.5% ABV)
So, for those of you that follow my blog, you will know that I enjoy a "Good" Lager especially to start a session with. So at the beginning of the Friday evening I set off on a mission to find something that was going to quench my thirst. After a few beers my quest brought me to the Wicklow stand where a lovely lady (sorry I don't think I asked your name) talked me through their range. After a few tasters I was delighted to take away a glass of their Helles Lager and it was exactly what the Beer Doctor ordered. Light, crisp with a slightly bitter aftertaste it was a perfect early evening brew.
I also love the look of their brewery and I believe that they offer tours most days. Perhaps the perfect excuse for a short family getaway down to Wicklow over the summer months.
Priory Brewing - Original Sin IPA (5.5% ABV) and Venial Sin IPA (3.8% ABV)
On recommendation from my Dublin based friend (Enda) I was told that I ought to try Priory Brewing out as they are becoming well known for producing fantastic beers. Not one to avoid a recommendation, I sought out their stand and was interested to hear about their range of three IPA's - Original Sin IPA, Venial Sin Session IPA and their new Double IPA Mortal Sin. I tried both the Original and Venial Sin's (both won Gold Medals at the Festival) and they were very impressive. For a relatively new brewery, they had nailed the distinct fruity hop dominant IPA's that have been so big over the past 12 months. Really easy drinking and delicious.
My only regret was not getting a chance to try the new Mortal Sin DIPA. At the time, I rejected a taster as I was intent to coming back later in the evening to enjoy a half - an amateur mistake to make at a beer festival for sure. Needless to say, it was the following morning that I realised I had forgotten.
Hopfully - Baniwa Chilli Saison (3.8% ABV)
From one new brewery to another and the next beer to get 'Mentioned in Dispatches' is Hopfully Brewing from Dublin. I spent a while at the Hopfully stand being guided through the many exotic and refreshingly original beers that they had on offer. From their tropical IPA 'Graciosa' to their signature Pale Ale 'Love Maker', each beer had a story to tell and the guys from Hopfully told it well. Their enthusiasm and passion for their beer was infectious and a real pleasure to behold.
My personal favourite in their range however was the Festival Premiered 'Baniwa Chilli' Saison. Made with pineapple juice, aromatic mint, and a subtle hint of the rare and highly regarded Baniwa Chilli pepper it was a wonderfully light and thirst quenching brew with incredible flavours and a slight spicy edge. Sessionable at just 3.8% ABV this is a beer that could be enjoyed as a perfect Summer afternoon palate cleanser, ahead of sparking up the bbq. From a brewery of only 8 months old, it was a delight to see such a diverse range and display of originality. Watch these guys, I think we have a lot more to see from Hopfully Brewing.
Reel Deel - Recon Barrel Aged Brown Ale (6.5% ABV)
Nestled in what seemed to be a bit away from the hustle and bustle, I stumbled upon the Reel Deel stand and we got talking to Marcus. It was great to hear all about his brewery that's been running now for about 4 years. Originally from Yorkshire and with my wife being a Lancashire Lass, conversation was easy and it was clear that Marcus is very passionate about his beer, especially on cask. Indeed, he was one of a few breweries that actually had a hand pump set up offering cask pours from his stand (not even Fullers had that). The orange and Juniper IPA was a cracker and bursting with fruity citrus flavours but my favourite was the Barrel Aged Brown Ale - 'Recon'.
Wow, this was an awesome version on what is a very under-reported style in the current market. Both myself and a few of the other punters who were beside me at the time, acknowledged this beers excellent caliber with respectful nods and smiles. With whiskey and caramel flavours, this full bodied brown ale slides around your mouth leaving wonderful sweet flavours in it's wake. Definitely a beer to look out for, especially when it's still coat wearing weather.
Wicklow Wolf - Black Gold Brown Porter (7.8% ABV)
Having tasted their new Born & Bread Porter at the media session on the Thursday night I was ready to wax lyrical about it in this post. That was, until I visited their stand on the Friday evening. Ordering some so that my wife could try it, I was again impressed but not hugely overwhelmed. I'm big fan of chocolate orange and 'Terry' himself would have been proud of the likeness in this beer version. But there was something that just felt a tad artificial about it and after finishing a glass, the sweet orange flavours just started to lose their appeal.
Convinced to taste their new coffee Porter 'Black Gold' however, I felt like Popeye must have felt after receiving a freshly served ripped can of spinach - I'd got my mojo back. This Rwandan Coffee infused Belgian Brown Porter was simply OUTSTANDING. Rich and sweet but with expresso and chocolate flavours helping to provide a solid caffeine kick, this 7.8% Porter was great. I'm not sure if it has been officially released yet but this wolf is certainly worth hunting down.
Rye River - Belgian Imperial Stout (8.2% ABV)
And to my final Brewery - Rye River. Now I make no bones about, I love Belgian beer and some of my all time favourite styles come from this region of varied and traditional brewing. When I read about Rye River releasing their Belgian Imperial Stout ahead of the festival, I found it hard to conceal my excitement. Having already tried it during the Media tasting event after following a brief introduction from both Simon and Head Brewer Bill, I knew that I loved this beer. At the stand on Friday night, I confirmed the fact. This was a class act and by using the Belgian yeast they were able to develop a complex and full flavoured Stout. Smooth and thick with sweet Belgian candy like backbone. This was an excellent and worthy of a mention for beers of the Festival. Watch out for some of the limited batch of 2400 cans that being released over the coming weeks.
As well as beer, this year saw the introduction of the Distillers Quarter. Taking a step away from offering only beer, the Festival now housed 14 other Brews from Gins, to Mead, to Coffee Liquors and Whiskey. This was a good addition and catered for a larger variety of festival goers. In particular, my wife really enjoyed the Black Twist ‘Hard Coffee’ cocktails (that's Christmas sorted 👍🏼).
A view early Friday evening from the 3 Lounge
Dr Pearse Lyons
Amongst all of the festivities and enjoyment, unfortunately there was a sad essence to Alltech 2018. On the Opening Night of the Festival it was announced that Dr Pearse Lyons, the founder of Alltech, had passed away. Dr Pearse was very highly respected and his company is one of the global leaders in animal nutrition and crop science. Originally born in Ireland, in 1977 he moved to Kentucky in the US after which he created Alltech with the mission "to improve the health and performance of people, animals and plants through nutrition and scientific innovation".
He was also a keen brewer and his career started by brewing Harp Lager in Dundalk. In 2017 he opened the Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin and has been the man behind the Alltech Beer Festival since it started. His passing will certainly leave a large gap in the beer and distilling community both in Ireland and the United States.
Alltech created a fantastic video about the great man himself and if you are interested to learn more about his life then please give it a watch below..
Dr Pearse Lyons
For me, the Alltech Craft Brews & Food Festival remains one of the Key Events on the Irish Beer Drinking Calendar and I'm looking forward to 2019 already. From a personal perspective, it gives me the opportunity to travel down to Dublin for a night or two along with getting to meet plenty of brewers and taste their new beers. It's also excellent to greet and catch up with fellow beer enthusiasts and put the world to rights.
Could Alltech be better. Well to be honest, not really, but there's always room for improvement with everything. The official festival glass that we were given this year was definitely better than last year although it was still made from plastic. I'm sure there will be reasons for this, like an insurance stipulation for the venue or something. I know, in general terms this is a small point, it's just great to be able to keep and reuse a good festival beer glass again at home afterwords (especially for beer reviews).
Alltech Beer Festival Beer Glass 🍺
One thing that should be said, is that Alltech is one of the better organised festivals that you will go to. All of the staff and visible security were incredibly helpful and accommodating. A special thank you must go out to the Marketing and PR team who were always available if we needed anything and hosted the Pre Festival Media tasting event very well.
At the end of the day, it really is the people that make these events. Whether it's members of staff, brewers or indeed fellow beer bloggers and friends, Alltech had them all. Each year this festival raises the bar and gets better and in my opinion, 2018 has been the best yet.
Until next year 🍻
Footnote: There were plenty of great Beer Writers at Alltech who produce some awesome content. If you're into beer and you don't already follow them then you really ought to.
Here are some of the bloggers that I caught up with over the weekend:
All About Beer Ireland - http://allaboutbeerireland.com
Antrim Man - https://www.instagram.com/antrim_man/
Mark the Beer Trawler - https://www.instagram.com/mark_thebeertrawler/
Simon Says Beer - http://simonsaysbeer.com
Jamies Beer Talk - http://www.jamiesbeertalk.ie
Canvas Twig - https://twitter.com/MrTwigTwig
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