Monday, 19 June 2017

Ale on a train, or getting RATted…

The invitation to take a trip on the Watercress Line’s Real Ale Train – the RAT of the headline – came out of the blue. I know there’s a bit of an overlap between real ale fans and lovers of railways, but every time I’ve come across a beer festival held in association with a heritage rail line, the beer part was literally station-ary. So the idea of the bar being aboard the RAT was intriguing!
Welcome to Platform 3 in... when, exactly?
It’s over an hour from Clapham Junction to Alton, where the Watercress Line – or to give it it’s proper name, the Mid-Hants Railway – starts. Arriving on Platform 1 on a modern SouthWestTrains sliding door conveyance, we were a bit confused. There were no steam engines or whatever in sight, yet even the SWT platform felt slightly unusual, with its metalwork painted not in modern dark blues but in dark green and cream. Even its ticket office was a – very welcome! – return to the past, with wooden floors and readily accessible, airy and clean loos. 

It was clearly SWT-only though and it took a few moments more to work out that we needed to find Platform 3. Sadly this is accessed not by the attractively ancient (and closed) footbridge nearby, but by a shiny modern one further down the platform. Still, coming down the steps the time-shift was complete, with staff in proper uniforms with waistcoats and peaked caps, doors marked “Station Master”, and posters from the 1950s and beyond. No train though, and no tickets* waiting for us – we’re early, thanks to SWT’s hourly-only service from London, so we’re recommended the Railway Arms just up the road, which happens to be the brewery tap of award-winning local brewer Triple fff. Nice pub!

Returning half an hour later, we were introduced to Sue 'the boss', which seemed to mean in reality that she did a bit of pretty much everything! We later saw her helping load the galley, working behind the bar, helping clean the train, etc... Sue explained the RAT schedule: “We make two round trips, though the hot food makes one and a half because it gets off at Alresford,” she laughed. Alresford is the other end of the Watercress Line, some 10 miles away. 

10 minutes to departure and the queue for the bar already reached halfway down the next carriage. They're a mixed crew - beer buffs, young couples on a night out, what looked like a 50-something birthday party, and an awful lot of people who looked very familiar from the Railway Arms... 

The beer was all bright filtered with no sediment of course, despite being in normal real-ale firkins, otherwise it wouldn't survive the journey. It's why we saw something you'd never see at a CAMRA festival - a barman literally upending a cask to squeeze the last half-pint out. If there is a criticism it's that there's no cooling for the beer on the stillage - which is the bar, of course. In hot weather, as during our trip, the result is occasionally beer that's just a little too warm. Then again, the casks turn over remarkably fast, and the fresh ones are cool from the storeroom. Plus it’s only £2 a pint, with the first pint included in your £15 RAT ticket, so really there’s no complaint!

For many, it’s clearly more of a party on a train. For others it’s a mobile pub, and exploring up towards the loco I even found a folk music jam session underway. As the journey proceeded, and as special trays with holes for the plastic glasses to sit in streamed from the bar – you can also buy your own RAT-engraved glass tankard for a fiver – it did get a bit noisy. But it’s all very good-natured – cheerful voices and the occasional burst of singing. 

Plus while the light lasted, there’s the beautiful Hampshire scenery, the lovely 'step back in time' stations decorated with flowers, topiary and then, finally, yes – parked steam engines, lots of steam engines! (Our train was hauled by a heritage diesel, but most RATs are steam.) There's also shunters, a crane-train, and lots more.

It being two round-trips, there’s three short loo (and for some, ciggy) breaks at the end-stops while they move the loco to the other end. I noticed some people left halfway through when we were back at Alton – heading back to the pub perhaps. 

For those with staying power, the ales continued to turn over – the featured breweries that night were both from Hampshire, namely Longdog and Red Cat, but we’re also treated to a couple of other brews, such as a one-off single-hopped pale ale from Tillingbourne. The food is decent pub grub – chilli, korma, burgers – and while it’s served in take-away boxes, not on china with polished silverware, it’s reasonably priced and the cheerful volunteer staff have more than enough to clear up already!

Alternative engines are available
All in all, it was the best Friday evening we’d spent in a while (the RAT runs a few times a month, on Friday and Saturday evenings). A pub on a train with good beer and constantly changing scenery, what more could you want? And thankfully you’re back at Alton just in time to get the last train up to London – a cooler and quieter journey, but one that is, sadly, rather less fun. 

*Do you need a disclaimer? The railway kindly supplied our RAT tickets, but we covered our own transport from London, plus all our food, almost all our beer, and our own babysitter. Phew. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Step aside Care Bears, it's time for Care Beers!

Slightly short notice, but there's a new craft beer festival coming up next month in London, and it's all for charity, with the beer donated by kind brewers from London, the rest of the UK, and beyond. Here's the details, as passed on by fellow beer-blogger Matt Curtis:

A brand new beer festival arrives in London this July and all of its profits will be donated to charity. Craft Beer Cares will be taking place on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd of July at Brew Club in Clapton, East London with proceeds being donated to The Newman Holiday Trust and Mind, The Mental Health Charity.

Beer has been donated to the festival by some of the most exciting breweries in the UK and beyond, including: The Kernel, The Five Points Brewing Co, Pressure Drop, Partizan, Brew By Numbers, Anspach & Hobday, Weird Beard, East London Brewery, Beavertown, One Mile End, Elusive Brewing, Siren Craft Brew, Cloudwater, Northern Monk, Wylam, Founders, Yeastie Boys, Hackney Brewery, Gipsy Hill and Magic Rock. In addition to this the festivals organisers promise that they have a few surprises up their sleeves for those lucky enough to grab a ticket.  

Speaking in anticipation of the event, lead festival organiser Gautam Bhatnagar had the following to say:

“We’ve been inspired by movements such as #CookForSyria and smaller events such as #BoozersWithoutBorders and wanted to play whatever role we could in organising something to help those in need. Our aim for this year’s event is primarily to raise funds for the charities Mind and The Newman Holiday Trust, and to scale up on previous efforts by asking for donations from the wider brewing industry.

“It’s been a really heart-warming experience seeing the many people involved in the craft beer community and their willingness to donate time, advice, energy, and - of course - the beer!  We’ve had a great response from everyone we’ve asked and that comes as little surprise to many of us given how wonderful the people in the beer industry are.”

Karen Bolton, Community Fundraising Manager for Mind, added: ““We’d like to say a huge thank you to Craft Beer Cares for choosing to support Mind through their first beer festival. Every penny raised will fund Mind’s vital work including the Mind Infoline, our advice services and the campaigning Mind does to secure a better deal for the one in four of us who experience a mental health problem every year.”

Tickets for the event cost just £14.40 (including booking fee) and includes a glass plus 7 beer tokens – with additional tokens available for purchase once inside the venue. The event will take place at Brew Club, Unit 9, 38-40 Upper Clapton Road, London, E5 8BQ

Tickets for the Saturday July 1st evening session can be purchased here and tickets for the Sunday July 2nd afternoon session can be purchased here

The festival's open from 6pm to 11.30pm on the Saturday, and from noon to 5.30pm on the Sunday. I don't know the venue, but it's in the Old Tram Depot near Clapton BR station. It's up the road from the Round Chapel which hosts the CAMRA Pig's Ear beer festival in December, if you know that. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Fuller's Unfiltered bid for craft keg

When I first heard about the launch of London Pride Unfiltered at Craft Beer Rising earlier this year, my first thought was, oh-ho, a hazy rebranding for the craft generation. But could Fuller’s make the idea work, or would it be like an embarrassing parent trying to be hip? And was it just a rebrand, or a genuinely new beer?

I had all those questions in mind when I got the chance for a brief chat with Fuller’s head brewer Georgina Young – over a couple of glasses of Pride Unfiltered, naturally!

First, a bit of background – I’ve seen this sort of relaunch several times before, especially in Germany, where the marketeers have done a great job persuading the average Josef that all beer is yellow, fizzy and clear as a bell. The industrial Pils that you see advertised everywhere, in other words.

But for the Craft Bier pioneers a few years ago, this heavily-marketed industrial Pils was the enemy, and the easiest way to state your non-industrial credentials was to make cloudy beer instead. Cue lots of murky unfiltered Pale Ales, IPAs and others.

The German industrial brewers seem to have caught up much faster than the UK ones, with Naturtrüb (unfiltered and cloudy) Kellerbiers and others widely available there for a couple of years now. (Amusingly, many of the German craft brewers have now swung the other way, producing clear as a bell dry-hopped Pilsners and the like.)

The first thing George pointed out was that Pride Unfiltered is hazy, not murky or cloudy. More significantly perhaps, it needs to be reliably hazy – consistency is absolutely essential for a brewer such as Fuller’s.

“It’s really hard to get this level of haze just right,” she said, adding that “The haze is not yeast, it’s protein – quite fine.” She also stressed that while the basic recipe “is pretty much the same” as regular Pride, including Northdown and Challenger aroma hops, there are changes. Most notably that Unfiltered is also dry-hopped with Target.

Not too surprisingly, Unfiltered is very like regular Pride, but is drier and less malty-fruity, although that will in part be due to the lower serving temperature. There’s earthy and spicy hops on the nose, then it’s lightly fruity and dry.

And it seems to be doing well – on a recent visit to a Fuller’s pub which had Pride Unfiltered on tap alongside a couple of guest keg pale ales, the barmaid said it was pretty popular. The notable thing is it’s definitely not aimed at the keg Pride drinker, and indeed the Fuller’s folk say there’s no plans to replace keg with Unfiltered.

George also had some news about the Fuller’s beer range continuing to expand. “We’ll do eight new beers this year, four of them cask, plus Unfiltered of course,” she said. “We also have seasonal cask and keg beers and then monthly specials.”

They’re also increasing the range they distribute from other breweries, with Sierra Nevada the most prominent example. One of Fuller’s sales team noted that “We brought over 14 Sierra Nevada seasonals last year, this year there’s six definites plus maybe two or three more. This year’s list include Otra Vez, Sidecar and Tropical Torpedo.” Yet more reasons to visit the bigger Fuller’s pubs – although I don’t expect to see these in my local.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The rise and rise of canned craft

"Why is everything in cans these days?" mused my friend Richard, examining his tin of Five Points Pils. "Funny you should ask that," I replied, "I'm in the process of writing an article about it, as a follow-up to one I wrote for an engineering magazine a couple of years ago..."

Back then, micro-canning was something of a technical novelty, which is why I wrote about it for an engineering readership. A Canadian company, the slightly confusingly named Cask Brewing Systems, had realised that conventional drinks canning machines, which were giant multi-million dollar investments flooded internally with carbon dioxide to keep out harmful oxygen, could be significantly simplified and also reduced in size. In fact, they made them so small and simple that hobby brewers could use one at the homebrew club to can their own beer, one can at a time – a concept that's re-emerged recently as the crowler, a non-reusable version of the growler take-away beer flask that's actually a large can.

Avant-garde US breweries had loved the slightly subversive idea of a mini-canning machine for craft beer, and the first few UK brewers were following suit. There were sceptics, of course – often classically-trained brewers who couldn’t believe a machine that simple could avoid oxidising their beer. However, my own background in engineering told me that what the machine makers were saying made sense.

Printed can – smooth edges, and
you can often see the ink spread
Putting a label on the problem
The big challenge at that point was labelling. The ideal is a printed can, which is what the supermarkets, soft drinks companies and bigger breweries use, but these require a long print run to justify the cost of setting up the printing machine. The last I heard, the minimum print run was 100,000 cans, and to get the best price you needed to order half a million of a given design!

People were experimenting with alternatives such as sticky labels, but unlike glass bottles, empty cans have very little structural strength, so rolling a label on risks denting or even crushing them. Some had even tried printing directly onto the cans using inkjet-type printers, but in the main they were focused on canning those beers that could justify buying 100,000 printed cans.

Sticky label, overlapped
Fast-forward two years and beer cans have become high art – a smooth canvas for the artist and designer, and a signifier of craft, not cheap supermarket booze. And a lot of that is because the labelling problems have been licked, meaning you can now use your micro-canning line as it was intended: to put a single brew into just a few thousand cans, even when that brew is a one-off.

Well, mostly licked. I spoke to Metalman co-founder Gráinne Walsh at the Irish Embassy’s craft event earlier this year – when I interviewed for that 2015 story, they canned one beer regularly, now it’s four, all in printed cans. On top of that, they can several of their seasonal beers, all using sticky labels on plain cans.

Bottle-type sticky label
Like me, she has an engineering background so she understands the issues and the complications: “Labelling cans before filling would be best, but that would break the integrity of the [manufacturer’s sterile] seal on the can,” she says. “So we label afterwards – but that means we have to dry them first.”

So there’s swings and roundabouts, but sticky labels definitely seem the most popular method. I’ve spotted at least two types so far – sheet plastic ones that wrap all the way round, and ones that look more like plasticised paper and wrap with a gap, like on most bottles. Both are fairly easy to spot, though some of the plastic wrap-arounds feel like printing if you’re not thinking about it.

Shrink wrap – spot the edge
on the bottom collar
There is a second popular method though, which is essentially to shrink-wrap the can with a printed plastic label. This feels great and can be quite hard to spot at first, as it’s so smooth and it lacks the tell-tale label edges. Once you look though, you’ll almost always feel the edge of the wrap on the collars of the can.

I have also come across cans that I think were spray-printed, perhaps even after filling, but of course I couldn’t find one when collecting samples for this! The ones I saw felt slightly rough, as if they’d been spray-painted with a fast-drying enamel. I’ll keep looking…

I said above that the big problem for micro-canning two or three years ago was labelling – well, it was, but it wasn’t the only one. The other was overcoming an initial impression that it was ‘cheap and cheerful’ and lacked quality – that yes it was canning, but it wasn’t real canning.

Crowler demo at
Craft Beer Rising
The thing is, not only is micro-canning gear cheap enough for even a small to middling brewery to be able to afford its own canning line, you don’t even have to buy it – it’s so compact that there are companies that have portable micro-canning lines. You get your beer ready, in a specified capacity and condition, they turn up with a truck or large van containing the equipment and a stack of empties, and some hours later they leave you with pallets full of sealed cans.

Climbing the learning curve
Of course, with anything like this there’s a learning curve, both for the canners and for the brewers they work with. So while the UK’s mobile canners do a great job today, brewers tell me that wasn’t always the case when they started up. I heard reports three years ago of lagers with oxidation problems and a stout where one can in three was infected, for example. Reading between the lines though, I suspect the brewers involved were as responsible as the canners, mainly because they didn’t (yet) know how to present their beer properly.

However, while those quality worries are no longer valid, some of the suspicion of low-tech canning remains – and that, combined with the subversive popularity of canned craft beer, has brought the big boys in. Just like the macrobrewers starting up or buying craft beer brands, the big machinery companies based in Germany, Italy and yes, China, who supplied those multi-million dollar canning lines are now targeting smaller-scale customers. As they bring out cheaper and smaller versions of their high-tech canneries, the micro-canners are pushing upmarket with lines that are faster and much more sophisticated than their original semi-manual lines.

And the cans themselves are evolving. As well as the crowlers, there’s now rip-top types where the whole lid comes away to leave you a metal drinking cup. Can’t say I like the idea – I've tried two, and find you lose both the look of the beer and much of the aroma, and those are important parts of the drinking experience.

But it all says – as did my visit to a Morrisons supermarket today, with craft beer cans from all over – that canned craft is not only here to stay, but is increasingly the norm.

Sorry it's been a while, but I've been rather busy! Hopefully this makes up for it a bit...

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Spot the difference

Two bottles, different shapes but more or less the same labels. A change of bottle supplier, perhaps? No, a change of brewer - Lidl UK has moved production of its Hatherwood Craft Beer Co own-brand from the Marston's group to Shepherd Neame. I don't know why, but I assume Sheps offered a better deal.

All the names and descriptions are the same though, and presumably so are the recipes. But how could they be the same beer, when production has moved to a new brewer? Even more so in this case, when it's also moved right from one end of the country to the other - Purple Panther was brewed at Jennings in Cumbria, and Sheps is in Kent.

Fortunately, one of my local Lidls still had a few examples of the old version on the shelf alongside the new, so I grabbed a couple of bottles of the Porter (as I've enjoyed it in the past) with a comparative tasting in mind.

It took a couple of weeks before an opportunity and a couple of willing assistants came along. Without them seeing, I poured samples into six numbered glasses and gave each of them two of one version and one of the other: the initial challenge was simply to pick the odd one out.

And they did it. The two were remarkably close, yet subtly different - and it wasn't even age. Assuming I read the bottles rightly, the Jennings version was bottled in January and the Sheps one in February. When I  tasted them myself, the Jennings one seemed ever so slightly more dry and burnt, while the newer version was just a little softer and its cocoa note a tiny bit more pronounced.

An interesting exercise, and a lesson in just how hard it is to move a beer from one brewery to another without changing it, no matter the work and expertise that goes into taste-matching.

(And no, Young's beers from Bedford are good beers, but they still don't taste the same as they did from Wandsworth, damn the asset-strippers' eyes!)

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Sharp’s tricks the senses

Last week I went on a virtual holiday, courtesy of Sharp’s Brewery who billed it as an In-flight Beer Experience. We didn’t fly very far – in fact we didn’t move at all – but there was indeed beer along the way. The most interesting part, though, was that it physically demonstrated a bunch of things that even trained beer-tasters normally only talk about.

Sam pours the beers
The venue was the same one used for the beer & food matching session that Sharp’s did for last year’s London Beer Week. Which is to say it’s a long-wheelbase van fitted inside with a tiny lobby leading to a long and narrow bar. A single bench facing the bar provides seating for six but it’s a tight fit – if you’re the first one in, don’t expect to get out in a hurry...

Our barman, Sharp’s beer sommelier Sam, fed us three beers in turn, asking us to say what we thought. They seemed pretty different but he then revealed they were all Pilsners – and two of them were the same beer, Sharp’s Cornish Pils! He had used a wide mix of sensory inputs to trick our senses into perceiving them differently – the sound of the seaside for one of them, subtly adding grapefruit aroma into the air for another, and the mood lighting kept changing colour.

It was really well done. I was aware of the coloured mood lighting, but only because it made it so hard to judge the colours of the beers. I didn't spot the smells, and being unable to go back and re-taste beer #1 later, as you would do when judging, made it impossible to compensate for how each successive drink coloured your whole palate.

Orange essence over dry ice...
At the end, and after explaining some of what had happened, he poured us a last drink – a cocktail of a splash of a gin sour in some more Pils. Initially there was just a tart lemony-herbal edge to the drink, but then he poured a liquid containing orange oils over some dry ice (!) to flood the space with aroma. Now the drink tasted more citrusy, and even orangey.

So what was the lesson? Well, when you learn to taste and judge beer, one of the things you’re warned about – but rarely experience so clearly in reality – is that your sense of taste can be affected by all sorts of external factors such as background smells, lighting, even the seating, as well as by spicy food or what you were drinking before – and just before starting the experiment a friend had passed me a neat Glenfiddich, aged in an IPA barrel...  No wonder the first Pils had tasted so light!

We also got to try Sharp’s excellent Camel Valley Pilsner, which is a collaboration with Cornwall’s largest vineyard, Camel Valley. It’s the regular Pils refermented with Champagne yeast in the classic Methode Champenoise, and it’s lovely, with a thicker body, an orange note, and a hint of farmhouse ale, the refermentation also pushes the ABV up by 1%. The first batch is almost gone, but I was glad to hear there’s a second, much larger one, on the way!

If you ever get the chance to go on one of these Sharp’s tasting events, I’d highly recommend it. They are not all the same – they change the themes around and have multiple beer sommeliers hosting them, so even if you’re offered the In-flight Experience it will most likely be different to mine.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Going 'craft Irish' for St Patrick's Day

It's St Patrick's Day today, and while I don't especially approve of either cruelty to snakes, or evangelism, it seems an appropriate opportunity to write about Irish beer – and especially about the Irish beer that doesn't come from a huge and shiny brewery near the banks of the Liffey.

And yet, when I was invited to this year's Spirit of Sharing showcase of crafted Irish drinks at the Republic's embassy in London, the thing that struck me was that this time the brewers were just a small minority – just three of them*, far outnumbered by producers of spirits. It felt like a big change from last year, when microbreweries were the dominant presence.

Metal cans from Metalman
Interestingly, although the breweries taking part were outnumbered they had pride of place, being the first things visitors saw as they entered the event. I was delighted to see Metalman Brewing there – it’s one of Ireland’s oldest new-wave micros, having celebrated its sixth anniversary in production earlier this month – and to finally get a chance to chat in person with brewer and co-founder Gráinne Walsh. We’d spoken on the phone a couple of years ago when I was writing about microcanning, which Metalman was also the first in Ireland to adopt.

From one core product in cans back then – the pale ale that’s still its flagship – Metalman has now expanded to four core beers plus a range of seasonals, and thanks to ‘can’tinued innovation (which I plan to write more about soon) they are all canned. The other core lines are an amber IPA, a spiced wheat lager, and believe it or not, a smoked chili Porter! “It’s the slowest of the four, so we only brew it once a month,” admits Gráinne, “but yes, it’s core – we’re brave!”

Part of this expansion is down to a bigger brewkit, which they finally got up and running about 18 months ago. The problem for Irish craft brewers, and the reason some are looking to the export market, is that the growth in domestic demand isn’t keeping up with the growth in supply – and there are still new contract brands and new breweries setting up, says Gráinne. That’s not too bad for her company – she notes that they didn’t expand the brewhouse so that they could scale their production linearly, instead it was because they were having to brew way too often and inefficiently on the old kit.

As well as the pale ale, she’d brought along their spiced wheat lager Equinox, which is a tasty refreshing brew, dry-sweet with lightly citrus notes, plus two of the current seasonals, Ginger and Sgt Pepper. Ginger does what it says on the tin – a warming ginger note over a slightly dusty blond ale – while Sgt Pepper is a lightly funky farmhouse Saison with well judged notes of sage and white pepper.

Kinnegar's Libby Carton
The other two brewers both describe themselves as making farmhouse beers, although Donegal’s Kinnegar Brewing is in the process of expanding from its current farm-based 10hl kit to a new 35hl brewhouse located in the nearby town. Kinnegar’s Libby Carton had a very impressive array of bottles in front of her: all seven of their core beers, plus four of the specials that she and her other half, American brewer Rick, do “when we have the time and capacity.”

Black Rye IPA is a new one on me
Their bottled beers are all unfiltered, unpasteurised and naturally carbonated, although Libby says they’re not bottle-conditioned as such. “We do have draught lines as well,” she adds, “but it’s difficult because you have to keep that line supplied – with the same beer, too! We’re lucky in a way that we started with packaged beer.” Of those I tried, the regulars were all good, as long as you don’t mind a slight haze. The standouts were all from the specials range, though, especially the peppery and spicy-fruity Swingletree, which is a strong Saison, a rich foreign stout called Flying Saucer, and my personal favourite, Black Bucket, a beautifully complex black rye IPA.

Although they’re waiting for the new brewhouse for their main export push, which will feature 330ml bottles replacing the current 500mls, you can find Kinnegar beers on tap all over the UK this weekend as they’re St Patrick’s Day guests in the Brewdog bars, the Rake, the Tate Modern bar, and several others – see their blog for a list.

Last but far from least was Brehon Brewhouse – Seamus McMahon reckons he is the only dairy farmer in the country who also has a brewery on his farm. He says he’s into brewing partly to boost the local economy – the brewery employs five people and uses locally grown malt too, while the waste can go for animal feed. “We’ve doubled the size of the brewery since we set up in 2014, and will double again this year,” he says, adding that he’s in 50 pubs around the area as well as several supermarket groups.

He has a fairly typical range for an Irish micro – a blonde ale, a red, an IPA and slightly unusually, both a porter and a stout, though he didn’t have the porter with him. The ones I tried were all good examples of their styles, with the Ulster Black Oatmeal Stout standing out as very pleasant and quaffable. What’s an Ulster beer doing at the Irish Embassy, you ask? Well, the historical Ulster is nine counties, only six of which are now part of the UK. Both Brehon and Kinnegar are therefore technically Ulster breweries, even though they’re in the Republic.

As I said, it was however spirits that dominated – mostly whiskey of course, but also poitín (aka potcheen, which is basically unaged whiskey), plus 'craft' vodka and gin. Irish whiskey’s presence you’d understand – it’s reportedly the fastest growing spirit in the world – but vodka and gin? Not only are they currently hip, especially gin, but they don't need time, unlike Irish whiskey which by law must be matured at least three years before it can be sold. So if you are starting a distillery, white spirits are good to get you going while you wait for your whiskey to come of age.

One change from last year was that more of the spirits producers seemed to actually be distilling now, although as most only set up their stills within the last two years, few had their own whiskey yet. Instead, they typically get started by buying already-aged whiskey in bulk, then ageing it some more and blending it for resale.

The other was just how many new faces there were. Most of the participants – and all the breweries – were new from last year. This may be deliberate by the organisers at Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board), as the event's role is as a venue for producers who're not yet exporting to the UK. All in all, an excellent event by Bord Bia: my thanks go to them, and of course to the ambassador Dan Mulhall, for being such good hosts.

*Well, three and a half – Dingle Distillery, which was there with its whiskeys, is an offshoot of the Porterhouse brewery and pub group, so it had some Porterhouse bottles on its embassy table. This is also why the London Porterhouse this week was advertising a Dingle whiskey tasting.