29 September 2007

St. Amand French Country Ale

It's been long enough since there was an actual "pick" on "Perm's Brew Picks" that I decided it was high time to include another one.
And just in time, I've discovered a wonderful one, preventing me from putting some mildly interesting beer up here just for the sake of picking something.

I have encountered biere de garde before, a little over a year ago -- for a family Thanksgiving gathering I followed G. Oliver's advice and took a bottle of Castelain/Ch'ti along for the feast. It paired quite well with the banquet (indeed better than the red or even the white wine that was present) but I was a little underwhelmed with the brew as it stood alone -- I vaguely remember it being a little too much on the lagery side of the equation for me, although looking back now I expect that I was counting on a Belgian Saison or even a Strong Golden Ale, and although they are related, they are not the same things.

And now here I'm presented with St. Amand, offered by the same brewery as Castelain/Ch'ti (Brasserie Castelain), but it's a whole different ballgame.

St. Amand pours a handsome -- no, gorgeous -- copper color with plenty of generous head, even when poured slowly. The nose is extremely complex -- clay soil, caramel, butter, farmland, and fresh aromatic hops are all in there, along with some more elusive intangibles that are conjuring up all sorts of images of rural Europe for me. On the tongue, the caramel sings out with a spritzy edge, the hops keep it interesting, and the butter moves to the forefront, but what really does it for me is a slight sour twist towards the end -- reminiscent of those Flemish Ales that I've recently fallen in love with (such as Duchesse de Bourgogne). This says to me, "drink with food!"
I plan on trying it out with the mild dhal and curried shrimp we're about to have in a few minutes. I have moderately high hopes.

And I must say, after a very disappointing concert of bad French chamber music last night, it's quite nice to find something to so readily restore my appreciation for things Gallic. (I do, after all, claim descent from Huguenots...) Vive la biere francaise!

And I think it will also make an appearance next to the turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and everything else in about 7 weeks....

28 September 2007

The greater Asheville area

First of all, let me just say that Blogger.com is much much more blogger-friendly on Mozilla Firefox than on Internet Explorer. Why? Who can say. It just is.

Sara and I relocated to Tryon, NC from Raleigh at the beginning of this past summer. Raleigh, although by no stretch our favorite urban area, does nevertheless have any number of fantastic watering holes (the Flying Saucer, the Raleigh Times) and at least one solid brewery. I do miss those parts of the city.

Tryon is right on the state line with South Carolina, and one of my first impressions living here is that the townspeople are in a constant state of staving off invasions and incursions from folk across the line. It's an interesting little sub-culture as a result. Spartanburg is 35 minutes to the south; Asheville is 45 minutes to the north. Tryonites seem much more closely aligned with the former than with the latter -- which makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.

One thing I am learning is that Asheville has an excellent beer culture. Whether this statistic is true or not (and I have no reason to believe it is not), a friend told us that Asheville has more pubs per capita than any other town/city in NC. Here's a website to affirm that fact.

There are also any number of supremely solid breweries in the area: Highland, Asheville, French Broad, Green Man, Pisgah, Catawba, Asheville Pizza and Brewing, Heinzelmaennchen.... I'm partial to the French Broad brewery, if for no other reason than that Sara and I went there on our first wedding anniversary trip, caught some live bluegrass music, and made off with a souvenir tasting glass.

There are also quite an array of places to purchase solid brews in bottles, notable Bruisin' Ales (whom I have mentioned before), the Asheville Wine Market, Greenlife Grocery, and Earthfare.

What's frustrating is that Tryon is just far enough away that we can't hop in the car and zoom up to Asheville. My ecological conscience -- let alone the car budget -- won't allow such a thing. The upside is that, much closer to home, we've got the Purple Onion in Saluda, which has a dynamite beer selection, and frequent outstanding live music; most local markets stock Highland brews; and 25 minutes away is the Hendersonville Co-op, which has a small but stellar beer selection.

Even though the Durham World Beer Festival (held each October) will always and forever hold a very special place in our hearts, Western North Carolina plays host to any number of beer festivals itself -- and although as of yet we have not been able to attend any, I have no doubt as to our regular presence in the months and years to come.

And, how could I forget, Asheville Brewers Supply!

And lastly, I've just found a great local beer blog.


25 September 2007

Homebrew Interlude....

So, while waiting for the homebrew to ready itself for testing and sampling, I thought up a fun blog entry: so here's Perm's Beer Chronology Timeline. Just how did I get to the point where I am now?

1989: my 6-year-old sister innocently asks my parents one day, after church, "What does the Devil do to you in hell? Does he make you drink beer?"

1990: a work team from the US comes down and stays with us in Santiago, the Dominican Republic. My parents, being gracious hosts, provide them with a few 6-packs. This is the first time I remember beer being in the household. My parents, of course, being Southern Baptist missionaries living in a fishbowl, do not consume.

1994: whilst bowling with my church youth group in Danville, VA, I accidentally pick up a cup of warm Miller-Lite-ish beer next to my own Dr. Pepper and take an almost-sip before I realize my mistake. I think it the most foul thing ever to touch my lips.

September, 1997: my college buddy Eric decides it's high time I learn to like beer. He has the 20-year-old me over to his room for a bottle of Corona, with lime. I genuinely like it. Much as I disdain the Corona now, I must admit it was a good entry point for someone who theretofore had only partaken of cheap wine and the occasional sissy fruity cocktail. I keep the bottle for almost 2 years as a souvenir of my conversion night.

October-December, 1997: My buddies Mark, theGhost, and Matt decide that Rolling Rock is good; we consume moderate amounts of the stuff and consider ourselves set apart for not getting trashed on Bud Light, Southpaw, and the Beast, as do most of our schoolmates.

January-March, 1998: sometime in the dawn of the New Year, theGhost discovers the goodness that is Guinness Draught. He spreads the Gospel, and I am a ready convert. We decide that all other brews must be set against the standard that Arthur has set. The phrase, "It's no Guinness" is born. Neither of us consume another Rolling Rock again.

March 17, 1998: theGhost and I celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a 6-pack of Corona and chips & salsa. We simply didn't know any better.

April, 1998: Killian's Irish Red enters the picture as another college favorite.

June-August, 1998: I spend the summer before my senior year in Richmond, working in the UR Music Library and at River Road Church, consuming quantities of Corona, Killian's, and Guinness whenever an of-age emissary comes around.

August 17, 1998: I celebrate my legality with a Legend Brown, my first official taste of Micro-brewed goodness. A light comes on in my head. It's followed by a party at my house where I'm gifted with Killian's and Guinness. David S. consumes 6 Guinness by himself, leading to the episode with the utterance of the immortal phrase, "I'm sorry, Perm."

August 18, 1998: I clean up David's 6 Guinni.

August-December, 1998: I discover the beauty of the design-your-own 6-pack at the Village Wine & Beer. I encounter many brews the world over, including JW Dundee's Honey Brown Lager, Pete's Wicked Ale, Sam Adams' Boston Lager, Tusker Kenyan Lager, Newcastle Brown, Harp, Bass Ale, Weienstephaner, Warsteiner, Lowenbrau, Grolsch, Heineken, Beck's, Mackeson's....I really don't know anything about what I'm buying, but I have a lot of fun trying a lot of different brews.
Hefeweizen is discovered. I go nuts.

October-December, 1998: One of my apartment-mate's buddies drinks all of my premium European brews and tries to replace them with MGD. I officially become a beer snob after this episode.

November, 1998: A visit to Duke University introduces me to my first taste of home-brew: Divinity Ale, brewed by a friend-of-a-friend at the Divinity School. It's tasty.

January-April, 1999: Bottom's Up Pizza and Penny Lane Pub provide me with good amounts of Legend Brewery offerings, and Guinness.

May-June, 1999: A trip to Scotland shows me just how much better Guinness is overseas. It also introduces me to Tennent's Lager, Caffrey's Irish Ale, and MacEwan's. I'm also intrigued by a brochure I see for "Heather Ale," but never get to try any.

August-December, 1999: Duke Music Departmental Happy Hours at Biddy Early's and the James Joyce. Guinness, Bass, and Boddington's.

November, 1999: I discover Hoegaarden. A whole new world of Belgian goodness opens up to me. Bob Parkins chides, "That's a summer beer!" I ignore him and enjoy it anyway.

December 2000: theGhost gets into homebrewing, I get into hefeweizen and witbier. Over New Years, I help theGhost bottle a batch. I'm intrigued.

October, 2002: My first beer festival (the Durham WBF). It's amazing, to say the least. If I hadn't been hooked before, I'm hooked for sure now.

April, 2004: As a cover-up for going to get Sara's engagement ring from the Fed Ex depot (long, long story), theGhost and I attempt a co-homebrew at my apartment. Something (we never quite decide what) goes horribly wrong and the brews all turn out tasting like Lysol. We conveniently forget the episode for the most part...although the marriage proposal turned out quite well.

October, 2004: Trip to a specialty beer store in Ithaca, NY introduces me to Val Dieu Belgian Abbey Ale.

May, 2005: Sara and I get married. Our friends throw us a pre-wedding party. Harpoon kegs are featured. Our honeymoon takes us to Maine, where we take time to visit a couple of breweries.

January, 2006: We visit England and France. Fun English beers: Youngs and Jennings.

August, 2006: I receive "The Brewmaster's Table" by Garrett Oliver and enjoy every page. Suddenly there's a new dimension to my hobby: food pairing.

May-June, 2007: Our household moves to Western NC and we begin the exploration of the beer offerings in the greater Asheville-radius area.

September, 2007: I celebrate the 10th anniversary of my enjoyment of beer by brewing my first batch of ale.

24 September 2007

The First Homebrew, Part II

So, the brew made itself ready for bottling earlier than I was expecting. The recipe calls for the ale to sit in the fermenter for 5-10 days, until the yeast stops bubbling and goes into rest mode. You can tell when this happens by looking at the airlock -- when it stops bubbling, the yeast has become dormant. Well, mine took just 5 days to get to this point, which allowed me to go ahead and bottle almost a week earlier than I was expecting!
Thus, last Tuesday evening I settled down for a bottling extravaganza. Ocean's 11 is a great background movie for bottling. As is Keeping the Faith. But I digress.
First, I sanitized all the bottles with my good old B-Brite solution. It's a nifty contraption I've got to get the sanitizing solution up in the bottles. I don't care how Freudian it looks; it works well.
Next, I added priming sugar syrup to the bucket -- 2/3 cup of white sugar dissolved in a pint of boiling water, cooled to room temperature. Lots of homebrew recipes recommend corn sugar, but 1) I didn't have any of that, and 2) 90-something percent of all readily-available corn products in the US come from genetically-modified crops. Eeww! So I went with the plain old white sugar. Darker brews work well with brown sugar, and I've heard that you can have good results with honey as well, but it's trickier to get the proportions right.
Next, with Sara's help, I transfered the brew from the carboy fermenter to my plastic bottling bucket (it has a handy spigot tap at the bottom) by means of the siphon and hose. I let the brew sit in the bucket for a few minutes to allow the bubbles to calm down while I prepared the bottles.

Bottling into 12 oz. bottles is slightly trickier than into 750 mL wine bottles, but I soon got the hang of it. The bottling-wand-thingy is really neat, although when, at the bottom of the bucket, hop goop gets caught in the nozzle tip valve, it has a habit of trickling liquid out even when it's not supposed to. That's a good sign for when to stop bottling.
Then comes the capping. I managed to crush about 5 bottle caps, mostly towards the end when I was getting impatient.

I managed to bottle about 51 bottles before I got down to the dregs. 2 cases plus a 3-pack.

Now comes the 2-week waiting period, to allow that carbonation to build up in the bottles.

15 September 2007

The Inaugural Homebrewing Session

Yesterday morning I launched into my first attempt at homebrewing (soundtrack: Homestar Runner's wimpy "yayy.." from the 2003 Halloween toon). Here's a quick recap:


Collected bottles, both new (from Dad's new gig) and recycled (always a very enjoyable part of the process!), dug out all of my old wine-making supplies and took stock of what I had (and how dirty it was), and so forth.

Thursday afternoon:

Drove up to Asheville Brewers Supply (their website needs to be updated!) and purchased one of their house kits, the "Green Zinger" (not the greatest name, in my opinion...).
3.3 lbs Briess Pilsen Light malt extract
3 lbs Briess Northwestern Gold dry malt extract
4 oz Czech Saaz hops
1 oz Mt. Hood hops (aroma hops)
White Labs liquid California ale yeast

All malt, no grain! I guess that's why they promote this one as a "starter" kit.

After reading a bit about Briess (after the fact), I'm a little impressed with the company: they're the only vertically integrated malt company in the country (all of the malt they mill and produce is from their own barley), they're non-GMO, kosher, and they've had an organic licensing certification since 1990. Not too shabby. We'll see how it turns out.

De-labeled my recycled bottles (submerge them in hot water for a few minutes, and the labels come right off!), and then loaded them up in the dishwasher.

Thought about cleaning and sanitizing all the other equipment, and started a little bit of that. Got tired and went to bed.


My best-laid plans to get up at 7:30 am and get cracking didn't quite materialize, and I had a luxurious morning of sleeping in ("sleeping in luxuriously" for Mark-the-now-30-year-old means getting up at 8:30 or 8:45).

9:15am. Boxed up the washed bottles. Loaded the other brewing equipment (bucket lid, siphon, hoses, thief, measuring cup, long spoon, bottler, etc) into the dishwasher.

Got hungry and ate a nice breakfast, with a nod to the Irish: scrambled eggs with bacon (free-range organic, of course!), fried potato slices, and 2 slices of fresh tomato.
Was inspired by my yummy meal on the porch and loaded up my brew-making tunes on the LP for the day:
The Chieftains 4
The Chieftains 1
Sean Kane: Gusty's Frolicks
followed by 2 more on the CD player:
The Chieftains Collection: The Very Best of the Claddagh Years, Vol.1
My own mix CD, "Fiddle, Vol.2"

I've decided that Traditional Celtic Folk music is excellent brewing music.

Cleaned carboy in the shower (it's just too damn big for anywhere else, plus it was raining buckets outside). Sanitized everything.

Started the boil!

Added the malt. I've got large pot issues (no, get your mind out of the gutter). Our stock pot is 2 gallons right under the brim, so I was hoping it would work for the wort. It didn't. So I called in the very large water-bath boil canner, and had to messily transfer it over into the canner. I think, until I can buy a nice big boil pot, I'll just borrow one from the church (another one of my job perks!).

Added the first ounce of bittering hops. Added another ounce again at 10-minute intervals:

Added Mt. Hood (aroma) hops and took off heat. Let the wort sit for a few minutes to steep and cool.

Added to the fermenter. Physics mysteriously failed me and I couldn't get the siphon to work properly, so this set me back a few minutes and I had a slightly messy time getting the wort into the carboy fermenter by funnel and measuring cup. The wort was well-aerated, to be sure!
Placed the carboy in a roasting pan with ice cubes to cool.

Pitched the yeast. Stirred with the spoon handle, topped with the airlock, and covered the carboy with a towel to keep dark.

I was slightly worried later that night that I hadn't stirred the mix up sufficiently after pitching the yeast (remembering from my wine-making days that I'd sometimes stir after adding the (dry) yeast for a good half-hour. However, a trip into the brewing room (our 1/2 bathroom downstairs!) this morning laid those fears to rest -- the brew is wonderfully bubbling with happy yeast.

Bottling to follow in 5-10 days!

12 September 2007

The passing of a Beer Legend

I learned today of the passing of Beer Journalism giant Michael Jackson, the world-renowned Beer Hunter, on 30 August. Jackson, through his writings, was, essentially, the primary prophet and mover-and-shaker behind the Beer Renaissance of the past 30 years. His World Guide to Beer (1977) coincided with the brewing and re-imagining of beer revolution that had much to do with the way we understand and respect beer today.

Here is a tribute from All About Beer.

And this looks like a fitting tribute. It's doubling as a fundraiser for the National Parkinson Foundation.

And, here is a final video interview with the man.

Farewell, dear sir.

01 September 2007

Ireland and Beer

Our trip to Ireland, August 13-21.
I'm finally getting this post up, with commentary. Work has been a bear pretty much ever since we got back. But anyhoo....
First, two of my favorite non-brew shots from the trip, just to get you in the mood.
Both photos are from Doolin, County Clare, on the west coast -- a wonderful town and a beautiful area.

Now, to set the record straight: Ireland is most assuredly not a craft-beer lover's wasteland. My understanding is that the situation has changed quite a bit in recent years, but at this point delicious craft brews are alive and well in the Emerald Isle. Quite honestly, we merely scratched the surface, and what is perhaps most disappointing is that many of these breweries do not distribute across the Atlantic.

First off, a tip o' the hat to the Black Stuff:

Every time I saw the Guinness Plant in Dublin, I couldn't help but be reminded of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory ("You see: nobody ever goes out...and nobody ever comes in!").
We could have spent a small fortune to take the "Guinness Experience" Tourist Trap, which isn't even at the actual brewery, but decided instead to spend our money on actual potables.
Guinness is, of course, an institution, and the family is responsible for funding the renovation and restoration of various landmarks throughout Dublin and the Republic. Including my beloved St. Patrick's Cathedral, where we stumbled across this against the wall of the north transept, near the organ staircase:
It is, indeed, a Guinness keg, enjoying its second life as a repository for loose change. Underneath the memorial of no less a personage than Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Classic.

Now, Guinness is an interesting brew: much loved, much hated, certainly ubiquitous throughout Ireland, and often misunderstood, at least by Americans. (I have an idea of doing a blind taste test sometime, giving someone Guinness blindfolded -- I'm pretty sure they'll think it's a light-colored beer, going on taste alone). But anyway, it's part of the Irish Beer Experience, no way around it.
They are pretty to look at, no question. I was more than happy to have a Guinness be my first pint in Ireland. It seemed only fitting, especially since Guinness was my gateway to good beer, back in college.

And there is something about going into a local pub, graced (more often than not) with a portrait of Ireland's favorite Americans,

and ordering a pint of the black. Sara is not a Guinness fan, but conceded this much as well.

Even in Ireland, she still didn't like it. But that's ok, since she discovered Smithwick's (which is, in my experience, much different -- and better -- in Ireland).

(Sara's Smithwick's, at our post in McGann's)

One thing that Guinness has started doing in recent months is coming out with limited-batch specialty draughts (once again, not available in the US), and I was able to sample one of these at McGann's, our pub of choice in Doolin.
The Guinness North Star brew is a black, black stout, with a darker head than the standard Draught. From the moment the barkeep ("Are you ok, then?" is the official Irish way of saying, "What'll it be?") drew the draught, I knew I was in for a treat. It's strong -- way, way stronger than regular Guinness; slightly sweet, and all-around more like an American brewer's Irish stout offering -- and, in all likelihood, I imagine it to be more like the original 18th century Guinness recipe.

During our exploration of Doolin, we discovered a small music cafe (a record store with food & drink) that was selling, among other things, bottles of craft brew from the Biddy Early Brewery, from down the road in Ennis. We snatched up a bottle of their Red Ale to try, and liked it so much that we went back the next day and bought 2 bottles to bring back to the States with us.

The Red Biddy is a wonderful brew. Easy-drinking and congenial, it was the absolute perfect thing to enjoy along with a bowl (or three) of homemade potato soup on a rainy Irish afternoon, after a morning of soggy hiking. If ever you are in the west of Ireland, find it and drink it. It can be found here and there in Dublin as well.

Before heading to Dublin, here are a few more shots of McGann's Pub, our evening haunt in Doolin. We never even made it down the road to O'Connell's, since we liked McGann's so much (and the drinks were 20 Euro-cents cheaper, too!).
It was always crowded, but we made do.

McGann's is home to some fantastic live, traditional music. The fiddle and flute duo in the top photo were simply top-shelf performers. And the banjo-accordion-bodhran combo wasn't too shabby, either.

The posted drink price list. Note that Spirits cost the same as the draughts, and bottles cost more!

On to Dublin for the second half of our trip.
After Sunday morning services at St. Patrick's, we headed up the street towards Christ Church and the old city in order to find a good lunch spot. Right across the street from a corner of Christ Church we found the Bull & Castle Gastro Pub, and, without knowing a single thing about the place, thought we'd check it out.
We ended up going back there for supper that night, and again the following night. It was just that good.

Our lunch of boxty, potato wedges with roasted garlic cream cheese, and corn & chicken chowder paired up admirably with the Galway Hooker, most certainly one of the cerevesial highlights of our trip. In addition to having a fantastic website, and winning the award for the best beer name ever, this pale ale with nice malty tones really does have something to contribute to the pale ale constellation. It's a brand new brewery, only around since the summer of 2006. I expect great things from them. Here's an interview. If we had had a few more days in Dublin, I'm sure I would have partaken of this one again. Sara, however, did have it again. So she wins.
One of the many things that most impressed us about this place (in addition to having 7 rotating draughts and 57 bottles from all over the world, and, being an FXB restaurant, serving only local, free-range organic meats) was its offering of "gastro meals" -- any number of mouth-watering entree dishes paired with an appropriate beer, included in the price -- and a pretty reasonable price (for Dublin) at that! We were both so impressed to find a restaurant doing this sort of thing as a matter of course. And we definitely took advantage. We returned for dinner that night.

Sara had a Galway Hooker, which went right along with her spicy grilled chicken sandwich. I went for a haddock & chips (some of the best fish and chips I have ever had, bar none), which came with a Blarney Blonde, from the Franciscan Well Brewery, Cork City, Co. Cork. The Blarney Blonde is a Koelsch-style ale, which is a style I'm not especially familiar with, but am intrigued to explore further, based on this particular sample! It is an extremely light ale, but I found the light color to be quite deceptive. It has quite a bit going on, but it took having it along with the food to bring out all the magic. By itself, it has very nice subtle malt tones with a slight hint of fruit. All subtleties were swept aside when combined with the excellent haddock & chips -- it came to life as a complex ale: bubbly to cleanse the palate, just bitter enough to quench, and slightly sweet for fun.

We didn't spend all of our time at The Bull & Castle, of course. Saturday night found us at McDaid's Pub, south of the Temple Bar on Queen Anne Street. I had a nice Powers whiskey, and Sara had an unfortunate encounter with a Smithwick's from an off-tap. All of the pubs on Saturday night were bursting at the seams, but we managed to actually get seats at McDaid's, which seems to have nice character and a fun atmosphere. Right above our heads we found this fun plaque:
On Sunday night we hit up The Brazen Head, notable for being the oldest pub in Dublin and probably the second-oldest in all of Ireland (it has been a public house, inn, etc. since the 12th century!), and the favorite haunt of many notable Irish patriots such as Daniel O'Connell, Robert Emmett, Wolf Tone, and Michael Collins. A really great pub atmosphere, and a place I'm sure we would have returned to had we more time. I enjoyed a half-pint of MacArdles (why don't American pubs serve up half pints? They're perfect for tastings and for those nights you just don't feel like a whole pint), which I'll review below.

The infamous Red Breast, along with my pleasant half-pint of MacArdles (and my note-taking!)

Back at the Bull & Castle, the second night was just as good, if not better. Sara ordered an amazing pork chop along with Krusovice (plus or minus a few random consonant markings) pilsner, straight from the Czech Republic, that went right along with her chops. She compared it quite favorably with Urquell, no small feat. Perfect bitter balance, where Urquell errs on the side of almost being too bitter. It was a winning combination by all counts.

I departed from my normal routine and sprang for the roast beef (along with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, caramelized onions, Bishop's Finger gravy, and yorkshire pudding) which came with MacArdles, a nice amber-brown Mild Ale. It was an amazing pairing -- simple, straightforward, and solid.
MacArdles (now owned by conglomerate giant Diageo, who also owns Guinness and Smithwick's) is a pleasant reddish-brown ale with no gimmicks or games (much like the roast beef, although the Bishop's Finger Ale gravy was one concession to decadence). I thought the best part of the ale was the finish -- toasty, creamy, and floral.

That second night, we stayed for dessert. Sara got a Red Breast (our favorite Irish Whiskey) and I sprang for something new, a blind pick to go with my chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and Bushmills butterscotch caramel (yeah, it was that good). I went for an Arainn Rua, brewed by the Arainn Mhor Brewing Company of County Donegal.

Arainn Rua is a bottle-conditioned Red Ale (a red ale that has nothing to do with Killian's) that weighs in at 5.2% but has the complexity of a much stronger brew. It is sweet and complex, peaty, hazel-nutty, and bubbly. As a blind pick, it was amazing with the dessert. The bottle-conditioning gives it a certain resemblance to the Old Speckled Hen, or certain Belgian ales. A definite classy edge here. The bottle enticingly says, a "secret essence of Arainn Mhor ingredient" is added. I wonder if it's not some sort of herb, or perhaps heather -- contributing to the sweet, peaty earthiness that's present. This is an excellent, excellent ale, perhaps my new favorite Irish beer, overall.
don't let the pose fool you, I was loving this brew!

Ireland has many, many more brews to discover, and, judging from the current trend, I imagine there will be even more fine breweries cropping up all over the island. We'll be eager to return in a few years and discover what's new -- in a country that seems to know all about how to balance the ancient with the modern.

Here's a couple of fun links:

A list of Irish Breweries, compiled by the folks at Irish Craft Brewer.
(I'm a little confused by their report that Arainn Mhor brews their ales off-site in Belgium. I don't believe it for a second.)

A fun article about the Bull & Castle, also from Irish Craft Brewer.