With Christmas and New Year celebrating to be done, STUART CLARK selects some of his favourite beers and spirits - and gets a shameless plug in for Hot Press’ own collaborative brews! Plus, our Yuletide guide to the best drinks and where to find them…
So this is what 7.25 in the morning looks like! Despite my wintertime addiction to my duvet, I’m on the train down to Kilkenny to experience something far more profound than anything that’s ever occurred at Knock or Mdejujore; I’m collaborating on a Hot Press Christmas beer with the good folk from Sullivan’s Brewing. Having recently won a Best Ale In The World Award with their Maltings Red, I think they’re being kind rather than actually requiring my expertise, which lies more in the drinking of beer than the making of it.
Despite the silly o’clock start, I’m in rapt student mode as Sullivan’s master brewer, Ian Hamilton, gives me a crash course in germination, fermentation, yeast metabolism, enzyme converting and a ll the other scientific stuff that you don’t necessarily think of as you nurse a pint in your local.
Following a day in Ian’s expert company – this is a guy who’s brewed his way from the Marble City to Lagos and back – I now know my Admirals from my Huell Melons and the fact that hops in general contain close to 200 essential oils and are first cousins of the cannabis plant.
While a lot of my time is spent quality controlling Maltings Red and scoffing pizza from their woodfired Italian oven, I do my fare share of the boiling, sprinkling, stirring and lifting as the small-batch festive seasonal we’re brewing today makes its way from vat to fermentation vessel.
While you’ll have to wait until December 13 for the official unveiling of our collaboration – see hotpress.com for details of how you can win an invite to the event in their John Street taproom – I can reveal that it’s a big, bold barley wine mixed with a rare dark sugar to give it its distinctive look and taste.
Elsewhere, our Beoir.org friends have put together a list of Christmas specials from across the island that starts with Arthustown’s King’s Bay Coffee IPA, and doesn’t let up until it reaches YellowBelly’s Super Secret Seasonal #2.
Others we can’t wait to try are Wicklow Brewery’s
Big Brown Ale, which is limited to just 1,110 numbered bottles; 5 Lamps’ wonderfully named Ale Mary Full Of Spice; Killarney Brewing’s Christmas In Killarney Belgian Amber Ale; Dungarvan’s Coffee & Oatmeal Stout;
Black Donkey’s Arigna Amber Spelt Saison; Kinnegar’s Coffee & Coconut Porter; the latest Winter Star Spiced Rye Ale release from O’Hara’s, and White Gypsy’s much-loved seasonal offering, Yule Ol.
Wicklow Wolf are having a double celebration with the return of Poles Apart North, a robust hoppy porter and Poles Apart South, a white crisp IPA, and the exhortation to, “Explore and discover!”
We’ve a terrible thirst all of a sudden…
Also worthy of your immediate attention are the
Jack Smyth Gold Ale, Red Ale and Stout, which are made with much love by chef Pádraic Óg Gallagher who has them on tap at his Boxty House restaurant in Temple Bar. The perfect accompaniment to their seasonal Irish food – the Chicken Boxty and Beef & Stout Stew are two Christmas Menu standouts – they’ve also made their way round the corner to the Chameleon Indonesian eatery in Fownes Street.
On a recent visit to their kitchens, Team Hot Press was given a masterclass in potato pancake, beer bread and classic Dublin coddle making by Pádraic and his colleagues who are evangelical about the not so humble spud. Keep your tastebuds peeled for the Boxty House culinary tours coming your way in 2018.
Of course, it’s not just the beer industry that’s booming here with last month’s Whiskey Live event in Dublin Castle bringing together some of the country’s finest distillers.
Proving extremely popular were the Dublin Whiskey Distillery Co. who are a revival of one of Ireland’s most iconic independent brands – we adore their Heritage Irish Whiskey, which is matured mainly in first-fill American oak Bourbon casks – and Egan’s Irish Whiskey who, in addition to their 10-Year Single Malt and Vintage Grain, are about to bottle the first release of Legacy Reserve, a premium 15-year-old whiskey, which will be hitting shelves in January or February.
Egan’s have also conjured up
Mad March Hare, a smooth, flavour-packed poitín, which harks back to the time when Yates,
Shaw and Joyce were doing their legendary literary thing. Either enjoy it like your forbearers did – neat! – or go the cocktail route. Either way, it’s a stunning drop.
And let us not forget what a great 2017 it’s been for Ireland’s vodkas and gins, the latter of which includes Blacks Irish Gin among its quality newcomers. Already highly regarded for their beers – their Rocket Ship IPA is a big fave of ours – the Kinsale family business puts fresh cut citrus peels, hand cracked juniper berries and wild Atlantic botanicals to exemplary use in their gin, which is smooth enough to be enjoyed neat, and aromatic enough to add character to any cocktail you’re shaking, stirring or muddling this festive season.
Of course, quality beers and spirits are not just for Christmas, with 9 White Deer’s Stag Saor Stout, Dublin Liberties Copper Alley Irish Whiskey, Blackwater Curious Still Black Hopped Vodka, Galway Bay Two Hundred Fathoms Imperial Stout, Elbow Lane
Arrow Weisse and Scotts Summer Medium Cider – they’ve also come up with a wonderful Winter Spiced special – a small handful of our Tipples of the Fortnight, a full list of which can be found on
"My expertise lies more in the drinking of beer than the making of it."