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Dublin: 17 °C Friday 20 September, 2019
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Beer Club: How craft beer is becoming the new wine

We headed along to the first night of Tom’s Beer Club in Bray to learn all there is know about craft beer.

10168032_431121590357659_1006766569244925656_n Source: Fiona Carey

IRELAND HAS A deep-rooted relationship with beer.

However, for many years there was only a couple of beers to choose from. They were typically all the big brand names, Guinness, Heineken, Budweiser, Coors Light, Carlsberg, Smithwicks and so on.

With the onset of craft beers, you can walk into your local off licence and be overwhelmed with the amount of choice.

Beer club is the new wine club

Similar to wine clubs that sprung up over the years, beer clubs could be the answer to learning what beers you like.

Tom Moore, a man who knows his beers, decided to pass on his knowledge by setting up a beer club in Bray, County Wicklow.

Holding their very first meeting this week in The Harbour Bar in Bray (voted the best bar in the world by the Lonely Planet) Tom’s Beer Club aims to hold “little get-togethers” to talk about, that’s it, beer.

On Tuesday, the snug of the bar was filled to the brim with eager beer lovers, willing to learn.

On arrival Tom Moore, the club’s organiser, asked if I knew anything about craft beer.

“I drink Blue Moon, that’s craft beer, right?” I asked. “Actually it’s owned by Coors Light,” answered Tom, shattering any illusions I had that I was in the know.

beer2 Source: Fiona Carey

Gathering around a wooden table, fire blazing, our first tray of beers arrived for our tasting.

First up was Irish brewed Tom Crean lager. Brewed by the Dingle Brewing company and named after a man who took part in three of the four Antartcic Expeditions, the beer went down a treat with the drinkers.

Sniff

Each person took a sample glass of the beer and just like you might with wine, we were urged first to take a good whiff of the stuff.

Straw, grass, wet cardboard – these were all the things people smelled.

“It’s what I call a lawnmower beer,” said Tom, “nice, cold and perfect for a warm day like today”.

“It’s clear, pale, not a pilsner, but with a lot of bubbles,” said Tom, “there’s no farty beer smell off it,” he added.

tom 1 Rebecca Flynn having a taste. Source: Fiona Carey

Tom explained that there was very little chemicals in it, unlike what you might find in some of your regular beers.

“I like that there is not many chemicals in it, it means you won’t get a bad pint of it,” said  Stephen Cranley.

“It’s a beer that is easy to drink. Whether Tom Crean would have wanted a beer named after him, who knows, but it’s a very nice beer and Irish too, which is even better and it is now available on transatlantic flights to the states on Aer Lingus,” said Tom.

tom 5 Tom Moore, organiser of the Beer Club, takes a sip. Source: Fiona Carey

When asked why they decided to come a long to a beer club, the crowd answered that there are wine clubs, so why shouldn’t there be beer clubs?

“Craft beer tastes better than wine and I’m sure beer club is better craic” said one beer club member.

“I think people are fed up of the drink culture we have. This is about getting people to take beer seriously, which is great. It’s not just a social lubricant,” said Cranley.

Demand

Tom’s Dad, John Moore, said that craft beer is becoming what wine did in Ireland a few years ago.

About 20 years ago, it was all about your regular pints of beer. The only wine you could get was Blue Nun. Then people started to demand better, and that is what is happening now with beer I think.

Next up, was Porterhouse Red, brewed by the Porterhouse Brewery. “Well, stick your nose in,” said Tom.

beer4 Source: Fiona Carey

“Oh, it’s creamy,” said one drinker, with a skeptical look on her face.

Describing the dark, red beer Tom said that people can often get turned off by dark beers.

beer6 Source: Fiona Carey

“People definitely drink with their eyes”.

He said people often look at a beer and assume they will know what it tastes like.

“This is a two part pour – don’t get me started on that,”said Tom, reffering to the recent Buzzfeed article that said the two part pour was a myth, adding, “it doesn’t smell as strong as it tastes”.

“It has a bitter, biscuit taste,” said one drinker.

tom4 Lisa Downer trying one of the night's selections.

When informed that it was brewed in an industrial estate in Dublin, people joked, “you can’t even taste the M50 off that,” they said, jokingly.

beer7 Source: Fiona Carey

Source: Christina Finn/YouTube

Once people started to relax, and once people’s inhibitions were washed away with a few beer samples, people had plenty of questions they wanted answered about beer.

The Beer Club had great praise for Ireland’s national drink Guinness, with Tom saying that it will always be and institution, but telling one fact,unbeknownst to me, that Guinness has swim bladders of fish in it. “If your vegan, you might not want to drink it,” said Tom.

Next up was Brewdog’s 5am Saint, 5 per cent alcohol – we were moving up the chain.

When asked if cost was a factor for people when buying craft beer, Tom said:

No I don’t think so, because once you have craft beer you can’t go back. You can’t have one and say that was too expensive, I’ll have a Coors, no.

“It’s also about treating yourself,” said John Moore.

tom7 Stephen Cranley enjoying the beer selections. Source: Fiona Carey

Enjoying a few

As someone who works behind a bar, Stephen Cranley said that craft beer actually encourages more responsible drinking, stating that people don’t come in to skull back a few pints, “they go out to have a nice drink or two, they drink more responsibly, not because the beer is that more expensive, as it is only about €1.30 or so more, but because many of the craft beers are meant to be drank slowly”.

“And paying that extra €1.30 is worth it,” said Tom.

“I see people come into the bar and ask for a craft beer and they may not have had one before. They say, oh that’s expensive, but they come back and buy more and more, and that’s because of the quality of it,” said Cranley.

Many of the craft beers can be quite heavy with a high alcohol percentage (as we soon learned) which Tom explained means that not every beer is meant to be enjoyed as a pint, adding that there is a move towards the continental glass.

“Once people realise it’s about beer, not pints. I think Irish drinking culture is all about the pint, but this is changing,” said Tom.

tom5 Pete the Vet aka Pete Wedderburn and Conor Duggan at Tom's Beer Club.

TOMS15 Source: Fiona Carey

Punk IPA was the next beer to try, one that Tom said he was “completely blown away by” when he first tried it.

Craft beer love story

“It’s one beer that has it all. When I first tried it I was amzed – I didn’t know beer could taste this way,” laughing at how he was describing it, almost as a craft beer love story, he said.

“The fruity, floral flavour – it makes you wonder how they get that with no actual fruit in it, when it actually all comes from the hops in it.”

The discussion then moved on to hops. Tom said that there was warnings that there was going to be a big hops shortage worldwide.

Hops are the flowers used primarily as a flavoring agent in beer and their are various types, explained Tom, adding that if you have a spare field somewhere and the climate to grow hops it could be a money-maker in the future .

Next was Hardknott’s Azimuth IPA and Brewdog’s Libertine Black Ale, both equally enjoyable. At 7.2 per cent alcohol, the black ale was described by some as “dangerously drinkable”.

toms9 Source: Fiona Carey

tom11 Source: Fiona Carey

Source: Christina Finn/YouTube

With another drinker saying, “If you drank a full pint of that you would be face down somewhere”.

tom12 Eoin Dixon Murphy having a taste. Source: Fiona Carey

Tom had a special treat for the group, a beer from the US, Brooklyn Brewery’s Local 2 (which was not available from the bar).

tom 2 Source: Fiona Carey

At 9 per cent, this beer should come with a warning for being again, dangerously drinkable.

In a large champagne bottle, with champagne top, the beer pops with a similar effect due to the bubbles.

“This is more of a ‘sipper’, one to enjoy with friends,” he said, adding that it is a big statement by a brewery to put it in such a large bottle, showing that they want it to be enjoyed, like a bottle of wine at dinner.

TOMS 14 John Moore. Source: Fiona Carey

empty Empty glasses after a successful Beer Club meeting. Source: Fiona Carey

Speaking about the popularity of craft beer and the intimidation that can surround it, Tom said the reason he set up the club was to get people to try new beers.

Too much choice

“Too much choice is a bad idea when it comes to craft beers. People go into a bar or off licence where the shleves are packed with craft beer, it can intimidate people,” he said.

“I’m in no way saying that the regular beers aren’t great at what they do. The likes of Budweiser are to be commended. You can buy a Budweiser in India, the US or here in Ireland and the standard and taste remains the same. I just want people to move out of their comfort zone, try something new and support small breweries.”

tom3 Tom's Beer Club Source: Fiona Carey

Tasting the different beers did show how people’s tastes differ, with one person stating they loved one beer, with another saying it tasted like a bad can you have at the end of the night.

Tom’s Beer Club, while about beer of course, is also about a good night out, socialising, meeting new people and, really, isn’t that what beer is supposed to be about – the chats and the craic over a nice cold beer.

Tom’s Beer Club is held in The Harbour Bar every fortnight.

The beers tasted at the first meeting were:

  • Dingle Brewing Co.’s Tom Crean Lager
  • Porterhouse Red
  • Brewdog’s 5am Saint
  • Brewdog’s Punk IPA
  • Hardknott’s Azimuth IPA
  • Brewdog’s Libertine Black Ale
  • Brooklyn Brewery’s Local 2 (not available from the bar, Tom’s special treat for us!)

Read:  Here’s how to drink beer tonight without getting drunk>

Column: Ancient brewing in Ireland and the legacy it left behind>

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