Fastest Stout In The World

A while ago I named my first all grain beer Lightening Bolt in honour of Usain Bolt as I watched him break the 200m world record while making it. Soon after I made a stout which would be much more to Usain's taste as I'm told he's a fan of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Stephen, my brother in law is with Digicel in Jamaica and his wife is the Digicel sponsorship manager and looks after Usain Bolt's sponsorship. A plan was hatched to try get a bottle of my stout to Usain Bolt. I relabeled it Lightening Bolt Stout and sent it back with Stephen. The plan worked and he did indeed get the stout and while I was in Jamaica I got the photo. Here's the man himself, Usain Bolt, being presented with the stout by my lovely niece Asia.    

Isn't that just the coolest photo ever? Well I think it is anyway. I got a signed photo of him too so that will take pride of place. Big up to Stephen, Shelly and Asia for arranging that!
It's a great note to finish the year on. Yet again having this blog has led to something really cool happening.

Since it's the end of the year I want to say thanks to everyone who checks in here and reads about the goings on at Aranbrew. I really love it when people read what I write and I love all your comments. I hope you all have a great 2010. Next year the blog will probably move to a new host and the redesign should be coming soon. I'm also hoping to brew a bit more. There's also all sorts of crafty adventures planned involving knitting, spinning and dyeing.

Happy new year everyone!

The Owls of Mid-Winter

It's definitely winter. There's a chill in the air and lights everywhere. I like this time of year, wrapping up warm, preferably in hand knitted things and looking forward to the days getting longer while sitting by the fire in my parents house. This year is a little different though. I'm going to visit my brother in law and his family in Jamaica. My brother in law generously gave us flights over as a christmas present so we're jetting off to Kingston on friday. 

Before that though I have to show you my finished Owls jumper. It took about five weeks to knit which is pretty fast for me. I was studying for exams and doing projects at the same time so I wasn't even working that hard on it. I'm very pleased with how it turned out. The yarn is lovely, warm yet light and the shaping really makes it fit well. I haven't made many knitted garments and this one has really encouraged me to not be afraid of a larger project. I expect it will get lots of wear in January. (The yarn is Louisa Harding Hulda, it's being discontinued unfortunately.)

I also finished the Montego Bay scarf. No photos of that yet, I'm bringing it to Jamaica to get a glamour shot of it in the sun. I think we're going to the beach for a few days and hopefully a photo opportunity will present itself.

I want wish all of you who read this blog a happy whatever mid winter festival you happen to celebrate. For most of you happy christmas. I hope it involves family and friends, feasting and drinking of good beer.

Cheery Cherry Cupcakes and Fat Bottoms

I recently got Susannah Blake's Cupcakes book and have been making many scrumptious recipes from it. I especially liked these lemon meringue cupcakes which have lemon curd in the middle and are topped with meringue. Needless to say they didn't last very long. I've been reading a lot of Donal Skehan's lovely blog recently with all it's great tasty recipes. He has a recipe for Christmas Cupcakes which I must try before the festive season.

Speaking of which last year the Fat Bottomed Santa made his majestic journey around our house at christmas time. This year with all the cutbacks in the house and the recession I have to say I was worried if he'd show up at all. I needn't have worried because the Fat Bottomed Santa is much more resourceful than that. He showed up for the first time today with some cherry almond cupcakes he'd made. They're very tasty and he even left me a recipe.

Cherry Almond Cupcakes

115g Margarine or Butter
115g Golden Caster Sugar
95g Self Raising Flour
20g Ground Almonds
1tsp Vanilla Essence
1-2 tbsp Milk
2 Eggs
Glace Cherries
Icing Sugar
Lemon Juice

Cream the butter and sugar together until it's light fully mixed. Then mix in the eggs one at a time and add the vanilla essence. Sieve the flour and almonds onto the mix and add the cherries. Fold together the mixture adding the milk if needed.
Bake in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for about 15-20 minutes until the cupcakes have a golden top and are firm to the touch. Times may vary depending on your oven.
Leave the cupcakes to cool.
I mix icing in a kind of random manner. I usually use about 300g of icing sugar and add a tbsp of lemon juice and a tbsp of warm water. I mix it adding more icing sugar if it is too thin and more water if it's too thick. This icing shouldn't be too thick. Spoon it over the cupcakes, it helps if the cases are those big muffin ones so the icing doesn't spill out. Then top each one with a cherry and enjoy.

Irish Craft Beer in the Wild

I don't usually write beer reviews on here as well I'm just not much use at them. I always run out of adjectives. I'm hoping that might change after christmas as Randy Mosher's new book Tasting Beer arrived for me yesterday. It has been hidden away until the big day though. Radical Brewing is my favourite beer and brewing book. I was allowed a flick through and it seems to be much more than just a tasting book with lots of asides and interesting beer facts.

I shall have to soldier on without Mosher's help on this one. Everyone knows Aldi the German supermarket for cheap treats. I like their Specially Selected range for good value chutney and sauces and now their Specially Selected range includes Irish craft beer. Tipped off by the ever vigilant folks at Irish craft brewer I heard they had something described as an Irish traditional ale for sale for €5.99 for a pack of four 330ml bottles. It's brewed by Carlow Brewing Company so hopefully this turns into some good exposure for them. The Red one was dispatched to get some. Now that I've danced around the issue with some preamble I suppose I better attempt some tasting notes.

It's a garnet brown colour with tints of red and a nice foamy head that dies down. It's got a sweet malty nose on it. It's a balanced beer with lots of caramely malty flavours, I tend to like beers where you can taste the malt so this gets an instant thumbs up. It has a great dry roasty finish with some nice spices to knock out the full flavour. It's a really nice beer, it's complex but not too much. Some beers go crazy on the complexity and then you can only have one of them. This is like some sort of spicy less intimidating version of Clotworthy Dobbin. You could kick back with this and enjoy a few of them.

Carlow are making some very tasty beers recently which are given much better reviews than I can by The Beer Nut. The stand out being Goods Store IPA. This new traditional ale is a very solid, good value, pleasant beer to drink for an evening.

Crafty donations and a mysterious crocheted tache

It's been busy around here recently. I've been doing a lot of study for college and I'm still crafting away but the blog has been neglected. Progress is going well on my owls jumper. I've finished the main body and one sleeve and I've got about halfway through the other sleeve. I finally figured out how to do a make one properly with this project. I'm finding the sleeves hard going but I'm sure I'll start knitting much faster when those owls start to appear on the yoke. It's a very clever pattern as just when you're beginning to get sick of it along comes the yoke with a nice cable pattern with owls. I love how it looks so far. I''m also almost finished my Montego Bay scarf, I need to have it finished so I can wear it in Jamaica for christmas.

I've also been collecting free crafty stuff in the last few weeks. Has anyone noticed that when you do a craft people who used to do said craft decide to unload stuff they don't use on you? I've had yarn donated to me before and it usually doesn't work out. I tend to end up with a load of yarn I don't know what to do with and it sits there making me feel guilty about not using it. However this past two weeks I've had some donations of a crafty nature that were really wanted and useful.

A friend of mine mentioned to a friend of hers (in a complicated chain that always brings random stuff) that I was into spinning and she said she had a load of fleece and spinning equipment that she didn't want anymore. So I called to my friends and found a bag with some old fleece that I had to throw out as it looked past its best. There can be problems with old fleece if it hasn't been stored well as it can contain moths. Moths plus fiber equals bad. They lay eggs in the fiber destroying it. Ick! So I wasn't taking that chance. But the rest of the stuff was great. I bagged a lazy kate with two bobbins, a set of hand carders and a niddy noddy. What on earth is a niddy noddy I hear you ask.

A niddy noddy apart from sounding cool is a nifty device for making a skein of yarn. You wrap the yarn around the niddy noddy and because the ends are perpendicular to each other it makes it easy to wrap the yarn and to take it off. Much easier than using the back of a chair. The yarn I have wrapped is a silk merino blend that I left as a singles yarn. I'm really happy with it, its consistent and not over twisted even though it isn't plied.

The lazy kate and bobbins baffled me a bit at first. I have a lazy kate for my wheel and the bobbins from this one wouldn't fit my wheel, so what to do with them? Then it dawned on me, I could use it for my spindle spun yarn. I've been spinning this falkland top on my spindle for months now. I'm getting a bit bored of it at this stage and I wanted to spin something else on it. So I unwound it all onto the bobbin. I used a shoe box to make a support for the spindle to make it easy to wind the yarn off. I'm chuffed with it as it's incredibly thin and even. I might be good enough at this spindling lark to go treat myself to a shiny new spindle.

It gets a bit boring spinning top that is all one colour so I decided to dye the rest of the falkland top. Now this would have been a problem if it wasn't for the other crafty donation of the past two weeks. The rather wonderful Wyvernfriend mentioned she was getting rid of some pots that were no longer suitable for her new cooker. So I asked could I take them to use for dyeing. I called over and picked up the pots and a had a great chat with a fellow knitter. Much more fun than buying pots.

Today I had finished my projects and a literature review so some fun dyeing was in order before I start studying for my exams. Even Westley tried to get in on the act. Maybe he harbours ambitions to dye himself. I'm now imagining a blue, green and purple Westley. I dyed the top a blue colour from a pot of landscape dye I got by mistake in an order from Wingham and I also threw in a bit of green food colouring. It seemed to work. Santa is bringing me some proper dyes for christmas so I'll do a post with a tutorial about dyeing when I get them.
When dyeing with acid dyes you have to use separate dye pots that aren't used for food. That's why I needed the donated pots.

And finally I leave you with news that Sherlock Holmes is alive and sleuthing away in London...

One of my random conversations with Ais resulted in me promising to crochet a tache for her. I think she may have been feeling left out with all this talk of movember. Or perhaps she just gets cold cycling round London. How and ever I made the tache and extracted a promise that she would send me a photo of her wearing it. It winged its way through a postal strike and I was sent this great photo. All she really needs is a pipe to complete the look.
Anyway I think that's quite enough rambling on for one evening. This is getting to be a bit teal deer.


Knitting and Stitching Show, RDS, Dublin, October 2009

Last year I had a lovely day out at the knitting and stitching show organized by Twisted Thread so I was looking forward to this years one. I was planning to go on Thursday and meet up with some ravelry friends but alas I was struck down with a cold. I recovered enough to go to the show on Sunday. It seemed to be a good idea as the crowds weren't so bad and I got to meet a friend there too. There was a corner of the show with bargain bags of wool so she dove in and got a bargain on some lovely Rowan. I'm glad I didn't pass that stall later in the day as I'm sure there were fights breaking out as ole wans fought it out over the last few bargain bags of Sirdar Crofter.  

There was much to see in the show and there were less irrelevant stalls this year. Although I'm not sure what was going on with the man who was demonstrating mops. Were they thinking it's a craft show so there will be lots of women there and they like cleaning? He wasn't getting much attention as This Is Knit's fabulous stall was across the way with plenty to distract any passing shopper from the joys of mops and cleaning. There were many Irish based shops exhibiting this year with The Yarn Room having a much bigger stand this time. Stephanie who runs this shop is such a lovely lady so I hope she did well. I convinced my friend's friend to buy a bag of merino for felting from her.  The Feltmakers Ireland stand convinced her to take up the hobby so I can't be blamed for that. Lola Rose were there with some yummy Colinette yarn, I thought the mohair was especially lovely.

One of the more interesting stands was Woolfish, they had balls of merino top which they had knit into dresses and bags. They look cool but I don't know if they're practical. Top is combed fiber, which is usually spun into yarn or felted. I'm not sure knitted up top would wear very well. When top is spun or felted it gains strength and the fibers stay together and don't fall apart. So anything made from top mightn't be able to take much wear and it might get bobbly. I couldn't help thinking that if you got one of those big balls of merino and spun it into yarn it would be much better value.    

This year I was disciplined with my limited budget and restricted myself to supplies for spinning. I have enough yarn to last me quite a long time so I don't need any more. A lot of my shopping was done at the Texere stall. They had lots of fiber and thread, dyed and undyed. The guy on their stand was very nice and helpful too. I got some glitter thread for plying and wrapping yarn, some lovely dyed silk noil fiber and some guanaco fiber. A guanaco is an alpaca relative with lovely soft hair. The bag from Texere was quite cheap so it may not be exceptional quality but hey it's worth it just to try it out.

I had an interesting conversation with another shopper at the stand who was also buying guanaco. She looked at me askance when I said I intended to spin it on a spindle. She seemed quite shocked that someone with a spinning wheel would even think of using a spindle. She also stated that as the guanaco was a short staple length fiber it would have to be blended before it was spun. I attempted to explain that I'd seen a good article about how you needed to spin really fast to draft short stuff like guanaco. Spindles are great for spinning fast and for spinning fine, even though I'm not a great spinner yet I can spin much finer on my spindle than I can on my wheel. Tahkli style spindles are always recommend for spinning cotton, cashmere and guanaco type fibers. People don't generally believe you when you say this and the lady I was talking to didn't seem to either. It's a pity really, I think lots of people have it in their head that wheels are the only way to spin and that spindles are inferior and fiddly and difficult.

That isn't true. Spindles are cool and people have been using them since we became people pretty much. Abby Franquemont has a wonderful article here about the history of spinning and why people shouldn't lose the ability to spin. When you have a small amount of a luxury fiber I think it makes more sense to spin it on a spindle. I think you'll get more value out of it as you'll learn more about spinning it and challenge yourself. Spinning these days isn't about speed and making yarn quickly because if you don't you won't have clothes. It's a hobby and done for pleasure. Wheels are great but they're not the be all and end all, there's a whole world of spindle spinning out there to master.

I suppose I better stop rambling on and get back to pretty pictures. This is a lovely dyed silk brick from Oliver Twists whose website I can't find. It was a complete bargain as it was half price. I'll spin this into something special. It could also be felted, I think it would make a fantastic shawl if you knew what you were doing. I also got some sparkly angelina fiber which I hope will liven up my yarns. I have some great plans for some blended yarns. They will have to wait until my exams are finished though. Real life is getting in the way of doing fun stuff with fiber.  

Irish Crochet Coral Reef

There are rare occasions in ones life when you hear an idea that gets you inspired and excited and gets your brain firing on all it's cylinders. For me Saturday was such a day. Margaret Wertheim of The Institute for Figuring  gave a talk at the Science Gallery in Dublin about her work and the possibility of setting up an Irish Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef.  

I've talked about the crochet coral reef before so when I heard that Margaret Wertheim was coming here to talk I immediately applied for a ticket, the workshop was full in the end so lots of others obviously find the idea as fascinating as I do. A number of fellow Ravelry members like IreneOrla, Fish and Mairead came along and it was great to meet them. Orla is a woman obsessed with hyperbolic coral, I think the organizers were stunned when she produced a large bag of fabulous crochet coral.

Margaret spoke about hyperbolic geometry and how crochet was used to make a mathematically correct model of a hyperbolic plane which had never been done before. Many people switch off when maths is mentioned but that wasn't the case with this talk. Margaret is a great communicator, she explained the maths by asking us questions and showing us real crocheted examples of what she was talking about.

She then explained how coral has a hyperbolic structure and that she and her twin sister decided to craft a coral reef based on hyperbolic crochet. Like a real coral reef which is made up of millions of individual corals the crochet coral reef is made up of bits donated by lots of people. Like a real reef the crocheters adapted and evolved the basic pattern to give a huge variety of forms. Margaret also talked about how global warming and pollution are affecting coral reefs. Reefs all over the world are dying, sadly they turn from beautiful vibrant reefs into sad bleached places. In response to this a toxic reef has been created made from recycled materials and plastics to raise awareness of how waste can have a devastating effect on these fragile natural ecosystems. You can watch Margaret talk in this TED video.

After the talk we did some crochet. Those of us who can crochet started making hyberbolic planes and pseudospheres. Those who couldn't crochet started learning. The hope is that we will organize workshops and get others involved so that we can all build an Irish reef. A Ravelry Group (Login Required) has been set up to help with this, so come along and join. The reef will be exhibited at the Science Gallery. I've already made two small bits of coral. I think I might spin some plastic yarn and make some toxic coral with it. It was such an inspiring day. After it I got out my books on the emergence of biological forms to see what other kinds of things I could possibly crochet. I saw a cool article about nudibranchs in the National Geographic, I think they could be crocheted in some wild colours. I think crochet coral will be coming up again on the blog, watch this space.

My talented friend Eddie from Beanstalk has promised to help out with my blog. He's going to redesign things so I'm really looking forward to having a shiny new look.

Knitting fever and a parliament of owls

I mentioned in my last post that thoughts of winter always make a knitter happy as it's time for them to take out their needles once again and wrap up in cozy hand knitted clothes.

I seem to be taking the coming cold days very seriously this year and I've knit lots of things in the past few weeks. I knit a calorimetry headscarf to go with my merino wool mittens. It's a lovely pattern and just perfect for small amounts of handspun wool. It gives you just enough warmth without being too big and bulky, just the thing to wear while walking the dog in the current weather. I know my Mum would love one so I might have to get spinning to make another. 

I have another finished object to show off, yes show off as I'm really pleased with this and how it turned out. It's a cabled beret, the Rangoli hat. I knit it using handspun blue faced leicester, I had just about enough yarn to finish it, there was very little left over. I love the flower pattern on the top. It's a well written pattern with a great chart. I haven't used many knitting charts and I think this one is a good one to get started with them. I was worried when I first started this hat that it was a bit white aran Clancy brothers looking. The pattern saves it from that fate and makes it into a more modern take on a white aran hat. I think it looks quite chic when on especially as it's a bit slouchy. I can imagine me wearing this with my long black coat and boots in the winter.

As if all these new finished objects weren't enough I've started yet another new knitting project. It all started with this thread on ravelry (log in needed) where someone said they wanted to knit the owls jumper. A few other people said they wanted to knit it too and the idea of a knit-a-long formed. A knit-a-long is where lots of knitters knit the same pattern so they can help and encourage each other to get it finished. I've wanted to knit an owls ever since I saw Aileen's owls and everyone is fond of owls aren't they?

So it was that I found myself in This Is Knit buying balls of Louisa Harding's Hulda yarn for an owls jumper. I'm allegedly not spending money on yarn at the moment, if I want yarn I use my stash or spin it myself, thems the rules. The get out clause was provided by tea and cakes who had the great logic that if I really wanted the jumper and cast on for it straight away then it was ok to buy yarn for it. I figured it would cost about as much as buying a nice jumper in a shop so that was ok then. By the way the Hulda yarn is really nice, it's a wool, acrylic and linen mix and is really soft when knitted up. I'm using the black colourway as the flecks of white linen in it remind me of feathers.

For help with starting the pattern I went to Friday Fibre Fun at The Tea Garden organized by Playing with Fibre and Thread Bear. The Tea Garden is one of the cooler places I've been to in Dublin, they have lots of lovely nooks and crannies to sit in and it's very relaxed. They have wonderful posh teas, yes they're expensive but they leave you sit there and enjoy them for the whole evening. I had a fabulous darjeeling served in a lovely cute tea pot. It was a lovely evening hanging out and meeting new knitters, some of whom I'd known from twitter and ravelry, it's nice to put a face to the names. I think I will be back to Friday Fibre Fun as it's just that, fun. I get the feeling more help might be needed with my owls jumper too. 


White Gypsy Brewery Tour

At Septemberfest Cuilán Loughnane brewer from the newly opened White Gypsy brewery asked if we'd like to come visit his brewery for an open day. Who could turn down such an offer?

The new White Gypsy brewery is in Templemore, Tipperary. On entering the building I first noticed the two large gleaming copper vessels. Cuilán revealed that they had been cleaned especially for the occasion. The equipment came from the old Kinsale brewery which is no longer operating. These are the kettle and mash tun. There's also a fermenting room and another cold room with a lot of conditioning tanks. 

As if a tour of the brewery wasn't enough there was a further treat in store.  Cuilán had brewed a stout and it was time to transfer it to secondary. This however was no ordinary stout and no ordinary secondary.

It's an imperial stout which are usually strong, rich, dark, aged beers. Cuilán gave us some of the history of stout and beer in Ireland. There was a great history of local beers before the all conquering Guinness changed everything. Cuilán wants to get back to that tradition, using the old recipes, having local people drinking locally produced beer and the beer being made with locally sourced ingredients that the farmer gets a fair price for. It's a great vision and I wish him every success with it. Listening to him talk you get the feeling that here's a man who knows his stuff and will make it work.

But back to the stout, we had a quick taste of it and it's quite harsh and strong, it's not going to stay like that though. It's going to be aged and this is where some timber based alchemy will happen. We watched as the stout was filled into three oak casks, one french oak, one american oak and one a cask that previously held Bushmills whiskey. That one in particular smelled amazing, just like whiskey even though it has been empty for a year. The stout will age for six months and will make it's debut at the easter festival at the Franciscan Well. I can't wait to taste it to see whats happened to it.

After this we went outside to the marquee that had been set up for the occasion. There was a pig roasting away in the corner, it had been fed on the spent grain from the brewery. A lot of local people had come up to the brewery to check it out and sample the beer. Hopefully they were impressed and make a success of the beer in the local pubs.

I even learned how to pull a proper pint from the cask under the watchful eye of Paudi from the Franciscan Well. It's White Gypsy's IPA which is really tasty. It definitely went really well with the pork roll. What more could you want of day, sitting in the sun with friends, drinking fresh cask IPA and eating proper roast pork? I also sampled the Dunkel and the Blonde, both are nice beers but I think the Dunkel is my favourite of the lot.

It was a great day out and many thanks must go to the Loughnanes for inviting us and showing us such great hospitality.  

Knitting for turning leaves

I thought I haven't been knitting much recently until I put up the photos for this post. I've been getting a bit done it seems. I think it's the chill in the air that has given me the incentive to start knitting again. A knitter always starts to turn to wooly things once the autumn comes in.

First up I made a scarf from the supercoil yarn I spun recently. I cast on 12 stitches on comedy 15mm needles, they're huge. I knit in garter stitch until the yarn ran out. I sewed on a few matching buttons and use them to tie up the scarf. I found the large stitches stretched out a bit so the scarf isn't as wide as I thought it would be, that's ok. I have some lilac yarn which matches the yarn in this scarf so I may make matching handwarmers if I have enough yarn.

I am a firm believer that you can't have too many gloves and mittens. I love making gloves as they're really quick, useful and pretty. People sometimes tell me that I can get gloves for a euro in Penneys so why bother knitting but you can't get gloves this funky or unique anywhere. This is my handspun merino and it knit up nicely into these lacy handwarmers. The pattern is filigree (Rav Link) from Knitting New Mittens and Gloves by Robin Melanson. I've made mittens from this book before. This pattern was really easy and well written, it's a great book. I had lots of yarn left over which I wasn't expecting. I might something like calorimetry to go with these as I don't think I have enough yarn for a whole hat but this should keep my ears warm.

Work progresses well on the Montego Bay scarf. I've been knitting it on the bus and it's getting longer and longer almost without me noticing it. I'm mostly half asleep while knitting it in the morning so that may explain it. The pattern is easy to remember and the drape and colour of the yarn is stunning. I see people sneaking peaks at it while I'm knitting.

I haven't been crocheting much recently. I think me and crochet might need a bit of a break from each other after the shill shell shawl debacle (end of post). I look at crochet patterns and feel fear it will all go wrong again. Maybe if I give it time we can reconcile and get on well together again. For the meantime I'll keep knitting as it's solid, reliable and never lets me down. Maybe crochet is that flighty friend you know, the one who lets you down but when it/they come up trumps they're awesome.

SeptemberFest, Farmleigh, Dublin, September 2009

Last year I had fun at the Septemberfest festival in Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park and I planned to go back this year. This year though there was a difference Irish Craft Brewer were invited to run a stand about homebrewing. It's a great testament to the great community spirit of ICB that from a website we now have people meeting up for tastings every month, the Brew It Yourself day was run in Cork and now homebrewing is a feature of the biggest beer festival in Ireland.

This year all the Irish Craft Brewers were present again. There were lots of nice beers to be had so we tried some out in the morning before it got busier later. I had some White Gypsy Dark Lager which I liked very much, it's a slightly less full on version of their Bock. Still caramely and rich but a bit easier to get through. Also making an appearance again this year were the guys from Tig Bhric in Kerry. This time they brought their Cul Dorcha beer which I liked. A dark chocolate porter, I really like Porter and we don't get enough of it here at all. I also had a taste of Whitewater's Belfast Black, it's a new stout. I heard from someone it was a dark lager but it's a stout. I've had a few black lagers recently like Brewdog's Zeitgeist and think it's a great summer drink. I liked Belfast Black it's a solid uncomplicated stout. My favourite on the day was Carlow Brewing's Goods Store IPA, it's fantastic, really refreshing and hoppy. I think my taste buds like floral grassy hops at the moment and this really hit the spot.

I went back to the ICB stand. The place was filling up and various website members manned the stand to chat to the masses about home brewing. There was lots of interest, from the guy who had a home bar and wanted a cheap way of supplying beer to it, to English guys wanting to make the real ale they miss from home, to people who want to set up their own breweries. People liked looking at the equipment and smelling the hops and grains. Children were especially fascinated by the fermenting yeast starter Sean had set up.

Luckily I had tried the beer earlier as the sunshine drew huge crowds out. It was amazing to see long queues of people waiting to get Irish beer, such a thing is usually unheard of. Irish people queue for beer alright but usually it isn't of this quality. In the afternoon things got really insane and the queues were about 45 minutes long for beer. Many of the brewers even ran out of beer. ICB got a bit cut off by the queues in the corner. Luckily since there were a few of us people could send others out into the queue. In the photo you can see Tim who had just returned triumphant with bottles of Hophead from The Porterhouse. Hence the smiles from Grainne and Sean.

Hophead is the first run off The Porterhouse's shiny new bottling line. It's really hoppy and citrus tasting in the bottle. I like the hot pink label and the attitude on the bottles. It reminds me of Brewdog and Wychwood with their challenge to the drinker. Advertising your tradition and Irishness as a craft brewery here doesn't seem to work. You want to pitch it to those people who want something different. Make it cool then maybe the rest of the people will follow. After a days evangelizing craft beer to the nation a few of us headed off to The Bull and Castle. Many thanks to Aidan and Ronan from Galway Hooker shouted us all a round. They are great guys and they make a smashing beer as well with it.

Sunday dawned sunny and bright. Dave had promised to help out at David Llewellyn's Double L Cider stand as they had been crazily busy on saturday. Most of the brewers had restocked and brought in extra people for the day and the queues weren't as bad. Some of the ICB people changed their hats and became bar staff at various points in the day. In the morning Sean Billings one of the founders of ICB gave a talk on how to get started in brewing. I used his articles to get started and I know lots of people on ICB have too. I didn't get to hear the talk as I was still manning the stand. Grainne and I talked to many people including one very polite Russian journalist who inquired if our husbands had got us into brewing. He was very nice about it but we put him straight.  

I did sneak away for a talk on Beer and Cheese. There was a cheese stand in the beer tent selling tasty Irish cheese taster plates. But I wanted more cheese, you can never get enough cheese! Dan Fennelly and Dean McGuinness gave the talk. A plate of cheese was handed out then we were handed the various beers which were paired with four different cheeses. I looked around at the start and there were a few embarrassed looking people who had eaten all their cheese before the guys had even started talking. Didn't they realize what a tasting was about? Or maybe they just wanted the free food.

The pairings were Durrus and Galway Hooker, Glebe Brethan and Rebel Red from Franciscan Well and also with Porterhouse Hophead, St Gall with Hilden Cathedral Quarter, Bellingham Blue with Whitewater's Clotworthy Dobbin and also with Chimay Blue. Dan Fennelly had some great information on cheese and some really nice tasting notes. I loved all the cheeses especially the Bellingham Blue, I would usually go for Cashel Blue but I'll try this one in future now too. Dean McGuinness who I knew from Movies and Booze on Newstalk talked about Irish beer and the great quality and flavour you can get out there. My favourite pairing of the day was the St. Gall with Cathedral quarter, together they were different and better than they were on their own. It was a great fun talk involving two of my favourite things.

The bars were under siege for the day and the food stalls were really busy too. I got a fabulous lamb tagine pie from the Gallic Kitchen. I paired it with a lovely fresh cold glass of Galway Hooker, thanks to Aidan for the pint! A great weekend was had by all. It was great to see so many people sitting outside having some Irish food with fresh Irish craft beer. Events like this are great in changing the image of beer and drinking. It shows it can be about sensible drinking with good food and about taste rather than quantity. I was really impressed that there were lots of women sampling the beer as well. Women are completely ignored by large beer companies and it's nice to see craft brewers don't ignore half the population. We can only hope all the people who came will go out and buy Irish beer and ask for it in their pubs. Then we'll see real changes. I'm sure Septemberfest will be back next year with even more breweries present. Looking forward to it.

Electric Picnic 2009, Crafts and a Beer Surprise

This year we headed to the Electric Picnic in Stradbally, we had been before in 2006 and 2007. This year had a pretty eclectic line up with a good few new bands.

I decided to dress up as I had in previous years. Some Penneys hacking was in order. I bought a mad dress for three euro. I then sewed a string of battery powered Led lights onto it. These were got in Dunnes last year at christmas. The dress had a pocket on the side and I used that to store the battery pack.

I pinned a pink brooch to the dress and paired the whole lot with pink wellies which were absolutely essential in the mud this year. There was an awful lot of mud, luckily I avoided falling over, I think my caving training helped there.

The hat is one I picked up in Penneys a few years ago. Hats are really easy to do up. I sewed on two strings of beads around the rim. I also sewed a feather to the hat. I think the outfit was great fun, especially when dancing in a dark tent. It was great at night as when you're all lit up people don't tend to walk into you as much.

Over the weekend I made a few visits to Stitchlily or Orla as she is more normally known. In the future will we all wear badges with our avatar names on them? She had a fantasic Sit and Stitch stall with crochet, spinning, sewing and knitting, basically all things fiber and stitch related in the Greencrafts part of the festival. It was a wonderfully chilled out little corner. On saturday morning I sat down and spun and watched the world go by. I also admired all the lovely mushrooms and lilies she had crocheted to decorate the area. More photos here.

On Sunday night in a break before The Flaming Lips we spotted some guys with what looked like a corny keg. It was Oliver and some others from The Porterhouse so we went over to say hello. They kindly offered us some Hophead. The only beers available this year at EP were Heineken, Coors Light and Paulaner which I hadn't been drinking so this was like manna from heaven. Heavenly it was indeed, fresh from the corny the beer was hoppy and citrusy and thirst quenching. Thanks Oliver! We also discovered that Hophead would be available freshly bottled at SeptemberFest in Farmleigh. But more of SeptemberFest in the next post.

I had fun this year at EP but I think this may be my last year there. It had lost a little of it's magic for me, don't get me wrong it was great but it's very expensive. I have to send a big thanks to the man with the tractor who towed my car out of the incredibly muddy car park on Sunday My musical highlights this time were Explosions in the Sky, Brian Wilson, Jape, David Kitt, Efterklang and Chris Cunningham.

Westley's Bog Bounty Heather Ale

I went hiking in Wicklow recently with Dave and a friend of ours Katie. The dog came too, he was delighted with how dirty he was at the end of the walk. The heather has started flowering coating the whole place in a purple carpet. We collected some heather flower tips, 95g in all. I decided to make my own version of Fraoch. I know Fraoch has bog myrtle in it as well, I really like the taste bog myrtle gives to a beer. We didn't get any other herbs that day so it's just heather flavouring in there.
I used some low AA hops to bitter at the start. The heather was added at the end for aroma. The base malt should make it nicely sweet like the Scottish ales.

3.5kg Maris Otter Pale Ale Malt
345g Amber Malt
500g Wheat Malt
230g Crystal Malt

Hops and Heather:
60 minutes: 55g Hallertau 2.1%AA
15 minutes: 1 tsp Irish Moss and a small handful of heather flowers
At end of boil: Rest of heather flowers added to the boil.
95g of heather in total

Infusion mash at 66-67 deg C. Batch sparged.
Yeast: Safale S04

Volume: About 22-23 Litres

OG: 1.049

I'm really looking forward to seeing how this turns out. Brewing usually takes up most of a day so while I brew I usually cook something nice. This time I went for something completely new involving yeast, homemade pizza. I'd never made pizza from my own dough before. It turned out really well. I'll definitely be making it again.

Spinning some art

When I first got interested in spinning the first book I got was Lexi Boeger's Intertwined. I hadn't even got a spindle yet but the yarns in this book were so cool and unusual that the book was great just as a coffee table book. I checked out the art yarn spinners group (RavLink) on Ravelry and loved everything I saw there. People like Studioloo, Insubordiknit and Velma Like Velvet have made some really inspiring stuff.

Since I'm getting better at normal spinning I thought I might have enough skill to attempt an art yarn without it turning out looking like something the cat got at.

I got a lovely batt from Rockpoolcandy for my birthday but was too scared to spin it in case i made a mess of it. I finally decided to core spin it, this involves drafting the yarn sideways and wrapping it a core yarn. Ask The Bellwether has a great tutorial about how to do this. It turned out well for a first go, the batt was really lovely and I hope I did it justice.

I loved the results of the core spun wool I decided to try out another technique from Intertwined this time supercoils. Having loads of alpaca fleece to play with is handy for trying out things like this. I had this green merino which was too green for me so I carded some of that in with the alpaca. Mixed with white alpaca it turned a pleasing minty green colour. I also used pieces of lilac merino for the coil parts.

Supercoils are fun and look fantastic when the yarn is done but they take ages to do. The yarn also has a normal part to it as well. When I finished the coil part I navajo plied the remaining single. I'll knit it up into a scarf so there will be normal fabric then all the mad supercoiled parts.

Here's some more spinning. This time normal stuff. It's this merino I got from Scottish Fibres, it's lovely and soft but I wasn't so keen on the colour of the roving. Magically when spun up and navajo plied the colours mixed and I now like it. I think this yarn would make a nice pair of mittens or a hat. It's worsted weight and there's about 84 metres of it.

More photos here.

One of my crochet projects and I have broken up. The seasilk shawl and I just weren't getting on. I wasn't sure if we were compatible for the long term partnership needed to finish it. If we could just get through a couple more pattern repeats then my doubts over whether the yarn suited the pattern would go away. My feelings about the drape not showing off the silk well enough weren't real were they? There were too many doubts, I wasn't sure. I started looking at other patterns, ones with more drape, ones written especially for seasilk. So we split. It was for the best. The shawl was frogged before I was too far in, too committed to it to turn back. The yarn is now being turned into Montego Bay Scarf.

Blog News:
The lack of blogging recently was caused by me needing to upgrade my picasa account so I could have more pictures. I'm also hoping to upgrade the template and make it all look a bit prettier in the near future.

Brewing Little and Large

First brewing large. Last Saturday I went over to my friend Ed's house to help him out with his first all grain brew day. Ed's been brewing for a while. His wedding present to us was a fridge stocked with bottles of tasty beers in loads of different styles. They went down a treat at our after wedding party. A little too well maybe since Ed ended up promising my uncle he'd brew him beer and the uncle promising Ed fields of barley. He recently did a few extract brews but he thought if he was going to buy extra kit he might as well go the whole hog and go all grain. He'll need the kit if the uncle carries out the threat and lands a bag of grain up to him.

We had a lovely day brewing in the sunshine in Ed's back garden. I have kettle envy now, Ed's boiler is a huge 10 gallon one with two powerful elements in it. It heats up very quickly and boils easily. It makes the brew day so much faster, I may have to think about getting one as it takes my gas ring a good while to bring my wort to a boil. We sprinkle sparged the mash which worked really well. At the end we ended up with 23 litres of wort all flavoured with lovely Nelson Sauvin and Cascade hops. Ed's full recipe is here.

Now for the brewing little. One of things I like about brewing is how varied it is. You can have a big 10 gallon set up like Ed's or a stainless steel automatic micro brewery like some of the guys on Irish Craft Brewer or you can do like me and make tiny batches of beer on your cooker with a minimum of fuss. I have some hops and grain I want to use up before they go out of date and I had just enough extract to make a small brew. I checked my stocks after this brew and I have very little specialty grain or hops left so I will need to do an order soon.
I wrote an article about small scale brewing which goes into the other reasons to brew small batches.

For this brew I wanted to use up some golding and fuggles hops that I had for ages. I decided a mild ale might be nice. But I can never leave things alone and so I put in some crystal malt, chocolate malt and oatmeal to steep before the extract. So I think that sort of makes this a porter. At the end of the boil I put in a cup of nice strong espresso. I've had a few coffee stouts and they're always nice but I think the coffee should add something to the porter. I think I like porter better than stout, I'm not keen on the dry roasty flavour of stout and the sweet ones I find too cloying. Anyway here's the recipe.

Westley's Breakfast Porter

Boil volume: 10L
End volume:8-9L

680g Light dried malt extract
Steeped grains, steeped at 66 deg C for 30 minutes
60g Crystal malt
20g Chocolate malt
20g Oatmeal

60 mins: Fuggles and Goldings
30 mins: Fuggles and Goldings
15 mins: Fuggles and Goldings
End: Fuggles and Goldings
Cup of strong espresso

Hop amounts: My accurate scale's batteries died but there's about 5-7g of each hop in each addition. It looked like a lot of hops but they've been there a while so they might be starting to loose flavour anyway.

Yeast: Danstar Nottingham

OG: 1.045

It should yield about eight 500ml bottles. I'll just bottle it straight from the primary better bottle in a bout three weeks time. Thanks to The Beer Nut for his suggestion that this should be a breakfast beer. I think it will be a nice one to sup when the trees start to change colour and thoughts and nights turn that little bit darker.

Bag Lady

So just in case you guys think I don't knit anymore here's a finished object. It's the Kemp Handbag (Ravelry Link) in Noro Blossom yarn. I saw this pattern in a magazine, fell in love and bought the actual yarn suggested which I rarely do. For this bag it would look quite plain if it wasn't for the lovely Noro with it's great colours. It was a really easy quick knit.

However it languished in the back of the wardrobe because I couldn't work up the enthusiasm to make a lining for it. Now that I have a sewing machine sewing things up isn't an onerous task anymore. I made a lining from a chocolate brown fabric my Mum had lying around. Just to explain, my Mum works in a fabric and furnishing shop so she has a lot more fabric lying around than most other mothers. In fact she wouldn't have difficulty opening her own fabric shop. I even went fancy and put a big pocket and a mobile phone pocket on the inside. I then hand stitched the lining inside the bag. The handles were ones Dave had bought for me.

It was finished and it was nice but then I decided I should really make a flap to cover the opening. When out and about using a bag it's handy to be able to close it so nobody can sneak into it and rob your wallet. So I knitted a flap and used two handmade buttons that I got in Ginger Knits, Morar, Scotland. I looked ok before the flap but I think the flap and buttons really lifts the look of the bag. I'm really pleased with how it turned out.

Beer Jelly - The Session #30

This month the session hosted over at Beer47 is on the subject of beer deserts. I decided to take it literally and make a desert from beer trying out a recipe I'd been wanting to make for a while. It's from Appetite for Ale by Will Beckett and Fiona Beckett. I love this book, it's like a manual on how to match food and beer with recipes as a bonus.

I made the beer jelly recipe from the book. I used Liefmann's Kriek since the off license didn't have any Floris. I'll probably use Floris in a future version of this recipe since it's pretty sweet and comes in lots of different flavours which you can match to the fruit used in the jelly. Since I was using kriek beer I used preserved cherries from the local Polish shop, these are one of the few things you find preserved in jars from Poland that are actually nice. I also put in some fresh raspberries. Leaf gelatine and some sugar completed the ingredients.

I never knew making real jelly was so easy. I always used stuff from packets but now I've used the gelatine I'll be on the look out for new jelly recipes. A few hours in the fridge and it was all set.

We had some friends over for dinner and they tested out the jelly. We topped it with some vanilla ice cream. It was really good. I didn't sweeten up the beer too much so there was a lovely lambic tartness to the jelly which worked really well as jelly is usually too sticky sweet for me. I paired it with some Rodenbach Grand Cru. I love this beer but I do think it's one of those love or hate it affairs. It's fruity and sour and a bit complicated. I think it went well with the jelly for me. If you have a sweet tooth I think something a bit sweeter would go better with it. Or you could just drink the beer that the jelly was made from. In this case Liefmann's kriek was too expensive to buy a few of so I just used it to make the jelly.

I'll definitely make beer jelly again so thanks to the session for giving me the push to try it out.

Great British Beer Festival, Knitting flash mobs and the bearded lady, 4 August 2009

This year I made the trip to Earl's Court in London to the Great British Beer Festival hosted by CAMRA. It's a huge festival which is held every year with hundreds of beers from all over the UK and an international section with beers from all over the world. Obviously if you love beer this is the place to be at the start of august. A few of us from the Irish Craft Brewer website made the trip over.

We got to Earl's Court just as it opened and we staked out a table for the day. There were a bewildering array of beers on offer in the huge hall and I only got to try a small selection of the ones I wanted to. They sell beer in pints, half and third pints at the festival. Third pints are great if you're trying out lots of beers. I also nabbed a few small plastic glasses which were handy for sharing out tastes to people. So with that and some water at the end of the day I was fairly sober when I got home. Not so good was the lack of water fonts around the venue.

On to some of the beer highlights. Stone's very wonderful IPA has lots of hops, mostly flavour and aroma ones. I really liked this as it was bitter but not too bitter. Some American IPA's have a really harsh, oily very bitter character. I don't like those beers that much, it's not hard to go mad putting loads of hops in but you do have to balance them and make sure it tastes nice at the end and that is difficult. This beer is massively dry hopped and it shows. It's really fresh and grassy and wonderful, sort of like sticking your head in a bag of hops. Fabulous freshness you can't get in a bottle but if someone starts bringing Stone beers into Ireland I will buy them. I also sampled Stone's Levitation pale ale which again had a huge amount of flavour packed into a smaller ABV.

Next up was another cracker of a beer Allagash Interlude, I really liked this one. The man serving me warned me it was a bit lambic tasting and quite sour and was about to ask if that was ok when he saw my Cantillon t-shirt. I swear that t-shirt is like some sort of secret beer code. He smiled and said 'well then you'll love this'. It's brewed with saison yeast and Brettanomyces then part of it is aged in french oak barrels. It's smells like lambic but is sweeter in character. I thought it was sort of like Orval. Not as good as Orval but in that territory which is really no bad thing at all. I think American brewers are getting more interested in the weird and wonderful way they brew in Belgium. They also have the advantage of not being constrained by tradition the way like Belgians are. They can brew different versions of the traditional styles. It's an exciting development and hopefully more interesting beers like this are on their way.

I've heard a lot about Thornbridge brewery and how wonderful their beers are especially Jaipur. I didn't get to try Jaipur but had some Kipling which their website says is a south pacific pale ale. I tasted some of Kev's and we both struggling to see why people rave about it so much. It was a bit thin and the only hops I tasted were on the finish. It probably needs more carbonation than you get in cask type beer. Galway Hooker is a muted shadow of itself on cask, I think lots of hops especially the citrus ones need a bit of sparkle to really bring them out. I know people think everything must be better on cask but that's not the case for all beers.

Other American offerings I liked were the dark chocolate and cigar smoke Alaskan smoked porter and the bright, fresh, citrus of Opa Opa's dry hopped with centennial pale ale. I also had Dogfish Head's Midas Touch but that's for another post.
From Holland De Molen brewery's Tsarina Esra was a viscous complex thing that was unlike any beer I've ever had. I didn't like their Bloed, Zweet & Tranen so much as it had this plasticine taste that you get with some wood aged beers. I also had a taste of Cantillon's bright pink Lou Pepe which was tart with more sweet fruit than their kriek. From the UK I had some Elgood's Mad Dog as I like their other offering Black Dog. It was fairly thin but was improved so much when I drank it with a Cornish pasty, a case of food and beer going really well together.

Of course it wasn't all just about drinking, through beer blogging and Irish Craft Brewer I've met lots of great people. And we really had a great time at the festival though anyone passing our table must have been mystified as to what was going on. I finally meet the lovely Ally aka Impy Malting for real. I decided to make her a beer related knitted present. A flurry of knitting ensued and the beer sweater was the result. You can see him in the picture above, he spent the day keeping a lot of very fancy beer at the correct temperature. Apologies to the poor person I spent ages explaining the thermal properties of wool to. Wool is a good insulator so it keeps hot things hot and cold things cold but I don't think I was putting it that succinctly at the time. Thankfully Ally didn't think I was mad and really liked the beer jumper, he now has a good home adorning a bottle of her home brew.

Ally had brought along some knitting needles for me since Dublin airport has added them to the list of dangerous items you're not allowed bring on a plane. We did a spot of knitting and drinking. Boak from Boak and Bailey, claims not to be able to knit when drinking, she has a point it's far too easy to make mistakes. It was great to meet other beer bloggers like Mark from Pencil and Spoon. He popped in during the day with enthusiastic reports and tips on which beers were good.

We had a good laugh when Sarah won a Good Beard Guide with a fake beard in one of the pub games, being mad as a brush she wore it around for the rest of the day. She did get some free beer and a t-shirt out of it!

Later on in the day we wandered over to say hello to Pete Brown. I don't know what he thought when two ladies with some knitting, a beer bottle in a jumper and another lady with a beard came over for a chat. I got a postcard signed to put in the front of my Hops and Glory, the book itself was too heavy to cart around for the day. He happened to remember my twitter picture of his book posing on a beach so the dedication thanks me for taking the book out and showing it a good time. We also chatted to Pete's very lovely wife, she crochets as well. It really was turning into quite a knitty beery day. People always think I'm odd for liking both but now I know there's quite a few ladies who like both knitting and beer.

I didn't get to taste that many beers but that was a good thing the next day. The craic, the Irish Craft Brewer crowd, meeting other beer bloggers and some fantastic new beers made this into a great day out. I think I'll have to go again.

The rest of my photos of the day are here.