CUTE HOOR IRISH PALE ALE

Cute Hoor Irish Pale Ale is an ale brewed and distributed by Heineken Ireland. Here we have another “craft” beer on the market that is in fact a beer made by a massive international drinks consortium trying to cash in on the ever growing craft beer market. The eponymous lager produced by Heineken is to fine craft beer as a Big Mac is to fine dining.

However, that’s not the fault of the beer that it’s made by Heineken, so I won’t ramble on any more about the evils of globalisation and the crushing rigidity and conformity of the marketing machine that drives everything toward the safest, banal, middle ground in an effort to maximise shareholder value by pedalling as much mass appeal product as possible.

The beer itself is a pleasant enough drink. It’s well balanced between hops and malt, with the hops slightly coming out on top. You can definitely taste a roast flavour off it, it would work well with a Sunday lunch. Its light enough that you could work your way through a few pints without that bloated feeling you get sometimes from heavy beer.

The colour is a dark golden colour with a pale head which doesn’t disappear.

The bottle is reasonably well presented. A “cute hoor” is an expression used in Ireland to describe a sneaky person who is out for personal gain while maintaining an innocent face to the public. Many politicians fall into this category. The sort of chap who says for example they are going to get strong on guns but at the same time are the head of a party that receives massive donations from the National Rifle Association. Sorry, I’ve come over all political in this blog post.

Anyway, back to the beer. As I mentioned above it is pleasant enough, but it’s not anything to write home about. It’s the sort of thing that you would be happy enough to drink if someone handed you a bottle of it for free, the sort of thing you might be glad to find at the back of the fridge when you discover you’re out of beer you actually like.

Ed Rating: 5/10

A beer that is trying to appeal to craft beer enthusiasts but fails because it doesn’t offer up any particularly strong or appealing flavours. This is not an adventurous beer, it’s built to appeal to Heineken drinkers who might be craft curious. If you’re a fan of bold flavours you’ll be disappointed. It’s not unpleasant but it is very middle of the road.

Veganism

Veganism is the practice of living a lifestyle that uses no animal products. There are varying shades of veganism from people who are extremely activist and believe all use of animals for everything should be banned through to the other end of the spectrum of people who won’t use any animal products in their diet when they are at home, but do not seek to insist that others (friends, family, restaurants) accommodate their needs. Within that there are various shades from people who won’t eat anything that is an obvious animal product, e.g. cheese, to those who are obsessive packet readers who won’t use any product that has sugar in it because the sugar is likely processed using bone char.

For a period of about three months I have been experimenting with veganism. Early on I made the decision that I was not going to be the activist obsessive packet reader. It was to be an entirely personal experiment to see if it worked for me. Even within my experiment I did not stick to it with religious fervour. I allowed some deviation at weekends and when I was out and about.

The first thing that struck me was how genuinely easy it was in the initial stages. Honestly I thought I would be craving meat, cheese, eggs, milk, chocolate, and all the things I love to eat. Not so. In the first few weeks I stayed away from the “vegan alternatives” to the traditional ingredients and stuck to whole foods. Vegetables, nuts, rice and replaced milk in tea with Soy milk.

After reading a number of blogs and consulting the university of YouTube as well as talking with the one friend I have who is vegan, I got myself a B12 supplement and some national yeast and I was all set.

The transition was easy and for about a month it was totally fine. I missed cheese a little, did not miss meat at all which really surprised me. I did start to crave milk though. A little background is needed here. I’m Irish. Having milk with your meal is the done thing in Ireland and it has been forever. It was drilled into me as a child. To an Irish person there is nothing more refreshing than freezing cold milk. I did not, at any time in my vegan experiment, find an alternative that worked for me. I tried all of the milk substitutes, oat, hemp, rice, soy, almond…the list was endless. None of them stood up to the taste test when drank on their own.

All was not lost. I resolved to having Tea with my meals, the only acceptable alternative in Ireland. As with the milk, a love of tea is bate into us in childhood. I’ve been drinking tea since I was probably four years old.

As I moved into month two and on into month three, things started to go downhill. The energy that is often ascribed to being a benefit of a plant based diet was not forthcoming. In fact the opposite was true. I had no energy, really had to fight to get out of bed in the morning. I’ve never been a spring up and go sort of guy but generally one press of the snooze button is enough. It got to the point however where I was still lying in bed an hour after the alarm went off trying to dream up a plausible reason to go back to sleep.

My health wasn’t going well either. I hadn’t lost the weight that every blog and Youtuber you meet says you will lose when you make the transition. My weight stayed basically constant throughout. Due to the lack of energy I wasn’t exercising with my normal vigour. I was still cycling to work every day, because that’s what I do, but it wasn’t anything you could call training. My stomach became irritable. Frequent, often fairly urgent, trips to the bathroom became the norm. Sorry, TMI, I know.

My mood suffered as well. Again, I can be inclined to get a bit morose in the winter but a spin on the bike or a bit of sunshine at the weekend usually sorts me out. Not so this winter. Low motivation. No vigour. I was grumpy and unhappy all the time.

After three months I called a halt and went back to my normal eating habits about a week ago. All of the issues above have resolved. My mood is lifted, my energy has returned and I’m no longer walking around like I’m stuck in an exceptionally depressing Leonard Cohen album.

Ed Rating: 6/10

I am glad I tried the experiment. Veganism isn’t for me. I could put up with the restricted diet if it did not have the negative side effects I experienced. I took some positives away from it. Overnight Oats with soy milk are delicious. Scrambled Tofu is awesome. Soy cream with onions, mushrooms, pepper and pasta is divine. I have also become keenly aware how I can do without meat for extended periods without issue. It just wasn’t something I missed.

The reasons for going vegan are many and varied from ethical animal cruelty reasons, to environmental reasons, to health reasons, the environment and even religious beliefs. I admire and have a great respect for those who can sustain the lifestyle. Ethically it’s hard to defend doing anything else, from an environmental and an animal cruelty point of view it is the morally correct position to be in. Hats off to all the vegans out there who are making it work.

French Cooking Academy

French Cooking Academy is a YouTube channel run by a Frenchman named Stephane. It is essentially a string of instructional videos presented in a simple fashion.

The channel is very different from many of the home kitchen cooking channels you will find on YouTube, usually run by American presenters which go out of their way to be happy, smiley and frankly a bit annoying. This channel is not about the presenter, it’s about the food.

The presenter demonstrates a respect for the food, for the ingredients, for the tradition that is not present on most channels. I don’t mean to suggest that it is stuffy or dry or dull, far from it. Stephane in his calm presenting style puts you at ease and shows how it is possible to create elements of French cuisine that you might have thought were beyond the home chef.

He has a number of videos about creating base sauces and others about how to do simple things like create a Roux and explaining the difference between a white, yellow, brown Roux and what you might want to do with these.

There are more advanced recipes demonstrated, but nothing that should be out of reach of an enthusiastic home chef. There are even demonstrations of how to make Michelin Star food at home, bringing this very high end food in reach of the ordinary home chef. Why we put so much stock in Michelin Star food is something I could rant about. See what I did there? Stock…food… never mind, I’ll get my coat.

The whole thing started as a guidebook in France to tell a motorist where he could stop to get some food while his car was being refilled and his tyres pumped. One star was acceptable, two stars were worth a diversion, and three stars were worth a special trip. Why we want a tyre company to rate our food is a mystery to me.

Anyway, back on topic, I have made a number of his recipes, my favourite is the Rustic French Tart, cause who doesn’t like a bit of Rustic French Tart. The taste is phenomenal and the instructions were easy to follow. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdbJqMd0CX0

This morning I made his crustless cheesecake. Picture of my effort at the top. Again, excellent flavours, minimal fuss. This is a good one to make with the kids as well, lots of measuring, stirring and mixing and breaking eggs and all the other things kids like to get involved in when cooking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqBFPc-nmrw

The ingredients Stephane uses are generally items you will have at home or if not they are easily obtained in your local supermarket, even here in a small city on the Western edge of Europe.

Ed Rating: 8/10

This is an excellent channel if you are keen to explore and learn a different cuisine. If you are a keen home chef you will take things from here and incorporate them into your standard repertoire as go-to recipes forever. If you are just learning out the helpful explainers on making sauces and roux will be great building blocks you need to have in place to expand your culinary craft.

Alpro Raspberry-Cranberry & Blackberry Yogurt

Alpro Raspberry-Cranberry & Blackberry Yogurt is a plant based yogurt alternative made by the Alpro company. Alpro are a Belgian based company making plant based dairy alternative products. They are the Coca-Cola of this fringe market insofar as they control 43% of the market. Anyone who frequents supermarkets will be familiar with their range of milk alternatives and more recently yogurt alternatives.

I picked up a 4 pack of the Raspberry-Cranberry & Blackberry in Tesco for €2. I was sceptical having tried dairy free yogurts before and found them to taste either like a cardboard box, or be so over sweet as to have lost all flavour. Not what you want from a yogurt which should have a little bit of zing on the back end of the flavour from the tartness given by the cultures within.

These yogurts were a step up from what I had tried previously. There is decent size chunks of fruit in them and they do at least taste like a yogurt should taste like. Think a less sweet version of a Yoplait yogurt. There is no sugar, always a bonus, but there is a list of ingredients that you’ll have to google if you want to understand what they are. That applies to regular yogurt as well so whateves. On the upside for the vegans among you, they have B12 added so that’s pretty handy.

I’ve tried them on their own and also mixed in with overnight oats which was really excellent. They are not 100% exactly the same as a full on natural dairy yogurt but they are 95% of the way there, which is a lot further along than any of the milk alternatives in the Alpro (or any other brand) range.

They do come packaged in a single use plastic container so down with that sort of thing. On the upside if you’re the sort of person who worries about such things you will be the sort of person that turns the yogurt pot into a pot for germinating seeds so maybe it evens out. Failing that they are great for arts and crafts with the kids, they hold fiddly bits of Lego, loom bands if they are still a thing, or work great as tiny kids paint pots.

Ed Rating: 8/10

Look, it’s a tub of yogurt, so it’s not going to change your life. You don’t have to be vegan curious or actively trying to reduce dairy to try these things. They are good enough to stand on their own, I’d take the Pepsi challenge between these and a regular yogurt any day of the week. At €2 for four you lose nothing by giving them a try.

Taaffe’s Red – Carlingford Brewing Co.

Taaffe’s Red is a red ale made by the Carlingford Brewing Company, brewed and bottled in Co. Louth. Another Irish Ale in keeping with the ever expanding market for such beers it offers us a back story of being inspired by Taaffe’s castle in the centre of Carlingford. Named for the Earl of Carlingford it who died fighting for King James at the battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Anyone familiar with the area will be aware that the events of the Boyne and the history which followed remain much closer to the surface in this border area than they do further south in the country. It is an incredibly beautiful area, the fishing is good on the lough, there are a few nice pubs and restaurants in Carlingford and the scenery in surrounding mountains is amazing, as is the cycling. Since peace broke out, crossing the border for shopping in Newry or sightseeing in Belfast is much easier and more pleasant. Newgrange, Kells, Tara and the historic towns of Dundalk and Drogheda are in easy reach. But this is not a review of the tourist value of Carlingford, I’m here to talk about the eponymous beer.

If the history of the local area is divisive, the beer is not. This is a really pleasant red ale with a hoppy finish. The flavour is mellow and subtle. Some hop forward ales are inclined to punch you in the mouth with an overpowering hop taste. Not so with this one. There is a slightly roasted taste at the front end and the hops finish off the flavour. The description on the label tells us that it has caramel and toffee flavours and while there is a slight sweetness, toffee and caramel are probably pushing it a bit far.

The colour is a beautiful medium red colour. The aroma is pleasing and light, certainly not overpowering. It is almost completely flat in texture and that’s a good thing with this beer. Too much fix might make the subtle mellow flavours harder to discern.

It is widely available around the country. The Carlingford Brewing Company website has a handy list of places you can get it. I purchased it in O’Brien’s off-license and it retailed at €3.50 for a 500ml bottle. Certainly feels worth the asking price.

Ed Rating: 7/10

This is a very pleasant beer which I would quite happily sip away on all night. The flavour is mellow and enjoyable. It is not a beer with a wow factor so it’s not something that you would go to a particular pub or off license to get. This is not a pretentious beer with has notions above its station. It doesn’t have big flavours but what it does have is a mellow relaxed taste that makes it very easy to drink and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Narwhal Imperial Stout

Narwhal Imperial Stout is a stout beer by the Sierra Nevada brewer in Chicago Illinois. The Sierra Nevada range is widely available in O’Brien’s Off Licence in Ireland. This particular beer is at the pricey end of the spectrum, even for a craft beer retailing at five euros for a 330ml bottle.

The back of the bottle tells us that the beer is inspired by the Narwhal, a “mysterious creature that dwells in the deepest Artic Seas”. Another marketing attempt to put a story behind a beer to make it stand out from the crowd. Narwhals are a single horned whale which does indeed live in the artic. In the middle ages it was hunted and its horns sold to wealthy clients in Europe who didn’t know any better as Unicorn Horns. Insert gag of your choice about Unicorns and Bitcoins and how we’ve learned nothing in 500 years.

Joking aside the bottle is not terribly well presented. It looks like the art work has been a bit rushed and the naming of the beer really doesn’t have much about it other than the vague notion that the animal is dark and mysterious, ergo the contents of the bottle are likewise.

On pouring the beer has a dark black appearance. A brownish head quickly dissipates. The texture is almost flat, virtually no fizz whatsoever. The aroma is not very strong. It is neither unpleasant nor pleasant, fairly neutral and dull.

When tasted, the instant reaction is to be revolted by the sweetness of the beer. It’s hard to express how sweet this stuff is, it tastes like a combination of cough bottle and toffee. The label tells us there is cocoa and dark roasted coffee. A mild hint of coffee is detectable, but it’s only the faintest and it really is overpowered by the sweetness of the beer. There is a malty aftertaste but you have to work hard to find it and allow the sweetness to pass.

The beer does pack a punch at over 10% ABV so it’s not one you’re going to drink more than one or two of. Perhaps that’s the reason for it being in a 330ml bottle rather than the standard 500ml offering.

Ed Rating: 2/10

The sweet flavour completely dominates anything else the beer has to offer. It is not a pleasant sweetness either. Perhaps a stronger presence of hops could counteract it but there just isn’t the level of depth of flavour for that to happen. Unless you’re a fan of very sweet beer, alter wine level sweetness, don’t bother with this. Very disappointing even before we get into the elevated price tag. The only thing it could have done worse would have been to make me sick, which it didn’t before I poured most of it down the sink.

 

 

Cube Attain Pro Disc 2017

The Cube Attain Pro is a carbon fibre framed road bike with disc brakes. It retails around €2500 and last May, I brought one. I have been an avid cyclist for a number of years. I have been riding a Felt z95 for the previous five years, and it had served me well but it was definitely time to upgrade.

The bike itself is good solid all round bike that is certainly a step up from the entry level Giants and Treks that dominate this end of the market. It’s lower end of mid-range or the upper end of entry level depending on how you want to slice it.

I chose the bike having done plenty of research and arrived at the conclusion that it was time I had a carbon frame and also time to go to disc brakes. The Cube has certainly met my needs and more besides. 80% of my miles are commuter miles so I’m looking for something comfortable and reliable that won’t complain too much when it’s subjected to the daily drenching that is the Irish winter and equally can handle the sometimes questionable surfaces we have on Irish roads. When I’m not commuting I’m a keen club cyclist and I’ve been known to do a few sportive rides including long distance multiday rides. Once upon a time I had a racing licence but those days are probably in the rear view mirror.

I have now been cycling this bike for seven months and in that time I’ve clocked up more than 10’000 kilometres. In that time I have had zero issues with the bike itself. It’s been able to take everything I’ve asked it to do and come through with flying colours.

In terms of the characteristics of the bike itself, it feels nippy and quick through corners and responds well when power is put down on exit. The frame feels stiff. I have subsequently sat back on the old aluminium Felt and it feels like riding a sponge so the difference is definitely notable. It will roll along smoothly with little effort on the flat which to be fair you would expect from any modern road bike.

I’m a big guy, 100kgs+ most of the time, so I don’t stress about a few grams here and there on the weight of my bike. That being said, it is obviously much lighter than the Felt. However I did the pick-up test (very unscientific) with my wife’s Boardman and the Boardman feels a little lighter. So if you’re a lightweight climbing junkie who does obsess about the weight you might want to bear it in mind. I’m never fast going up a hill so it means little to me.

It comes with Shimano Ultegra components except for the pedals which I opted to add. Really this was a vanity move, there was little difference between the standard pedals and the Ultegra. There’s lots of clearance for wide tyres, 28 or more fit easily. I have also fitted clip on mudgaurds for the winter and again, there was no issue with clearence.

The bike is an eye-catcher, you will stand out from the crowd at a sportive. The bright orange hubs, bright orange cables and flashing on the frame and saddle pop when set against the black background of the rest of the bike. It remains to be seen whether I will be able to get the same orange colouring when it comes time to replace wheels and cables.

Another distinguishing feature is a loud freewheel hub noise. This is not annoying and in fact proved useful to me when I was cycling in Wales during the summer, my ride partners commenting that they could always hear me coming up behind them on the descents.

Descending is where this bike really comes into its own. The big feature is the hydraulic disc brakes. It’s very hard to explain how much better disc brakes are when descending over rim brakes, particularly when it’s damp which is basically all the time in Ireland. The confidence that comes from knowing your stopping distance is greatly less than the person next to you is difficult to quantify. Safe to say that you can have a lot of fun on a road you know well throwing yourself down the hill in the complete knowledge that the brakes will slow you down to a reasonable speed in a much shorter distance than any rim brake you want to mention. The disc brakes are great on the commute as well, stopping suddenly when needed for the rogue car that pulls out in front of you or the ubiquitous dog off a lead on a cycle track.

I have two minor quibbles, the first being that I am slightly concerned about replacing components with like for like colours when the time comes. This is pure vanity. The second, and this is more to do with Shimano than the bike, twice the front derailleur has become clogged up with road gunk and refused to budge, no doubt brought on by the state of Irish roads in the winter and probably by a lack of TLC from me.

Ed Rating: 9/10

The Cube can do all the commuting, training miles, club runs and sportive rides that you would ever want and handle all of these things while keeping you comfortable and confident in your machine. I can attest from direct experience that 600+ kilometres in five days and not have a sore back, knees, elbows etc. I expect you could race on it as well but I have never tried so I won’t venture to comment. I can say with confidence that I’ve never had so much fun descending as I have on this bike.

You’re going to have to work very hard to find a better bike for your money in this price range.

PS: I purchased the bike from The Hub Bike for Life in Limerick. They have been extremely helpful at point of sale and also with after sales service. I would recommend them to anyone living in the Limerick area for all of your cycling needs. https://www.facebook.com/thehublimerick/