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/


Guinness West Indies Porter

West Indies Porter is a beer produced by Guinness in what is a fairly shameless attempt to cash in, or maybe take control, of the expanding craft beer market. The bottle informs us that it is a re-interpretation of a recipe from 1801. Only the Guinness marketing team and their brewing team know how close to the recipe it truly is, or how much of it is a marketing strategy to build the brand and give the beer a story, which it appears all craft beers need to have if they are going to be successful.

Guinness have been top of the class for marketing for a century or more so they know how to put a message out to shift beer. That’s not a criticism, it’s the reality, and if anyone has any doubts that they are as much about marketing as they are about brewing, cast your mind back to Arthurs day which was an attempt to create a national holiday based around drinking Guinness, in addition to the one we already have on the 17th of March. But I digress.

This is an excellent beer. It is packed with flavour, chocolate and toffee can be detected behind the malt which is full-square in the driver seat. Hops can be detected but are not overpowering. This is a robust beer, strong with a real sense of identity. It knows what it is and what it is about. If it played rugby it would be a twenty stone hooker.

A moment of fizz upon pouring is replaced by a fairly flat beer, not as flat as the Guinness stout most people are familiar with, but not much fizzier. A dark head quickly dissolves and leaves a very dark red, almost black beer. The aroma is very pleasing, a dark sweet slightly burned charcoal smell.

Having tried it at room temperature and from the fridge, I am of the view that it is best served chilled, but please don’t overly chill it. If you drop it down close to freezing point you will lose some of the subtle flavours that are there to be enjoyed and revelled in.

I don’t believe this is a session beer, although certainly three or four pints are very enjoyable, it’s not the kind of beer you’re going to drink eight of straight in a row. Besides at 6% ABV it packs a punch so three or four is probably as many as could be considered sensible.

It could realistically be paired with a wide range of foods, although it has the flavour to stand on its own for sure. A good solid pasta dish, carbonara or something along those lines would be excellent, or better again a nice Irish Beef Stew of a cold winters evening would be perfect.

It retails just north of the €3 mark although it is frequently to be found in Tesco priced at 4 for €10. It is widely available in supermarkets and off licenses. No doubt the discounting is something Guinness can bring to the table to push their craft beer rivals hard, the benefits of having an existing massive infrastructure allowing them to reap the efficiencies of mass production.

I have not personally encountered it in a pub, but equally I haven’t gone looking so ask your friendly barman and you might be able to get a bottle to start your night out.

Ed Rating: 8/10

In spite of my misgivings about the marketing, there is no getting away from the fact that this is a great beer, and the value is good if you can pick up 4 for €10.

I would recommend this beer to anyone who is craft-curious but hasn’t yet made the leap away from the staples of Heineken/Bud/Bulmers/Guinness. If you are a Guinness stout drinker this is a nice safe start to move into beers with real flavour, without having to feel like you are going too mad. If you’re into the big three lagers, well I can only say that you’re about to discover what it’s like to have a drink that actually tastes like something.


Treaty City – Thomond Red Ale

Thomond Red Ale is a craft beer brewed by the Treaty City Brewery in Limerick. It is widely available around Limerick in pubs, restaurants and hotels either in draft or bottled form. It is also available nationwide in O’Brien’s off-licenses.

Treaty City themselves are a local company headed up by the Cunneen family (a great old Limerick name) who have now firmly established themselves in matrix of beer offering on Shannonside. Kudos is deserved for Treaty City who have been very clever in their marketing approach. Being aware that those on Shannonside are fiercely and rightly proud of their city and willing to back one of their own to the ends of the earth, choosing Treaty City as their name twists them into the history of the city. In naming their beers along a Limerick theme, Harris Pale Ale, Thomond Red Ale, Shannon River IPA, they invite and encourage locals to go off-piste and give them a try.

Craft brewing has exploded in Ireland in recent years, according to Bord-Bía the number of micro-breweries more than quadrupled between 2012 and 2016. It should not be overblown though, just because we have lots of craft breweries, it does not follow that the Irish population have awoken to the fact that there are other drinks in the world besides the black stuff. Irish micro-breweries only account for 2.5% of sales in the domestic Irish market. There is a long way to go before the stranglehold of Diageo and Anheuser-Busch is broken. That being said, the days where you walked into a pub and your choices were Guinness, Budweiser, Heineken, Bulmers or the top-shelf appear to be in the rear view mirror and that’s certainly good news.

So on to the beer itself. I have sampled all of the beers mentioned above but the focus of this review is the Thomond Red Ale. I like my beers to be on the malt end of the spectrum which is why this appeals to me the most out of the three mentioned but certainly all three have something to offer.

As I type I have one open beside me, the aroma is honey sweet but not over powering. Roasted malt flavour abounds, there is no real hint of hops but thats not a negative for me. It is a sweet flavour but not immensely so. As Ales go this is moderately fizzy. It is a beautiful dark ruby red colour appearing almost black until held up to the light, certianly darker in my kitchen light than in the photo above. It is a rich and full bodied ale, but not so heavy that you couldn’t sip away on it quite happily all night. Personally, as with all ales, I believe it is best served at room temperature but there are those out there who dis-agree and good luck to them.

The beer is presented very well. The bottle and label are simple but attractive for it. There is a very handy taste guide on the side indicating what flavours the drinker can expect, which is something other craft brewers would do well to emulate.

The value is good. This is a quality product, it is not and never will be available in deals of 6 for 5 euro, nor shoult it be. Frankly it just has more class than that so don’t discount it on the shelf because it is more expensive than the gut-rot that is sold at those kind of prices. It sits right in the pack of craft ales at around €3.50 for a 500ml bottle in an off license which is right where it belongs.

In terms of food accompaniment I recommend anything barbequed or meat-centric such as steak or a quality hand-made burger. It would be best not to insult the beer by pairing it with sub-standard food offerings, it deserves better. This is not a beer that you want to throw down your neck with a Findus crispy pancake before you head out on the lash for the night. That’s what Dutch Gold is for. Enjoy this beer and treat the flavour with the respect it deserves because it wants for nothing in taste, colour, texture or aroma.

Ed Rating: 8/10

An excellent ale that rises above the current glut of craft beers on the market, some of which honestly are not very good. This one is. If you are a fan of a malty ale with subtle but solid flavours, you would be hard pressed to find a better one than this.





Murphys Ice Cream

On the 23rd of December, as part of my visit to Kilkenny with family, I went to Murhpys Ice Cream Shop in Kilkenny. It’s just opposite the Castle and so makes a good location to bring the kids to get them perked up again or to bribe them with a promise afterwards, if they aren’t the sort of kids that enjoy a walk round a castle.

It’s got to be a good sign when you arrive in an ice cream shop on December 23rd in Ireland and there is a crowd inside, eager to get stuck into a frozen treat. The shop itself is welcoming and brightly decorated. The staff are friendly and invited us to try any flavour we wanted before settling on what we were going to order, which we did.

The ice cream is a high quality product. It needs to be understood that the ice cream you are getting in Murphys is not your bog-standard 99 that gets fired at you on the side of the road when the ice cream van visits your housing estate for the 12th time that week. We are dealing with a completely different concept. This is an artisanal product that you just won’t find in many other places.

We had a range of different flavours. I went for a cone with Christmas pudding flavour. This is a rum & raisin ice cream with a helping of Christmas putting on top, served in a cone but conveniently with a wooden spoon to help. Nice touch that the spoon was wooden and not plastic, therefore it won’t be contributing to the single-use plastic problem.

The other flavours sampled included Butterscotch for the other grownup and Strawberry and Vanilla for the younger members of our party who were not so adventurous. All enjoyed immensely. We must have sampled eight or ten other flavours before settling on what we were ordering, all of which were excellent in their own right.

In terms of prices, you are going to pay a little more than you would for the 99 out of the back of a van. We paid €27.50 for six ice creams, some of which would have been large, so around €4.60 each. However this is entirely justified by the difference in the quality of the product you are getting. You wouldn’t expect to pay the same price for a Nissan Micra as you would for a 5-Series BMW. It’s important when looking at the price of things that we understand whether the price represents value for the product being offered and it certainly does in this case.

Ed Rating: 9/10

Murphys Ice Cream is an Irish owned company with outlets in a Dingle, Killarney, Galway, Dublin and Kilkenny. They are doing things right, great ingredients, friendly service and a commitment to quality. They are an example of how things are supposed to be. I certainly wish them nothing but success for the future.


Kilkenny Castle

I visited Kilkenny Castle on December 23rd 2017 with my family including members of my extended family who were visiting for Christmas.

Kilkenny Castle is a castle in Kilkenny City, Ireland, dating back to the 12th Century. It was home to Earl of Ormond and his ancestors for hundreds of years dating back through some of the most important periods in Irish history including the Cromwellian period, the English Civil Wars, the plantation period, penal laws and the Norman invasion. Its original purpose as a defence structure and garrison for troops gave way in later years to being a home for the Irish nobility and landed gentry.

The Castle itself is not a large castle compared to for example Windsor Castle in the UK. It is however a large castle by Irish standards. The gardens are extensive with some impressive fountains. On a summer day I expect the gardens would make for a very pleasant walk or a run if that’s your thing.

The tour is an interesting one and the tour guide did a good job of covering the main points of the rooms shown. Access to the castle is by guided tour only. This a bug bear of mine. While I have no objection to a guided tour I would prefer a lower entry-only price to be available for those who prefer a self-guided or more affordable option. I expect there is an element of wanting to keep people corralled and supervised due to the large numbers paintings and other historical artefacts which are on display and in easy arms reach.

The tour itself was of a good standard and the guide seemed genuinely interested in the subject matter and knowledgeable of same. The tour guide was a local person which is always a nice bonus I find. The tour lasts about 45 minutes.

The highlights of the tour include the Moorish Staircase, the Library and Drawing rooms and most of all the incredibly impressive main dining hall. There are few places that you walk into a room and genuinely have a large intake of breath and an “oh my gosh” moment. The dining hall in Kilkenny castle is one of those moments.

The restoration of the castle and in particular the interior of the rooms is immaculate. The castle fell partially into ruin in the 1950’s and thankfully has been saved for future generations. It is one of the best restoration jobs I have encountered.

Family ticket of two adults and two children is €20. In the scheme of Irish prices this could not be described as excessive. Certainly if you take the time to wander the gardens and do the tour you will get value. A picnic in the gardens on a summer’s day would be lovely.

There is a cafe on site but we did not use it so I can’t pass comment on its value or quality. There is no on-site parking but parking is readily available in the city. The castle cannot be entirely accessed by wheelchair or if you have a pram. One of our party had to carry a three month old for duration of the tour. This would be completely unacceptable in a modern building, but this is not a modern building and I do not believe we should be ripping apart an important nationally historic building to install lifts. It’s all about balance.

Ed Rating: 7/10

Value is reasonable, a lower priced self-guide option would be nice. The castle is impressive and immaculately restored. A visit to Kilkenny is not complete without a visit to the Castle.