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To be or not to be “Craft Beer”…and does it actually matter?

As the craft beer movement has moved towards the mainstream something of a backlash has begun against those that champion it over the standard mass market alternatives. Indeed, the dismissive use of the term “hipster” is usually not too far from any commentary on the rise in popularity of the craft beer industry and products. To a degree, I am not 100% convinced that there are not indeed some hipsters among the following who’s sole purpose is to stand out from the rest of the beer drinking crowd,  “as an individual” however, I would argue that the craft brewers of the world have awakened something in the average generic lager drinker beyond a desire to be different, otherwise the industry would not have persisted as it has. The thing that it has awakened, in my opinion, is a desire for something of quality, produced with attention to detail, that is a little different to everything else on offer and that is more simple in terms of ingredients (resulting in lesser hangovers!)…it is perhaps a question of taste?

 

But what is the definition of a craft beer…and does a strict definition actually matter to the drinker?

I’ve been thinking about doing this blog post and its contents for a while, stirred on by something local that I will come onto shortly but what actually encouraged me to write it was an article I spotted this week about a civil suit against the producers of Blue Moon. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the argument, essentially someone is suing MillerCoors on the basis that Blue Moon is being positioned as a craft beer, where in fact it is produced by one of the worlds’ biggest brewers. Whilst, I get the argument that the “craft brewing” industry supports the little entrepreneur in producing a fine product let us be realistic about the ability for these brewers to become mass market and thus large brewers and employers in their own right! What the craft brewers of the world have done is to become a vehicle for the consumer sentiment by having a sufficient enough impact on the bottom lines of the major brewers by re-introducing a high quality, different, and great tasting fresh competitive force that has caused them to rethink the policy of churning out only volumes of generic industrial and bland product aimed at as big a possible audience and their actions in addressing this should commended because it brings about better quality and selection for all beer drinkers.

 

Enter the big boys…

In the interests of full disclosure, I will openly admit that whilst I am a big fan of the micro brewers products I am also quite partial to the non-generic-lager outputs of the major brewers too. The major brewers have not been slow to react to the growing craft beer market by introducing their own alternatives and this is what prompted me to write this entry in the first plGuinness Dublin Porterace. What we have seen in the Irish market in recent years is a move by Diageo, the big market incumbent, to rollout a variety of craft style beers through the likes of Smithwicks Pale Ale, Smithwicks Blonde, Guinness Dublin Porter, Guinness West Indies Porter…to name but a few. As verified advertising geniuses they have also used their considerable financial muscle to rollout a beautifully crafted TV advertising campaign that strikes all the right notes in terms of the things that a craft brewer should stand for, namely, personal attention to detail in production, the virtues of family, and subtlety in their product outputs in terms of flavours and different target markets. A little cynical in their approach….possibly (probably)….but it does come back to core argument here, “What actually matters to the drinker?”

I would argue strongly that what matters to the drinker is the high quality and variety of the product and if the major brewers can lend some of their considerable weight (and production capacity) to making that happen then all the better. Let’s not forget, that Guinness have actually been one of the much maligned pioneers of attempting to diversify the drinkers palates and product mix on offer in Irish bars for more than 30 years at this stage, from Guinness Light to Breo, Guinness Draught Bottles, The Brewhouse Series (Brew 39, Toucan…) to Guinness West Indies Porter. I say much maligned because the products invariably disappear into obscurity within months however it would be difficult to argue against their credentials as a producer of consistently high quality product on a global scale and the depth of their experience.

 

So to answer my question, does it matter if a beer is “craft beer” or not by definition of who produced it? I would argue that it doesn’t matter at all to most ordinary punters, what matters is that the emergence of a sizeable craft brewing industry has, provided diversity for the the palates of the beer drinking community, and also forced the larger brewers to take note of changing consumer behaviours and demands and put renewed focus on quality of the product that they are producing….and that is in everyone’s favour!

 

For the record, Dublin Porter gets a 4/5 and Smithwicks Pale Ale 4/5 too!

 

 

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The argument in favour of Aer Lingus sale to IAG

There has been a huge amount of commentary in recent weeks around the proposed takeover of Aer Lingus by International Airlines Group (IAG) after much deliberation on the part of the government it now sadly looks like the proposal will be turned down by the government (and by default in totality as a result of the size of the government shareholding of 25%) Without getting too  much into the politics of my point of view (and in the spirit of full disclosure I would tend to lean just slightly to the right of centre politically…)  I just cannot fathom the logic of the really political nature of the decision to turn down the offer from IAG for Aer Lingus. I understand the question of jobs protection, having personally experienced the merger of businesses in the past, I know that it is absolutely unavoidable not to have duplication of some roles & efficiencies from economies of scale that will result in certain jobs being lost, neither am I naive enough to think that any Irish operations will have a competitive advantage in pure labour cost terms as part of a bigger group employing similar roles in cheaper economies but we really do need to look at the bigger considerations longer term…

 

So what are the arguments in favour?

I am not by any means arguing that this is a comprehensive list / assessment but the following are some (i believe) reasonably solid arguments in favour of the take over of Aer Lingus by IAG

 

The pure cost argument…

Running an airline costs quite a lot and whilst Aer Lingus is profitable currently it is not that long ago that they were loss making and in the cases where losses are being incurred then there is no payback to the shareholder community. Further, aviation is an expensive industry from a capital expenditure perspective and Aer Lingus’ incoming Chief Executive has already  stated this week that he believes that they will require a capital investment of $2 billion over the next decade, this investment will either come from loans which will need to be financed out of profits (and hence no dividends) or from further shareholder investment. This is where I have a real problem…what business does a state have in investing in the commercial drivers of a 75% private business and furthermore, how could a government with bigger investment challenges in terms of social services possibly prioritise investment in aviation CAPEX whilst our public health system crumbles under the pressure of years of underfunding and lack of investment resulting in intolerable suffering among society’s most vulnerable…..Sorry, no question for me where the priorities should lie! Cashing out now for the government would mean an immediate inflow for the government for investment where most needed.

 

“Landing slots”

There appear to be two problems here. Firstly, SAS got 50 million for a pair of these when they sold them recently and by that valuation those that Aer Lingus hold are worth (allegedly) €1.3bn but is it a problem is it that they are undervalued in the IAG bid or that they are of strategic value in terms of connectivity? If it is in fact the connectivity argument that is the be all and end all then how can any value be put on these slots, if not and everything has it’s value why would Aer Lingus market valuation not reflect this?

Secondly, I really have to take issue with the “importance” of the Heathrow slots. At a point in time, pre open skies, Heathrow was the be all and end all for connectivity for Irish air travellers, however, I am really struggling to see the value of Heathrow as a hub for Irish air passengers given the frankly enormous range of international routes now available out of Dublin (including to other major hub airports globally). From personal experience, using Heathrow as a hub is something I would avoid at all costs,  it has simply become too big and cumbersome and far too much hassle to make it usable without hours of changeover time. In terms of direct connectivity to what is unquestionably one of the world capitals, you have to go back to the open skies argument again, Dublin has never been as well served in terms of connectivity to all of London’s airports. There is huge capacity to serve the undoubted demand that exists on the route, apparently the second busiest in the world, so it is inconceivable that IAG would withdraw services with high load capacities, and even if they were to do so there are a string of other airlines looking to service Dublin to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City and Southend, some of whom are increasing capacity and currently launching new services….

 

Ireland as a hub

Given the huge capacity challenges in some of the British hub airports, geographical proximity to Ireland of most of the UK’s major cities and towns, and US pre-clearance facilities, Irish airports are potentially a solution to major routing headache for IAG and an opportunity to add value to their services. It has been reported that there are already 1 million UK residents transiting through Dublin Airport T2 each year, imagine the potential for growth in that area with IAG’s support in terms of delivering the transit customers, indeed huge numbers of Spanish travellers to the US are already transiting in Dublin each year.

 

Connectivity for Shannon and Cork

This has repeatedly being highlighted as a challenge to any IAG takeover of Aer Lingus. However, it should be borne in mind that where there is a public service obligation, someone will always be able to service those routes and where there is commercial return or opportunity the commercial airline operators will seek to exploit them….simply look at the growth that Ryanair has been able to deliver to Shannon in recent years. If no commercial merit or public service subsidies are available on routes from these airports then its clear that Aer Lingus (as a commercial airline) is not going to continue to operate services from them.

 

Better the devil you know…

Lastly, it is unquestionable that IAG see Aer Lingus a true valuable addition to their stable of independent brands (BA, Iberia, Vueling) and that there are natural synergies in terms of the business reach of Aer Lingus to those of IAG. The alternatives for Aer Lingus are to attempt to stand alone in an increasingly consolidated space and try to compete against the buying power and economies of scale possible from the major international groups like Air France – KLM, Lufthansa etc or to put together a multitude piecemeal code share agreements with other international groupings, whilst attempting to fend off the threat of the budget carriers that have now got enormous scale…Considering all these likely scenarios it is difficult to see how Aer Lingus can confidently continue to operate in this space.

 

In all, there appear to be major compelling reasons for an acceptance of the IAG bid for Aer Lingus (particularly at the premium being offered on the share price in addition to the above). However, there is an election looming so it would appear that logic goes out the window in return for votes…or indeed an ability to stall the need to make a decision that could be contentious either way until after an election so as not to lose any votes…sadly it does smack of political rather than economically sound decision making…

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My Top 5 Beers of the Moment – Autumn / Winter 2014

Let’s Try This Again..

So I’ve been working on this craft beer blog for the last 2 years almost (admittedly most of that time was dedicated to *ahem cough* research) and it’s a little light on content so as a means of getting started again I am going to kickstart things with a simple subject matter based on the copious volume of research imbibed. So here goes, my top 5 craft beers of the moment….in no particular order…

 

Bo Bristle IPAipa

I’m usually a fan of IPAs and seeing the sheer number of bottles of this stocked in my local off-licence gave me an indication that it was probably pretty popular / either that or someone was pretty confident that they would sell a lot of it. After the first bottle I had caught the bug somewhat and this has quickly become one of my fail safe beers that I always make sure to have in the house. Brewed in Banagher (of Pure Mule fame) this is one of a range of beers from the Bo Bristle Brewery, who appear to be doing very well if number of places its available is anything to go by! As IPA’s go its really smooth, yet still hoppy with that citrus finish and a great beer for an evening at home at the end of the working week…presumably it’s not too bad out in the pub either!

 

 

Kinnegar Black Bucket

For anyone that knows me they will be aware that I am a massive fan of the beers that these guys are producing in Rathmullan, Donegal. Indblack-bucketeed I did fret somewhat a couple of weeks ago when the supply in the 2 local off licences of choice looked to be drying up (thankfully it was a temporary supply issue but that didn’t stop me stocking up when it did come back in just in case!) My favourite currently of the beers these guys are producing is the Rye Ale Rustbucket. A big shout out to my local that has been selling this in bottles for the last number of months, but anyway I digress!

 

The thing that I really like about Rustbucket is the really distinctive flavour and colouring that the Rye gives the beer, it adds a real complexity to the flavour (which also serves as a reminder the respect the strength of it!) but it remains very smooth to the finish making it really drinkable. Being a fan of this, imagine my excitement (perhaps a little too much so) when I discovered that Kinnegar were unleashing another Rye variant called Black Bucket, especially for the All Ireland Craft Beer Festival back in September, so much so that I dragged my willing accomplices directly to the Kinnegar bar as soon as we got there and used both of my free tickets on it. Slightly stronger, in terms of alcohol content at 6.5% again it deserves respect, and produced with black rye it has a really distinctive black colour, bursting with Rye flavours but retaining a level of hoppy crispiness I would have quite happily stayed drinking that for the night! So in the unlikely event that anyone from Kinnegar reads this, please give me some hope that it wasn’t a once off and will be available more widely soon.

 

 

Blackstairs Brewing Irish Red IPA1619557_1513015622276053_3469716274981772404_n

A discovery from the craft beer festival and sampled partly in deference to my Wexford side, partly by the fact that it looked pretty cool as a bar and was just beside me at that point in time I sampled this tasty, and somewhat unusual number. Only brewing since June, this beer goes down incredibly well. It is not quite a Red Ale and not quite an IPA but somewhere in between the two. It is not quite as hoppy (indeed the hops are very subtle) as an IPA and captures some of the light caramel flavours of an Irish red ale to make a really great combination. Possibly not a beer you would be drinking in massive quantities but certainly one that you could enjoy two or three with an afternoon of sports on TV. This is starting to become more widely available now, however can be a little pricey, but definitely worth the little extra for the quality and freshness

 

 

9 White Deer – Stag Bán9_WHITE_DEER_LOGO-247x300

Perhaps the best discovery of the Craft Beer Festival for me. Again these guys are only brewing since June and what really drew me in in the first place is when I spotted that they were based in the Cork Gaeltacht of Ballyvourney, a place that holds lots of happy memories for me as a teenager in the Gaeltacht for 3 consecutive summers.  Stag Bán, the name derived from the story of St Gobnait and the nine white deer in the Ballyvourney area, is a crisp and really fruity IPA. It retains a lot of the hoppiness of a good IPA yet also has a distinctive flavour that is not quite citrus but more something of a subtle peach flavour. As I said, probably the discovery of the Craft Beer Festival for me, and Imagine my delight when I discovered literally a couple of weeks after the Craft Beer Festival that it was available in both of my local off licences. If you can get your hands on it you definitely won’t regret sampling this and at the same time supporting industry in the Gaeltacht…doing your bit for the language one beer at a time!

 

 

The 5 Lamps Brewery – Blackpitts Porter

black

When out for a few drinks, I am usually not averse to a few pints of the more mass produced Black Stuff however the time generally comes where either I’ve reached a point of fullness where I can’t go on, or we reach an establishment where its not advisable to continue on that path at which point I usually struggle to find an alternative! A number of months back on a sunny Sunday of a bank holiday weekend, I found myself out in town with a willing accomplice mid-afternoon and after a few “nice pints” we decided to try somewhere else. Finding ourselves perched at bar in another establishment (about 100 feet from the previous place) awaiting the start of the Sunday evening jazz that we discovered was also on there we decided to try The 5 Lamps Lager, which was calling out to us  from behind the fridge doors.

 

As beers go I am not a big lager drinker although I have to say I really enjoyed the 5 Lamps Lager, but looking for something a little more akin to the stout that went before it the barmaid suggested that I try Blackpitts Porter from the aforementioned 5 Lamps Brewery.  For me this is a great great beer from the bottle, it’s a porter but not in the creamy draft stout vein as Guinness but more in the style of Guinness Extra Stout. Best drunk nicely chilled, this beer is slightly bubbly  with a mild yet unmistakably roasted barley flavour, it is a very dark colour and not dissimilar to Guinness Black Lager. Definitely one worth trying, great from the bottle and easy enough to drink at lager drinking pace!

 

 

So that’s me for the moment, let’s see if I can keep up the volume of content! I need to get some further research in in order to have something to write about so (if anyone reads this) I’d really welcome your suggestions as to where I go from here! As always, in the even less likely event that anyone wants to send me some samples I am more than open to that too!

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Economic Sovereignty and the Blame Game

Allow me to preface this blog by saying that I am not remotely extreme to the left or to the right in terms of my political views, I have no party affiliations and, whether I like or agree with them or not, I comply with the laws of the land. Additionally I have always felt myself to be as European as I am Irish and firmly believe in the economic and social benefits of closer integration and cooperation with our neighbours. (I should also point out that this is probably the most serious matter that has ever triggered me to write anything on my personal blog!)

However, the recent pronouncements on Irish taxation regimes (in addition to those of the Netherlands and Luxembourg) and the now seemingly constant misgiving murmurings of some of our European neighbours on the choice of corporation tax rate in Ireland have gotten me to thinking, “who’s economy is it anyway?” and “if it bothers you that much what is to stop you doing the same?”

As someone in a TV ad once said, “Ireland is a small economy on the periphery of Europe”, we had decades in the last century of attempted self-sufficiency and economic protectionism….and guess what? It failed as an ideology! The result?  Economic stagnation, massive unemployment, rural depopulation, urban decay and enormous levels of emigration. In the teeth of this economic stagnation, Irish governments took hugely brave and costly moves in introducing free secondary and then free third level education creating a more educated and skilled labour force, setup government backed training schemes (the fact that some of these failed is an irrelevance with respect to the initial intent) and ultimately played a little fast and loose with the corporation and other business tax rates, taking massive gambles with regards to lowering corporation tax rates to 12.5%  for example on the premise that this would help to drive more foreign direct investment versus whatever would have to be foregone from the previous level at a higher rate.

This was further empowered by the creation of state bodies with a remit of driving FDI by roadshowing the country globally with the support of senior government ministers. Furthermore, in order to make up the short term tax shortfall the Irish public paid through the nose with exceptionally high levels of personal taxation and neglected social services in areas such as health and more recently through the governments protection of the European banking systems by making private debt in Irish banks sovereign debt in order to prevent their collapse. Additionally, Ireland has remained committed to the Euro despite its central bank governance working almost diametrically opposite the best interests of the Irish economy in terms of interest rate policy in order to maintain Eurozone membership as an attractive proposition!

In the light of the level of work and sacrifice (bearing in mind that we have just again begun to exit very straightened times) the fact that Ireland can boast of its attractiveness to global technology and pharma companies in particular and notable domestic success stories such as Ryanair (one the top Airlines in Europe by profitability and customer volume) is something that Irish citizens should continue to be exceptionally proud and protective of. The fact that the best measure of success of the irish economy is GDP as opposed the more commonly used metric of GNP is testament to the importance of FDI in Ireland.

Which brings me to the crux of my argument (rant), the results of the economic and social investment of the last number of decades should not be fair game for political point scoring from our larger international neighbours. In recent days we have heard stories of the German finance minister being unhappy with patent tax breaks that are causing certain German companies to offshore certain activities in other EU countries, President Obama come out publically against the practice of tax inversion and David Cameron complaining that Irish corporation tax rates put Northern Ireland at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting FDI….and my response, which covers all these scenarios, is this; the economic conditions created in certain geographies, and Ireland in particular, were done so at a cost and a risk to those that live in and govern those economies, if others have a problem with this there is nothing stopping them from similarly rolling the dice and taking the chance to create those opportunities themselves.

In short;  if German businesses are offshoring certain business elements to capitalise on more preferential tax regimes then perhaps there is something that should be amended fiscally to retain that internally; if Mr Obama has a problem with the practice of Tax inversion perhaps he should look to create the conditions domestically so that those businesses do not have to seek this entirely legal loophole and lastly; if Mr Cameron has a problem with competitiveness in attracting FDI in Northern Ireland then he should devolve power to the local executive to set corporation tax rates and invest in the regional infrastructure that is badly needed to enable it to compete.

So why are these leaders not following making these decisions and opting for the route of attempting to coerce others around to their less successful policies? Well, it’s probably down to a number of factors but for me it is perhaps interesting to see that in all of the referenced examples there is pressure on their political powerbases, most notably in Mr Cameron’s case from the more conservative elements of his party obsessively concerned with loss of power to the nascent UK Independence Party which is euro-sceptic and primarily concerned with national identity and national sovereignty fostering an “us against everyone else” competitive stance.

But then again perhaps it’s easier to blame someone else rather than look at what is in your own control that you haven’t done….

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Kinnegar Brewing – accidental discovery to beer of the moment!

My first experimentation with Craft Beer came about around about 7/8 years ago on a trip to visit the folks who were living in western New York State at the time. Being extremely fussy about his choice of beers and having a dripping disdain for the industrial beers that invariable are common place in “lite” form in the US, I always wondered how the old man would get on when they first relocated to the US. However, I got my answer when on the first full day there he took me on a trip to see the local craft beer section of the local supermarket. To say my narrow mind (on the subject of US beer) was completely blown by the sheer scale and variety of the craft beers on offer there is an understatement, walk in fridge aside, the layout of the dedicated area of the supermarket with specific sections for different types of beers and different regions (much like we have become accustomed to with wine in Irish supermarkets) gave me a real appreciation of the massive demand for really high quality micro-brewed beer and also the opportunity to begin sampling the same myself!

Fast forward those 7 or 8 years and I found myself wandering around my local off licence of choice, that does a fantastic range of craft beers, wondering what to sample that evening. Crippled by indecision as a result of the choice I took the easy option and picked up a six pack of Blue Moon (not my top choice of beer but familiar because of the US experience and at a tenner for six it eased my indecision to a degree!) and tipped over to the counter. The great thing about said off licence is that it is staffed by the bar staff so they know a little about beer, so spotting my choice of purchase and the fact that I was in deep thought not three minutes beforehand about what it was exactly I wanted, the barman suggested that I try some new stuff that they had in, brewed “by some American chap in Donegal”, as “it’s a tasty oul drop”. Working on the basis that he probably knew what he was talking about I took a selection of Limeburner Pale Ale and Scraggy Bay IPA (and also the six pack of Blue Moon just in case).

Kinnegar Brewing are based in Rathmullan Co. Donegal and brew a variety of really nice Ales, a Porter and some seasonal brews. It’s still on my list of places to visit, but as I understand it, this is a true micro brewery in terms of volume and setup but at the same time is producing and impressive array of beers. But back to the beer….

I started my sampling (read slugging out of the bottle) with the Limeburner Pale Ale. I’m no expert (as you can probably already tell) but for me this was a solid Pale Ale, a little hoppy and entirely drinkable without being spectacular. Having had it subsequently I would say that it was perhaps too cold on that first occasion trying it out which kind of smothered the hoppiness. However, I subsequently have sampled some of a special batch call Unity Pale Ale brewed again by Kinnegar and it for me was probably slightly better, despite being lesser  alcohol content, as it was a little crisper.

Kinnegar - Unity Pale Ale

Following on from the Limeburner, I next sampled Scraggy Bay IPA. This one was a real winner with me, slightly stronger, hoppier taste that is a little difficult to describe aside from saying it was slightly sweet to taste with an almost crunchy finish. This was certainly way more to my liking and is certainly in my top 5 beers of all time in terms of taste and finish.  Following on from my initial exposure I had the good fortune of meeting the guys from Kinnegar at Bloom in the Park.

Kinnegar - Scraggy Bay

After spending an hour doing the food bits of the festival, making a pig of myself with the free samples, and rapidly running out of opportunity to avoid the flowers / garden-y bit of the festival I spotted the craft beer marquee on the horizon like a shelter for dehydrated blokes desperate to avoid looking at gardening stuff that would inevitably lead to manual labour in their own gardens and make a break for it (with my 2 year old in tow). I appreciate how this probably looked to any bystanders, slightly relieved looking bloke half sprinting with a buggy to the beer tent at 11am in the morning, but it did give a good opportunity for a chat with the guy from Kinnegar who was just setting up and get an understanding of their range of beers and a first hand explanation. I won’t pretend to remember anything that was said as I was in a state of delirium from the excitement of the opportunity to buy beer, the fact I was putting off the gardening bit for a few minutes and the lovely Jenny telling me to buy a few different beers to bring home, but it did give me something to think about in terms of my next “sampling”.

At this stage I am rambling a little based on the outpouring of admiration for this beer but bear with me….

The weekend after Bloom, I found myself in the local with Jenny, the same local as the aforementioned off licence, and she spotted that they had Rustbucket Rye Ale on special offer in the lounge. I am not usually a massive fan of “Rye” anything but times may be changing. I can safely say I had a beer epiphany that night. Rustbucket is a distinctly hoppy, yet balanced ale with no killer aftertaste and a really nice sweetness that is not overpowering or sickly but definitely different. It has a slightly red hue when poured but I have to say I really enjoyed it straight from the bottle. What’s more, after quite a number of these, I felt fresh as a daisy the following morning, (and with 2 toddlers, my mornings start early!) So, this is without doubt probably my favourite beer of the moment….if only it were more widely available!!

Kinnegar - Rustbucket

So there you have it,

Limeburner 3/5

Scraggy Bay 4.5/5

Rustbucket 5/5

And if you get a chance, and you can find it on draft, give the Yannaroddy porter a try…I only had a small sample and I could be very much tempted to try lots more if I could get my hands on it on draft!

And don’t forget to check them out at http://kinnegarbrewing.ie/

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KINNEGAR BREWING – ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERY TO BEER OF THE MOMENT!

My first experimentation with Craft Beer came about around about 7/8 years ago on a trip to visit the folks who were living in western New York State at the time. Being extremely fussy about his choice of beers and having a dripping disdain for the industrial beers that invariable are common place in “lite” form in the US, I always wondered how the old man would get on when they first relocated to the US. However, I got my answer when on the first full day there he took me on a trip to see the local craft beer section of the local supermarket. To say my narrow mind (on the subject of US beer) was completely blown by the sheer scale and variety of the craft beers on offer there is an understatement, walk in fridge aside, the layout of the dedicated area of the supermarket with specific sections for different types of beers and different regions (much like we have become accustomed to with wine in Irish supermarkets) gave me a real appreciation of the massive demand for really high quality micro-brewed beer and also the opportunity to begin sampling the same myself!

Fast forward those 7 or 8 years and I found myself wandering around my local off licence of choice, that does a fantastic range of craft beers, wondering what to sample that evening. Crippled by indecision as a result of the choice I took the easy option and picked up a six pack of Blue Moon (not my top choice of beer but familiar because of the US experience and at a tenner for six it eased my indecision to a degree!) and tipped over to the counter. The great thing about said off licence is that it is staffed by the bar staff so they know a little about beer, so spotting my choice of purchase and the fact that I was in deep thought not three minutes beforehand about what it was exactly I wanted, the barman suggested that I try some new stuff that they had in, brewed “by some American chap in Donegal”, as “it’s a tasty oul drop”. Working on the basis that he probably knew what he was talking about I took a selection of Limeburner Pale Ale and Scraggy Bay IPA (and also the six pack of Blue Moon just in case).

Kinnegar Brewing are based in Rathmullan Co. Donegal and brew a variety of really nice Ales, a Porter and some seasonal brews. It’s still on my list of places to visit, but as I understand it, this is a true micro brewery in terms of volume and setup but at the same time is producing and impressive array of beers. But back to the beer….

I started my sampling (read slugging out of the bottle) with the Limeburner Pale Ale. I’m no expert (as you can probably already tell) but for me this was a solid Pale Ale, a little hoppy and entirely drinkable without being spectacular. Having had it subsequently I would say that it was perhaps too cold on that first occasion trying it out which kind of smothered the hoppiness. However, I subsequently have sampled some of a special batch call Unity Pale Ale brewed again by Kinnegar and it for me was probably slightly better, despite being lesser  alcohol content, as it was a little crisper.

Kinnegar - Unity Pale Ale

Following on from the Limeburner, I next sampled Scraggy Bay IPA. This one was a real winner with me, slightly stronger, hoppier taste that is a little difficult to describe aside from saying it was slightly sweet to taste with an almost crunchy finish. This was certainly way more to my liking and is certainly in my top 5 beers of all time in terms of taste and finish.  Following on from my initial exposure I had the good fortune of meeting the guys from Kinnegar at Bloom in the Park.

Kinnegar - Scraggy Bay

After spending an hour doing the food bits of the festival, making a pig of myself with the free samples, and rapidly running out of opportunity to avoid the flowers / garden-y bit of the festival I spotted the craft beer marquee on the horizon like a shelter for dehydrated blokes desperate to avoid looking at gardening stuff that would inevitably lead to manual labour in their own gardens and make a break for it (with my 2 year old in tow). I appreciate how this probably looked to any bystanders, slightly relieved looking bloke half sprinting with a buggy to the beer tent at 11am in the morning, but it did give a good opportunity for a chat with the guy from Kinnegar who was just setting up and get an understanding of their range of beers and a first hand explanation. I won’t pretend to remember anything that was said as I was in a state of delirium from the excitement of the opportunity to buy beer, the fact I was putting off the gardening bit for a few minutes and the lovely Jenny telling me to buy a few different beers to bring home, but it did give me something to think about in terms of my next “sampling”.

At this stage I am rambling a little based on the outpouring of admiration for this beer but bear with me….

The weekend after Bloom, I found myself in the local with Jenny, the same local as the aforementioned off licence, and she spotted that they had Rustbucket Rye Ale on special offer in the lounge. I am not usually a massive fan of “Rye” anything but times may be changing. I can safely say I had a beer epiphany that night. Rustbucket is a distinctly hoppy, yet balanced ale with no killer aftertaste and a really nice sweetness that is not overpowering or sickly but definitely different. It has a slightly red hue when poured but I have to say I really enjoyed it straight from the bottle. What’s more, after quite a number of these, I felt fresh as a daisy the following morning, (and with 2 toddlers, my mornings start early!) So, this is without doubt probably my favourite beer of the moment….if only it were more widely available!!

Kinnegar - Rustbucket

So there you have it,

Limeburner 3/5

Scraggy Bay 4.5/5

Rustbucket 5/5

And if you get a chance, and you can find it on draft, give the Yannaroddy porter a try…I only had a small sample and I could be very much tempted to try lots more if I could get my hands on it on draft!

And don’t forget to check them out at http://kinnegarbrewing.ie/

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Destroying The Myth Of Business Travel Being Fun

As a now seasoned traveller for the purposes of work it occurs to me that certain truths exist about travelling for work that are really universal, apart from the look of disbelief when you tell people that don’t do much business travel, that it’s not actually all that much fun. The truth is that frequent use of airports for work travel purposes turns you into an entirely functional person, something my wife pointed out to me last summer when travelling for a weekend away when I had parked the car and had us at the gate within minutes in a whirlwind through the terminal that meant that she didn’t even get near the duty free! So, apart from becoming an airport ninja, what are my to pain points of business travel?

1. The painfully early start

There is simply nothing funny about setting your alarm for any time pre 6am. As a parent of 2 toddlers, I am not precious about getting a full 8 hours, but there something not right about your alarm going off at 4.50 am followed by an attempt to semi-consciously get dressed in the dark and negotiate a way to the front door, without waking the entire household up, and then remembering to turn off the alarm and quietly close it behind….

2. Journey to the airport

Here you have 2 options, either drive yourself or grab a cab, and both have their challenges.

Option A – Taxi
Now I don’t know about you but small talk is not something that can be engaged in easily when only semi conscious for me. Unfortunately this goes with the territory in getting an early morning taxi, whereby you either have to listen about how they have been working all night and not got a job and were going home after this one or how they only do early mornings because evening times “you do get all the messers…..insert war story about drunken passenger here……”
So taxi is out, the alternative is option B

Option B – Drive yourself
No nonsense small talk required but, car is invariably in need of being defrosted, followed by radio/music being too loud, incredible effort to concentrate on the road etc followed by negotiating the ever changing beast that is signage at the airport car park (I’m convinced that they move stuff around just for the amusement of those monitoring the CCTV!) Find a parking spot, walk 20 miles in the rain to the terminal/courtesy bus stop!

3. The bag

So you are traveling for business, this means laptop bag – work of the devil (or at least someone that has never heard of ergonomic design!) into said bag goes, chargers, electronics, a variety of bits of paper (passport, boarding pass), corporate grade indestructible 25 kilos of laptop, notepads etc… Essentially enough stuff to give you separated shoulders and an unnatural tilt to one side that you have the pleasure of hauling around miles of airport walkways.

4. Security screening

The first is the expert: Tell tale signs are flat shoes (her) and no belt (him) ,laptop, iPad metals and jackets into the tray first time with all the liquids in a see-through bag that sails through like the instructional video.This part of the fun is not uniquely the reserve of the business traveller, but being slightly more expert in negotiating this area means it tends to be the scene most likely to trigger your “Falling Down” moment. At airport security screening there are 2 types of people.

The second is the person that I inevitably get stuck behind. We all know them, oblivious to the lurid instructional signage they have been passing or standing adjacent to for 20 minutes, wearing more jewellery than Mr T, carrying gallons of liquids in their pockets and a bemused look on their face……

5. Time to kill and nothing to do

Going on holidays and having time to kill in the airport is fun, duty free to peruse, relaxing drink and bite to eat. Being a business traveller and having time to kill is torture… Same shops, everything the same in said shops as on the occasion of your previous visit, can’t drink as going to work and expenses policy won’t quite cover the €15 cheapest item on the menu! Just time to kill vainly attempting to connect to the “free wifi” that requires you to complete a crystal maze-esque set of cryptic instructions for access to 5 mins of 14.4k “broadband”

6. The arrival and the reminder you are not on holidays

Flying for holidays – Doors open at destination to sunshine and heat
Flying for business – Doors open to gale force arctic gusts, sidewards rain and a harsh reminder that you should have kept additional clothing in your carry-on!

7. The slight sense of exhaustion/being slightly tuned out all day

Due to point 1 you will have a strange sense of not being jet lagged but of being in a slightly different physiological time zone to the rest of world. You are ready for lunch at 10am, getting your second wind when everyone is hitting the post lunch lull and ready for bed by tea time leading to what feels like a slightly dampened level of consciousness all day long!

8. The “destination” hotel

To be fair most hotel facilities nowadays are pretty good and most employers will put you up somewhere reasonably decent ( if not only to ensure there is wifi and you will do a few late night emails). The only problem is generally the location, view of the local motorway, airport, office park and usually not terribly close or well connected to the real world!

So there you have it, an insight into the joyful things that cross my mind when the inevitable need arises to travel for work. Worth bearing in mind however, that once you’ve found your car (top tip: always write your car park zone on your ticket, airport carparks are massive!) the best part is being able to get into your own bed at the end of the return travel!

Would love to hear your gripes/tips for business travel via the comments box below!

 

This article originally appeared on http://www.theimperic.com on 15th May 2014

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7 Signs that craft beer is turning me into my dad

So I may have mentioned a couple of times over that I am something of a superfan of the craft beers. Part of this comes from an insatiable need for something new and exciting beer-wise and part of it is to keep things interesting for myself, call it craft beer Russian roulette (always potentially one purchase away from something horrible!) However, recently I have noticed that my affections for “the amber nectar of the path less travelled” are turning me into something of an old codger before my time (honestly I am not as old as I look!) Just a couple of introspective observations of late….

1. I am quite happy to sit with 2/3 good IPAs for an entire evening. There is a variety of reasons for this but I think it’s down to the fact that every time I sit down in the evening there is a pretty good chance I will nod off so 2-3 beers is plenty between mini sleeps and also, they are usually strong enough in terms of alcoholic content that I only need that many to get the same impact as a load of pints of big brand porter down the local.

2. I find myself having not only a preferred off licence to buy my beer in, but also find myself whiling away an hour or so perusing the selection of new and exotic beers and seeking the insights of the in store expert / bloke working on the till like some sort of (dare I say it) wine connoisseur!

3. I am quite happy to spend a little more on good quality beer that doesn’t have to be freezing to be drinkable because inevitably it now takes me an inordinate amount of time to drink each beer (because of the aforementioned “mini sleeps”)

4. I am becoming a creature of habit, same spot on the couch, same tv programmes, same time every week I am consistently there and in fact I’m getting cranky when I have to be elsewhere as I am missing out on my quality drinking time! 

5. I end up boring my other half to death with running commentary on each new beer in terms of flavour, freshness etc and whatever background info on the brewery that I have garnered from the local expert / off licence worker and / or Wikipedia.

6. I have become a complete snob about the quality ales at tantalising prices that got me through my student days (and most of my twenties truth be told!) and find myself exchanging that eyes to heaven look with the off licence expert when some young fella passes me with a tray of generic euro lager that’s on special offer…

7. Lastly, and probably most tellingly, I will at some point in the evening have to stop drinking beers and switch to scotch or whiskey so that I don’t miss half of whatever I am watching while running to the loo every 5 minutes! 

So there it is, old before my time, but surprisingly not that bothered about it! Maybe I should be?? Anyway on the off chance any micro brewers out there are reading this and want to send me some samples to review I am 100% open to that! 

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5 Tips for Mobile Marketing Success

So you’re a small or perhaps not so small business and everyone is telling you that should be / go / do mobile but where do you start? Below is a selection of tips for mobile marketing success based on some experiences I have in a previous career. Not saying that all of these will work but as with anything in terms of marketing, it’s about understanding what it is you want to achieve, and what it tools / methods / channels in mobile can do to help you achieve this. The scatter gun approach with no clear objective is a sure fire way of spending a lot of money for little or perhaps no return.

So the below are my top 5 tips for Mobile Marketing like a Pro!

  1. Local Search

One of the most important things to bear in mind about mobile and particularly mobile web is not to miss the hint in the name – mobile! The principle reason for using mobile search is to get information on the go and quickly! Thus, brevity and relevance of information is key (which I will come onto in my next point). 2 helpful tips to get you started, submit your mobile site to Google via the webmaster tools  AND most importantly don’t forget all you already know about SEO and search relevance. i.e search results on a normal device(laptop etc)  can be reasonably location sensitive however remember search queries in the mobile context are probably going to be even more location sensitive so make sure that if you are for example, an Italian restaurant in Rathmines that those terms feature in the page content so that when someone is in that particular area looking for an Italian restaurant you appear in the organic search.

 

  1. Mobile Sites – but don’t overdo it!

This is a reasonably straightforward one. The last thing that anyone accessing your site from a mobile device wants to do is to have to pinch and scroll around the page to find what they need, or have to have to zoom right in to click menu items if you, like me, suffer from a condition known as “fat fingers”!  Also, remember that a big flash image might look great on your 23 inch monitor but it’s a real nuisance on your smartphone!

Secondly, and harping back to my previous point, remember what people need from your site when accessing it on a mobile. The important thing is to prioritise the information displayed to things such as a phone number, postal address, email contact that are likely to be most relevant for what the user is looking to do!

 

  1. Leverage the device capabilities

I remember about 5 years ago hearing someone say “eventually we will enter the age of the dumb smartphone user” – that is to say, people that have a smartphone but have no idea how to use half of stuff on it. I am starting to think that we are getting there so it’s important to help these types of users as much as possible. With some reasonably basic development skills it is possible to trigger the various apps on the users’ device to your benefit. This could be the maps or email app, download a contact card or perhaps even something as simple as a click-to-call hyperlink by use of the html instruction tel; which can trigger a call to phone number.

 

  1. To App or not to app

A number of years ago there was a real rush among companies to build apps as a land-grab on their brand equity however, much like the early days of the internet this resulted a clutter of abandoned, unloved and brand detrimental apps content (not to mention forgotten passwords to app developer accounts!) Lesson? Only build an app if it adds value for the end user somehow because unless it does the users will never download it, it gets lost in the ether of the billions of apps across the various platforms and its been a really expensive endeavour.  As for gamification…..please please don’t waste your time someone else has probably done it better already and it won’t “go viral”……….

 

  1. SMS

Without question the most underrated tool in the mobile marketing armoury! What is often forgotten about SMS is that although it is limited in terms of the amount of content that can be delivered, the reach and open rates on this mechanic are unrivalled. It can also be used to deliver other types of content via the inclusion of hyperlinks to open websites, or start a call for example. What is more is that it gives almost immediate reach, regardless of whether the user has wi-fi or mobile internet coverage and gives a means of testing that information provided by a customer is up to date and correct as possible.

 

Any more tips that work for your business in terms of mobile marketing?

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#PositiveIreland

For the last number of years the Irish economy has been in an unprecedented recession, from which it is only now emerging. Now more than ever,  having regained the control of the management of the economy from the IMF,  it is critical that the Irish diaspora push on with confidence and power the growth that’s possible in the economy.

The various government agencies have been doing some sterling work of late in terms of content around the notion of confidence and growth in the economy and I have to say this is definitely one of my favourites!

 

Another brilliant example is the short video from the IDA outlining Dublin as Europe’s Tech Hub, its amazing how a short video with the right branding included makes a very persuasive argument!

 

Lots of reasons to be positive!

Enjoy!

 

By Simon Bell

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