Ask not what your country can do for you...

There are times in our lives when we have to step up to the plate and do our duty. We may not like it, but sometimes it has to be done for the greater good. So it was in Tara’s Speciality Beer House in Ballina last weekend, when I was asked to step in as third judge for the homebrew beer competition on the Saturday evening. For the sake of humanity I agreed to spend an afternoon sampling beers. A tough task, I’m sure you’ll agree.

We found ourselves in Ballina in the mist of the Killaloe/Ballina Brian Boru festival. Alison, the proprietor, runs a beer festival over the same weekend (a weekend that starts on Wednesday, I might add). As well as the competition, there was a beer table quiz, a blind tasting competition, plenty of live music and a barbecue out in the beer garden each night. Added to this there were a few extra beers on for the weekend. Accompanying their regular Rusty Irish Red Ale on cask were two other cask ales, an Imperial Stout, also from Messrs Maguire, and Brian Brew, a special festival beer, brewed by local brewing enthusiast Jon Williams. Among the other craft Irish beers on offer was the Franciscan Well’s Purgatory Pale Ale, O’Hara’s Stout and Galway Hooker. 

And so to the competition. Alison our host, Aidan from Galway Hooker -- kind sponsors of the competition -- and myself made up the trio of judges. As none of us would consider ourselves qualified judges, but rather genuine beer enthusiasts, the format was kept very relaxed and informal. There were a total of eight beers in the competition, covering a wide range of styles, so it was decided that an overall top three was the best way to proceed.  Each beer was to be tasted, a few notes scribbled down, and then, hopefully, by the end a quick discussion would whittle down the entries to a top three. On tasting the first beer we quickly realised how tough this task was going to be. From all-grain to extract beers, experienced to relatively new brewers there was a very high standard of beer on show.

Eventually the final three were decided on, but to separate these three out proved a more difficult task. After more discussion, and a second tasting of these three we came to a decision.

Thom Prior’s Industrial Stout squeezed into second place past Jon Williams’ Best Bitter. Both outstanding examples of their own styles and, like the winner, both were beers we would happily go to the bar and pay money for.

Níall Feeney took first place with his Lemongrass Wheat Beer; a great summer beer, with the lemongrass giving a refreshing lift to the wheat. This isn’t a novelty beer, more a well brewed wheat beer with an interesting twist.

With the results announced, and the thirsty on-lookers let loose on the remains of the competition entries, I could finally relax with my pint of Rusty. Much discussion, debate, and opinion followed, and plenty of opportunity for the home brewers present to swap tips and advice. 

This event has the potential to grow in the coming years, and become a feature in what is already an eventful beer festival. I, for one, will definitely be making a return visit next year; this time hopefully as a participant. I’ll leave the tough task of judging to someone else.

Beers in Competition


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View all images of the event (pictures courtesy of Rossa).