I would like to thank Séan Billings for affording me the opportunity to write an article for the ICB website on the OghamBrew Festival Samhain 2008. The Festival, which took place in Na Fianna GAA on Mobhi Road, Glasnevin, had 15 teams of homebrewers in attendance, all competing for the, by now, coveted awards of People's Choice Award and Judges' Choice Award.
The judging panel consisted of two OghamBrew judges, our head judge George O'Mahony and first-time judge Richie Fass, and two ICB judges, the aforementioned Séan Billings and John 'Beer Nut' Duffy. They were seated at the top table of the venue, overseeing the night’s proceedings, and charged with the task of selecting which of the 19 brews would receive the accolades.
Before I talk about the festival in more detail, I would like to explain a little about OghamBrew and its origins. OghamBrew was founded in late 2007, and to be honest, totally out of the blue at that. For as long as I can remember the OghamBrew founders have lamented the fact that it is easier to find Irish beer outside of this fair land than it is inside. Such a conversation was had last October in the Bull and Castle - one of the finer establishments in Dublin City.
It was on that night that we decided to get around to doing what we had talked about doing for years, namely to brew our own beer. The idea was mentioned to a few acquaintances, many of whom had also expressed an interest in brewing. It was evident at this juncture that, owing to the expressed interest, we could in fact organise an event whereby all parties involved could sample each other’s brews. Thus was born the concept. The name OghamBrew was conceived shortly afterwards, and by Christmas 2007 all teams were in possession of their own set of equipment and anticipating a very hoppy Christmas (you can have that one for free!).
So on a stormy March night in Beaumont, an event floor was constructed and laid, a marquee pitched and lit, and a panel of judges assembled for the first OghamBrew festival. We had 8 teams in all, brewing a range of kit beers including stout, ale, bitter and lager.
The judges, consisted of George O'Mahony of Cork, Christophe Noirant of France and Dermot Monaghan who had flown in direct from London. On the night Ór, a team from Maynooth, scooped both the People's Choice and Judges' Choice awards. That said, the real winner on the night was beer. The standard of the kit brews genuinely took a lot of people by surprise and indeed there were devoted wine drinkers in attendance that night who sampled beer with gusto. Enquiries grew steadily over the subsequent months, and with eight further teams involved, we set November 28th as the date of the second OghamBrew festival.
The entry into the second festival was larger and the brews more advanced than that the first festival - along with fifteen kit enteries, this time there were two extract entries and two country wine entries. The membership of OghamBrew had also expanded beyond its initial hinterland of Dublin, Kildare and Meath to the Kilkenny area, courtesy of the entry by the imaginatively named team - The Vicious Chickens.
OghamBrew is not just about beer, however. The Samhain 2008 Festival had its first entry from a team producing country wine. Bitches Brew won many admirers for their medium-dry blackberry and apple, and, full-bodied elderberry and raspberry wines. Despite the atrocious summer of 2008, the team managed to find ripe fruit trees and bushes in North Dublin and South Meath to provide the finest of wild fruit for their wines. Thanks to their pioneering work, there will be further teams producing wine for the next OghamBrew Festival.
The judges were instructed to begin tasting at half six - a full hour before the doors were thrown open. The scoring card for each was based around the BJCP, scoring each beer according to its professed style under the headings of aroma, taste, flavour etc. A comment box was appended to the scoring card of each entry, so that the judges could provide feedback for the teams’ consideration.
The doors were opened at half seven, and the teams, their guests and visitors began to enter the event room. Upon entry each person was provided with a raffle ticket and a festival program which contained a full beer menu, a People's Choice voting sheet and a quiz sheet. The People's Choice at an OghamBrew Festival is taken quite seriously by the attendees, as they are asked to critically evaluate the beers and wines on offer, and select which three beers they preferred in order of preference. The voting sheets are collected and tabulated, and the top three teams are rewarded for their hard work. The People's Choice Award is purely subjective, and its sole aim is to find out what brews are creating a buzz on the floor. The results on the night bore a slight resemblance to the Judges' Choice, but there were noticeable differences.
The wheat beers, for instance, scored consistently well with the judges and were received very favourably by the public at large. Finishing marginally outside the top three in the People's Choice was the elderberry and raspberry flavoured wine entered by the Bitches Brew team. This wine received quite a number of first preference votes, as did the strawberry flavoured beer from the Nephin Pistoleros.
Winners of the People's Choice Award on the night though, were new entrants D'Ól, who did an admirable job of canvassing the crowd on the night. It also helped that their Grand Cru had a definite drinkability to it. Van Der Beaumont's Républic came second, with an extract red ale that was immensely popular, while newly formed Squires took third with an extract-brew spiced IPA. The cleverly-named Déja Brew wheat beer finished fourth and just missed out on the People’s Choice prizes.
The Judges’ Choice Award went to Squires for their outstanding and popular extract-brew spiced IPA while their kit-brew Belgian wit was awarded second place. Joint third place went to Van Der Beaumont for their extract chocolate stout and extract red ale entries. They were followed closely by Ó Murchú Brew’s bitter and the wheat beer entry of debutant team Killer’s Brew.
Despite the packed schedule, it must be said that the event ran smoothly, thanks to the much work behind the scenes from a multitude of people. The judges' input was insightful and balanced, while the People's Choice vote exercised the attendees. The staff and management of Na Fianna were more than helpful to us during the planning stages, and on the night of the 28th. When all the necessary duties were fulfilled, and the venue had been emptied, it was on to the Porterhouse North around the corner for some late drinks for all present.
A big thank you must be extended to all the teams who entered into the OghamBrew Festival 2008 and provided a very tasty and eclectic menu for all attendees on the night. The line-up for the event was:
Ór, Nephin Pistoleros, The Vicious Chickens, The Chemical Brothers, Killer's Brew, Déja Brew, Team Thrush, Longford Leader, Go Faster Juice, Carney Craft Brewers, Van Der Beaumont, Squires, D'Ól, Ó Murchú Brew, Bitches' Brew.
We sincerely hope that all teams enjoyed the event, and will enter the next OghamBrew Festival.