I started kits and malt extract in 1983 to save money for a mortgage. Once I got the house I tried all grain brewing in an effort to avoid that extract taste you used to always get. It appealed to my technical bent as my background is electronics and my work is mainly about temperature control and gas and liquid flows. A contact in a big brewery offered me some old controllers that they were scrapping. I modified fridges and brew bins; I struggled with mash temp control and sparging/boiling methods. I was storing my equipment in a spare bedroom where I fermented, and brewed in the kitchen, much to my wife's displeasure. I went from bottling to kegging in Cornelius kegs.
So how did it all start? Well, with those first few drinks, back in the 70s, growing up in Sussex, roughly 50 miles south of London.
At somewhere about 17 years of age, my mates and I, like most teenagers, were mad to get into the pub. One of the few that would serve us was an old fashioned pub, on the outskirts of town. It had 3 bars, a snug (for women), the lounge (carpets and cushions on the chairs) and the public bar (spit and sawdust).
After 8pm few people ventured into the public bar; it was a spot for builders and the like grabbing a pint on their way home from work. This was our spot for a sneaky pint. The landlord would take no nonsense, the only drink he would serve us was Mild, at about 3% alcohol. Ask for a Bitter and you were out, a Lager don’t bother coming back. We were proud as punch thinking we were getting away with something. Of course, in retrospect, he knew our age well and was just enforcing his own ideas of how to introduce youngsters to drinking. A far cry from alco-pops and fat frogs of today.
Fast-forward 25 years and I land permanently in the Emerald Isle. My Irish wife and I talked about it for years, but it wasn’t until the year 2000 we took the plunge.
I hadn't planned it this way, it just happened. A friend had organised for a few of us to go to the NoFitState Circus in Dublin's Docklands on a Friday night. Like any reasonable and civilised man, I suggested we meet up beforehand for a couple of pints. Since most of us were coming straight from work it had to be somewhere that did food, but would allow others to just drink; big enough not to be immediately packed with thirsty office workers; and in the general eastern end of Dublin city centre. My back-up plan was The Long Stone, but Messrs Maguire fitted the bill perfectly.
I have experimented with wheat beers quite a bit and have always ended up with nice, drinkable beer, but the buggers never turn out the way I want them to.
The first time I did a wheat beer, I was trying to do a Wit beer, also known as a Tarwe or Blanche beer. The best known example of this Belgian style of beer would have to be Hoegaarden, but that does not make it the best example, by any stretch of the imagination. Just the only one on the Irish market.
The Bull and Castle, formerly the Castle Inn, is located on Lord Edward Street, just opposite Christ Church Cathedral in the heart of Dublin. The Castle Inn had a long history, but in taking over the old pub, FXB began trying something new in the locality; a Gastropub-style establishment with decent food, a fantastic beer selection and more recently, what may be a first for Dublin, a Beer Hall. I recently met with Geoff Carty, General Manager of The Bull and Castle, to chat about where they are going and what the ethos of this new venture is with respect to craft beers.