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Crafty: Firm thinks outside box by staging virtual beer-brewing competition


Hop to it: Michael Eustace and Bridger Kelleher conducting the competition.
Photo: Eamon Ward

Hop to it: Michael Eustace and Bridger Kelleher conducting the competition. Photo: Eamon Ward

Hop to it: Michael Eustace and Bridger Kelleher conducting the competition. Photo: Eamon Ward

The pandemic may have prevented them from organising a booze-up in a brewery, but one west of Ireland company got creative in organising their annual beer-brewing competition.

Adhering to Covid-19 restrictions, the Clare Food and Drink Fleadh successfully staged the country's first virtual beer-brewing competition.

Organised by Western Herd Brewing and hosted in their family owned bar, McHugh's in Ennis, the competition was due to feature participants and willing judges who would taste the various entries and help decide on the winning brew, which would then be bottled and sold in the bar.

However, things have had to be done differently this year. While the judges tested the various entries during a live Facebook broadcast, beer enthusiasts who had applied for their own pack (which included the four final brews and a marking sheet) were able to taste the beers at home and submit their scores, which would be added to the judges' scores.

"We apply the standard BJCP (Beer Judging Certification Programme) criteria whereby we look at the style of beer brewed and how well the entry reflects this," says brewer co-founder and owner Maeve Sheridan.

"And we try to remain objective instead of selecting the beer which will be the most successful commercially.

"Traditionally, the winner is invited to the brewery to brew their beer on our commercial kit.

"And we then put it on tap in the pub and they bring all their friends in to drink it. But this year we have had to consider the health restrictions and have sent out competition packs, without naming the brewers to keep things fair, so the winning beer will be the best beer."

With more than 50 people viewing online on Friday night, the clear favourite was Saison, brewed by Niall Clinton. The Drogheda-based accountant says he didn't expect his creation to be picked.

"I was really chuffed by the win and actually thought one of the other beers was nicer than mine, so I was a bit shocked by the reaction to Saison," he says.

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"Mine is a farmhouse ale in a French/Belgian style with pepper, banana and clove flavours. It took about five or six hours to brew and then another 14 days for the yeast to do its thing before it was ready for bottling."

While many of the events scheduled for the Clare Food and Drink Fleadh had to be postponed due to the recent restrictions, organisers say they hope to kickstart the event as soon as it is safe to do so.

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