With craft beer still seeing a growth in popularity, Niamh O’Regan looks at the newcomers bible to craft beer, Slainte, and talks to one of its writers Kristin Jensen
It is mistakenly thought that craft beer in Ireland is having a moment. Coconut water is having a moment. Craft beer on the other hand just happens to be becoming more well-known than it used to be and it is safe to say it is here to stay. There has been a steady growth in the support for Irish craft beer over the past few years and with the number of micro-breweries growing all the time, variety is only increasing.
Two people supporting the growth of Irish craft beer and cider are Kristin Jensen and Caroline Hennessy, with their new book Sláinte: A complete guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider. Jensen is a freelance editor, specialising in cookery books, while Hennessy is a journalist and broadcaster. Both have a passion for craft beer and quality produce, are avid food bloggers (both formed the Irish Food Bloggers’ Association) and both experienced beer epiphanies while far away from home.
For Hennessy it was while living in New Zealand where local beer was rife in all pubs. While for Jensen, it was in 2011 while at a food festival; she was given a taste of a stout that didn’t come from behind St. James’s Gate.
Jensen, coming from the US (where food travels much further to reach your plate), fell in love with the immediacy of Irish food and how you could know exactly where your food was coming from, she wanted to share and promote what she found to be “amazing ingredients and raw materials”. Once the craft brewing scene began, the next questions were “What can we eat with this? How do we find out more about this?” and so, “Sláinte was born.”
As Jensen explains books like this had been published in the US and the UK before, “but they were, naturally, written around UK craft beers and US Craft beers and their cheeses so there was a need to do the same thing here.” “It’s the kind of book we would have wanted to read when we first started exploring this whole new world of craft beer and food matching” said Jensen. The book, while geared toward the new craft beer drinker, does have something for everyone and has been extremely well received by brewers themselves, something which is hugely important to Jensen and Hennessy; the positive reviews from beer bloggers and brewers was for them the highest praise
The book is composed of four sections, all detailing how you can enjoy and appreciate craft beer and cider. The first section is all about the making of beer and cider from the ingredients and how that can vary throughout the brewing process, and takes up a good half of the book. The title does not lie - a complete guide should have everything in it, and this does. The detail is phenomenal (did you know that there are 21 different varieties of hops and at least 33 different beer styles?).
The second and third sections both relate to beer and food working together; how to match beer to cheese and other foods, and how to use beer in cooking. Steak and Guinness pie is definitely a winner, but what about cider sorbet or pale ale cookies? The final section is about the where and when of festivals and events that celebrate craft beer. It has been suggested that the book will date quickly because of the ever-increasing number of craft breweries in the country, however, as Jensen points out, “the only thing that may change significantly would be the breweries and beers recommended”, the rest is good solid permanent information.
Craft beer may have a tendency to be slightly more expensive than the more industrial and commercially produced beers but it is worth the quality. “You’re getting a top of the line product for maybe three or four euros” explains Jensen. Jensen’s advice for students getting into craft beer is to “have fun with experimenting” . As she points out “if you want a good bottle of wine you’ll pay upwards of €12 and if you don’t like it, you’re quite out of pocket.” With a bottle of craft beer however, if you don’t like it, your loss is considerably less and it may suggest that perhaps an entire style of beer doesn’t suit you and you can easily move on to the next type on the shelf.
Sláinte is available nationwide and Kristin Jensen and Caroline Hennessy have food blogs at edibleireland.com and bibliocook.com, respectively.