It all started with a beer, as many things do, or to be honest probably more like a surfeit of beer. I can't remember if it was Birmingham Beer Bash, London Craft Beer Festival or a random night in the Euston Tap that first got us interested in the idea. I can't even remember who it was that I started the discussion with. It may have been Colin at Buxton or Joe who was then at Magic Rock. All I know is that from that day any Ulsterman/woman in the beer industry was sounded out about the possibility of all getting together and doing a collaboration brew.
We did some shout-outs on Twitter and while we did not pick up too many more members, we did have a suggestion for a beer from Emma Stump. A Veda Bread Porter. For those who do not know about Veda bread here is the first line of the Wiki entry:
Veda bread is a malted bread sold in Northern Ireland. It is a small, caramel-coloured loaf with a very soft consistency when fresh. Since it is only available in Northern Ireland, many people rely on their relatives to send them Veda to other parts of Ireland and the UK.
It is marvellous slathered in loads of cold butter and more importantly we thought we could make a decent concept for a beer.
Herding Cats and Sourcing Bread
The next job was to try to get a date for the brewday... We first started talking about this back in 2013 and finally agreed to brew the beer in the Summer of 2016... talk about herding cats! Unfortunately neither Colin nor Joe made it to the brewday for assorted reasons but we had a healthy representation from the UK craft beer scene arrive at Weird Beard to brew the beer.
We approached the the major manufacturers of Veda bread to see if they would sell us some bread to both put in the mash and eat on the day. Neither of them were interested. As it says above, Veda is only sold in Northern Ireland so we had to rely on our relatives to send over the bread. And what a job they did, as we ended up with 50 loaves plus some for on-the-day consumption. Big shout-out to the Mums and Dads who came through with the goods!
One other crazy idea we had was to age the beer in some Bushmills barrels. A bit like Veda bread, on the mainland these barrels were rather hard to get your hands on. However the great guys from NS Craft Beers sorted out a contact with a new distillery that had opened in Derry, The Quiet Man.
The guys at The Quiet Man sent us enough fresh bourbon barrels to barrel-age the whole batch and when the beer was packaged we sent the barrels back so that they could finish a whiskey in the beer-soaked barrels. We very much look forward to trying this.
The Naming of the Beer
We bounced a few ideas for the name around. We thought of taking the piss out of the troubles and the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland, but Weird Beard had already done that with Suspect Device that they brewed with Farmageddon.
The thought then came round to Ulster myths and ancient history. There is a story in the Ulster Cycle called Mesca Ulad. It is a story of Ulster warriors going to two feasts in one night, instead of choosing one, and ending up careering drunkenly around Ireland. The translation of Mesca Ulad is The Intoxication of the Ulstermen. We found this to be fairly apt.
Launching the Beer
What better way to launch this project than for the Ulster brewers to head home for a bender. We are brewing a beer with Boundary Brewery on Friday 21st April before doing an Event in Belfast that night and then another in Derry on the Saturday.
- Friday 21st April: The Woodworkers, Belfast 6pm. Meet the brewers and try Mesca Ulad and assorted beers from the contributing breweries.
- Saturday 22nd April: The Walled City Brewery, Derry 2pm. Meet the brewers and distillers and try Mesca Ulad and assorted beers from the contributing breweries.
- Sunday 23rd April: Weird Beard Brew Co, London 12 noon. Mainland UK Launch of the beer.
So who was involved with the project?
On the Brewday:
- Gregg Irwin, co-founder of Weird Beard Brew Co
- Chris Taylor, brewer at Weird Beard Brew Co
- Ryan McLean, founder/brewer at Bullfinch Brewery
- Jonathan Hamilton, brewer at Beavertown
- Chris Heaney, head of production at Partizan Brewing
- Russell Lee, brewer at Brick Brewery
- Colin Stronge, head brewer at Buxton Brewery
- Jan Rogers, owner of Marble brewery
- Joe Ince, brewer at Marble brewery
- Russell Erskine, brewer at Brewdog
If you are from Ulster, in the beer industry outside the province, and are interested in getting involved, then get in touch. Best bet is to contact me @dredpenguin on twitter.
We hope to continue to have get-togethers and brewdays going forward.