14 August 2015

In the belly of the beast

Until Derek pointed it out, I hadn't noticed that 2015 was the third year in a row that the Beoir AGM was held in the south-east. As the chief organiser of the annual think-in-with-the-drink-in I should have given greater consideration to matters geographic but Wexford Town has a new brewpub - Simon Lambert and Sons, home of the YellowBelly brewery - helmed by caskmeister and sometime otter Mr Declan Nixon, so I needed an excuse to get down there and I figured nobody else would object too much. As a bonus, the train journey from Dublin to Wexford, it turns out, is one of the prettiest Ireland has to offer.

The meeting itself took place in The Sky and the Ground, a charming bric-à-brac-filled pub with a lovely sunny upper deck. Lamberts' is just up the street and their beer is on sale here so I started with a YellowBelly Blackcurrant Ale. It arrived very cold, a clear pale amber colour. The fruit has been added judiciously, meaning you don't get a sticky purple glass of fizzy Ribena. Instead it's a light-bodied ale, not a million miles from Irish red or English keg bitter, with subtle malt biscuit notes and then just a gentle jolt of tartness from the blackcurrants. Not massively complex but perfectly serviceable as a summer thirst-quencher. After it I switched to YellowBelly Hefeweissbier, a crisp rather than fruity example of the style, hazy orange in colour with a little bit of pith and some worrying headachey high-alcohol heat. It's sinkable enough when cold but it's possibly a bit dangerous for session drinking.

With business concluded it was time to go over to Lamberts' for lunch and a looksee at the brewery. At first glance, Simon Lambert & Sons is a very normal high street pub: a narrow saloon bar at the front and wider covered smoking area out back. It all goes a bit Wayne Manor once you go through the staff-only door at the back. Nicky Lambert told us they excavated a lot of the basement themselves, by hand. The brewery was also acquired piece by piece from wherever pumps and tanks and electrical components are got, and put together as they needed. Those pretty wooden-clad vessels are old dairy tanks covered in spare bits of the flooring from upstairs. Though it's in a space not much bigger than a domestic garage it has the only laboratory I've seen in an Irish microbrewery and uses all liquid yeast, a different strain for every beer. The conditioning tanks are on wheels and, when the contents are ready, they're simply trundled around to the keg cellar and hooked directly to the taps. The attention to detail at YellowBelly is jaw-dropping.

The beer engine upstairs was pouring YellowBelly Belgian Stout which almost everyone started with, presumably for fear of it running out, which it didn't. There's a crazy amount of complexity in this ultra-smooth black draught: tart dark fruits and sweetly tannic raisins, bookended by sweeter cherries and drier roasted grains. I only had a half pint, but every sip introduced something different. And yet it's silky enough to swig down, if you wanted to. A Sweet Stout was also available, on keg: a simple beer, this, with lots of caramel and a typical milk stout lactose tang.

Turning to the hoppy side of the house, YellowBelly Summer Ale is 4.5% ABV and an amber gold colour. It's in the English golden ale vernacular with those floral, orangey hop flavours. It's perhaps a little overly sharp for my liking, but refreshing nonetheless. In lieu of an IPA there was a Strong Pale Ale, 6.1% ABV strong. This is rose-gold in colour and tastes very caramelly, with the hops adding to the heavy sweetness with a strong perfume effect, plus lots of sticky herbal resins. The weighty, earthy character is accentuated by a thick, greasy, ambergris-like texture. Tough going, but rescued somewhat by a dry finish. And I don't know what went wrong with the Amber Ale but the brewers saw fit to pump in a vast amount of dry hops right before tapping it. As a result it has a massive raw, green hop aroma, hugely peppery and spicy, and that comes through in the flavour as well -- red peppercorns and five-spice say my notes. There's a dry acidic finish but none of the harsh grassiness you tend to get in beers that are dry-hopped overly long. I still couldn't help wondering what the 3.9% ABV base beer tastes like because there's barely a trace left of what it was.

And my beer of the day, the one I bought a growler of to chug on the journey home, was YellowBelly Lager. I guess this is one of those beers that brewpubs feel they have to make, for the unadventurous punter, and brewpub lager tends not to be the most inspiring of sub-styles. But this hazy gold 4.1% ABV conversation beer is perfection. The flavour performs very simple tasks, presenting a perfect crisp and clean golden malt base garnished with just a light lemony lacing, but the finished product is cleansing, quenching, magnificently fresh and immensely sinkable. I suspect the other beers come and go with the whims of their creator but this really deserves to be a permanent fixture, and a reference point for every other brewpub proprietor in the country.

The locals are very fortunate to have an operation like YellowBelly on their doorstep. A big thanks to everyone at Lamberts' and The Sky and the Ground for hosting us. It's well worth the daytrip, Dublin folk.


  1. Andrew Rathband9:18 am

    Good post. Realised half way through that there is still a brewpub in Newfoundland called the exact same name, http://www.yellowbellybrewery.com

    Could be odd if either brewery wants to expand in the future...

    1. I think it's high time the beer industry abandoned the notion that all the companies and products have to have unique names.

    2. Andrew Rathband10:30 am

      Interesting idea. The brewery I work for currently has a problem with a contract brewer using an almost identical name and confusing our customers (serious problem for us) and I know of several legal challenges that are on going. For us its a problem as we get blamed for their bad quality as they are contracting from everywhere they can with mixed results. Its unprofessional and has had us debating legal action but to pay for that would be at the cost of infrastructure and wages for new employees.

      In this case its unlikely either will be found in each others markets so it should be ok but if you are starting a brewery you should at least google the name you are planning on using or Im hoping they at least emailed each other and explained the case.

    3. I reckon if your customers are confused you're not doing your marketing properly.

    4. Andrew Rathband10:53 am

      We are a keg only brewery in Norway (illegal to advertise) so marketing is quite difficult. We are saving up for a canning line but it will cost a fortune (literally). So we could either slug it out in the courts and pay for that or save up and get cans. We plan to do the latter. The only people who are confused is our neighbours and people in the town we live in. Our accounts know who we are what we do so its more preying on tourists and is hurting our future sales when we do go to cans.

      However why should we make a new marketing campaign, legal fees and do all that? It would cost 3000 pounds to even lodge a challenge. Thats a half a new tank. If your planning on spending money on logos, artwork, t shirts and all the accesories then you should at least check your not copying someone else either intentionally or accidentally.

      Basic homework. Google, check and if there is some confusion check.

    5. Fair point about marketing in Norway: I recognise that that's a particularly difficult circumstance. Though if the problem is because another company is using the same placename as you do then there's an easy solution there: never use a placename in a business name. The name will never be fully yours.

    6. Andrew Rathband11:27 am

      True, and our circumstances are unusual. The town name for the brewery was the naive idea that no one else would start a brewery in such a small town - the owners maybe should have looked at Masham. Bokmål to nynorsk also makes the slight difference in names more difficult as does the fact our town name is also a brand of water... So I don't really count our case. Annoying as it is.

      My only point is that if you plan on spending the money check and save the confusion. It makes life easier for everyone. If your dropping that amount of cash its your duty to check. Unique - maybe not needed but at least make sure its not identical to something else or could cause confusion. There is a lot of names and it doesnt have to make sense. Two of our names are in a rare dialect we just get a lot of mispronunciations.

      As I said it shouldnt be a problem for those two. Also the head brewer at the one in Newfoundland brewed in Ireland so he probably already knows about it. Thanks for the chat always an interesting blog.

    7. Cheers, and I hope you can get your issue sorted.

    8. Mick O'Hanlon1:10 pm

      Just on the Yellow Belly company name..... Wexford people are known as Yellowbwllies because of the County GAA colours, which is Purple and Gold of which a band of Gold(yellow) runs round the mid-riff of the team strip, hench the term Yellow Belly. I'm from Wexford myself and love going into Simons when i'm home, have done for the last 20 or so years, staff and service are second to none.

    9. Brian Duffin3:17 pm

      There were quite strong links between Wexford and Newfoundland historically, and having looked at the Newfie lads' website, it it was I suspected, they've named their brewery after the Wexfordmen who settled there (http://www.yellowbellybrewery.com/the-history/). Fair play to them. They even do a wheat ale called "Wexford Wheat". Perhaps a transatlantic collaboration is in order?

    10. "Bellies Across The Ocean."

  2. That's a lot of spare flooring. But at least I know what to do with all mine now, once I get the old dairy equipment from my farmer neighbour :P