This week we were lucky enough to attend the Salty Dog Virtual Beer Tasting event with Ards Brewing.
The Bangor Beer Club at The Salty Dog Hotel and Bistro has been one of our favourite haunts for some time now. It’s an intimate and welcoming showcase of local brewers who are eager to talk about their brews with a captive audience.
Hosted in the Salty Dog Hotel and Bistro in Bangor, County Down it gives fans of craft and real ale a chance to talk to the brewers directly responsible for the beers they love and a chance to discover new local brews.
The venue is two Victorian townhouses lovingly transformed into beautiful boutique hotel looking out over the Bangor Marina.
As you can imagine the last year has been a struggle for many businesses and being able to host or attend beer tastings has been something of an impossibility given the current restrictions.
Being an outspoken promoter of local brews the Salty Dog have decided to put on their Beer Club in the avenue of virtual attendance events through Zoom. The latest in these Brewer showcase events was Ards Brewing.
Who are Ards Brewing ?
For both fans and brewers in this part of the world the name Ards Brewing carries with it a tremendous weight, not only for the quality and craftmanship of their work but for the man behind that reputation.
Charles Ballantyne has been brewing under the name Ards Brewing in Greyabbey for the last 10 years. Over that time he has earned a reputation for his enthusiasm and positivity for the craft. His name has come up in conversation with most local brewers in the area as being an approachable and “happy to help” chap.
The man is also painfully modest about his craft, something that has been evident any time i’ve had the honour of meeting him, but this is only secondary to his warmth and eagerness to discuss, educate and share his passion. The March 2021 Beer Tasting @ Salty Dog was no exception.
Beer Tasting @ Salty Dog
Given the current restrictions attendees were invited to collect their beer tasting packs from the physical venue (adhering to current safety protocols of course).
The pack contained a fantastic selection of Salty Dog Nibbles and a choice of some of Ards Brewings finest output.
Nibbles included Chorizo and Red Wine Honey Tapas, Mini Lamb Koftas with Cumin Yogurt and an absolutely show-stopping Parmesan Arancini with Tomato Chutney. They also included Spiced Almonds and Peanuts to get snacking on.
We’ll get into the beers to taste for this event in due course but the tasting order for the event was :
- Citra Pale Ale
- Olicana Single Hop Pale Ale
- Fresh Hop Pale Ale
- Wakatu Single Hop Pale Ale
Citra Pale Ale
Kicking off the event was the Citra Pale Ale. The attendees remained transfixed on the man pouring his own creation with a respectful silence. I must say i was honestly humbled as he took a long slow sip and smacked his lips in enjoyment. This is probably Ards Brewings most popular and widely accessible ale – fruity and tropical, the taste changes mildly depending on its life in the bottle.
As our fantastic host for the evening, Ken Sharp rightly pointed out – this is “Sunshine in a bottle“.
Citra was one of Charles’ earliest beers, maybe even his second Pale ale, maybe his third beer to ever sell. Ards Brewing Citra has been on the go for 9 years, which he recounts was only ever brewed when he could obtain the hops (which were in short supply when he began brewing it).
Citra hops come from Pacific Northwest. They are grown and controlled under license – it’s a registered hop brand. As Charles points out “Everyone is trying to find the next citra, no other hop out there has the same flavour“
Citra Brand is a registered trademark used with HBC 394 cv special aroma hop variety developed by the Hop Breeding Company (a joint venture between John I. Haas, Inc. and Select Botanicals Group, LLC) and funded by Sierra Nevada, Deschutes, and Widmer Brothers breweries.It was released in 2007. Citra Brand hops have fairly high alpha acids and total oil contents with a low percentage of cohumulone content. Citra Brand hops imparts citrus (grapefruit) and tropical fruit characters to beer.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hop_varieties
Olicana Pale Ale
Ards Brewing Olicana is next up. Olicana is a relatively new hop grown in the UK by Charles Faram hop development programme and seemed the most suitable name given the flavour.
The profile is slightly harsher after the Citra. It’s still fruity but with a malty aftertaste. The carbonation is high but in no way makes it any less moreish.
Talking about his beer labels, Charles states that this label was inspired by his own private watercolour hobby, of which he is as modest but equally enthusiastic.
Oilcana® is from the Charles Faram Hop development programme. It brings tropical flavours to the UK. It is highly tolerant of wilt, but displays some susceptibility to powdery mildew.https://www.britishhops.org.uk/varieties/olicana/
Fresh Hop Pale Ale
On the label it states “harvest” and that is exactly what this brew represents. Fresh hop is a blend of Charles’ own hops and his neighbors garden hops. He describes it as the culmination of a community of hop growers.
Charles informs us that he used to keep bees and received a Fuggles hop plant from a fellow beekeeper. This plant went on to be subdivided and fathered many more hop plants for Ards Brewing over the years.
Fresh Hop Pale Ale has a grassy, almost earthy pale ale flavour. On the nose it’s got a subtle mustiness associated with the style and on the taste it veers towards a wheat profile.
Classic English aroma hop which is known as Styrian Goldings in Europe and is a parent of many New World hops such as Cascade, Centennial and Willamette. This variety was noticed growing “wild” in the hop garden of George Stace Moore’s house at Horsmonden in Kent, England in 1861. In 1875 it was commercialised by Richard Fuggle who lived in the village of Brenchley (not far from Horsmonden) and hence it was called Fuggle. The aroma is earthier and less sweet than Goldings. Substitutes: Willamette.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hop_varieties
Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged Stout
On the nose this barrel-aged stout gives off a beautiful whiskey aroma and pours dark with a nice thin caramel foam on the glass. This stout is all body and it’s glorious! The 8.4% ABV packs an absolute punch but as a whiskey fan it tastes fantastic. Definitely the highlight of the night.
The Stout is the right amounts of chocolate and Christmas pudding, lots of roasted barley and that whiskey burn from being aged in a Bushmills Whiskey barrel for 12 months.
Charles states he’s “never put as much roasted barley into a stout” in his life and it really comes through complimented by New Zealand Pacifica hops.
Released 1994 by New Zealand Hort Research Centre. Previously known as the Pacific Hallertau, this New Zealand hop has a soft, yet solid bittering quality. Its aroma is described as orange marmalade, citrus and some floral qualities.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hop_varieties
Mystery Bottle from the vault : Wakatu Single Hop Pale Ale
Consulting his notes Charles informs us this bottle from the vault was brewed on 8th November 2014. I’ve been to a tasting with Charles before and got a bottle from this batch back in June 2019 so i was excited to revisit it.
Wakatu gives hints of lime and vanilla, there’s a cider whiff with an accompanying crisp apple taste. The brew is clear as a bell and displays a colour of typical of the style.
Wakatu Hops are dual purpose hop used for flavouring and bittering beer, which are grown in Nelson, New Zealand. They received their name from the incorrect spelling of Whakatu, the Maori name for Nelson. Being bred from the Hallertau hop, they are often semi-correctly referred to as Hallertau hops. Wakatu and Hallertau hops are often interchangeable in beer recipes due to their close ties.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakatu_Hops
This was a fantastic event and great value for £20.
The man himself is a pioneer when it comes to local brewing and this was a very special event for any beer fan. As stated, within the local brewing community there’s a tremendous amount of respect for this man. A large part of this is his absolute devotion to the craft and the beers he produces but more than that it is his personality and willingness to help others in the brewing tradition.
Even on the Zoom call Charles shared advice for any prospective brewers – “Record everything” – showing us his brewing notes – “You don’t know the sugars in the grain until you brew with it. Taste all the time. You learn that from tasting over the years“.
I’m excited for the next event from Bangor Beer Club @ Salty Dog Hotel and Bistro, but i’m more excited to get my hands on the Citra barrel-aged Double IPA which Charles is currently brewing for this Christmas!