O’Briens Wine Beer & Spirits
33 Spruce Avenue Stillorgan Industrial Park Co. Dublin Ireland Ireland
+353 1 2931040 online@obrienswine.ie Monday-Saturday 10:30am-10pm Sunday 12:30am-10pm

Monthly Archives: January 2017

  • Malt - How, What & Why

    There are four primary ingredients in beer, water, yeast, hops and grains (mostly malted barley). There may be a love affair with hops at the moment but without grain there is no beer. The sugars in grains provide the food for the yeast to convert to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The ‘grain bill’ or ‘malt bill’, the mix of grains used to make a beer, determines the colour of the beer and also gives beer flavour and mouthfeel.

    Many different grains can be used in brewing such as wheat, oats, rye, rice or corn, however barley is by far the most used. Barley is a high starch grain, the more starch in the grain the better for brewing. However, starch in barley isn’t easily converted into alcohol through fermentation so barley is malted, this converts the starch into the sugars needed to feed the yeast.

    Germinating barley

    The process of malting involves seeping the barley in water which encourages germination, the sprouting of a root. The sprouting barley is moved to the malting floor or vessel where it is allowed to grow for four or five days while the moisture content and temperature is carefully controlled. The germination process converts the starch in the grain to simpler sugars needed for fermentation. The process of germination is then stopped by gently drying the grain in a kiln.

    Traditional malting floor

    Varying the temperature at the kilning stage determines the colour and flavour profile of the malt. Basically, the higher the temperature the darker the malt becomes, this results in more complex sugars that don’t ferment, if you have tasted a caramel sweetness in a beer it is the result of these unfermented sugars. Roasting the malt has a huge effect on the flavour of the resulting beer, the darker the malt the darker the resulting beer, this marks the difference between a crystal-clear pilsner and an opaque stout. You don’t need a lot of these darker malts to achieve the desired flavour in brewing as a high percentage of the grain bill will be ‘base malt’ which provides the majority of the required fermentable sugars. A smaller amount of ‘speciality malt’ or other grains can be added to achieve a desired flavour or texture.

    It is down to malt and the time and skill involved in making its many variations that we have such a vast array of beer styles.

    A style for all palates

  • Game On (But not for much longer!)


    With the open season for wild game birds drawing to a close at the end of the month, I thought now would be a good time to take a last look at some wine pairings, before these delicious seasonal delights disappear from our tables until the Autumn.

    The received wisdom dictates that I should be recommending well-aged bottles of fine red Burgundy and Northern Rhône Syrah, and while I’m not going to stray too far from these classic choices, I find that the subtleties of these aged wines can sometimes be swamped by the rich flavours on the plate, and that brighter, fresher Pinot Noirs and Syrahs such as the wines below make for much more successful pairing, particularly with wild duck or woodpigeon.

    Leyda winemaker, Viviana Navarrete is a committed cool-climate specialist.

    From the cool climate Leyda Valley in Chile, Leyda Pinot Noir Reserva is a benchmark example of bright, pure, rounded new world Pinot Noir, show-casing red berry fruit together with some spice and floral notes, refreshing acidity, and soft, well-rounded tannins.

    Urlar Owner, Angus Thompson, patiently waits for his Pinot Noir to mature to perfection in expensive French Oak barrels.

    From a family owned and run estate in New Zealand's hotshot Pinot Noir zone Gladstone, Urlar is a stunning organic Pinot Noir.  It has the richness, depth of fruit and savoury complexity of a Burgundy 1er Cru, but all delivered at a fraction of the price!

    Ferraton's organically-managed Syrah vineyards in Crozes-Hermitage.

    For those seeking a lighter style of Syrah, Ferraton Crozes-Hermitage is one of the most elegant Syrahs we sell; this is not a big chunky wine, it is mid weight with cool black fruit and subtle oak. To fully experience this wine at its best, open it up and let it breathe for an hour before enjoying.

    Of course, it’s not just red wines that work well, the lighter meats of pheasant & partridge are exceptionally well-suited to rich white wines such as a Mosel Riesling or an oaked New-World Chardonnay.

    Selbach QBA is a classic off-dry Mosel Riesling, which boasts a lovely floral nose, on the palate, it is light in alcohol but also rich with delicious ripe red apple and juicy lime fruit making it an ideal choice, particularly with pheasant.

    Made in a rich full-bodied and generous style, Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay has beautifully integrated tropical flavours such as pineapple, mango and papaya and citrus that delicately intertwine with notes of vanilla and honey on the long, lingering finish.

  • Hops for all

    Hops are one of the four basic ingredients in beer, the others being water, barley and yeast. Of course brewers are free to use a varied array of ingredients but these four are the backbone of brewing. Hops, however, are a relatively new ingredient in beer making.

    The oldest evidence of brewing goes back to approximately 9,000 years ago but it is not until the year 822 that we get the first evidence of hops being used for beer production. This comes from the Abbot of a Benedictine monastery near Amiens in France writing a list of rules governing how the abbey should be run and the how the collection of sufficient wild hops should be arranged. It is not for another 300 years before we see any evidence of widespread use of hops with commercial hop cultivation beginning in Germany in the 12th and 13th century. Before hops were adopted, many other plants were used to flavour and bitter beer such as bog myrtle or yarrow. Beers bittered and flavoured in this way was usually called gruit.

    Brewing circa 1425

    Hops are the flower of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus, these hop flowers or ‘cones’ have waxy lupulin glands that contain the alpha acids responsible for the bitterness, required to offset the sweetness of malt sugars, and oils that lends all those wonderful hoppy aromas and flavours to beer. The reason hops took so long to become a key ingredient in beer production is probably due to the time and energy required to bring these characters out in the beer. In general hops are boiled for an hour or more for this to occur.

    Cross section of a hop cone

    The amount of bitterness hops impart to the finished beer is determined by when they are added to the boil. Hops added at the start of the boil will impart more bitterness while those added at the end of the process will add more flavour and aroma. The amount of bitterness imparted and the aroma profile is also massively determined by the climate and the variety. Different hops varieties produce different flavour and aromas. From the traditional ‘noble hops’ of central Europe with their floral and slightly peppery or spicy character to new world hops with intense citrus, pine needle and grapefruit. At the turn of the last century there were perhaps a dozen different hop varieties in widespread use, now there are well over a hundred. In the 20th century growers and institutions began experimenting with breeding programs to create new varieties of hops (the now ubiquitous Cascade hop was first released in 1971) and now each year seems to bring with it a new hop. Hops have come along way.

    Trellises of hops plants

  • A Taxing Issue


    Here in Ireland we have some of the highest rates of alcohol excise duty in the EU, and while I’m sure my colleagues in the beer and spirits departments will have plenty of issue with the excise rates being 2.5 times the European average, it is wine that is the most disproportionally taxed.

    At €3.19 per bottle, we are out on our own at the top of the table and pay more than 12% higher than the 2nd placed UK, in fact we pay over a staggering 550% more than the European average, and don’t forget that this duty along with all other components of the retail price is subject to VAT at 23%.

    While we are on the subject of disproportionality, another inequity worth noting is that as the excise is applied as a flat charge rather than as a percentage rate, the effect on a wine’s price/quality ratio is most keenly felt at lower price points.

    As you can see from the table above, if you were to buy a bottle of wine at €9, only 53c of this would have been spent on producing the wine, however if you were take home a €12 bottle (a 33% increase) the value of the wine in the bottle shoots up to €1.80 (a 340% increase!), it really does pay to trade up by even by just a couple of Euro.

    I have chosen four wines below (all in and around the €12 mark) which I think perfectly illustrate the excellent quality that is available if you if you make the relatively short move from €9/€10.

    For my first choice, I thought I should start with the nation’s favourite wine style; The Horologist is a textbook Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, dry yet intensely aromatic; think gooseberry, lime & passionfruit, with a zesty citrus hit to the finish. Of course, this wine is delicious on its own but if you pair it with a Thai Green Curry, you are in for a real treat.

    Sun-drenched organic Chardonnay vines at the Languedoc's Domaine Begude.

    Made exclusively with organically-grown fruit, Domaine Begude 'le Bel Ange' is an un-oaked Chardonnay which is cut with a dash of Chenin Blanc for extra zestiness and minerality. Crisp and fresh, with delicate flavours of pear and apple and with a long mineral finish, this wine works equally well as a stylish aperitif or as a fantastic partner to lighter

    The Andes provide a breath-taking backdrop for Norton's Malbec vines.

    With fruit grown at high-altitude in the foothills of the Andes and a label inspired by the street artists or 'Porteños' of Buenos Aires, Porteño is a juicier, more approachable take on Malbec from leading producer Norton.  Great with or without food, this works really well with meaty pasta dishes such as Tagliatelle al Ragù.    

    Made with grapes grown at Gérard Bertrand’s stunning Hospitalet estate in the Languedoc but using the traditional Southern-Rhône GSM blend, Cap Insula is very-much like a super-charged Côtes du Rhône! Jam-packed with ripe bramble fruit and left wonderfully smooth by eight month’s ageing in oak. To see this wine at its best, serve it alongside some char-grilled lamb cutlets.

  • A glass for every beer

    As I looked in my cupboard recently I realised my collection of beer glass must have doubled in the last year alone with glasses of all shapes and sizes now fighting for space on the shelf. Do I have too many? Perhaps, but then each glass has unique characteristics that can alter the aroma and taste of a beer. The shape of the glass will alter the creation of the head on a beer and also the release of aromas. The visual aspect should not be overlooked either, presenting a good beer in a good glass adds a visual pleasure before you drink. However, with so many different types it can be hard to choose which to use. With that here is a rundown of some of the more popular type and the styles best suited to them.


    Pint, Pilsner, Flute, Tulip, Snifter (L-R)

    Pint Glass

    The most common of glasses now comes in a myriad varieties. In general, the tick walls help keep the beer cool and the wide rim allows aromas to be released easily so, in general, a good all-rounder for ales and lagers.


    Pilsner Glass

    As the name implies these are great for pilsners or light lagers. These tall thin glasses are designed to showcase the colour and clarity of the beer and the narrow shape helps to maintain the head.



    Just as with sparkling wine the long and narrow shape of the glass helps maintain the carbonation while releasing the more volatile aromas. This makes it a great choice for Belgian lambics and darker lagers.



    Traditionally used for brandy, snifter glasses are becoming increasing popular for craft beers. The bowl like shape helps trap the volatile aromas of the beer making them great for bigger, bolder Belgian beers along with heavy dark beers like imperial stouts and strong ales. They can also work really well with big hoppy beers like double or triple IPAs.



    The curved top of these glasses helps promote good head retention while also trapping aroma in the bowl and focusing then toward the nose. These qualities make it great for big Belgian beers like Quadrupels or strong ales but also great for big bodied hoppy beers like IPA.

    Great beer deserves a great glass

    Teku glasses

    These are quickly becoming the go to for the craft beer aficionado. Designed to be a ‘catch all’ glass that can enhance all the flavours and aromas in any style of beer. They certainly enhance the look of your beer and do a great job of enhancing the flavour of bigger bolder beers but perhaps not for lighter ales or lagers.


    When it comes down to it the best glass is somewhat subjective and perhaps it’s the one you are holding in your hand. Whatever you drink your beer in this weekend I hope you enjoy it.

  • Great Budget wines for January


    As we all tighten our belts and wait desperately for the first pay-cheque of the new year to hit the bank account, the need for budget wines is more pressing now than at any other time of the year.

    With this in mind, and to help to get you through to the end of the month, I have picked out below four great budget wines for January.

    In terms of quality/price ratio these delicious and interesting wines all punch way above their weight and more importantly they won’t break the bank.

    Pasqua are among the leading family-owned wineries in Italy, so it should come as no surprise that theirs is an excellent Pinot Grigio. Aromas of ripe pear and white peach are perfectly balanced with the zesty finish.

    Atlantic Vineyards is made from specially selected blocks of Sauvignon Blanc in Durbanville, which benefit from cooling sea breezes.


    From a sixth generation family-owned winery in the Durbanville region of South Africa, Atlantic Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc is packed with everything this racy variety has to offer: Gooseberries, juicy tropical fruit, and zesty lime flavours, from the first sip until the last drop in the glass. Distinctive aromas support a wonderfully balanced palate, showing purity of ripe fruit, coupled with a refreshing finish.

    On to the reds with a really interesting Tempranillo/Petit Verdot blend from central Spain, whose name Más Buscados, meaning Most Wanted, was inspired by three growers, all called Paco, whose grapes were "most wanted" for their quality and concentration. This high-quality fruit has yielded a wine which is succulent, juicy and bursting with ripe blackberry and spice character.

    Gérard Bertrand's Stunning Hospitalet Estate

    For my last choice, I am going with a with a wine made by the multi-award winning winemaker, Gérard Bertrand. This Malbec is jam-packed with flavours of ripe bramble fruit, vanilla, cocoa and dark plum, all wrapped in a silk-smooth mouthfeel.

    All of these wines are available online or in our stores nationwide, and the Atlantic Vineyards Sauvignon & Mas Buscados will be on the tasting tables in our stores right through the weekend.

  • New Year, New Beer

    2016 was a really interesting year in the craft beer world with new breweries opening and new approaches to brewing. Craft beer drinkers now have more choices than ever before and with the new year beginning we are set for even more diversification and innovation in craft brewing. So then, time to jot down a few predictions for the year ahead.

    IPA continues to dominate the market but we can expect to see more variations on the theme. The New England style IPA sweep across America in 2016 so expect to see more of it on these shores this year. “NEIPA” is intentionally hazy or cloudy lending more softness and weight to the mouthfeel while the hops used favour softer tropical fruit with very little bitterness to the finish.

    Love them or hate them, fruit infused IPAs were hugely popular in 2016,  Fourpure Juicebox and Brewdog Elvis Juice were two stand outs. I don’t see this changing for 2017, except for a wider array of fruits used.

    Expect to be drinking some of these in your IPA this year

    Sour beers have taken a foothold in Ireland and this can only grow in 2017 as more people get turned on to the potential these offer. More diverse beer styles and flavour profiles will go sour this year as brewers push the envelope of what a sour beer is. You can also expect to see a few more hoppy sour beers this year, check out the limited edition Wayfarer from Eight Degrees to see how good these can be. In general I think we will see more experimentation with fermentation, from new styles of kettle sours to more experimental approaches with wild yeasts, Brett and barrel fermentation.

    Will 2017 be the year of barrel aging?

    Which brings us on to barrel aging. Whiskey barrel aged stouts have been sought after for the last few years but expect to see more experimentation here again this year both with styles of beers and types of barrels, I think we could certainly see some more wine barrel aged beers this year. 2016 saw a huge increase in the amount of barrel aged beers produced in Ireland, White Hag have launched an ambitious barrel aging program along with some great releases from the likes of Eight Degrees with their Dukes of Burgundy and Dot Brew with barrel aged Champagne beer and Roasted oat stout, to name just two. These great home grown beers together with some truly excellent imports from our American and British cousins show how exciting and innovating barrel aged beers can be.

    Well there are a few of my predictions for 2017, for what they are worth. What I can predict with certainty is that I will be surprised by the inventiveness of brewers this year as we are set for a broader range of styles in craft brewing than ever before. Roll on 2017.

    2017 could see some new sub-styles join the list

  • Fireside Treats

    With all the festivities done and dusted for another year, I for one am looking forward to spending some quiet nights in by the fire with a warming glass of red over the next few weeks.

    If that sounds appealing to you too, read on as we have put together a stunning set of winter reds, all of which we are offering as part of a buy 1 bottle get 2nd bottle Half Price promotion (Mix & Match).

    I have highlighted below just a few of my favourites, but to see the full selection you can click here, or even better, why not drop into one of our 33 stores nationwide.

    Laurent and Neasa Miquel on a visit to our offices earlier this year.

    Les Beauchamps is a deliciously pure-fruited Syrah, produced in the heart of the Languedoc by award-winning winemaker Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa. As you can see from his note below from The Irish Mail on Sunday, wine critic Tom Doorley was quite taken by it.

    “100% Syrah from the Languedoc, outstandingly ripe and smooth, given long, cool fermentation in stainless steel, so very modern with a touch of New World ease to it, this stuff is a real crowd pleaser.”

    Duorum's steeply terraced vineyards in the upper Douro valley.

    Duorum Colheita is the result of collaboration between two of the most renowned winemakers in Portugal. Always a favourite with the critics, this 2014 vintage comes highly recommended by Wine Enthusiast Magazine

    “Balanced, ripe and structured, this is a fine reflection of the minerality that comes from Douro vineyards. It has firm tannins along with perfumed berry fruit and bright acidity.”

    To close out my selection I have chosen Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Zinfandel, as for me the Zinfandel grape variety comes about as close as you can get to being a perfect red wine for these winter months, but you don’t have to just take my word for it, as this 2013 vintage also comes highly recommended by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

    “This full-bodied wine combines spicy aromas with deep fruit flavours like plum and blackberry, with a fresh, juicy texture…..This wine has enough heft to pair well with a lot of savoury and meaty dishes.”

  • The Best of a Vintage Year


    O’Briens Wines - Best Multiple Wine Chain

    On January 1st every year the Irish drinks industry are waiting with bated breath to see the results of The Sunday Business Post’s Annual Gold Star Awards. The awards are meticulously presided over by Tomás Clancy, who is tireless in his efforts to judge and award the best of the Irish wine and spirits industry from the previous year  http://bit.ly/2hNPuxv

    The awards are eagerly anticipated as they “celebrate outstanding class-leading, triumphs and breakthroughs in the wine and spirit business throughout Ireland.”

    Comprehensive in their scope the awards cover Best Fine Wine Merchants, Best Sommelier, Best Spirit Innovation and Best Restaurant Wine List to name a few of the numerous categories.

    We are joyous to report that we have been awarded three of these coveted categories: Best Multiple Chain, Best Wine Website and Best French Specialist Drinks Outlet.

    As the “Irish wine bedrock of excellence” we are especially pleased that our hard working store teams have been recognised thus “their …highly motivated, perennially enthusiastic staff are a deep delight”.

    Well done to all winners and runners up and thank you to The Sunday Business Post and Tomás for their continued support of our industry.

    O’Briens Wines - Best Multiple Wine Chain

    “Irish wine lovers enjoy a level of shared passion, meticulous display, exciting changes in stock, monthly spine-chilling sale selections and just plain excitement and passion in store that does not exist elsewhere”

    Tomás Clancy, Sunday Business Post






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