So, I’m a huge craft beer fan. I was never one to go for just the conventional beers you’d find on tap in our bars and on sale by the case full in off-licences and supermarkets. Fair enough they have the longevity, they’ve been around for what seems like for ever but I always looked for something different.
The last few years have seen an explosion of the craft beer market across the whole of Ireland with the opening of breweries and microbreweries left, right and centre. I was even tempted to clear out the shed and give it a go myself!
It seems that longevity, whilst still desirable, is no longer the aim. Experimentation is the new buzz word in the beer industry.
Tesco Northern Ireland has joined this craft craze and is continuing to show their commitment to local producers while doing so. A new addition to their shelves is a range from the folks at Hillstown Brewery; located along with the Hillstown Farm Shop in the County Antrim Hills, between Randalstown and Ahoghill – “out in the sticks” as a Belfast boy like myself would put it.
From Cows to Craft
I think that ‘opportunistic’ is a fair enough way to describe the story of how Hillstown farm ended up producing what is an excellent range of craft beers. It started with the rearing of beer-fed cattle. Yes, the beer was made to give to the cows! The beer-fed beef would then be sold in their Farm Shop. Such was the demand for the beef that 500 litres of beer were being produced daily just to keep the cows happy. And cows are a tough crowd to please so the beer had to be good, very good…
So the upscaling of the beer production brought the opportunity to join the craft beer movement which was in full flow at the time back in 2014.
True to the form of other craft breweries, Hillstown have dubbed each of their beers with a weird and wonderful name. They have also very recently re-branded and are looking pretty snazzy (I was glad to hear this as I wasn’t too fussed on the old branding if I’m honest). They also have a new website which is looking equally impressive.
Onto the beers themselves then and a both long and broad selection. Here are a few to look out for:
The Lager: Drunken Donkey
A great crowd pleaser of a lager. A little less bite and more mellow than some others, with plenty going on flavour-wise whilst remaining well balanced. If you’re just starting out in the world of craft beer, this is a good place to do so.
The Red Ale: Massey
Named after the famous tractor, and why on earth not? A smooth and slightly sweet red ale with a punchy little aftertaste.
The Wheat Beer: Goat’s Butt
I’m a big wheat beer fan, appreciating the likes of Hoegaarden & Franziskaner. The Belgians and Germans do them well, no doubt. Hillstown have had a go themselves and have clearly hit the spot, with the Goat’s Butt winning numerous accolades including recognition at the Great Taste Awards. Complex flavours with spices and fruits make this one for the avid craft beer drinker.
The IPA: Squealing Pig
Ah my favourite beer, the IPA. This one is bold as brass (as it should be). Packed with hops and fruity citrus flavour. But here’s the thing: this IPA is 4.5%! So whilst it’s not up with the big hitters when it comes to ABV, the Squealing Pig is sessionable (love that word) and a great tasting IPA.
The Stout: Horny Bull
Speaking of big hitters, this is a serious slap in the face, seven percent stout. Big flavours of coffee and chocolate (both of which I love). Serve this bold bovine at room temperature.
There’s even more than this, including some special collaborations to look out for. A fantastic and varied range covering pretty much all palates. Next time you’re in Tesco getting your baby wipes, biscuits and brioche rolls (a little taste of our shopping list) you can head to the beers and grab a few Hillstown and enjoy, responsibly of course.