Brewing Blog

Carlow Tours Customized Tours of Ireland

Carlow Tours, Day Trip To Kilkenny

Roz and BiankaOn Saturday I went along to meet Bianka of local tour company who offer customized guided tours in the South East of Ireland.
Today we were visiting Kilkenny Castle, Highbank Orchards (Irelands’ smallest distillery) and the garden village of Leighlinbridge.
We met in Carlow Town where we bundled ourselves into Biankas’ deluxe minibus that can carry up to eight passengers (plus luggage space) and off we set.

First Stop: Kilkenny Castle.

KilkennyOur guide was local historian Peter Kenny who gave us such an insightful and interesting tour of the breathtaking castle, much more information than can be found on the official website! I learnt how to distinguish an old cabinet from a modern one by noting the glass reflection within same (old glass gives a wobbly reflection), that many ladies fainted not because of their corsets necessarily but also because of the oil lamp fumes and lack of ventilation. The decor in the castle is fab-u-lous! It has obviously been restored with much care and consideration, however, as we were not allowed to take photos I cannot show you just how beautiful it is but I would highly recommend a visit!
Anocht cafeWe popped into ‘Anocht’ the Kilkenny Design Centres’ Cafe for a ‘sticky bun’ (as my fella would say)  and coffee. Oh my! #Cakes!! What an array of delightful treats!
Suitably sustained we hopped back onto the minibus for the second part of our day tour – to visit and sample some of the organic ciders and spirits brewed in Irelands’ smallest distillery – Highbank Orchards.

Highbank Orchards – Irelands’ Smallest Distillery

highbank orchardsUpon arrival at Highbank Orchards and to a chorus of ‘we want to go on the train’ we were greeted by Rod and Julie, founders and passionate brewers of ciders, spirits and (soon to launch) gin!
Rod gave us a tour of the grounds explaining how they refuse to use chemicals of any kind on their trees or soil thus enabling nature to look after her own. The natural balance has thus far meant that they don’t have problems with disease or bio attacks – nature simply produces whatever is required to negate any potential problems.
After the tour we met Julie who explained the history of Highbank Orchards and gave us a tasting of their produce. My personal favourite was their ‘Drivers Cider‘ – a non alchoholic cider which was sweet and sparkling,they also offer ‘Proper Cider‘, Medieval (Honeyed) Cider and Highbank Orchard Syrup – something I tasted in sloe brandy cocktails at last years ‘Wild & Slow Dinner’ at MacCreddin in Wicklow – Delicious!
We had a tour of the distillery – all shiny and willy wonka-like and Rod explained how the process works. Then we tasted their latest Spirits which included an Apply “brandy” style Spirit. Definitely one to have in the cabinet for visitors!  Soon to launch is a very interesting gin – however you will have to wait and follow Highbank Orchards to find out more about this!
Highbank Orchards are also the venue for a number of BiaBeag Workshops (Exploring the world of small scale, ethical & local food producers) such as the #RealBread movement – They have an upcoming ‘Meet The Bakers’ event on January 24th – details here >>
The venue is very laid back and relaxing and Julie confirmed that it often resulted in people at these workshops getting really passionate about the subject matter and sharing more than usual as they felt comfortable and at ease.
After Highbank Orchards we headed off for our final stop on the way back to Carlow: Leighlinbridge!

 The Garden Village of Leighlinbridge

LeighlinbridgeLeighlinbridge is only 15 mins from Carlow town on the river Barrow with the oldest working bridge in Europe and a fabulous ruin: The Black Castle. Bianka certainly knows her stuff and will give you an indepth history of the area. There are also a number of gardens which are lovingly catered for by the citizens of the village and have lots of sculptures scattered throughout.
Our day tour with Carlow Tours was a resounding success and one I would highly recommend. It is obvious how passionate Bianka is about her business and Irish heritage in general and we wish her all the best in 2015!

Experience day trips with your personal tour guide. We customise tours to suit your needs. Join us for an unforgettable chauffeur driven tour in our deluxe minibus that can carry up to eight passengers on a range of sight seeing activities.You tell us what you’d like to see or do and we organise the rest. You will be picked up and returned to your accommodation for all our trips and tours. Specialised for groups you will enjoy a really unique experience.

For more information on the customized and tailor made tours offered by Carlow Tours visit their profile page here >>
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Making Elderflower Champagne

My Elderflower Champagne Making Attempt #1

elderflower-bunchesYou may recall that last year I missed my window of opportunity to make elderflower champagne what with college and work, although I did manage to harvest the elderberries later in the year to make elderberry liquor of which I still have half a bottle!
This year life has begun to reach a balance so I have kept an eager eye on my elderflower tree and also on Twitter which is great for reminding me to do stuff!
So it is that today I managed to begin my first batch of elderflower champagne – fingers crossed eh?
I decided to follow Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls’ recipe.
I also researched quite a few different recipes and took some of the readers’ comments and tips into account.
Hopefully as I pass them on here they may help you get creating your very own FREE summer party champagne!

What You need:

  •  A 7 litre bucket min
  • 15 Flowering heads of elderflower
  • pre-mixing4 lemons – juice and grated rind
  • 700g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons White Wine Vinegar – I used Aspalls
  • You may later need A pinch of dried yeast – see below for suggested type of yeast.


  • ingredients-added-togetherI have read many differing views on the best time to pick your elderflowers- morning or later in the afternoon.. but all agree that it must be a warm sunny day – I picked my first batch at around 6pm on a hot afternoon – there were puffs of pollen coming off them as I picked them and as this is what your looking for I considered it a good sign- guess we’ll see..
  • I gently ran my fingernails over the flower stems to detach the flowers from the stem – it took me about an hour and a half so get comfy!
  •  Note that the stems and leaves are toxic – ” Separate the flowers from the stalks, trying to remove as much of the stems as you can (a few are fine, but too many can be toxic).

Since writing this blog I got a top tip from expert forager Fraser Christian who recommended to:”rub the flower heads in a circular motion between cupped hands”.. 
The Recipe and method that I Intend to follow can be found here:
Tips & Suggestions:
From the comments of Recipes Page:

  •  muslin-coveredTo avoid explosions, use strong bottles and strong seals.
  • It’s ok to use coke bottles/supermarket water  bottles – I would pay attention to how strong they feel though-see above.
  • Let the gas out every day
  • Using plastic bottles reduces risk of injury IF a bottle does explode
  • ” The trick is not to over fill them, and then as you are screwing the top on to squash them a little to expel as much air as you can. Then as the secondary fermentation kicks in, it produces co2 which pushes the bottle back into shape and hopeful there is still enough gas to make it fizzy!”
  • Water should be warm to hot(around 40 degreesC) when adding the flower petals
  • Leave some space in the bottle for the gas – Let out the gas DAILY!!!
  • “If unsure, just stick to plastic…but not Robinson bottles…they are not designed to take pressure…try fizzy drinks bottles which are designed to hold liquids under pressure.”
  • After 2 days, if no foam/bubbles at all then add the yeast as described.
  •  With the yeast, it’s probably best to stir the potion every day and that should keep from getting mouldy.
  • baker’s yeast should work fine
  • champagne yeast made the drink very alcoholic
  • Last year I added strawberry cordial which gave good results – much safer to try this way – you can buy good quality cordial from supermarkets and probably get more flavour for your money than buying fresh strawberries. You can also experiment by adding other concoctions when bottling – try adding creme de cassis for a Kir Royale; or white rum if you want to blow your head off.

I suggest you read through the channel 4 comments to get an idea of what other people have experienced, the above are just my favourites 🙂
Here’s to bolly darlings! x

From Grain to Bottle – the Slane Castle Whiskey Walking Tour

From Grain to Bottle – the Slane Castle Whiskey Walking Tour

rock-farm-slaneRock Farm Slane – From Grain to Bottle Walking Whiskey Tour
This is the first season of walking tours on the Slane Castle estate and in celebration this tour will be given by Alexander Mount Charles focussing on the production of whiskey from the barley trials at Rock Farm to the distillery project at Slane Castle for a tasting of Irish whiskeys.
Tour description
This tour is based on a 2 hour walk from the fields of barley at Rock Farm Slane along the historic Slane Bridge and through the beautiful demesne wood along the old main avenue that carriages used to take to Slane Castle.
The tour includes:

  • A tour of the castle, the Slane Castle Distillery project and a professional whiskey tasting.
  • An introduction to whiskey production, barley growing and organic farming.

The tour will be hosted by Alexander Mount Charles organic farmer and distillery owner.
Monday 4th August 2014
5 hour Guided Tour + lunch + whiskey tasting + refreshments
€55 per person (inc VAT)
Departure time: 10am.
Tea and coffee served at Rock Farm Slane Strawbale Farm Office from 9.30am
Tour Length: 2 hour walk, Slane Food Circle lunch at Slane Castle café (45 minutes); followed by 40 minute tour of castle and 1 hour distillery project tour and whiskey tasting.
Total time: 5 hours including lunch
Route: Easy, small ascent and only one road crossing across Slane Bridge.
Alternative return route: via historic village of Slane including a recommended visit to the Slane Craft Collective and the various tea rooms in Slane.
Discounts are available on overnight accommodation at Rock Farm’s boutique campsite