Showing posts with label Craft Beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Craft Beer. Show all posts

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lough Gill Brewery (and Meadery!). Focus on quality and consistency.

Lough Gill Brewery (and Meadery!)
Focus on quality and consistency.


It’s a Friday evening and I am sitting in a classy new bar, Anderson’s, on the banks of the Garavogue in Sligo, on an ale "pilgrimage".

Back in the 1800s, Anderson’s Ale was the most popular beer in Connacht and the family owned three breweries in the province, one of them housed in this very building. The story makes my pint of Anderson’s Ale all the tastier!

The new Anderson’s Ale is produced by a new family micro brewery, the Lough Gill. And, that morning, James Ward told me that they  (he and wife Valerie) went back to the region’s roots to brew a traditional Irish ale that is their interpretation of what was originally produced. “It opened the door for us.”
Anderson's, once a brewery, now a smart pub

While Lough Gill’s initial beer looked to the past, their production now looks to the future and James sees that future in cans and in America. Their beers are geared towards the US market and their eye-catching can labels are designed by a US artist. Indeed, their brewer Tony Wickham is a Lakota Sioux from Montana.

You get the drift once you sample their Mac Nutty, a nut brown ale (with toasted macadamia nuts), similar to Newcastle Brown Ale that you may have seen in a one pint bottle. Mac Nutty is one of their regular beers and exported to the US where Lough Gill is established in New York State and Massachusetts.

The water, and the name, come from nearby Lough Gill and that was also the name of the old brewery. It is not the first brewery for James and wife Valerie. Their initial venture, the White Hag, was the first brewery in Sligo for the best part of a century. After a couple of years, he sold it to its investor group and launched Lough Gill, with Anderson’s Ale, just last November.



Now they make quite an array of beers, lots of bold flavours and tastes here, including their Round the Clock stout; recommended for breakfast as it has Flahavan’s Oatmeal included!

They mill everything on site here. “We crack it open, it’s fresh. Our focus is on quality and consistency.” Irish malts are used for all their basic beers while specially malts are sourced in Belgium.

He took us through the process. By the way, this is a steam operated brewery, a better boil, better beer. After the usual mash tun, kettle, the more unusual whirlpool, the cooling, it goes into the tank and fresh yeast is added. “We use live yeast, makes for a better product. When we make our Imperial Coffee Oatmeal Stout, the yeast goes crazy. At 11%, this stout is the strongest in Ireland.”
In Lough Gill with James (left) and brewer Tony (right)

Their four core beers are: the Mac Nutty nut brown ale, the Round the Clock stout, the Heinoweiser IPA, and the Thieving Bastards Pale ale; some of the names are a finger up to the bigger brands. The stout and the brown ale are both exported. In addition, there is the Rebel Stout Series, the Irish Punch Up Series (which has started with a  barley wine), and the Irish Wild Atlantic series (sours).

“Sour is huge in the US. We have a sour wheat beer, a Wild Rosé Ale, an Imperial Peach Sour and a Cherry sour is coming soon.” And coming soon too will be their Mead.

Didn't know they had a Meadery here when I arrived but enjoyed a taste from the tank and can confirm that Tony’s Mead is a very different take indeed. James told me that it is the oldest drink in the world, “made by women and the drink of legends”. Tony has made mead in the states where it is quite popular. And James reckons that the far east, especially Japan and China, will prove likely markets.

Amazing energy and innovation here. Must be in that Lough Gill water. Maybe in some other local liquid. Best of luck to the team here as they take Sligo brewing on to the world stage.

* That same evening, Lough Gill was awarded Best New Sligo Business 2017. James: “We have yet to reach our 1st anniversary brew day and we are extremely delighted to receive this award at such an early stage in our business.” Great to get honoured in your home town.

See also: Strandhill Food Festival
Sligo Cafés

Mescan’s Belgian Beers from Croagh Patrick. Strong. Caveat Emptor!

Mescan’s Belgian Beers from Croagh Patrick.
Strong. Caveat Emptor!


I’ve been enjoying the beers from Mayo’s Mescan Brewery for a while now and their Saison has emerged as my favourite. Met up with Cillian O’Moran, one half of the team, last week and he told me that it is also a favourite in the brewery.

A saison-al tip:  I just came across this quote from Garrett Oliver, author and brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery:....the Belgian farmhouse saison style tends to add sharper bitterness, often alongside peppery notes. These beers make great matches for tangy fresh goats cheeses, and can be a great way to start off a cheese and beer tasting.

It wasn't the best of times to visit the very small Mescan operation as Cillian and his Flemish partner Bart were busy preparing for their annual Octobertfest at Westport House and that was where we chatted in the Autumn sunshine. Bart is the guy with the engineering skills, a very handy asset in a small-scale operation. They have been buddies for 20 years, both vets.

They admit on their Facebook that it all began as a rebellion “against our day jobs as veterinarians..we were feeling depressed about all the on-call in our job and the lack of time to pursue our other interests. We talked about what else we would like to do with our lives and pretty soon the conversation got around to beer. We love beer, especially Belgian beer”. 


As you may have guessed, Mescan make Belgian style beers. “We only make beer that interests us,“ said Cillian, “Beers that we like and find interesting. So no IPA, no Irish Red Ale. It is against our philosophy to follow a popular trend.”

That doesn't mean they don’t make popular beers! Their Blond was the first they brought out and has become a firm favourite with the public.

They also make some strong beers. I had tasted two recently, the Extra and The Tripel. We had a little chat about the two and I said the Tripel was my favourite of the two. “Interesting,” said Cillian. 

I think he would have been more pleased had I picked the Extra. This was an effort to make a high alcohol beer without too much fruit and there were some differences in the production. They started it cool, kept it chilled and then allowed a slow rise in temperature before a rapid rise towards the end of the process. Worth getting a bottle of each to compare. Might do the same myself, again!

“Seasonal is not a huge thing for us but we did a Kreik last year and there are still a few bottles around.” No sour cherries this year but they have now found a new source and you could well see another Kreik next year.

But a new beer is on the cards for Christmas. “We have tested a small trial brew and both of us were extremely taken with it. If the 2,000 litre batch is as good, then it may well become a regular.”

“We’re almost like the Galagapos Island of craft brewing, operating in an enclave of our own. No time for net-working!” But that may change as Cillian is winding down his regular job as a vet to go full-time in the brewery.

“I intend to work full-time but we’ll have to increase sales to make that doable. The small scale suits us. We are not building empires. I don't want to spend days in the office, not cut out for it. Small and natural is our way and that's the way we like it.” And it looks as if their punters like it that way too.

Mescan Beers:
Westport Blond (5.5%);
Westport White (5.0%);
Westporter Stout (5.0%);
Westport Saison (6.2%);
Westport Red Tripel (8.5%);
Westport Extra (9.3%).

Mescan beers, delicious and distinctive, are all bottle conditioned, so not available on draught. Keep up to date with their Facebook page here.

And where did that Mescan name come from? It’s named after St Patrick’s right hand man and personal brewer. They say that Mescan’s brews facilitated audiences with the chieftains when Patrick went out on his conversion missions!

And one more thing about these beers, these mostly strong beers. The bottles carry a warning for lovers: “Our beer adds to the desire but may take away from the performance”. Caveat emptor. 



Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Taste of the Week. Mescan Westport Saison

Taste of the Week
Mescan Westport Saison

This is a Belgian style beer, brewed near Westport, and is our Taste of the Week. It is the kind of beer that, once it hits the palate, makes you take notice. You may also want to note that it has an ABV of 6.2%.

I came across it in Westport a few months back and so I didn't hesitate to buy it and three companions, including a lovely white, when I saw them in Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork, the other day. They are not the cheapest, this 330ml bottle for instance, is priced at €3.95. 

The Westport Saison is a great one to cut the thirst, is more fizzy, with clove and citrus notes. Very well balanced too and you don't really notice the high alcohol. But do sip rather than gulp!

Saison beer is a Belgian style brewed, in the good old days, for seasonal workers. Reckon I'd appreciate one (or two) after a hard day’s labour or even after an idle day.

Mescan, by the way, was St Patrick’s brewer and no doubt the odd conversion was facilitated by a jug of his brew. The bottle conditioned beer is still cloudy! 


Their Westport white is superb. And I also have their Red Tripel and Westport Extra to try.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Four brewers: "What we're doing now!" Superb Food at Malt & Music Festival.

Four brewers: "What we're doing now!"
Superb Food at Malt & Music Festival.
Colm, Eoin, Claire, Phil, and Michael

The Malt and Music Festival at Ballymaloe had its inaugural outing at the weekend. A few great nights were enjoyed. I’m told. Not a night owl these times so I turned up on Sunday afternoon to enjoy some beer, some food and eine kleine Tagmusik!*

Amazing how that Big Shed has been transformed, again. The things they use! Hanging (and flashing) high up in front of the stage was, believe it or not, a Honda 50. If you had one of those in its heyday, you'd get a lady, an ex-worker and now guide at the Arigna Mines once told me!

It was about lunch time when we arrived and we were spoiled for choice. One stall, Buena Vida Taco, made out of surfboards, caught my eye. They were also trumpeting their Crazy Bastard sauce. The Baja Fish Taco was our pick here: crispy battered haddock, pickled red onion, Mexican slaw, fresh coriander and chipotle aioli. Plus the saucy sauce, of course!

Quite a bite. Yet there was better to come, from Gubbeen. Their Reuben contained Pastrami, Emmental cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, and mustard. No rush job either. A superb sandwich, sandwich of the year maybe! No shortage of beers around the place but we didn't travel very far for ours, enjoying a glass of the Cotton Ball’s Indian Summer and one of the Cascade.

Eoin Lynch of the Cotton Ball Brewing Company was one of the four speakers in the Drinks Theatre in mid afternoon; the others were Claire Dalton of Dungarvan, Phil Cullen of Mountain Man and Michael Cowan of Manor Brewing (Wicklow). Colm McCan asked the questions and kept the flow going.

Claire told us about the family effort that led to Dungarvan getting off the ground. So what are they doing now? Well, their latest is “a sunny day beer” called Turning Tide. Light of body, Turning Tide, a lemon wheat beer, is the perfect accompaniment to a summery day, whether beach or BBQ! Moules Frites anyone?

Taco!
Eoin Lynch gave up his job and had some sleepless night after setting up the Cotton Ball Brewing in the family pub in 2013. But it developed quickly, started with 800 litres, now at 2,500 litres. Less sleepless nights now. He had the Indian Summer on show, a seasonal that was so good they couldn't let it go. It is a light hybrid beer (elements of both ale and lager), notes of citrus and pineapple and it was well received in Ballymaloe.

Michael Cowan of Mont said they are a dedicated lager brewery. “With the very soft Wicklow water we have, our super-premium lager is better than the main stream piss and we are trying to improve lager’s image with a big concentration on packaging.”

He surprised us with a very dark lager called Black is the New Orange. It includes chocolate malt and orange and is clean and dry; good finish too. And he introduced Bigger than Ben Hur, a 9.2% Imperial IPA, with “a hopping regime of biblical proportions”! Pretty well balanced though, despite that big ABV. Shows that Mont do make more than lager.

May not look much. But this Reuben is the greatest!
Like the Cotton Ball, Phil and his wife started Mountain Man in 2013. He also told us that one of their core beers, that Hairy Goat, could well have reached the shelves as the Itchy Cow!

We got to taste his latest, the Vincent Van Coff (the name the result of a competition). What was the secret ingredient? Not too many detected the aroma but quite a few got the flavour of… coconut! It is a red ale with vanilla, chocolate and coffee. The point Phil was making was that the ability to recognise aromas and flavours can vary from person to person. “I didn't get the coconut…people starting telling me about it.. So, if you don't get it, you’re not on your own!”

As you gather, this was a rather informal session. And all the better and more enjoyable for it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Taste of the Week. Cascade by Cotton Ball Brewing

Taste of the Week
Cascade by Cotton Ball Brewing
Cascade-ing at Cork Summer Show
A lovely pint from Brian.



Cascade is a relatively new addition to the Cotton Ball Brewing Company’s  portfolio and I made its acquaintance at the Cork Summer Show at the weekend. It’s a beauty and our Taste of the Week.

It is a well balanced celebration of the hops of the same name, a single hop beer with terrific flavour, slightly spicy too but with flavour galore and the ABV is just 3.8%. Well done guys, a superb Pale Ale for the summer sessions and indeed any session.


There is a picture of Humphrey Lynch, the original owner of the Cotton Ball and grandfather of current owner Jack, on the brewery's bottles. His is a fascinating story and includes fighting in the American Civil War and dealing in cotton (hence the name for the pub he bought on his return to Ireland). More here.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

5 Gluten Free Beers from 9 White Deer

5 Gluten Free Beers from 9 White Deer

Good news this week as Ballyvourney craft-brewers 9 White Deer launch Europe’s first full range of Gluten Free-Beer. The Stag Saor range features a Red Ale, a Pale Ale, an IPA, a Kölsch and a Stout.

So what’s a Kölsch? This is the beer of Cologne in Germany; Kölsch means “local to Cologne” (according to Beer FAQ) and the name is protected and that is why the Ballyvourney beer is labelled Kölsch style. Like its German inspiration, this Stag Saor light beer is cold lagered. With its gentle hops and malt character, it is easy-drinking, full flavoured with fruity hints and a crisp and lager style character.

I loved the Red Ale for its depth of flavour and texture and, with its likeness (in flavour) to stout. Good too with food. 

Like the others, their Pale Ale is vegan free and brewed with “love”. Easy to love too with its light body, aromas and moderate hop flavours. Lots of new age hops in the IPA. Hop usage is late in the boil so giving big flavours and aromas without major bitterness. Well balanced and quaffable.

The Saor Stout though is perhaps my favourite of the five. This is described as a double chocolate and Madagascan vanilla stout, rich and luxurious. You must try this chocolate “block” from the West Cork Gaeltacht; it is distinctive and delicious.

Don O'Leary
For a chance to meet the founders and sample the new Stag Saor gluten-free range, drop in to O’Brien’s Off Licence, Beacon South Quarter, Dublin on Thursday 2nd March between 12 noon and 8pm or Matson’s, Cooney's Lane, Grange, Douglas Co. Cork on Friday 3rd March between 12 noon and 8pm.

9 White Deer was founded in 2014 by former marine engineer, Gordon Lucey, and respected publican Don O’Leary (who runs the famous Mills Inn pub). The brewery initially offered a core range of four beers. Within the company’s first year, Don was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, which essentially determined the direction for the business.


Don O’Leary recalls: “At first the timing seemed terrible, we had just opened a craft brewery and I identified as gluten intolerant! However, the development of Stag Saor has changed everything for the business.  It prompted us to research the market and see how limited the beer offering is for those with gluten intolerance. There have been a very small number of gluten-free lagers and pale ales developed in Ireland over the last two years but, with options still very limited, we identified an opportunity to create a full range of gluten-free beers, which also taste really good,”.
  
Co-founder Gordon Lucey began brewing at home in 1999 and has since become a qualified brewer.  He said, “We are determined to lead the way in breaking new ground for brewing in Ireland. It was critical to us that our gluten-free range, not only met the gluten-free requirements but also tasted great. Each batch of the Stag Saor range is independently tested and certified to maintain its excellence and to ensure that it complies with EU regulations of less than 20ppm of gluten. We regularly get the certificates back with less than 5ppm.”
 
Brewer Gordon
9 White Deer launched its first gluten-free product, Saor, in 2015. It received a bronze medal in the 2016 Blas na hEireann awards following a blind taste testing where the judges did not know it was a gluten-free product.

Stag Saor is available nationwide from Classic Drinks and also in Dublin from CBG Wholesale. For a full list of stockists visit www.9whitedeer.ie.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Franciscan Well's Shane Long: Now, we can!

Franciscan Well's Shane Long: Now, we can!


Shane Long at the launch

No shortage of craic in the Franciscan Well pub on the North Mall last week when the local brewer officially launched their new can range in Cork. Three of their favourites, all tried and tested, are available in the new format: Friar Weisse, Chieftain Pale Ale and Ireland’s number one* craft beer Franciscan Well Rebel Red

The announcement marks the first time Franciscan Well, which is brewed in Cork, has canned any of its beers and also the first time that Friar Weisse or Chieftain IPA will be available for purchase in off-licenses.

Founder of Franciscan Well, Shane Long (right): "The decision to move to a canned format reflects the growing trend internationally, whereby more and more craft beers are sold in 330ml can format. This is something that has been prevalent in the U.S. and has proven extremely popular. We are confident this will be the case as we roll out craft in a can for beer-lovers here in Ireland, making our award-winning range of beers even more accessible and readily available.” The new cans also chill quickly and are recyclable.

All brewing and canning will take place at Franciscan Well’s new brewery in Cork City. The brewery opened last year, allowing for operational growth and further expansion for Ireland’s leading craft beer brand, while staying true to Franciscan Well’s proud history and identity as one of Ireland and Cork’s favourite craft beers. The nearby North Mall brew-pub and home of Franciscan Well will be used an innovation centre, while remaining a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

There was a pre-Christmas feel to the bar as we walked in to be welcomed with a choice of cans, of course. Must admit we both picked the Chieftain, a favourite here since it was launched. And later, I switched to draught and again couldn't resist that Chieftain! Next time, though I renewed acquaintance with the wheat beer, Friar Weisse, with is distinctive colour, aroma and flavour. The Friar (left) was one of my early Well favourites and, after the other night, it is going back on my short list.

It wasn't just beer on the night. The place was packed and there was music galore and no shortage of pizza either. Pompeii Pizza have a permanent place here and I saw why when I ordered one of their offerings, with  Chorizo and Mushroom toppings (€11.00). Enjoyed every little bit.

Check out the pizza, the music (including trad sessions), the tours and tastings on the website here. The new cans also chill quickly and are recyclable. And keep up to date on their Facebook place.




*AC Nielsen ROI On-Trade MAT to end August 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Franciscan Well 16th Annual October Beer Festival. Some of the very best!

Franciscan Well October Beer Festival 
Some of the very best!


Is was all that jazz and all that beer too in Cork last weekend. My first outing of the weekend was to the Franciscan Well on North Mall where they had installed a great line-up of top class world beers, quite a few of them “rated amongst the top beers in the world”.

But where to start at this 16th annual October Beer Festival? Hard decision to make when you see some twenty or more taps in front of you. And that was just outside. Many more inside, including their own excellent beers. And they also introduced their own Craftail Bar. This is upstairs and is called the Stave and Chime and the cocktails are based mainly on Jameson whiskey and Franciscan beers.

But back to the outdoor heated beer tent where a decision had been made for our opening duo: Moinette Bio and Nicotto. The Nicotto (6%) is a Japanese style beer made by the Barcelona Beer Company, made with Sorachi (a hop of Japanese origin) and also includes green tea, jasmine and tangerine peel. A really superb beer, clean and fresh.

The Moinette Bio (7.5%) is, as you’ve probably guessed, an organic beer, really well balanced between mellowness, fruitiness and bitterness. This well struck combination is a real thirst quencher, more mellow than the Nicotto, another clean beer that finishes with a hint of clove.

Two good ones to start and the next pair, Rodenbach Caractere Rouge and Biere de Miel, continued the very high standard. The Rodenbach (7%) was possibly the stand out beer. It is billed as a red/brown sour and it is sour but also packs amazing fruitiness. The beer is macerated with fresh cherries, raspberries ad cranberries and, after that, is matured in oak barrels. Rodenbach have had a great deal of practice as the brewery was established in 1836.

The Biere de Miel (8%) is a honey saison. Don't let the honey put you iff. You’ll catch a pleasant whiff of it in the aromas and a delicate presence on the palate but this is a well balanced refreshing dry beer, again some clove on the finish. All good so far!

There were beers there from the UK, Germany, Spain (our 1st one), and the US, but we were mainly on the Belgians and that was the case with the next two. One was the St Bernardus ABT 12 and the other the Houblon Chouffe.

The Barnardus (10%) is a quadrupel, full of complex flavours, great fruit and with a superb finish. It is regarded as one of the best beers in the world and would put many a wine to shame. In this context, quadrupel means it is stronger than a tripel which is stronger than a duppel!

As it happens our Houblon (9%) is a tripel IPA and another very good one. I must say, the beer descriptions on the Franciscan Well leaflet were pretty much spot-on and I agreed one hundred per cent with their take on this well balanced tripel: big malty body, distinct dryness, and expressive estery fruitiness.


And to finish? I had been thinking about two from the dark side until tempted by a cocktail from upstairs: the well named O’Sullivan’s Sour. O’Sullivan was the chieftain that gave the land to the Franciscan monks back in the day and, of course, the Chieftain Pale Ale is in the lovely mix. It is made with Beefeater London Dry Gin, St Germain elderflower liqueur, freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice, grenadine syrup, and topped off with the IPA. Colourful and delightful, a lovely end to a very interesting and rewarding session indeed.



Friday, October 7, 2016

If Any Beer Can, Franciscan Well Can!



If Any Beer Can, Franciscan Well Can!
Ireland’s favourite craft beer now available in can

During last weekend’s Dingle Food Festival, I called into the craft beer tent, at the back of Geaney's Bar in Main Street, last Saturday afternoon and was immediately at home as the first stall was that of the Franciscan Well. They were showing their new cans, three of my favourite beers all wrapped up and looking good and shiny.


But I delayed testing the cans as they also had the beers on tap and we enjoyed a Rebel Red (by now a veteran, a veteran that has stood the test of time!) and Chieftain IPA. By the way, I noted the Rebel Red was very popular in Dick Mack's pub during the previous evening. The Rebel and the Chieftain are now available in cans along with the Friar Weisse. The cans will be sold in retailers and off-licences across Ireland, with selected bars also stocking the products.

The announcement marks the first time Franciscan Well, which is brewed in Cork, has canned any of its beers and also the first time that Friar Weisse or Chieftain IPA will be available for purchase in off-licenses.

Acknowledging the rising consumer demand for delicious, flavoursome craft beer in a canned format, founder of Franciscan Well, Shane Long, has spear-headed the move which demonstrates the progressive and innovative thinking which has underlined the success of the Cork-based brewery over the past 18 years.

Commenting on the launch, Shanesaid: “This is a very exciting development for Franciscan Well. Taste and quality are among our core beliefs and we always prioritise ways to ensure that these core traits are present in the beer we create. The decision to move to a canned format reflects the growing trend internationally, whereby more and more craft beers are sold in 330ml can format. This is something that has been prevalent in the U.S. and has proven extremely popular. We are confident this will be the case as we roll out craft in a can for beer-lovers here in Ireland, making our award-winning range of beers even more accessible and readily available.”

All brewing and canning will take place at Franciscan Well’s new brewery in Cork City. The brewery opened last year, allowing for operational growth and further expansion for Ireland’s leading craft beer brand, while staying true to Franciscan Well’s proud history and identity as one of Ireland and Cork’s favourite craft beers. The nearby North Mall brew-pub and home of Franciscan Well will be used an innovation centre, while remaining a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

This decision from the award-winning Cork Brewery is in keeping with internationally recognized best practice for freshness and taste, with cans providing superior product packaging quality and recyclability.
Yes. We can.

The introduction of the Franciscan Well can range also highlights Franciscan Well’s commitment to offering fans a more accessible and convenient means to enjoy the award-winning range in the comfort of their own homes. They protect and preserve the taste of the beer, which is considered a telling feature by the Franciscan Well brewers. They are also lightweight and portable, meaning they are easier for consumers to enjoy in more places and for bars and off licences to display. The new cans also chill quickly and are recyclable.

“We are very excited about this latest innovation for Franciscan Well, coming as it does less than a year after the opening of our new brewery in Cork,” said Shane Long. “Since its introduction, craft beer in a can has proven extremely popular with consumers. It is a very handy, portable way of consuming the beer and one that preserves the taste better than any other. We are delighted to be able to offer consumers the chance to enjoy our award winning beers in an increasingly popular format in the comfort of their own home.”

In addition to the launch of its all new canned beer offering, Franciscan Well has also introduced a newly redesigned brand logo.

Shane continued: “The new logo more clearly reflects the provenance of the brand and its roots in Cork. The new identity and logo retains the strength of the previous logo, while emphasizing that this is very firmly an Irish beer which was established in Cork and which is still brewed there. We believe that the heritage of Franciscan Well is extremely important and it is something we are very proud of.

“The new brand logo positions Franciscan Well as an authentic Craft brewery from Cork, Ireland. The archway is a new devise that has been created to highlight a strong sense of place, that is welcoming and which captures the unrivalled heritage associated with the brewery founding site along with the welcoming aspect of our range of beers.”



*AC Nielsen ROI On-Trade MAT to end August 2016

Post based on press release


Sunday, September 4, 2016

On Whiskey Trail in Mayo. Visit to the Connacht Distillery

On Whiskey Trail in Mayo
Visit to the new Connacht Distillery
Connacht Distillery
Last weekend, after a drive from Donegal, we made it just  in time to take the 12.30pm tour of the new Connacht Distillery in Ballina, County Mayo. What else would you be doing on a Sunday morning!

Aside from a spanking new distillery, you need water, barley and yeast to make whiskey. Connacht get their water, clean water, from Lough Conn and Lough Cullen. Lots of iron and calcium in the water so it has to be demineralised before being used in the distilling process.

The malted barley, having come through the milling stage, meets up with the warmed water in the boiler tank. This liquid-y mix is called the mash and is put into the mash tun, another tank.  The sugar, from the barley, dissolves and is drawn off through the bottom of the mash tun. The resulting liquid is called 'wort'. Lautering is the next process, in the third tank (the Lauter tun), and here the mash is separated into the clear liquid wort and the residual grain.
Now we are on to the three wash vats, all stainless steel. Here, the yeast is added and begins to act on the sugar in the wort, turning it into alcohol over a period of two to four days. This wash is low in alcohol, much the same as that of wine.

Our guide now enthusiastically points to their three gleaming stills, which were made in Victoria, Canada. They have different necks which influence character and texture etc. The first tank is called Wash; the alcohol evaporates up the neck and leaves this tank at about 20% abv.

On then to the Feint tank where the process is repeated and the alcohol increases, this time to about 35%. The final, the third, tank is called the Spirit. Irish whiskeys are traditionally triple distilled. When the Spirit has done its work, the liquid, still clear (no colour) has an abv of about 70%!
Ballina last Sunday (28.08.16)
You’ve heard of flying winemakers. Well Connacht’s distiller Rob runs two distilleries in Pennsylvania and flies over regularly to Ballina. He also sources the oak casks which are charred and impart flavour and colour and in which the Connacht whiskey will be matured. The casks are made in Kentucky and are ex-Bourbon. All bottling is done here, all by hand.

Like many new distilleries, Connacht makes some white spirits to get the cash flow going while waiting the mandatory three years (and a day) for the whiskey. They are planning their gin and there will be some interesting botanicals included! The Poitin was due to be bottled the day after our visit but we did get a taste of their smooth Straw Boys Vodka. This wheat based drink is good and smooth, with a hint of  pepper in the aftertaste. The Straw Boys are a Mayo tradition, a sign of luck if they turn up at your wedding. “They are all about fun and getting the party going!”.

You will have to wait until 2019 to taste their own whiskey but in the meantime, they have been putting their own finish to a bought-in whiskey. It is called Spade and Bushel (after the tools of the trade) and is light amber in colour, smooth and sweet, hints of caramel and a “great after dinner drink”. No bother agreeing with that. Be careful with it though. One thing that sets this apart is that it is a cask strength whisky with an abv of 57.5%! It comes in a 37.5cl bottle.
The Straw Boys love a party
 When their own whiskey comes on the market, it will feature a rather special logo, a Celtic Dragon with a bunch of corn stalks in his claw.


There is another distillery starting up in Mayo, the Nephin, named after the county’s famous mountain. This is different. They are creating peated single malts made in a small Mayo village using locally grown barley, locally cut turf and triple distilled in traditional copper pot stills, then matured in unique casks handcrafted in their own cooperage. Must call there the next time!

My base for the night was the Grand National Hotel Ballina. They have a rather large bar and I was disappointed, considering the amount of breweries around the county, that they had no craft beer. Luckily, I spotted a Jameson Whiskey menu on the counter and spent an enjoyable hour or two sampling.


The new Connacht distillery. A new Greenway, from Ballina to Killala, starts alongside it.
The favourite was the Powers John's Lane Release at €9.00 a glass. The drop of water, the only other thing needed, was free! There is an abundance of aromas - don't stick your nose into the glass - just hover above it; it is full bodied, spicy and sweet and has a lingering finish. Think this is my new number one!

And if I can't get it, I’ll go for the Yellow Spot 12 Years Old, another single pot still whiskey, another smooth sweet customer at €9.50 a glass. It is complete from start to long finish with a distinctive sweetness at all stages. Sophisticated and complex they say. And it sure is. Reckon the Mayo distillery, indeed all new distilleries, have a fight on their hands. Perhaps, the best way to go about it is to avoid the direct collision and find your own niche.

Great for us customers though to have the choice!
Beers from the local Reel Deal
Aside from pulling a blank in the Ballina Hotel, craft beers, especially in bottle, were easy enough to find during this quick trip to Donegal Town and Ballina. Kinnegar Brewing and Donegal Brewing were available in The Harbour Restaurant in Quay Street in Donegal. And beers from the same two breweries were enjoyed over in the Village Tavern in Mountcharles. Last call in Donegal was the Olde Castle where the restaurant were offering their own beer called, appropriately, Red Hugh, and brewed in the county.

Ballina had started well enough with a couple of decent beers, the Irish Blonde amber ale and the General Humber French fusion ale, both by Mayo’s Reel Deel and both available in bottle in the upstairs restaurant of the lively Bar Square in Garden Street. And then came the blank in the hotel. The joys of researching. Still the whiskeys were a considerable consolation!
Killala, known to M. Humbert