Thursday, January 26, 2023

Ballykilcavan Beers. The taste of Laois in your glass.

Ballykilcavan beers. 

The taste of Laois in your glass.

The restored mill race and clock on a frosty morning.

Another award for Lisa and David
Since David and wife Lisa set up the brewery business in 2017 - the brewery itself followed a year later - the Ballykilcavan beers have earned quite a reputation in the craft world. We had an online chat with David - a busy man - and you can read about his drive and hard work, the pride in his area and county, a drive and pride shared by Lisa and the younger members of the family. 

Since 1639, Ballykilcavan Farm has been the home of the family; no less than 13 generations have lived and worked here since.  With the current careful stewardship of the land, it looks as if the story will go on and on.

What stands out  about your brewery, your beers? Is there something


David: I think the first thing you notice when you visit the brewery is the

setting - the brewery itself is in a 240 year old stone building, and

the new visitor centre beside it is in the old farm mill house.  In

terms of the beers, one thing we're very proud of is sourcing our own

water, barley and some hops from the farm.  All the beers are brewed

using our own barley, and we make one beer every year where all the

ingredients are sourced from the farm, all from within 400 metres of the


The ever popular Bambrick's Brown Ale, the beer they are best known for, enjoyed all the way from Laois to Lombardy.

Who started the brewery? Who is the current brewer?

David: I started the business along with my wife Lisa back in 2017 and set up

the on-farm brewery in 2018.  In fact, Nigel Oakes, our first head

brewer, physically put the brewery together.  It arrived flat pack in

two shipping containers, and Nigel had a two week job of putting all the

vessels in exactly the right place on the brewery floor and then

connecting up all the pipework.  Nigel retired in 2021, and our new Head

Brewer is Joe O'Driscoll who comes up with all the recipes and runs the


What are your core beers? Which is the favourite of the brewery team?

David: We had a wide range of core beers, probably too wide because trying to keep them all in stock in cans, bottles and kegs is pretty hard for a brewery on the scale that we're at.  We brew a lager, a pale ale, 3 IPAs, a red ale, a brown ale and a stout, along with seasonal and one-off specials.  We're not allowed to have a favourite - it's like asking which of our children is our favourite - but personally I do change my drinking habits over the course of the year: pale ales and the lager in the summer, and the darker beers in the winter.

Cleo, the brewery "guide" and photo bomber!

Any new beers in the pipeline?

David: There are always new special edition beers in the pipeline, but I'm not allowed to tell you what they are until Joe's happy with the recipes! All I can say for now is that there will also be more and different brown ales coming out.

Are you selling mainly in pubs or in off licences. Restaurants maybe?

David: In Ireland, it's mainly what we call small-pack: bottles and cans.

We're starting to get a bit of traction in local pubs, but draught sales

are the hardest part of the market to crack in Ireland.  For export,

it's completely the other way around - almost everything we export is in

kegs, with a few cans going out as well.

This plank for the taproom comes from the Kylebeg Wood on the farm

What’s your typical day like? No shortage of variety?

David: There's no typical day for me, really.  I'm still farming and now I do

the guided tours of the farm and brewery as well as the behind-the-scenes work on the brewery, so it really just depends on the time of year and what we're doing on the farm, or what groups are turning up for a tour.  If we're brewing, I usually start mashing in at 8am before the brewers come in around 9:30 to take over the rest of the brew day, and then it's just a case of keeping all the other plates spinning after that.

Welcome to the tour!

Tell me about one time when things went wrong. How did you learn from that failure? Can you look back and laugh about it now?

David: We roast our own barley here, which is tricky as it doesn't take long at all for barley to go from not roasted enough to being on fire.  One time, we had what we thought was properly roasted barley and brewed a stout with it, but when it was in the fermenter, we realised that it was much too light in colour, so we converted it into a porter and barrel aged it instead, and it went down really well.  The lesson is to double check the roast levels before you end up with a lot of beer that doesn't fit the style you're trying to make.

How do you choose which styles of beer to brew?

David: The first beer we brewed was our Bin Bawn pale ale.  It's the one beer

in the range that is my recipe from my homebrew days, before Joe came in

and showed he was a natural at putting recipes together.  The aim with

it was to make it interesting enough for craft beer drinkers, but not

too overpowering for everyone else, because craft is still only about 3%

of the overall beer market.

How is your beer connected to the local area?

David: I think the main way is in how we use our locally grown ingredients to make the beers.  If you're drinking a beer like our Brickyard red ale, where most of the taste is coming from the malt, that's the taste of Ballykilcavan and Laois right there.  We also like to get involved in the local community as much as possible, so we sponsor the local soccer and GAA teams, and we provide free access to the farm and event space here for local community, arts and schools groups.

Hop pickers in action last October

Water. Hard or soft? Is there much adjusting involved?

David: The water here tastes lovely, but it's off the scale hard.  Even in the

house we can't use it without furring up kettles and washing machines.

All our production water goes through a reverse osmosis (RO) system that

basically converts it to purified water, and then we re-mineralise it

depending on the beer style.  Our thinking is that you can't brew a

lager and a stout, for instance, off the same water supply - you have to

have a water profile that suits each beer.  By starting with the RO

water, we can make sure our water profile perfectly matches the beer

style and then build the malt and hops on top of that.

Our post on 9 White Deer Ballyvourney.

Over the next few weeks we'll be posting about some of the Ballykilcavan beers. For more info, on tours for instance, check out their social media.

Twitter: @Ballykilcavan


Instagram: ballykilcavan


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