Tuesday, March 21, 2023

To produce a pint that doesn’t cost the earth. The aim of the Tom Crean Brewery in Kenmare.

To produce a pint that doesn’t cost the earth. 

The aim of the Tom Crean Brewery in Kenmare.

Gold  and Bronze at Blas for Aileen and Bill (right); also in pic is Artie Clifford (Blas);
gold for 6 Magpies Stout, bronze for 
St. Brigid’s Lager

Tom Crean’s Brewery in Kenmare is well known for its direct family association with the legendary South Pole hero Tom Crean but is fast making a name for itself for the sustainability of its operation under owners and founders Bill Sheppard (current brewer) and Tom’s granddaughter Aileen Crean O’Brien.

Latest move in that direction is the acquisition of an electric quad bike instead of the diesel van. The quad will be used to deliver to businesses outside/around Kenmare. It is the most recent in a long line of sustainability friendly moves, going back to the start as Aileen explained:  We custom built the brewery with P.V. Solar Panels as we were anxious to include sustainability in our beer production from the outset. We worked with the Local Enterprise office with their origin green scheme and produced a video for them https://youtu.be/MzI6ZPFWs4U .”


The Crean family at the launch of the R.V. Tom Crean in Dingle last October.

“Later, we changed from bottles to cans as they are more environmentally friendly.   We learned how to convert the spent grain into silage and got a flock licence and had our own sheep in the front garden.  The grain contains twice the amount of protein as lamb nuts.  When the farmer (who sold them to us) saw them at the end of the season he was amazed at their condition and said they should be going to a show.”

“ We built a polytunnel in the back garden to house our biodigester.  This is run on the brewery, kitchen and animal waste.  Not only does it produce liquid natural fertiliser for the grass for the sheep and our polytunnel produce but it also gives us 2 hours free gas for cooking, daily.”

The original Bonane Babes arrive
in Kenmare in 2021

Aileen makes dog biscuits from the spent grain, “for our customers 4-legged friends that are always welcome in the brewery. We are currently working on two projects – wind power and gourmet mushrooms. Our aim is to produce a pint that doesn’t cost the earth”.

When did you start up?  

Aileen: We started contract brewing our Expedition Red Ale in 2015.  We then custom built and opened Tom Crean Brewery Kenmare in Nov. 2019. To date we have brewed 11 beers, the majority are session beers, we normally have 6 in stock.  They are all free from additives and chemicals and are vegan." 

Seasonal Beers? "We brewed 2 summer beers – Kerry Surf & Turf and the Corner Boys and 1 winter- Tom’s Winter Warmer and 1 special -an E.S.B. F28 Fire Quencher."

A selection of the beers!

The Beers:

Kerry Surf & Turf celebrates the Atlantic Ocean and the mountains.  We use turf and forage for seaweed in Kenmare bay.  

The Corner Boys is the only beer that has 5 ingredients i.e. watermelon – something for the Corner Boys to talk about i.e. watermelon in South Kerry.  It has a subtle aroma and flavour of watermelon.

Tom’s Winter Warmer- has hints of Christmas spice and is 5.5%

F28 Fire Quencher – was a special E.S.B., 5.5%, brewed by Bill and his ex-watch from Homerton fire station London.

6 Magpies Stout was awarded Gold in Blas na h-Eireann in 2022 & St. Brigid’s Lager awarded Bronze; Last Man Standing, a 1% ABV, was a finalist.  Unfortunately, Blas does not have a specific category for low alcohol beers."

Liam Griffin unveils a can of Tom Crean's
 Expedition Irish Red at the South Pole
The Expedition Irish Red ale was used by Aileen to commission the new marine science research vessel called R.V. Tom Crean, in Dingle in Oct. 2022.  A very proud moment for all the family. Here's a link to a short RTE video of the launch https://fb.watch/jnVSCKdr7Y/.

The Expedition Irish Red  also made it to the South Pole in January this year.  The owner of Addison Lee, Liam Griffin, whose father came from Glenbeigh, was reared with stories of Tom, and he completed the last degree to the South Pole in horrendous conditions and brought a couple of cans with him.  Tom Crean or Aileen may not have made it to the South Pole but, thanks to Liam, Tom’s beer has.

Indeed, Aileen and family members headed off in 2016 to South Georgia to see at first hand what Tom had experienced in his third trip to the region. They certainly experienced the real thing and Aileen ended up with a broken leg. More on that story in a previous post here .

Aileen and Bill taking a break!

Aileen explained about the Names of their beers-

Expedition Red – named after Tom Crean’s 3 Antarctic expeditions and the family 2016 centenary expedition to South Georgia.

St. Brigid’s Lager – she was a master brewer and as she was an abbess she could read and write and wrote her “wish was to create a lake of beer for the Almighty and all the heavenly hosts for all eternity”. 

6 Magpies Stout – we had to start building the brewery to avail of an Enterprise Irl. Grant – none of the lending institutions would grant us a mortgage.  One day, after completion, Bill spotted 6 Magpies in the garden and considered it a good omen – the bank called us the next day and offered us a percentage of our loan.

Druid’s Smoke Wheat Beer- celebrates our local pre-historic heritage. 

Killowen Kolsch Style Lager – As the brewery is built on Killowen Rd. is a Kolsch style lager like based on the original beers brewed in Cologne.

The brewery itself is named, of course, in honour of Tom Crean (left) the famous Irish Antarctic Explorer, Aileen’s grandfather.  She said: “It seemed appropriate to name the brewery as Tom opened a pub in his home village Annascaul when he retired from the navy and I’m sure he’d be proud to see his granddaughter open a brewery in his honour and have a selection of beers named after him.”

The core beers at Tom Crean are St. Brigid’s Lager, Expedition Irish Red Ale, Scurvy Dog IPA, 6 Magpies Stout, Killowen Kolsch Style Lager & Last Man Standing 1%. They are always keen on developing new beers “but at the moment managing what we have keeps us busy”. And she confirmed that they “brew beers that we like to drink ourselves and hope that people like them as much as us”.

Look up! It's Tom Crean.

They sell mainly kegs in pubs, restaurants and hotels.  "We have taps in the two Five Star hotels in Kenmare.   The Park has 2 taps (of their 3) and 1 in the Sheen Falls and cans in the Stables Brasserie.  As we’re a very small family business, we distribute only in Kerry at the moment and Craft Beers Delivered in Dublin. We produce 440ml cans.  We sell our beers at the brewery, off-licences, Supervalu’s, local Whyte’s Centra & Spar and restaurants.”

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

If it’s a double brew day it’s a straight 12 hours. The other days vary from feeding & checking the animals and the polytunnel, keg cleaning, vessel cleaning, distribution, sales, accounts, brewery tours, chatting and selling pints, off sales and merchandise in the brewery Tap Room.

Way down south - the family expedition 2016

“How is your beer/brewery connected to the local area?” 

Aileen moved to Kenmare in the early ‘80’s and bought the restaurant and accommodation in 1992 with her late husband.  She ran it for 30 years until last year.  The brewery is built at the rear of the restaurant.  

“We are delighted to brew a beer that local businesses are proud to sell in their premises. (See link here to FB Park Hotel). We use local turf and forage for seaweed in Kenmare Bay for our Kerry Surf & Turf. Three of our beers refer to the local area in their names.” 

Both Bill and Aileen are well grounded here now and it looks as if the Tom Crean Brewery is here in Kenmare to stay. 

Aileen at work

Website:  https://www.tomcreanbrewerykenmare.ie/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tomcreankenmare 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tomcreanbrewery/ 

The brewery is easily found, in the town itself (just a few yards from the Lansdowne Hotel), at Killowen Road, Kenmare, Co. Kerry,  Ireland V93 Y6KX

Links to my previous posts on Irish breweries

Mescan Westport



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