Wednesday, May 24, 2023

McGill's Brewery From Kerry's Dark Sky Reserve

McGill's Brewery From 

Kerry's Dark Sky Reserve

I called to Joe McGill's Waterville microbrewery on a wet and windy day.
He and his Mom were busy on the bottling line, still had time for a chat though!

McGill’s Brewery is located in the Gaeltacht region of Murreigh, Waterville, in the south of Kerry. It is the first microbrewery on the Iveragh Peninsula. At this stage of its development, it is probably more accurate to call it a nano-brewery but it has a big heart, excellent beers and one of the friendliest brewing families you are likely to come across (not that I’ve come across any unfriendly brewer!)

Top black stuff from McGill, including the 13.1% ABV
An Coireán (the Irish for Waterville)

We met up with Joe McGill recently and asked him who started the brewery? 

I opened the brewery in 2019 but it was a few years in the making with trying to get a premises and all that goes with starting a new business. I'm the brewer and I get help from my mother, my wife, and my friends. 

Joe had been home brewing for years and was also educated in the process of starting his own brewery by the renowned German brewing company Spiedal. In addition, he has carried out extensive research into the business of Craft Brewing in Ireland and completed a two-part radio documentary entitled ‘Cheers to Craft Beers’ the story of Irish Craft Beer. 

A new attraction has been added to the South Kerry list!

Joe has a Masters in Business Management and Entrepreneurship from the University of Limerick and has completed the Bill Keating Broadcasting course. He also completed the prestigious RTE Doc on One Radio Production training at the RTE Radio Centre. He starred in Discover Ireland’s Go Campaign screened worldwide which showed Kerry as a unique holiday destination.

The Blonde
Joe is a presenter of the popular Saturday Supplement on Radio Kerry having previously managed West Limerick 102fm which is the largest community radio station in Ireland, from 2011 to early 2016.

What are your core beers? Which is your favourite?

We started with two core beers; Skellig Monk Irish Blonde Beer and Dark Sky Reserve Irish Stout and then we added two more; Maude Delap Irish Red Ale and Waterville IPA. This year we added two more. Puffin Island Imperial Stout and An Coireán Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. This is like choosing who is your favourite child?!! It changes week to week but I really love our Puffin Island Imperial Stout and our 13.1% Barrel Aged beer is so exciting, it knocks your socks off!!

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

Our Barrel Aged series is very unique like our other beers, the first beer of its kind brewed in the area. We aged it over time in Oak Port barrels which had exquisite whiskey in them by Wayward Irish Spirits producers of Liberator Whiskey in Killarney and the results have been amazing.  

Mom and Joe on the bottling line

I more or less stumbled on McGill’s Brewery as I travelled from Waterville to Ballinskelligs. I had heard of it, indeed I had enjoyed their Waterville IPA in The Lobster the evening before, and once I saw the sign I stopped and interrupted a bottling where Mom McGill was helping Joe. Joe filled me in on the story and I went off home with a bottle of that Barrel Aged, An Coireán, the first very bottle to have the proper label attached. It is indeed superb.

If you fail to land a bottle, then sign up for a tour and get a taste or look out for the second edition. Joe has gone public on it: “Our first Barrel Aged series worked so well, we’re on to our second!!! The imperial stout we brewed has been transferred to the oak barrels. The first beer of its kind brewed in the area. We will age this over the Summer months in Oak Ruby Port barrels which had exquisite whiskey in them by Wayward Irish Spirits producers of Liberator Whiskey in Killarney.”

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

All of the above. We mostly supply within a 20-mile radius of the brewery. We supply kegs and bottles and are in most of the restaurants, pubs, shops, and off licences in the area.

How is your beer connected to the local area?

Each beer is unique to the area of South Kerry. They reflect our local heroes, culture, and history. To give you a few examples: Our blonde is named in honour of the famous Skellig Monks. Our Stout is named after the local Dark Sky Reserve which is one of only three gold-tier reserves for stargazing in the world. Our Red Ale is named after local woman Maude Delap who was the first person in the world to study the full life cycle of jellyfish in captivity. 

Danes on tour at McGill's

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

We don't adjust our water which is particularly suited to stouts. In our brewery tour audiovisual we actually show you the source of our water which is just outside Waterville village.

McGill's Dark Sky
What efforts do you make to be environmentally friendly?

Our spent grain goes to our horses and ponies on the farm. We also have a mule who absolutely loves it!! Therefore there is no waste. We also reuse our cooling water in the next brew after it passed through the heat exchanger, thereby cutting down on energy usage.

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

Definitely no shortage of variety!! Have a lot of hats in the business. I brew, clean the lines, bottle, keg, do the accounts, sales and marketing, social media, tours, and deliveries, and often I might conduct Zoom interviews for my radio programme at the brewery!! So every day can be a mixture of some or all of that!!

How do you choose which styles of beer to brew?

The beauty of having a small brewery is you can experiment a bit. At the start, I wanted to concentrate on making Irish-style beers like stouts and red ales. My thinking is that if you go to a wine country like France you want to taste the wine of that region. Likewise, if you are visiting Ireland you want to taste some Irish-style beers. Now we have branched out a bit with a very popular IPA and because our business is predominately seasonal we can age beer in barrels over the quieter Winter months and then release it in the busier Summer months. 

Joe (right) is collaborating again with Maurice O'Connell of
Wayward Irish Spirits on another barrel-aged stout!

Who does your artwork/design?

Our initial design was done with the help of my cousin Bobby McGill and I do a lot of the new designs myself.

Why have you not switched to cans?

There has been a big movement towards cans however we are slow to do so as we supply to a lot of restaurants where cans wouldn't suit and our bottles stand out on the shelves. It's a personal thing but there's something nice about pouring from the bottle.

Do you do tours?

Yes daily. We do a General Brewery Tour, a Barrel Aged Tour, and an Irish Experience Tour. Indeed, we had our first ‘Irish Experience’ tour early in May with a bunch of fine people from Denmark and it was a great success!!! This tour involves our barrel-aged tour and food pairing with local food in addition to learning about life and culture in the area and a bit of ceoil agus craic thrown in.

As you can see, tours at McGills are somewhat different. I’ve done quite a few tours and have never ended up in a sing-song. That’s what happens when you take the 2-hour McGill’s Irish Experience Brewery Tour. The tour is conducted by the brewer himself, with no shortage of beer for tasting, food pairings too and an Irish sing-song with stories and songs about the general area.

Links to my previous posts on Irish breweries

Mescan Westport

An Irish Meaderie

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