Showing posts with label Mayo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mayo. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Big news for Mayo food and drink producers

 Big news for Mayo food and drink producers


Wednesday 19th May 2021 will be a red letter day for every food and drink producer in the county of Mayo. It’s the launch date for the much anticipated Mayo Food and Drink Networking and Training Programme which will totally change the food and drink landscape within the county. This is a really important event for owners or managers of food and drink businesses in Mayo to attend. It’s relevant for both established businesses and those at an earlier stage of development. Getting involved at the beginning will increase the value your business gets from the new network.


Celebrity chef Brian McDermott (right) is keynote speaker at the virtual event, and will talk about the importance and value of Irish food producers to hospitality and food tourism. Brian McDermott is an award winning chef, author, presenter and proud Donegal man who has just been named Ireland’s Producers Champion for 2021 by Blas na hEireann. He has built a national reputation on one simple belief – that tasty, healthy food based around traditional recipes and local produce is something everyone should enjoy. He’s a familiar face on TV, has his own weekly BBC radio slot and is a regular on the Irish food festival circuit.


The Programme is a result of the Mayo Food and Drink Strategy 2025, and between now and July 2022 will give free and easy access to training, mentoring, and information supports, exclusively to Mayo food and drink businesses. Having a network of producers will develop and improve the profile of Mayo food nationally. The producer register already includes 115 businesses and any who have not yet signed up are encouraged to get involved. There is no cost to producers. 


Sue O’Toole, Senior Enterprise Officer, South West Mayo Development Company has been a stalwart champion for developing the food and drink sector in Mayo. She commented, “Last year I was privileged to work with local producers to develop the Mayo Food & Drink Strategy 2025. Now, South West Mayo Development Company, on behalf of Mayo Local Action Group, is delighted to announce the Mayo Food Programme, a LEADER funded response to the challenges and opportunities identified in the Mayo Food & Drink Strategy 2025. The Programme will action the priorities identified by producers.  It is totally food focused offering networking supports and a range of training and skills development supports. LEADER continues to work with the producers in Mayo’s vibrant and growing food and drink sector”.


Programme manager Oonagh Monahan has secured the services of four expert trainers, all steeped in the food and drink sector. They are: Aisling Roche (business supports); Louise McDonnell (e-commerce and e-marketing); Suzanne O’Brien (food tourism/integrating the food and drink sectors with tourism); Derek and Joanna Hannick (adapting your food and drink business for future opportunities and challenges).

Launch attendees will get the benefit of the trainers’ top tips for saving time, making money and ensuring success. It’s a great chance to ask burning questions and get the benefit of their shared experience and knowledge. Everyone at the launch will also be included in a free draw.


Elaine Moyles, A/Head of Enterprise Local Enterprise Office Mayo, explained the support her organisation can offer, saying, “LEO Mayo is delighted to support the Mayo Food & Drinks Network. We work with local producers across the food and drinks sector offering training, mentoring and financial supports to help grow and scale their business and can see at first-hand the high quality produce created in the county and sold worldwide. We encourage local businesses to take part in this important opportunity to collectively promote their products, reach wider markets and advertise Mayo as the food destination of choice”.


Join in the launch of the Mayo Food and Drink Networking and Training Programme at 12 noon on Wednesday 19th May. It will be streamed live on Facebook ( The link will be shared on social media.


The Mayo Food and Drink Networking and Training Programme is supported by South West Mayo Development Company and Local Enterprise Office Mayo.

press release

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

An October Wander in Mayo and Galway

An October Wander in Mayo and Galway
Afternoon near Letterfrack

Dozio & Pears in TIA
So here I am in Mayo, in Louisburgh to be precise, enjoying a delicious Swiss-Irish cheese in a lovely friendly Portuguese-Irish cafe. The cheese is called Dozio ( pronounced dots-i-o) and the café is called TIA. It is the last Friday in October, it is dull and showery, but I’m nice and cozy and enjoying the grub and the  lunchtime buzz.

TIA tiles
TIA, according to Google, means aunt in Portuguese and there is a family feel about the place, lots of school kids in either with a parent (maybe an auntie) or without and a fair bit of banter between the customers and the staff. And the food is local as exemplified by the board that says the lamb chops are PJ’s. They appear on the list of more substantial meals (more like your dinner).

We study the other board and order a couple of delicious salads. There is a Sourdough toast, honey roasted ham, Barr Rua cheese (also from Dozio), relish, salad and TIA crips. The potato, chorizo, kale and fried egg combination looks attractive, well priced at €8.50. All the dishes seem well-priced and all the food is sourced locally.

Achill Island

This section also details a Chicken, Mozzarella and Ciabatta salad; another salad of Sausage rasher, fried egg with Blaa; and a Vegetarian Burger with Sautéed potatoes, salads and pickles.

I go for the Warm Roast Pear Salad, Dozio Cheese and excellent homemade brown bread (12.00). Danilo Dozio and Helen Grady are making cheese in Mayo, using ancient recipes from Canton Ticino in the South of Switzerland. They make a few different varieties including the soft Zing (with apricot) that I so enjoyed with my salad. Meanwhile CL was loving the Warm Chicken salad, pickles, wedges and a Chilli Mayo (10.90). And it was two happy customers that left the Halloween decorated café to continue our journey to Clifden in the heart of Connemara.
The Breaffy House Hotel, our base for the middle night.

Our trip had started two days earlier near Ballina with a visit to relatives. Later that evening, we dined in the quirky Gallery Wine Bar in Westport, details at end. The following day, on the Thursday, we took up an invite to visit the Foxford Woollen Mills and its gorgeous revamped café. Terrific food here also from Chef Kathleen Flavin and you may read about the mill and the meal here…

The morning hadn’t been great but the sun was out and about as we left the mills and so we decided to head for Achill (a change of plan as we had been thinking of visiting the nearby National Museum featuring country living, our rainy day option). And quite a few stops were made and many photos taken as we made our way around the nearer loop (we didn’t go as far as Keem Bay), taking in the sights including the Grace O’Malley castle.
Superb burger, with local beef and bacon and topped with Dubliner cheese, at Oxtail in Balla.

That evening, we headed out to Balla for an excellent evening meal at the Oxtail Kitchen (you’ll find it above the Shebeen Pub on the main street). Here, Balla born Patrick McEllin and French lady Rebecca Miton, support local farmers and producers through the ever changing menu, a menu Patrick describes as classical with a modern twist. We certainly enjoyed our visit. Details also at end.

The following morning we met up with a friend of ours in Westport and enjoyed a chat and the coffee in Leafy Greens before heading west along the road to Louisburgh. First though, we stopped to see the impressive famine memorial in Newport and the horrors of the famine would again be in our minds as we headed to Leenane via the beautiful Doolough valley, haunting and maybe haunted by the happenings there during the famine, and now commemorated by a plain stone memorial as you go through the Doolough Pass. A yearly walk is held along this route in memory of the Doolough dead  of 1847 and to highlight the starvation of the world’s poor today. Otherwise though it is a lovely drive and a terrific cycle route (I’m told!).
Detail from the famine ship memorial in Muirisk

On then through some spectacular roads, including the final Sky Road, to Clifden. That night we would dine in the Marconi Restaurant in Foyle’s Hotel in a room whose decor recalls the exploits here of Marconi and also the story of Alcock and Browne. A good meal was followed (indeed accompanied) by pints of Bridewell, the local brew. Some excellent music in Mullarkey’s Bar meant a pleasant extension to the evening.
The famine memorial in the lovely Doo Lough Valley

Napoleon was all over the
place, even in the bathroom!
We spent the night in the Napoleon room of the quirky and hospitable, if expensive, Quay House, an 8-minute stroll from the town centre. The Quay, which closes up for the winter, has one of the brightest and well appointed breakfast rooms in the country, a conservatory room indeed and a breakfast to match.

Thus fortified, we started up the trusty Toyota and headed south, enjoying the benefit of the newly extended motorway, at least to Limerick. After that we drove through a lot of bends and a whole lot of broken promises by politicians before our home city came into sight.
Anyone for breakfast? The gorgeous conservatory at Clifden's Quay House.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Foxford Mills & Cafe. The Nun. The Accountant. The Chef.

Foxford Mills & Cafe.
The Nun. The Accountant. The Chef.
In 1892, a determined nun created Foxford Woollen Mills. And it had its ups and downs, employing a peak of 240 in the ‘50s, until 1987 when the receiver moved in. An accountant with the receiver still saw potential and made a bid and Foxford was revived. Nowadays, with over 70 employed, it is confident and thriving, both as a production unit and as a visitor centre, workers and tourists well fed by a determined chef in the kitchen who has recruited a posse of local producers, a move that would no doubt have had the blessing of the founder.

That founder was the redoubtable Sister Arsenius, originally known as Agnes Morrogh Bernard (family from Cork). At the age of 50, the sister and a few companions arrived in Westport to establish her Sisters of Charity order there. She was struck by the grinding poverty and the depressing hopelessness, the people held down by the landlord system (focus of the Land League campaign of the time). Famine was still a factor, and indeed there was a localised one as late as 1879.
The Western Care Association are Foxford's new charity partner for this year and are pictured here with MD Joe Queenan (far right) 

The Sister still saw opportunity in the gloom and concentrated on setting up the wooden mills with water from the fast flowing Moy, labour and sheep all at hand. But she had no experience. She approached a Protestant Freemason who had a mills in Ulster for advice. He wasn’t that keen at first but the nun was not for turning and eventually he helped set up the mills.

A grant from the Congested District Board was also a big factor, local weavers were trained and soon the Foxford Mills were up and running, it’s klaxon at morning, lunch (twice) and evening, setting the agenda for the town and the surrounding farms as our enthusiastic guide Alison told us on our tour of the mills. By the way, a portion of all tickets prices is allocated to various charities.
One of the superb dishes that we enjoyed during our visit to the café in the Mills.
Chef Kathleen
Alison does most of her talking before you actually enter the production as there is a lot of noise in there! Setting up and operating the machinery takes much of patience and precision - not too sure I’d last too long there! But the results are fantastic, great designs and natural colours.

Did you know that some well-known phrases have come from the various stages of production in mills like these, such as Tenter Hooks and No Strings Attached. Later, during lunch, I found out for the very first time that the Mayo village of Balla is actually pronounced as Bal (like pal), the final “a” being silent.

Back to that lunch with MD Joe Queenan, the accountant who stepped in and, with various supports (including a vital Business Expansion Scheme (BES)), eventually revived Foxford Mills after the 1987 crisis. Today over 70 people are employed here and their products are sold in mid to high-end stores. Some 33% is exported mainly to the US, the UK, Scandinavia. The Asian market is being targeted but Joe expects that their internet sales will be their next big outlet. “Online is becoming more and more important.”

They have deliberately retained the quality in design and product, innovation is also key, and have found their niche in the mid to high-end. They recognised early on that there is no way they could compete with the major manufacturers in Asia. 

Fascinating story behind this Michael Collins
throw. Read it here
Joe and indeed the people of Westport know that the founding Sister pursued “a holistic approach, …founding bands, …helping farmers get their products to market, …the kids to get an education.., and more”, a point also emphasised by Alison.

And you sense he is quite proud now of the mills and indeed of the café (which has a come a long way in the last ten years), proud to lead a company that does real work, produces real products and serves real food.

In the bright and airy upstairs café, we meet head chef Kathleen Flavin, an articulate chef with a vision that translates beautifully to the plate as we would soon find out.

She loves that she gets to work every day in the bright place, a luxury not afforded to that many chefs! In this recently renovated and updated room, Kathleen has a great rapport with her customers, answering their queries and helping with recipes - check out the cafe’s Facebook page here.  

After a hearty greeting, Kathleen immediately told us that the food is local and seasonal and called out a long list of local suppliers, many of whose photos are to be seen on one of the walls. These include Dozio’s Cheese, the Reel Deel Brewery, Killary Fjord Shellfish, John Clarke’s Smoked Salmon and Clive’s Butcher Shop.

Most of the herbs and leaves come from their own gardens and both Kathleen and Joe are rightly proud of that as well. As many of us are now beginning to realise, the shorter the journey, the better your food.
The Mills shop in Foxford sells many other top notch Irish products, including Modern Eire and Finline Furniture.
The focus is very much on healthy but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a delicious dessert here. We did, just after two of the very best salads we’ve ever tasted.

And if you’d like to take something home with you, that’s not a problem as Kathleen and her crew have various jams and preserves (how about pickled plums?) prepared and packed in jars. Oh by the way, she loves baking too. Yes, the Christmas puddings are ready and on the shelves. And there’s a great selection of cook books on offer here as well in the shop, underlining Joe’s words about a seamless connection between the two.

So there you are. A great place to visit. A great place to eat. Great products to buy. And great people too. I think Sister Arsenius would be rather proud of the accountant and chef and the team that are carrying Foxford Mills into the future.

Also on this trip: The Gallery Wine Bar, Westport
October Wander in Mayo & Galway

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Gallery Is A Natural In Westport. Wine, Books, Vinyl and Chats.

The Gallery Is A Natural In Westport.
Wine, Books, Vinyl and Chats.

We were walking down this narrow alley in the Westport night. And then we saw them. A trio of posh-looking black cats, padding stylishly along as if on, well, the catwalk. Then, simultaneously, they, les chats, executed the smoothest slickest synchronised slow-motion U-turn ever. We knew we were in the right place. We saw the welcoming light in the windows of The Gallery Wine Bar. Our directions had included the phrase “Look out for the cats”. I heard later that one of them is called Pinot Noir.
Peppers and cheese tapa

And inside, you will get various Pinot Noirs amid many listed in a catalogue of terrific wines. Generally though you work off two loose pages which indicate the wines available by the glass. But you needn’t confine yourself to those, good and all as they are. Do check out the full book and look at the shelves on the wall. You may well see something you love as I did when I spotted Ageno from La Stoppa in Italy and the delicious Lettre d’Eloise Chardonnay made by Bertrand Ambroise in the heart of France.

We entered the long and narrow space. It was quiet. But not for long. Owner-operator Tom Ramsell was missing but only for a few moments, chasing down some organic grapes in a nearby shop. We settled in on the cushioned seats, taking in a feast for the eyes and the ears (Tom’s vinyl collection gets a regular outing here). For the eyes, there are shelves of books and bottles; posters all over; take down one of those books if you want to read. Pick up a board game if you’d like to play chess, scrabble, or Jenga or one of the dozens of others available.

Tom, a surfer from Manchester, who found his way here a few years ago, will keep you entertained, telling all about his food, all organic, sourced locally (Dozio’s cheese, for instance) and abroad (rare syrups, a rare black cheese from England’s Wookey Hole). And then the wines will lead to endless conversations especially if you have that extra bit of interest. They have regular tastings here and lots of other events too including live music, record launches and more. It’s a lively spot for sure.

More and more people are arriving and soon the long narrow space is more or less full. By then, we have ordered a couple of tapas and a couple of wines: Bodegas Menade, Rueda ‘Verdejo for her and  Beauregard-Mirouze, Corbiéres ‘Campana’ for me.

The tapas are not small and our two multi-bite selections are Piquanté peppers served with Dozio’s of Mayo soft cheese and a spoon of honey, and a plateful of organic medjool dates with walnuts and served with a rare organic agave syrup.
A most diverse selection of organic, biodynamic, natural and skin contact wines 

There is no cooking here, all dishes are assembled on the counter by  Tom himself. He offers a selection of Vegan Plates and we enjoy the superb Baked Moroccan Falafels (described as an elegant blend of Moroccan spices and chickpeas, red peppers, apricots and dates, served with organic Kimchi and organic “spiritual” salad leaves).

The Gallery is also a venue for chats about the environment and sustainability and the future of the planet. Tom is all for organic and natural and saving resources. He’ll take in any old mugs or cups you don’t want and use them here for teas and coffees. He also runs a refill wine service. Bring your own bottle or use one of his.

And you’ll see his ethical streak in most of the food here especially under the Ethical Meat Dish heading and the Sustainable Fish heading. We shared one of the meat dishes: Labourdette Goose Rillettes. These geese are grown in total freedom on lush meadows and are not force-fed. The dish is served with marinated fig (superb), sweet ready to eat black garlic cloves, Velvet Cloud’s sheep cheese with fig and sultan mini-toasts. Quite a treat!

Bt then of course we had moved on to another round of wine, this time enjoying very much the Cantine Rallo, Ciello Bianco ‘Catarratto’ Terre Siciliane IGP, a lovely white; and the excellent Semplicemente red (his white is terrific too), from the late Stefano Bellotti’s winery in Piemonte. My rosso was on its last legs as Tom passed and, before I knew it, he had topped me up generously with the last bit in the bottle. That’s the kind of place this is. Generous, friendly. If you happen to find yourself in the Westport area, do drop in.

* By the way, if you’d like something warm while here, there’s an arrangement with a local pizzeria. Just have your pizza delivered and you may eat it in the Gallery.

The Gallery Café, Wine and Tapas Bar 
Brewery Lane

The company bikes.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Foxford Woolen Mills launches refurbished café to align with contemporary lifestyle brand

press release
Foxford Woolen Mills launches extended and refurbished café
New look aligns with contemporary lifestyle brand

Foxford Woollen Mills has opened an extended and refurbished 

café, bringing it into line with the transformed Foxford brand.

Under the sure guidance of head chef Kathleen Flavin and café manager Rachel Jackson the Foxford Café has evolved into a stylish eatery with an exceptional food offering. Everything on the menu is made in house. Herbs and leaves from their inhouse garden are used where possible and sourced locally.

“Our motivation was to bring the café and the store closer together, opening one into the other and simultaneously aligning the brands”, explained Joe Queenan, managing director of Foxford, “We now have a seamless connection between the two”. The tranquil colour scheme in the café blends with the time honoured Foxford weaves on the floor, clearly inspired by the subtle tones of the Mayo landscape. The extended floorspace includes a new conservatory and seats a total of 160.

The decisions regarding the menu were not taken lightly. “We went right back to basics and made decisions which will dictate our core menus long into the future”, explains Kathleen Flavin, head chef, “We wanted our offering to be more authentic and to be inspired by our West of Ireland surroundings. For example we exclusively use Clare Island Organic Salmon and Irish chicken, which we smoke in house. Our beef and lamb are sourced from local farms by our butcher, Clive, here in Foxford. All the cheeses we use are Irish farmhouse cheeses and we buy directly from a number of local cheesemakers. We have extended our herb garden and it is looked after by our kitchen staff so we all learn to respect where our ingredients come from”. Foxford Café is that genuine combination of quality, creativity and style of which visitors dream.

A new luxury take-home product range is also made in the busy kitchens comprising delights such as piccalilli, maple and tahini dressing, pickled pears, blackcurrant and violet jam, and beetroot and orange chutney. There’s an opportunity to try before buying as they are featured on the menu too. The menu boards change regularly and offer a choice of hot and cold dishes with an outstanding salad selection at prices to make city diners weep. Also on sale is a hand picked selection of cookery books to rival any bookshop in the country.

The historic flagship store in Foxford is truly unrecognisable in every way from a decade ago. Stylish displays blend contemporary interior items and furniture with quality traditional weaves and woollens. The hallmarks of timeless elegance and handcrafted design have been retained but the product range, still manufactured in Foxford, has expanded to include contemporary designs as well as the traditional scarves, throws and blankets. Today, the newly revamped store boasts high end interior furnishings and on trend homeware. The one thing that has not changed is the quality.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Kelly's Butchers Newport. We Believe In Quality

Kelly's Butchers Newport
We Believe In Quality
Kelly's of Newport

For us, it is all about the food - the quality of the ingredients. You can be sure that we will always source our meat locally where possible, and if it's not local, it is always Irish. We believe in quality, in supporting our local farmers and Irish producers. We hope you do too. 

This is the philosophy of Kelly’s Butchers in Newport. It has stood them well over the decades. And I heard it reiterated at first hand from Paddy McDonald (Quality Assurance manager) and Ger Chambers (Production manager) during a recent visit. Both are fully behind it and you know there'll be no “rind emulsion” here. “Not as long as I have anything to do with it,” says a determined Ger.
Kelly's Kitchen (left) and the shop
Paddy is not a stay-in-the-office manager. He gets out and meets the customers, anywhere from Ballina to Blanchardstown. And he is thrilled, and encouraged, with the reaction. People can't believe the flavours. 

I recall craft beer guru Garret Oliver talking about introducing craft beer to people. They say this is nice, doesn't taste like beer. He had an explanation: “The beer they grew up with didn't taste like real beer!” So, Paddy tells his tasters about that good stuff that goes into Kelly’s products. They are reassured and delighted that they know now where to get the real thing. The principle put into practice pays off.
Black pudding on baguette for lunch
It’s not all serious stuff here though. Good humour abounds. Who else would take a black pudding in the shape of a pint to the prestigious Confrérie des Chevaliers du Goute-Boudin in Mortagne-au-Perche, Normandy? Better still, they won the gold! And Kelly's are proud organisers and sponsors of the All Ireland Putóg Throwing Competition  (shot putt rules apply) which is the highlight of the Newport Festival every August. 

Sean Kelly, the Mayo Person of the Year 2017, is the public face of Kelly’s, but it was brother Seamus who was in charge of the shop when we called and he proudly showed us their range of puddings (they produce much more besides): the black, the white, the black and white (half and half), and now the Vegetarian (delicious!). 

We had arrived at lunchtime so were invited in next door to the café run by Shauna Kelly (Sean’s daughter). Had we been earlier, much earlier, we could have breakfast: porridge, granola, the full Irish of course and more.

But, being visitors, we were keen to sample the pudding and there was such a choice: black, white, seaweed and more. I went for the Black Goat  and that, with goats cheese and salad, kept me going for hours. There was also a white equivalent. CL dined well on her Black pudding and goats cheese quiche. 

Lots of meat as you'd expect from the shop next door but no shortage of fish dishes either and plenty of salads in a lovely room with warm colours. And you’ll also enjoy the homemade relishes and chutneys. Not warm enough outside for us, though it was a lovely day, but in summer you can dine al fresco.
Two of Newport's best: Kelly's puddings and the Greenway.
Then Paddy took us on tour. Their modern two years old facility is built onto the rear of the previous one (now used mainly for admin and dispatch). The process is streamlined, with the emphasis on hygiene, health and safety and efficiency. It works well throughout the week and here much of the credit goes to Ger Chambers.

When kitted out, Paddy took us through. Not a warm welcome though. His first stop was the Blast Chiller! Brrr… But it is a massive bonus for the Kelly’s as it helps increase shelf life of the products.
Yours truly with Seamus Kelly (left)
The different products and their different sizes were explained. Did you know four different types of organic seaweed is used in the Seaweed Pudding? The popular Hazlett (a traditional meatloaf, often eaten cold) has fresh leeks and carrots and 70% pure pork. It comes in standard size for domestic use and also in a 2.5 kilo size.

And that vegetable pudding? You might think that this, coming from a renowned meat company, would be just a token effort. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Kelly name is on the packet so the best of ingredients are used and it is top quality. It was the first of the samples that I tried back at home and it is really very impressive.

While we were making our way around, taking in all the machinery and the storage areas, the crew were busy at work. The weekly schedule doesn't change much. Production in the morning. The early part of the afternoon sees the machines being taken apart and meticulously cleaned. 

Then the line is prepared for the morning. Ingredients, the spice, rusk or the oatmeal for instance, are lined up. And all is ready. We were there on the Thursday afternoon. And that following morning, black pudding would be produced, an amazing 3.5 tonnes of it! So you can see why the detailed preparation is needed. There’s a country to be fed!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lovely and Central. Westport’s Clew Bay Hotel.

Clew Bay Hotel (hotel pic)

Lovely and Central. 
Westport’s Clew Bay Hotel.
Westport is a great base to visit the many attractions of Mayo and right in the heart of this County Mayo town is the Clew Bay Hotel. It looks rather small from its frontage on James Street but it has over fifty bedrooms. No parking out front, unless you’re very lucky on this one-way street, but there is a pay carpark in the rear (turn left just before the hotel) and the Clew Bay will give you a display disk to cover your stay.

Darren and Maria Madden’s three-star hotel is very well kept and I very much liked the calm decor throughout. There’s a very helpful front-desk there too. They came up with that parking disc very promptly and arranged a taxi without fuss. Little things maybe but little things count! The room was very comfortable and, very importantly, the bed was top notch. Wifi pretty good too.

We had a fairly busy schedule and didn't have time to check out the Maddens Bar or the restaurant, or indeed the Madden’s Bistro that has its own entrance from the street. Actually we did have breakfast in the impressive large restaurant room, appropriately called the Riverside as the Carrowbeg River flows just alongside; it was flowing fairly quickly last week!

Pretty good breakfast there too. I had a tip-off on their own granola; it is good and I can highly recommend it. Good choices of cooked breakfast including the Full Irish and variations thereof, also kippers. Had a big meal the night before so I settled for the French Toast with spicy egg and that hit the spot as they say. CL enjoyed her vegetarian breakfast.

Lots of things to see and do in the area, man-made such as Westport House or natural gems like the bay itself and Croagh Patrick. There is a lovely drive to the west that takes you into the splendid Doolough and its haunting famine story. And of course there is the famous Greenway if you feel like walking or biking. 

Further out, there is Achill Island, unmissable on a good day, indeed unmissable on a bad day as well. To the east, near Castlebar, there is the National Museum of Country Living. The other three national museums (Archaeology; Decorative Arts & History; and Natural History) are all in Dublin.

I was also in Westport earlier in the year. Read what I got up to here,  including dining at The Black Truffle and drinking at McGing’s.
Clew Bay and islands, from lower slopes of Croagh Patrick

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.