The Dungarvan Brewing Company underscores the rapid changes taking place in Irish brewing. It’s run by two couples, Cormac and Jen O’Dwyer and Claire and Tom Dalton. They opened the brewery in 2010 and they produce most of their beer in bottle-conditioned form for restaurants and bars. In a country dominated by filtered, pasteurized and carbonated beers, this is revolutionary stuff. Spurred on by the success of their venture, the couples now plan to expand into cask ale production. The three main beers are Helvic Gold, Copper Coast and Black Rock. The bottles are filled straight from the fermenters and warm conditioned to allow the yeast to start working again to create a natural carbonation. The beers are finally cool conditioned for four to six weeks before they leave the brewery.
Helvic Gold is a pale bronze beer brewed with Maris Otter pale and a dash of Munich malt. Whole flower hops are Goldings and Northern Brewer with Cascade used as a late finishing hop in the kettle. The beer has a luscious citrus character with a fresh herbal note and spicy hop resins. Copper Coast is a red ale that commemorates the old copper mining industry in the area. It has a delicious rich barley sweetness with light spicy hops and sultana fruit. Black Rock is a superb example of an Irish stout, brewed with pale malt, roasted and flaked barley and hopped with Northern Brewer. The complex aroma and palate offer black coffee, an astringent note from the roasted grain and a delicious hint of licorice.
The Irish brewing revival is attracting brewers from overseas, keen to build a niche in the market. Eight Degrees Brewing in Mitchelstown is not only full of the usual clatter of brewing but the loud and sometimes raucous laughter of the owners, Cameron Wallace and Scott Baigent. Wallace is from Australia while Baigent hails from New Zealand. They both married Irish women and moved to the Northern Hemisphere. Keen homebrewers back home, they honed their skills at the world-famous VLB brewing school in Berlin.
Aussies and Kiwis are notorious for not getting along but Wallace and Baigent have developed a good working relationship with the help of their Irish colleague and ringmaster Mike Magee. Eight Degrees reflects both their preferred serving temperature for beer as well as the latitude of Mitchelstown. The brewery has a 15-barrel plant with 30 hectoliter fermenters, allowing for two brews a day. Wallace and Baigent have been brewing since 2011 and produce six beers, including Oktoberfest, Ocht (the Irish for eight), Howling Gale Ale, Sunburnt Irish Red and Knockmeal Down Porter. Production is split one-third in keg and two-thirds in bottle. Bottled beers are unfiltered: “filtration strips out aroma and flavour,” Baigent says. The draught beers have a final addition of hops in keg and all the beers are made without colorings or preservatives. They are stocked by Porterhouse in Dublin, specialist drink stores and good restaurants.
Howling Gale is brewed with pure mountain water and is a pale bronze beer rich with tart lemon fruit and lightly toasted malt. Sunburnt Irish Red is a gentle poke at Irish people who arrive Down Under with pale, alabaster skin and rapidly turn bright red in the sun. Brewed with pale, carmamalt, crystal and Munich malts and hoped with American Cascade and Pacific Gem from New Zealand, it has sultana and raisin fruit on aroma and palate, biscuit malt and gentle hop resins. Wallace and Baigent say their porter is a conscious move away from conventional Irish stouts. It’s brewed with pale malt, a large amount of chocolate malt, caramalt, roasted barley and torrefied wheat, with Admiral and Fuggles hops. It has a bitter chocolate, toffee and coffee character, with smoked grain, roasted barley and peppery hops. The brewers’ humor bubbles to the surface: on the label of the porter, the last two letters of Knockmeal are crossed through, making the beer Knockme Down Porter. Fighting talk!
Xavier Baker is another new arrival on the Irish brewing scene. Baker is from Britain and while he has a great love for the cask ales from his homeland he’s carving out a different route to market at the Dingle Brewing Company with just one beer, Tom Crean’s Premium Irish Lager. The beer is named in honor of a local hero from Kerry, Tom Crean, who took part in several Anglo-Irish expeditions to the South Pole in the early 20th century. The beer is on sale at the South Pole Inn in Annascaul, which Crean ran for many years when he retired from the navy. The lager is also available in bars and restaurants in Cork and Dublin.
Baker has an impressive 10 hecto plant in an old creamery with a water source on site. “It’s the best water in Kerry,” he says. “It’s soft to medium hard—ideal for lager brewing.” He started brewing in July 2011 on Tom Crean’s birthday. He uses 90% lager malt with caramalt and the hops are whole leaf Saaz from the Czech Republic. Primary fermentation lasts for five days and the green beer is then transferred to the lager vessels where it conditions for 30 days. The beer is not pasteurized and it has a two-week shelf life. It’s pale bronze with an aroma and flavor of toasted malt, herbal and floral malts and light citrus/lemon fruit. Baker calls it “an easy drinking lager” but that undervalues it. It’s a well-made beer, properly aged, and has a fine, fresh Saaz hop character.