Sunday, March 23, 2014
O'hara's Irish Craft Beers
I had an opportunity to speak to the brewmaster of O'Hara's Irish Craft Beers this week while enjoying his beers (and others ... many, many others) this St. Patrick's Day. His views and inspirations were quite unique but typical of the passion for beer shared by craft brewers worldwide.
It is surprising how many fine craft breweries are located in small towns in remote locations. Carlow Brewing company is located about and hour and a half south of Dublin in the scenic town of Carlow, the county seat of County Carlow. The town itself is thousands of years old, predating Irish history while the brewery is relatively new, founded by Monks in the fourteenth century. Ok, the part about the town is true, the part about the founding of the brewery is a complete lie. Seamus O'Hara, a former bioengineer, founded the brewery in the early 1990's, and yes, he is also the brewmaster (he assures me that by drinking his beers you will not be part of his bioengineering experiments). The quality of the beers just leads you to believe that the brewery has been there for centuries.
Ireland, contrary to popular belief, is a whiskey realm with beer coming in a distant second in popularity and Seamus, like most Irishmen, grew up as a whiskey drinker. While he was living and working in England he was corrupted and converted into a beer lover by the damned English (just like I was), but it was the American craft brew revolution that convinced him to leave his lucrative career to invest in his new love . O'Hara's now produces +10 beers with the Stout and Irish Red being readily available in the U.S. Mr. O'Hara is now touring the U.S. trying to expand his market by pairing with the Paulaner HPUSA group to help with distribution.
Me - "Why would you aim your sights and the US market rather than concentrating more on developing local markets"?
Seamus - "Most pubs in Ireland carry 2 or 4 taps. These taps have been serving the same beers for decades or even centuries and those brands are entrenched in the local lore and history. They are not likely to bring in an upstart. Also, Ireland only has 4 million people, less than the DFW market alone. If we want to take advantage of a thriving beer market we must look afield."
Cliché question alert, cliché question alert!
Me - "Which beer and/or beer style are you enjoying these days?"
Seamus - "I rather like the hoppy beers right now, not so much the west coast super hoppy brews, but the English style IPA's. Our new Double IPA is worth trying and quite delightful".
Seamus, John Slaughter (district manager for Paulaner) and I sat and chatted for a bit and tried the O'Hara's Stout and Irish Red. The stout is a great representation of a traditional Irish stout, except for the fact that O'Hara's stout is made using ale yeast rather that the lager yeast that you find in most stouts. This gives the beer a broader flavor signature across your tongue and a mellow richness. The nitrogen give you the smoothness that you expect and the fuggle hops gives you a bitter, dry finish. This is a wonderful example of a traditional Irish Stout without fruit, candy bars or cocoa nibs that you will find in many American interpretations of stout.
The Irish Red is a dark ruby red with a long lasting dense head. Big malts are the key to the flavor of this brew with caramel malts providing an underlying sweetness and dryness provided by the crystal malts. Roasted barley and a bit of hops are used to provide a subtle bitterness. There is a marvelously balanced beer with low alcohol (4.3% ABV) which means to you that this is great session beer. It would be really easy, too easy, to drink several, many, lots of these at a sitting. There are other beers from O'Hara's coming soon and I look forward to trying them as well.
Craft brewing is enjoying the same resurgence in Ireland that we are enjoying here in the U.S. So much so that Seamus founded the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival in Dublin which has over 22 craft breweries presenting their creations to over 10,000 attendees. I was thinking that it would be a great vacation for you to visit the festival in September and then take a trip to Carlow for the brewery tour. As a matter of fact, I think I will, too.
Carlow Brewing Company Ltd,
Royal Oak Road, Bagenalstown,
Co. Carlow, Ireland.