Mia Tobin picked us up at 9am on Monday, and we climbed into the minibus with three others and picked up the last member a few minutes later. All seven of us were soon heading out of town for the first, and biggest brewer of the trip – the Carlow Brewing Company, brewers of O’Haras beers. But first a stop for coffee at a garden centre, and more interestingly a chance to visit the Gents to photograph the urinals.
O’Haras beers have been brewed since 1998, and they moved to this site 3 years ago where they brew 300 hectolitres a week. They fill their own kegs here but tanker beer away for bottling, including to a bottling plant in England. They export bottled beer to 29 countries including Russia, Israel and the US. Although their biggest international seller is stout, they sell more IPA at home.
Upstairs in their own sampling bar we tasted, and tasted some more. With such a wide range of beers its hard to remember which you like best, so you try them again, and it doesn’t get any clearer.
Went to Kilkenny for lunch and passed a bar called ‘An Poc Fada’, which means A Bigger Hit, and refers to the Irish game of hurling. I like to think fada means farther in Gaellic, and explains the Irish pronunciation . . . . but it probably doesn’t.
There has been a Smithwicks brewery in Kilkenny since the 1700s, but Diageo has bought it and plan to close it down. There is a large Smithwicks brewery near Belfast which is probably where they brew their ‘craft Pale Ale’. Which leads to a discussion on what exactly is craft brewing – please go ahead, discuss.
White Gypsy is a term used to describe Irish gypsies, and the owner, Cuilan Loughnane, seemed to think it an appropriate name for his brewery. He brews 4 strong (7 to 8% alcohol) beers and sells to restaurants in mixed packs of 275ml bottles and to the off-trade in 750ml bottles, thus maintaining a market distinction. He does his own bottling to avoid pastuerisation (which the contract bottlers use as a matter of course). After fermentation the beers are stored/conditioned at 7 Celcius in a cold store, which we braved in order to extract samples from the tanks. Some of us braved the cold store several times.
Beers are Doppel Bock, Belgian, Russian Imperial Stout and American Pale Ale – and they are all delicious. Cuilan knows a lot about beer, and loves to experiment. He started brewing in canada, came back and brewed for the now gone Dwan brewery, then 6 years with Messrs Maguire in Dublin before starting White Gypsy in 2008.
Just when Mia wanted us to head back to Kilkenny for dinner Cuilan suggested we visit his cousin’s bar (Finn’s Pub in Borrisoleigh, near Thurles) to try the beer in context, as it were. Well, it would have been rude to refuse, so we went.