The Burren is not the most developed National Park, which is great, unless you’re in a bit of a hurry to get to a brewery. Then the botharin (pronounced bow-hareen) do delay one progress. A botharin is a lane so narrow that grass grows down the middle of it. But when the centre-line vegetation is polishing your oil sump you know its a little-used road.
Peter Curtin, the brewer, landlord and racontuer of the Road Side Tavern in Lisdoonvarna moved swiftly into story-telling mode. We learnt that he needed a way to make more of a living in this popular but seasonal town, and opening a brewery seemed to be it. Having all kinds of live music, on a regular weekly rota was another string to his bow, and we later found out opening a fish smokehouse with his Swedish wife Birgitta was a third string.
His beers are three – a stout, a red and a lager – and none is especially strong, as Peter explained,’I’m an alcoholic and what I like to do is drink all the time, and I couldn’t do that if it was too strong’, or words to that effect. He started the brewery in April last year, and only sells through his pub, all being fined, filtered and kegged. And they were all great beers, but I think I liked the stout best. Can’t get my head around the idea of enjoying lager – seems so little there to enjoy – and red ale generally has a little too much sweetness (from the crystal malt I guess) for my taste.
As Peter spoke I scribbled down the rough proportions of Black Malt, Roast Barley, Crystal Malt and Pale Malt, and yesterday went out to buy enough of each to try brewing my own stout. I’ll let you know how it goes. And I’m going to try a red ale, but use some cascade hops and a little less crystal malt.
From the first floor brewery we returned to the bar and started to sample. This (as usual) became extended as we bought a few, and listened to Peter’s stories. One was about a small brewer in Manchester who produced a stout called Guiltless which was free of all artificial additives and preservatives. The Guinness folk were not best pleased about this, and won a case at the Intellectual Property Office stopping the brewer using his Dobbins Guiltless Stout label.
Another tale related to a beer mat, promoting Guinness on one side and Peter’s pub, smokehouse and Lisdoonvarna on the other. He gave each of us the beermat, but I didn’t grasp the point of the story.
The following morning we visited the Burren Smokehouse and sampled hot-smoked salmon (basically cooked salmon) and cold-smoked salmon. We had pieces of farmed and line-caught fish, and the difference was amazing. The wild salmon was much less oily which improved both the texture and the flavour. It was double the price, but as a treat I’d say it was worth it – if you can find any, licences to catch wild salmon are in short supply. Birgitta was only able to buy 200 wild salmon last year.