He doesn't look like your typical slow-food advocate. Plain-speaking ex-plumber Cuilán Loughnane is rarely seen without either his Munster rugby or Tipp GAA jerseys. I doubt he even owns a pair of sandals. Yet, as an advocate for locally-sourced hand-crafted produce, Cuilán is among the most visionary in the country. A brewer of many years' experience, he only recently set up his own operation in his home town of Templemore, Co. Tipperary using the former brewkit of the now-defunct Kinsale Brewing Company. His White Gypsy beers are starting to make their first appearances in the area's pubs, and Cuilán intends to expand this to as many as possible -- to make White Gypsy the beers you drink when you're in north Tipp. He firmly believes that every town in Ireland should have its own brewery supplying the local area, as it was before the market consolidated under a handful of foreign-owned national brands.
Furthermore, Cuilán intends to source all his ingredients locally, with water from the family well, a hop garden in front of the brewery, and barley from the local farmers, traded at a fair price. If his plan can be successfully executed, and then repeated elsewhere, the face of Irish beer will have undergone enormous change.
A couple of weeks ago Cuilán and family staged an open day at the brewery, a chance for the locals to have a look at what he's doing, and I'd hope one or two publicans were there to discuss possible enhancements to their beer line-up. The farmer whose livestock receives the benefit of White Gypsy's spent grain provided a bit of pig pro quo, so there was roast pork washed down with Cuilán's award-winning Bock, his quaffable Blonde and an achingly fresh and delicious IPA on cask.
Prior to all this there was work to be done. His new imperial stout -- White Gypsy Vintage -- had just finished primary fermentation and was due for racking into oak barrels for a few months of aging. Cuilán invited us the beer enthusiasts to come watch, and have a taste of the green product before it undergoes maturation. It's harsh stuff -- 10% ABV (OG 1.104; SG 1.029) and with an intense Play-Doh sort of flavour, finishing on a nasty hit of marker pen. This is, of course, entirely deliberate. Cuilán dislikes barrel aged beers which taste of nothing but the barrel, and deliberately brewed this one to be a thumper so that the woodiness and the stoutiness will balance each other in the finished product. Whether it works or not remains to be seen. Dave from Hardknott has his doubts about this sort of thing.
There were three barrels to be filled: a retired Bushmills cask, and two of virgin oak -- one French and one American. The finished beer will then be bottled in 75cl bottles and corked Belgian style. The world premiere is expected at the Franciscan Well next Easter -- two of the guys from the 'Well were along to lend a hand, as well as the other great advocates for localised craft beer in Ireland: the Beoir Chorca Dhuibne team from Dingle. When it's finished we'll have the first wood-aged Irish beer since Guinness substituted old-fashioned maturation for the injection of lactic acid which their beer has been getting for the last fifty years or so instead. I'm really looking forward to getting my mitts on some of this when it's ready.
In the meantime, the brewery I should regard as my local is the Porterhouse. They seem to be going through something of a local expansion themselves at the moment, with more bars outside their own estate carrying their beer -- you'll find it in classic Dublin boozer The Palace as well as fatcat eatery Bentley's, to name but two. And, as I mentioned in my post about SeptemberFest, the first of their bottled beers have just started to appear in shops and discerning bars. I've covered Hop Head already, but just recently nabbed a bottle of Plain from DrinkStore (and you can too, if you're in Ireland -- their new online store is open for business). Here we have Ireland's only bottle conditioned stout, a beefed-up version compared to the draught at 4.7% ABV. There's a subtle hint of coffee on the nose, so there it's already better than the odourless nitro draught. When served at cellar temperature, the body is light and quite fizzy, which in turn adds to a dry and carbonic flavour. However, let it warm up and it really comes out of its shell with heavier roasty and chocolate flavours. This is one for drinking straight from the shelf, I reckon. Incidentally, the Porterhouse's annual Oktoberfest kicks off today, seeing the return of their tasty Alt for a second year, and plenty of interesting imports. More on them next week.
While getting hold of exotic beers from far away -- and preferably collecting them in person -- is very much what I'm about, a decent selection of quality local produce is a notion I whole-heartedly support. Best of luck to all involved in such projects, wherever they may be.