17 March 2008

Banished from these shores

It's that day of the year when central Dublin becomes a no-go area and I'm holed up at home with a couple of beers to keep me company.

This year I have something a bit special: O'Hara's Celebration Stout brewed by the Carlow Brewing Company to commemorate ten years of O'Hara's beers, something similar to what The Porterhouse did with their own superb Celebration stout nearly two years ago.

From its distinctive 75cl swingtop, it pours thick and highly carbonated, rather like bottled Guinness. And it has a similar dryness, but at 6% is much heavier, inching towards Foreign Extra territory. On the nose there's a hoppiness which is very unusual for an Irish stout, as well as the roasted barley character one would expect. Moving past the fizzy texture, there are the chocolate notes I love in normal O'Hara's, though these are understated against the hoppy dryness. At the very end there's a metallic tang of the sort I most associate with certain English ales and I'm wondering if it's a feature of the English Northdown and Fuggles hops with which the stout is laden.

O'Hara's Celebration is a considered sipper, as against a quaffable pint of plain. Since Diageo are the only people making something remotely like this for the Irish market, it's great to see one of our own taking them on.

And that brings me on to a more general point this St Patrick's Day: Carlow Brewing were one of the pioneers of the Irish craft beer movement, and one of its success stories. They are the only real Irish brewer to have made much of an impact on the international scene, exporting bottles to the UK, US and further afield. Indeed, here's the rub: O'Hara's Celebration appears to have been made specifically for this market, with 3,000 bottles from the limited edition destined for the States. I don't know how limited the edition is, of course, but it looks like the company know which side of the Atlantic their bread is buttered on. Several of the independent off licences in Dublin that I spoke to had not been allocated any.

Naturally, I don't blame Carlow. I'm just miffed that it's so hard to convince Irish people to drink decent beer, to the point where our good brewers constantly look for outlets abroad: Black Pearl going in its entirety to Russia and Scandinavia is another scandal. And when they're not shipping it out, they're making the good stuff in limited quantities, like the two aforementioned Celebration stouts, or the Imperial from Messrs Maguire (currently enjoying a glorious return to the pumps, but for how long?)

And so, on our national day, I urge any Irish reading to support our locally-owned breweries. We can't expect the situation to get better if we don't do our bit.


  1. In regards to your comment about Carlow beers going abroad, it's obvious that these businesses will send their product wherever they can market it. Unfortunately, what little Irish craft beer there is may be headed in other directions.

    I mentioned in a post/rant on beer economics the idea that maybe exports could be just what some of these smaller brewers need to survive. This could help keep them afloat in order to spread the good beer gospel to their fellow countrymen when they want to give a listen.

    But you're right, they have to want to listen.

  2. The problem with that is that truly tiny breweries aren't producing the quantities that interest importers. Of course they can piggy back on other, larger breweries, or enter into some kind of co-op agreement with other tiddlers, but that creates its own costs.

  3. Eric, thankfully we don't have legal restrictions of Norway (though the government, much like in the UK, are working on that one). While export is indeed one means of survival, the better one in my opinion is to play up the local element: something Galway Hooker, a tiny operation who don't even bottle never mind export, do very well. We have a new microbrewery down in Kerry coming on-stream soon (hopefully), and if they have any sense they will aim for the tourists and the trad aficionados of Dingle and identify their beer as the one belonging To That Place. Conversely, you can't buy a pint of Carlow beer in any pub in Carlow.

    Stonch, I think Irish brewers have a bit of a get-out clause here in that the Irish diaspora provides a ready-made specialty export market which offsets the tiddliness. Unfortunately, this has led to unscrupulous practitioners cutting out the brewing bit and getting beer contract brewed in any country they can, whacking a skiddly-eye Oirish label on it, and flogging it to the plastic paddies of Kilburn and Boston, as ranted about here. But then Diageo and Heineken have been at that racket for years...

  4. Celebration Stout has just popped up here, along way from home.