08 October 2009

It's a short way to Tipperary

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.


  1. Hear, hear! Great news.

  2. The mention of Porterhouse Alt brings to mind the couple of hours I spent in one of the Dublin pubs almost a year ago. I could quite easily spend whole days in that place drinking Wrasslers. When we were in there, an older couple and their son sat on the table next to us and at one point the father (I assume) went to the bar at the same time as me, ordered three pints of Wrasslers and a whiskey. When the whiskey came, the barman had already mixed it with water, the gentleman then talking animatedly for about 20 minutes about how being a barman used to be a more respected profession, but these days was treated as just a job between jobs. I enjoyed earwigging that tirade very much.

    I wonder if Mrs V could be persuaded to move to Ireland after a few years here??? hmmm.....

  3. Service in the city centre Porterhouses is often not what it could be. I think it's getting better, though.

  4. Every time TBN talks about Cuilán he sounds like he wants to have his babies :D
    I am sorry I missed it but duty calls and I spent the day with my US family. We ended up at the Guinness brewery of course and I was pretty sure when I drank the samples that there was better (or more interesting)stout to be had at a certain other brewery open day.

  5. I've met Cuilán's babies and wouldn't dream of taking either away from him.

  6. nice post, and the correct sentiment indeed. I also have a predilection toward brewing at home in old footy shirts - not quite sure why this is. Comfort, maybe!

  7. This is incredibly encouraging to read. Best of luck to them and keep up the great blog!