03 October 2014

Down to the River to play

The Pintwell blog is our host for The Session this month and Jeremy has asked us to write about how one's relationship with beer can be changed by making the stuff. As it happens, I visited a brewery recently that's up for doing its part to help that relationship transformation along.

Rye River Brewery is based in the small Co. Kildare town of Kilcock, a short hop by bus or train from Dublin. The site occupies quite a significant proportion of the town and is currently a hive of building activity. When finished it will include a café and merchandise shop as well as the global distribution centre for Rye River's beers. At the end of August, the brewery was the only operating section and owner Niall and brewer Alex showed us around.

Alex is well known on the Irish home brewing scene, winning awards for his amateur beers while dabbling in the professional side as part of the Otterbank and Brewtonic gypsy projects. He's full time at Rye River now and told us how thoroughly enjoyable it is to work in a brewery as it starts to get off the ground: so many new toys to acquire and play with.

Alex and Rosie
While we were there he gave us a taste of one of his creations, a new addition to Rye River's "McGargle's" series of beers. Cousin Rosie's Pale Ale is a modest 4.5% ABV and brewed with Chinook, late Summit and a touch of Amarillo as well -- all the home brewers on the tour nodded along as Alex explained the onionish perils of too much early Summit in the boil. No onions here, however. From the fermenter it exploded onto the palate with loads of bright, clean zingy citrus flavours. It was very cold, which is perhaps why I couldn't detect any balancing malt, but I'm quite prepared to believe it doesn't need any. This sample was followed by a taster of the same beer once it had been filtered and kegged. Oh dear. A lot of the multi-dimensional hop flavour is lost. The elements are all still there, but as little more than echoes. The beer is still perfectly pleasant to drink, but doesn't compare well next to the unfiltered original. There's definitely an argument in favour of compromise-free home brewing here.

Uncle Jim and the pilot kit
Rye River has also got off to an early start with its barrel-ageing experiments and we got to try some Uncle Jim's Stout directly from the Bushmills cask in which it had spent a few short weeks.  There wasn't much of a barrel character yet but the beer was rich and plummy with lots of sweet milk chocolate, so shows promise at least.

But the main reason I've chosen Rye River as the subject for this Session post is their pilot kit, a 1hl yoke on wheels. The brewing team have been running experiments on it but they've made it clear that it's available to all-comers. If any home brewers want to try their hand, and their recipes, with the assistance and equipment of the pros, here's the chance. An opportunity for any home brewer to change their relationship with beer even further and, at the rate at which Ireland's home brewers are currently being professionally recruited, who knows where it might lead?

Cheers to Wayne for organising the trip to Rye River, and to Niall and Alex for the tour. It's an audacious project and promises to be a major asset to Kilcock when the whole thing is finished.

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