Small beer becomes a serious business

Small beer becomes a serious business
Kevin O'Hara whose microbrewery, Independent Brewery, based in Carraroe is supported by Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Lifestyle –  Bernie Ní Fhlatharta meets a group who are opening up a new world for beer drinkers

Microbrewing, or craft brewing, might be a whole new world for the uninitiated but its roots in Ireland date back 5,000 years and apparently it is making a huge comeback.

In fact it is the fastest growing industry in the country, especially in Galway where a growing number of licensed brewers are producing limited amount of beers, and many more are developing new blends.

Galway Bay Brewery was the first one to establish a brewery in Galway but the Galway Hooker beer, which is brewed in Roscommon is the first beer associated with Galway and is apparently relocating to Oranmore.

The Galway Bay Brewery, set up by Jason O’Connell and Niall Walsh, now has four bars in Galway City — the Salt House, the Scholar’s Rest, the Cottage Bar and the Oslo. The group has another four in Dublin and manages a fifth in the Hilton Conrad.

Bar manager of the Salt House Bar in Raven’s Terrace, Paul Russell, could win Mastermind with his knowledge of the craft beer industry in Ireland, from the science of its production to how drinking craft beer differs so much from drinking mainstream brews.

“It is a different experience,” he explains. There’s a camaraderie, even among the brewers. It’s for people who are looking for something new, something that’s artisan and local. That’s where the experience lies. And where the beer is made and how is a central part of the conversation,” adds Paul, who admits he could talk beer morning, noon and night.

The funny thing is Paul started out in the wine business and one of the reasons he left it was because of its elitism and snobbery.

There could be a danger now of craft beer drinkers being just as snobbish because at €6.50 a bottle at the high end of the market, this is not going to be the drink of choice for just anybody.

Paul admits that the craft beer drinker is a million miles away from the type of person who drinks bigger-brand lager. In fact he doesn’t stock any of the macrobrewery drinks (not even Guinness) in his bar, although he does stock different whiskeys, spirits and wines.

He has 23 different craft beers on tap though not all at the same time. He rotates 10 to 11 taps regularly so that he is able to offer his customers a different drinking experience from six different pouring beers at any one time. There are details of the variety of hops used in their making as well as tasting notes for all the beers. His customers definitely will not be bored.

It’s hard work cleaning out taps regularly but Paul believes it is worth it, especially as the bar is maintaining a reputation as a craft beer specialist bar. He also stocks over 150 different bottled beers and is always excited trying out the latest offerings.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.