The Irish beer scene is moving at a rapid pace with Irish beer lover’s spoiled for variety and choice of styles. Everything from double IPAs, barrel aged barley wine to kettle sours can now be easily found in your favourite bars and bottle shops. With so much competition how does a brewery get noticed?
To showcase their beers and skills as brewers SOULWATER from Galway are taken some inspiration from a bygone age and bringing it bang up to date. With every new beer released they give a preview of their latest brew by releasing a small quantity of the beer in casks, a rare treat to try some Real Ale in the west. I met up Shane O’Beirne of Soulwater to learn more about cask ale and to get a sneaky preview of their latest offering, Bullet Proof IPA.
Soulwater is a gypsy, or contract brewery that is headed up by two Galway natives Shane O’Beirne and Declan Owens. So far they have brought a varied and interesting selection of beers to the west. Styles ranging from Renegade (a 5.3% American amber ale), to Cosmic Cow (a 4.8% Nitro milk stout) and their latest release, Bullet Proof; a juicy, hop loaded IPA, all of which were first released on Cask. Regulars of Bierhaus and Salthouse bars in Galway will quickly dispose of any Soulwater cask that is tapped and Bullet Proof was no different. The night it was tapped almost every second customer was nursing an old school pint glass while debating the merits of Soulwater’s latest offering and, judging by the pace the barman was pumping the cask tap, it was a big hit.
Cask or real ale are now sadly a rare thing in Irish bars, at one time most beer was served this way before the age of forced carbonation and kegs. Back then bar keeping required extra skills as cask beer is a fickle thing indeed. Unlike today’s kegged beers the casking of the beer is the last step in the process where the conditioning of the beer takes place. It was the barman’s job to care for the cask beer, controlling temperature and having the knowledge when to tap each cask at the correct time. Soulwater’s use of cask is a great tool to showcase their work. The beer takes on a different dimension when conditioned in a cask. It’s served at higher temperature than standard kegged beer and is less carbonated. This allows more subtle flavours to shine through that might be lost in the keg version. With conditioning done in the cask it brings more body to the unfiltered real ale. The more natural and lower carbonation gives a softer and rounder mouthful, which brought Soulwater’s Nitro Milk stout Comic Cow to a different level of smoothness.
The appreciation for real ale came from the UK where Shane studied to be a brewer in Edinburgh. After his studies he took up a position as with Bath ales. In Bath and the surrounding areas real ale is still a king. The popularity of real ale in the UK is in impart down to the work CAMRA, the campaign for real ale. In some ways the craft beer movement owes some of its origins to real ale and CAMRA.
In the early 70s four friends from the north west of England, Michael Hardman, Graham Lees, Jim Makin and Bill Mellor would meet every weekend in their local to enjoy a locally brewed ale. Around this same time the giant corporate breweries were starting to put a squeeze on the local independent breweries who were still continuing the old art of cask real ale. While on a trip to County Kerry, while having a pint in Kruger’s bar in Dunquin (reputed to be Europe’s most westerly located bar), the four friends decided to do something before real ale vanished, and CAMRA was founded there and then. On his return to Galway Shane brought his love of cask beer with him and now uses this format to highlight Soulwater’s latest beers, and at the same time giving beer lovers of Galway to chance to enjoy Real ale.