In these heady days of Irish craft beer it’s sometimes too easy to overlook what’s familiar. In my hunt for the newest and often over hyped beers I too am guilty of losing touch with the breweries on my own door step.
And while recently studying the craft beer section of my local off licence I noticed something interesting a 330ml bottle clad with a rustic print of 3 men lifting a currach.
The beautiful but understated label had done it’s job and encouraged me to investigate further. This beer turned out to be a collaboration between the Italian based Johnny’s off licences, brewery Microbirrificio Opperbacco and Galways own Independent brewing. The beer Currac Dubh a Harty 7.5% Oatmeal stout, a perfect beer for a winters night. And I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint the subtle bitterness of the roasted malts smoothed out with creamy oats leaving a moreish caramel toffee like after taste, altogether a really lovely beer. With my interest piqued I arranged a visit to Independent HQ to learn more.
The brewery is located in Carraroe on the southern shores of Connemara. I’m no stranger to this part of Galway one of my favourite areas to visit on a summer’s day, but the day of my visit it was 3 degrees with black and ominous clouds drifting across Galway bay. The rain was thick and heavy and bouncing back up off the road. Between the showers the low hanging winter sun breaks through the gloomy clouds. Throwing a spotlight on the views of this stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. The white rocks of the Burren Hills seemed impossibly close from across the bay.
The entrance to the brewery is unassuming and little hidden beside it’s neighbour the local fire station. Just inside the brewery door the cosy office offered a nice change from the elements and a welcome setting for Kevin to give me the low down on Independent brewing.
The brewery was set up in 2014 by owner and head brewer Kevin O’Hara. His path to brewing is not an unfamiliar story in the industry. like many beer fans in Galway his introduction to more flavour forward beers was in the Bierhaus Galway the original home for beer geeks in the west.
Over time his interest and curiosity in beer lead to the inevitable homebrewing, so often the gateway into pro brewing. Long Before brewing, Kevin’s first passion led him to a completely different career in the Galway aquarium. Growing up beside Galway bay sparked an interest in everything aquatic and led to his studies in Marine Science. While his career in the aquarium is behind him the draw of the ocean is still strong. The location of the brewery was no coincidence, just a stones throw from Trá na Dóilín one of Irelands most coveted diving locations.
While alot of the skills of brewing are not necessarily present in an aquarium the particular skills of operating and maintaining the aquarium equipment gave Kevin the confidence he could scale up from home brewing and run a professional brewery.
It’s been over 2 years since the first beers were released and like many of his contemporaries the styles selected were at the right tempo to challenge new craft beer drinkers without rocking the boat too much. A pale and golden ale both full of flavour that could lead any Macro lager drinking down the rabbit hole of craft beer and a red ale to keep things traditional, this brewery is based in Connemara after all. These beers have served Kevin well allowing him time and space to let the brewery find its feet and establish itself as a regular fixture in the bars and bottle shops of Galway and further afield. So what better time to get creative and show off some recipes that have no doubt been on the back burner.
Last summer will go down as the summer of sour, and Kevin showed up to the party with his Cherry kettle sour. Unlike so many others he resisted the temptation to drop the PH to the floor, keeping the beer on the tart side to complement the sweet cherry and avoiding the teeth watering sourness that plagued the sour craze last summer. And for balance a trip to the dark side was needed, a Black IPA often the marmite of beer styles amongst beer geeks. Personally it’s one of my favourite beer styles and Independent’s version didn’t disappoint. Up next was the Extra stout, full bodied and robust, a perfect fire side beer. For me it’s in this darker spectrum where Independent brewing has really hit it’s stride and the recent collaboration with Italian based Johnnys off licence and the Mirobirrificio Opperbacco brewery continued the trend.
One batch was brewed in Ireland and one batch in Italy. Something tells me Kevin might have got the better end of the deal having to travel to Italy for the brew day and allowing some respite from the Connemara winter weather.
Like Ireland, Italy too has recently joined in on the craft beer revolution. This has proven to be an added bonus for a handful of other Irish brewers who have become quite popular with Italian beer drinkers, in particular Eight Degrees and Whitehag. This collaboration will no doubt help to raise the profile of Independent at home and abroad. Collaborations are not only a chance to brew more creative beers it can also open up a new market. Beer tourism is a hot topic right now with the Tap Room Bill up for vote soon. And having your brand familiar with our Italian visitors is no bad thing at all.
While Connemara is an amazing location for a brewery it of course offers its own challenges. The limitations of a rural market could be easily relieved with a tap room and the potential to capture the tourist trade in the summer months is massive, Carraroe is almost bang in the middle of the Wild Atlantic Way. Hopefully 2017 will bring this positive and essential change to our outdated licensing laws and give brewers like Kevin the best environment to develop Independent brewing into an essential part of the local economy, and help grow a throughly independent brewing industry in Ireland.