In the world of drinks Ireland is most famous for two products, Stout and Whiskey. While the origins of each can be disputed there is no denying when people from around the globe think of Ireland in trems of drinks, Stout and Whiskey are what spring to mind. And what better way to celebrate this than for two of Ireland’s leading new wave producers, Dublins Teelings Whiskey and Galway Bay Brewery to join forces for a very special drink, 200 Fathoms, imperial barrel aged stout.
The rise of Independent brewing and distilling have both followed a similar trajectory in the last few years. New producers are coming to the market in numbers that seemed unimaginable even 10 years ago. While the vast majority of breweries in Ireland have their sights set on the domestic market the new wave whiskey producers also have goals of reclaiming the status Ireland once held as the primary whiskey producing country in the world.
For the last few years two of the leaders in the Irish beer and Whiskey scene have come together to produce one the most anticipated beers in Ireland. 200 Fathoms barrel aged imperial stout. Now that is a long title for a beer, but then again this is a beer that takes a long time to make. And being lucky enough to live not too far from the brewery I took the opportunity to follow the 6 month process from start to finish. The stout itself is made up from around 8 different types of malts each adding their own layer to this robust beer. The majority of the malt bill is Irish grown and malted, something GBB are proud to promote. The Irish climate may not lend itself to the fancy new world hops that are required for hippest of IPAs, but it’s almost perfect for barley. And an imperial stout like 200 Fathoms is a great way to showcase Irish malts.
Brewing a beer this big, a hearty 10% ABV can be a challenge. The massive grain bill can bring headaches for the brewday and was sure to test out the newly installed brewing system at GBB. The biggest beer to be brewed up to that date on the newly installed kit. Apart from the brewing itself, the fermentation of beers with high ABV can be tricky. They will usually take off like a rocket, the yeast a field day with the abundance of sugars around, but insuring a good fermentation can be tricky for big beer.Temperature control and the health of the yeast all have to be spot on. Bigger ABV beers can sometimes take their time to fully ferment, as the alcohol levels rise during fermentation it can have the negative effect of slowing down the yeast. Any sugars not fermented will leave the beer tasting sweeter than intended.
After fermentation it’s time for the Teelings part of this collaboration, the Barrels.Having previously hosted the Teelings spirit for the last number of years. A minimum of 3 years and 1 day is required to be considered a genuine Irish Whiskey, most quality Whiskey will age for 8 years. After such a long time it will of course have extracted more than its fare share of flavour from the wood, but there is still plenty left over for the 200 Fathoms stout to soak up plus the extra hit from any Whiskey left behind. This maturation process is all about patience and this is stout that truly uses time as an ingredient. As the wood expands and contracts it draws the stout in and out of its pourous staves that make up the barrel. This slowly imparts the flavours and character of the Teelings Whiskey infusing over time with the GBB stout.
Having been lucky enough to taste the beer periodically throughout the aging process the influence of the Teeling barrels becomes evermore present over time. The finished beer has layers of flavours. Inky black and viscous in appearance, the beer clings to the side of the glass. My first impression was of Rich dark cherries almost like a Black forest cake backed up with the smoothest hit of Whiskey you’ll ever taste. There is so much going on it is hard not to keep sipping, trying to figure out what your tasting each time. As the beer in the glass grows warmer the flavours become bolder and all the better for it.
This marriage of the Teelings barrels and the GBB stout has now become something of an event for beer fans in Ireland with the release date hotly anticipated each year. On last year’s release I was a bit a taken aback with the numbers waiting in the Salthouse bar for the chance to taste the latest version. The bar man informing each wide-eyed customer that approached the bar “it goes on sale at 8”. #200Fathoms was trending on Twitter with fans in Dublins Gasworks bar and Galway waiting to get their hands on a glass. The extra bonus for fans that made the effort was the chance to taste last year’s vintage along side the latest version. GBB had cleverly held back a few kegs. It’s not everyday you see a packed bar with people sipping on 2 glasses of imperial stout comparing tasting notes, a sign of the times indeed.
While this interest in a single beer is a massive turnaround from the dark days of mass produced generic beer only, this hype is notting compared to the legendary queues to be found in Chicago each year for the release of Goose Islands bourbon county stout, where hundreds of people suffer the bitter Chicago winter for up to 24 hours too secure their bounty BCS. The demand for this beer has become so great Goose Island now run one of the biggest barrel ageing programmes in the beer world. While I don’t think we will ever see that kind of hype in Ireland the attention that 200 Fathoms is receiving is a small indication of how far beer as grown in Ireland, people taking time out of their day to go and wait for a beer! Something that was unthinkable probably less than 5 years ago. And in a way the waiting and anticipation is what this beer is all about.