Whiplash 

Beer trends move quickly these days online reviews, articles, Facebook posts and instagram photos can often be like a tease. Photos and videos from around the globe stream straight to your phone  inducing a severe case of FOMO on the beer geeks across the island. A constant reminder that while Ireland has made a massive strides in last number of years, we are still a wee bit behind the U.S, U.K and even Nordic counters when it comes to verity, innovation and quality. Thats not to say we are not making good beer here . Their are indeed handful of breweries in Ireland that can easily hold their own with , but when it comes to innovation, trends or the “next big thing” we are indeed playing follow the leader. While are phones and tables update us on what we are missing out on all we can do is wait for the latest must have beers from overseas to arrive.  Or wait for are own breweries to brew their own version of the lasted in vogue style. 

Of course brewing beer is not all about gathering “likes” on a Facebook or instagram post. Every brewers goal is to make the best beer possible, but in a modern market place been ahead of curve is 
This is where Whiplash has managed to buck the trend in Irish beer.The Whiplash beer project was created by Alex lawes and Alan Wolf with the intention of producing beers that are on the forefront of creativity and innovation in Ireland. Everything from the artwork the naming of the beers and the brewing has been done with an eye for detail that has rarely been seen in Ireland. This attention to detail is all the more impressive when you consider Whiplash is technically a project side project , Alexs day job commands it’s own massive responsibilities as head brewer of Rye River brewing company aka Mcgargels, Crafters….?, with the Whiplash brews been squeezed in wherever possible between ryerivers already rammed schedule 

The innovation and hard work from Whiplash has not gone unnoticed with the beers lovers of Ireland. The name “Whiplash” was at the top of many a list on social media for best brewery and their session ipa Rollover IPA was a firm favourite for best beer of the year. This beer in particular beat the rest when it came to delivering a beer that was ahead of the curve . Low ABV, dry hopped to within an inch of its life and hazzy enough to satisfy any hardcore New England ipa fans. In a way Rollover IPA was the beer that put a full stop on the first chapter of the Whiplash project.

At the beginning of the story you need a way to tell your audience what to expect once you decide you want to dive in. The title and the artwork are your chance to make your first impressions and few are doing it better than Whiplash. 
 . Scaidy Porter A brew that started life as a homebrew favourite felt like Whiplash laying down a marker of intent. A bold and robust beer with layers of flavour and been a Porter it gave a gentle nod to heritage.                                                   “Surrender to the void” a Double IPA that probably broke the record in Irish brewing for dry hopping rates. The beer is named after lyrics from the Beatles beat driven song “Tomorrow never knows” the young men of Whiplash drawing influences from . “Ture love waits” a pilsner for hop lover’s. The pilsner style providing a chance showcasing the finer details required to brew such a style, there is nowhere to hide in pilsner. The name of the beer again draws from the music world a song from Radio head this time. 

First impressions are everything your product has to make an impression from the get go. And the striking graphics used on the Whiplash labels where definitely set out to impress The way you do this in beer is through your labels the typeface and artwork. Branding is often an after though for most breweries. If you can make someone reach for your beer on a shelf packed full competitors your half way to success, but to hit a home run the beer as to bed good. 

The barrel age 

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 Irelands 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 producer’s coming to the market in numbers that seemed unimaginable even 10 year’s ago. While the vast majority of breweries in Ireland have their sights set on the domestic market the new wave whisky producer’s also have goals of reclaiming the status Ireland once held as the primer whisky producing county in the world. 

For the last few years two of 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 been 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 too the fancy new world hops that are required for hippest of IPAs , but it’s almost perfect for barely. And an imperial stout like 200 Fathoms is a great way to showcase Irish malts.                           Brewing a beer this big, a Harty 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 Yeats having 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 a there 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 sweater 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 patients 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 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 realise date hotly anticipated each year.                                                                 On last year’s realise I was a bit a taking back with the numbers waiting in the Salthouse bar for the chance to taste the lasted version . The bar man informing each wide-eyed customer that approached the bar “it goes on sale at 8”. #200Fathoms was bunching around tweeter 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 ques 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 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 there 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.

Independent 

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 loacl 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 incuraged me to investigate further. This beer turned out to be a collaboration between the Italian based Johnnys off licences,  brewery Microbirrificio Opperbacco and Galways own Independent brewing. The beer Currac Dub 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 peaked I arranged a visit to Independent HQ to learn more. 

The brewery is located in Carrore on the  southern shores of Connemara . I’m no stranger to this part of Galway one of my favourite area’s 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 Burren hills seemed impossibly close from across the bay. 

The entrance to the brewery is unassuming and little hidden beside it’s neighbour the loacl 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 load down on Independent brewing. 

The brewery was set up in 2014 by owner and head brewer Kevin O’hara. He’s path to brewing is not an unfamiliar story in the industry. like many beer fans in Galway he’s 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 inevitably,homebrewing. So often the gateway into to pro brewing.  

Long Before brewing Kevins first passion lead him too a completely different career in the Galway aquarium. Growing up beside Galway bay sparked an interest in everything aquatic and lead 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 particle 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 year’s since the first beers where released and like many of his contemporaries the styles selected where 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 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 cheery 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. Personal it’s one of my favourite beer styles and Independents 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 straps 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 revaluation. 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 well 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 are 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 summer months is massive, Carrore is almost bang in the middle of the Wild Atlantic Way. Hopefully 2017 will bring this positive and essential change to are outdated licensing laws, and give brewers like Kevin the best environment to develop Independent brewing into an essential part of the loacl economy, and help grow a throughly independent brewing industry in Ireland.