Listen to Richard talk to Marian Finucane on RTE Radio 1
Marian talks to 3 people who have made big career changes.
Richard Siberry has swapped a life in the New York Stock Market for life as a brewer in Roscommon with the Black Donkey Brewing Company
Black Donkey Brewing Sheep Stealer Irish Farmhouse Ale
€3.39 for a 500ml bottle.
Black Donkey Brewing is based in Ballinlough, Co. Roscommon. Richard Siberry and Michaela Dillon returned here from New York, having learnt the art of brewing in their garage. ‘Next Thursday marks a year since our first sale to the Salt House in Galway,’ says Siberry, ‘ so we’ll be having a tap takeover with our three beers there. The following Friday we will have four on tap in 57 The Headline in Clanbrassil St., including Beyond, our new rye pale ale.’
But it is the Sheep Stealer we look at today. ‘When we launched it people said it wouldn’t take off, but it was a favourite style of mine and we have been very pleasantly surprised by the reaction. It is very accessible, but that doesn’t make it bad. I think it’s where spaghetti or pizza was twenty years ago. People will fall in love with it. I suspect Irish brewers were brewing something similar a hundred years ago, even if it is seen as a Belgian style nowadays.’
The Sheep Stealer is a cloudy, funky Saison, full of sweet maltiness and peaches with a clean dry citrus finish. Thirst-quenching and moreish, this is one of the best beers I have tasted in quite a while. You can certainly enjoy it with food – mine went very well with a few cheeses – but I would happily sip this solo any day.
If you feel like going one step further, try Buck It, which Siberry describes as a malt-bomb. ‘Buck It is divisive’, he admits. ‘Some people love it, others can’t bear to be in the same room as it. But that’s fine with me – if I had wanted to please everyone I would have made Budweiser!’
Available from specialist off-licences
KRISTIN JENSEN, co-author of Slainte! The complete Guide To Irish Craft Beers and Ciders, introduces us to ‘ the little black dress of beer’, the Black Donkey Brewing Sheep Stealer Irish Farmhouse Ale – and a pair of brewers who are particularly interested in working with chefs to align their beers with food.
ABOUT THE BREWERY
It’s a reflection of how far Irish beer drinkers have come that a microbrewery from the Midlands launched with a funky saison as their flagship beer in 2014. Black Donkey also brew an amber ale, called Buck It, and there are plans for other beers too.
Production began in mid-2014 in the heart of County Roscommon, with husband-and-wife team Richard Siberry and Michaela Dillon bringing Irish, European, American and historical brewing influences together under one roof.
After living in New York for twenty years and learning from the burgeoning craft beer scene in the US, these two Irish expats returned home to set up their own craft brewery after years of home brewing experiments in their basement.
Richard and Michaela’s work backgrounds run the gamut from lumberjacking to IT systems management with stints in finance, filmmaking and costume design in between.
Their work has taken them from Ireland to the US, Australia, Switzerland and even Mongolia, leaving them with a keen thirst for new experiences and flavours of all kinds, which they want to translate into their farmhouse ales.
They are particularly interested in working with chefs to align their beers with food.
ABOUT THE BEER
Beer style: Saison
Colour: Cloudy gold
Serve in: Pint or tulip glass
Matches well with: Brunch, grilled chicken, Indian food, Mexican food, mussels, pork, salads, seafood, sausages, Thai food, Vietnamese food
As beers go, saison was made for summer – literally. Saison is a Belgian-style farmhouse ale that was originally brewed in the winter and then set aside for the farm workers to enjoy in the hot summer months.
Pouring this one into a glass reveals its cloudy gold colour and a thick head of creamy white bubbles, but do be careful when you pour it. This is an unfiltered, bottle-conditioned beer, which means there’s a good dose of yeasty sediment in the bottom of the bottle and you might prefer not to have that in your glass.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking that sediment, though – in fact, it contains B vitamins, amino acids and minerals, so you could think of it as a nicer way of getting some of your RDA than popping a pill.
But back to the beer itself. It has a yeasty, honeyed, apricot aroma with a little spicy, peppery zip. If you didn’t know what you were drinking you’d be forgiven for thinking that this saison is a wheat beer, as it has that same yeasty, bready, lemony tang. The flavour is more lime zest than lemon, though, and it has a pleasantly bitter finish to balance the maltiness.
Dry, crisp and refreshing, the Sheep Stealer Irish Farmhouse Ale is true to the saison style and is very, very drinkable. And I’m not the only one who thinks son: Black Donkey took home Silver for Sheep Stealer in the Belgian Style Ale category at the Killarney Beerfest competition last month.
When it comes to food, saison is the little black dress of beer – its versatility means it’s a good match for just about anything. Black Donkey Brewing says their saison “pairs beautifully with all manner of dishes, from tangy dressed salads and ripe cheeses, to grilled roasted and stewed meats.
Hearty roasted root vegetables will also shine in Sheep Stealer’s company. Bring it to the barbecue or to a sophisticated formal dinner, or simply enjoy it with great company or an inspiring view.”
I suggest you also try it with Indian food, Mexican food, mussels, pork, salads, seafood, sausages, Thai food, Vietnamese food – the sky is the limit. Or try it with an Alpine cheese, such as Gruyere.
Secretary of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild, Kristin Jensen is a freelance editor specialising in cookery and food books and has worked with many of Ireland’s top food writers and chefs. She writes the Edible Ireland blog and is a co-founder of the Irish Food Bloggers Association and, together with Caroline Hennessy, is joint author of Slainte! The complete Guide To Irish Craft Beers and Ciders .