Black Donkey took home Silver for Sheep Stealer in the Belgian Style Ale category and Bronze for Buck-It in the Speciality Style Beer
“Bucking” The Trend with Black Donkey Brewing by Simon Broderick
Buck It is the second beer to get a full release from the Black Donkey stable. I had it back in the Autumn when JJ Harlow’s in Roscommon had it on draught as a ‘Pilot’. To be honest, I didn’t fall head over heels in love with it then. I probably shouldn’t have had it at the same time as Rascal’s Big Hop Red. That hop assault on my senses meant I couldn’t fully appreciate the maltiness of Buck It. I told brewer Richard Siberry what I thought and he responded by reading the label notes to me: ‘What is this beer? An American amber? Maybe a little. An Irish Red? Probably not. A Belgian Dubbel? Not really. At Black Donkey Brewing, we don’t follow models, we buck trends… This beer borrows from all three… to make what is simply: A nice buckin’ beer.’ An elegant and eloquent response, I’m sure you’ll agree. (You’ll just have to imagine Richard reading that with his big voice and transatlantic twang!
The beer is brewed with Irish and Belgian malt and American hops and yeast. The malt really stands out. This is a rich and complex beer. It’s warm and something of a bittersweet symphony (apologies). I had it with a Steak and Kidney Pie. It was well able to match the hearty fare and I’d imagine it would go well with spicier food too. I had a wee drop left which I sipped alongside my dessert of Baked Alaska. This brought the sweetness to the fore. This is a truly unique beer, you need to try it for yourself. You can find it now in The Malt House, Athlone and other fine establishments. Sláinte!
Available to buy from Drink Store.ie
Simon Broderick aka Simon Says… You Really Should Drink This! Simon started his blog in September 2013. Since then he has built up a large audience of readers. He can also be found on Twitter. A passionate Advocate for Great beer, he set up the Athlone Beer Club in January 2014 and this has proven very popular with publicans and members alike in the Midlands. The future? Ireland’s second craft beer book perhaps! And a lot of beers.
Sheep Stealer made it onto the list of Top Ten Irish Craft Beers
Imagine a world in which every restaurant served the same three unimaginative meals. From Limerick to Leitrim to Letterkenny, no matter where you travelled, you found the same offerings – albeit some with slightly different names – that you consumed, almost without thinking, because nothing else was on offer.
Until a few years ago, this was the situation for Irish beer drinkers. Every bar, with a few rare and prized exceptions, served three styles; a fizzy yellow lager, the dark one with the white head and, for those of you who were really left of centre, something slightly red. Different names, different brands, but precious little difference between them as they were all owned by the same few multinational brands.
For many years I didn’t see anything unusual with this. I was a devotee of the big brand that sponsored many of my college activities. Then I moved to Christchurch in New Zealand, and suddenly a whole new world opened up. Brew pubs like Dux de Lux and the Twisted Hop, offering an ever-changing range of full-flavoured beers, became firm favourites. Going to the supermarket was like checking out a beer lucky dip, one of the bigger breweries, Montheith’s, ran an annual beer and wild food challenge which involved professional chefs and I even got to go to my first beer and food matching event.
Beer in New Zealand was enjoyed, appreciated as an option to go with food and taken seriously. When I returned to Ireland in 2005, I could no longer stomach my former favourite – but there was precious little else on offer. That was the year that the then finance minister Brian Cowen halved the excise paid by independently owned microbreweries, allowing them to retain more of their capital and reinvest. It was a lifeline for first generation microbreweries like Carlow Brewing Company and Porterhouse, and it kicked off the next wave of Irish craft brewers, which started with Galway Hooker in 2006.
Suddenly this beer-lover’s life started to become a whole lot more interesting, with the arrival of West Kerry’s Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne, Dungarvan Brewing Company, Kildare’s Trouble Brewing and White Gypsy in Co. Tipperary. From five Irish microbreweries in 2005, there are more than 50 microbreweries here.
Bars – like Dublin’s L Mulligan, The Salt House in Galway and Cork’s Bierhaus – were established with a focus on craft beer and, best of all, your local started to stock something interesting. Irish craft beer is now being exported to 25 countries, and there is strong potential. Bord Bia’s Denise Murphy points out that it is commissioning a study of the craft beer category in North America, hoping in 2016 to run a collaborative effort, promoting Irish craft beer – rather than individual brands. As Murphy sees it, Ireland is a small island which will – no pun intended, I’m sure – “soon become saturated. Export is the way to survive.”
That said, she believes “this is the moment for the Irish craft beer movement, there’s no sign of reversal; if there were, the big brewers wouldn’t be so interested in that craft space.”
Export played a large part in ensuring the survival of Carlow Brewing Company in its early days, according to founder Seamus O’Hara. They launched their first beers on to the market in 1998 but, as O’Hara notes, that was a time when “the Irish market didn’t really exist”. They weren’t deterred, focusing instead on export: “It was 75pc of the business up to a few years ago but has gradually balanced itself out 50:50,” says O’Hara. Carlow Brewing worked hard, won awards for its beers at an international level, and when Irish drinkers developed a thirst for craft beer, were ready, willing and able to supply them.
This isn’t just beer for boys; women are also enjoying the new frontier. Emma Devlin, owner-brewer at Rascal’s Brewing in Rathcoole, gets a kick out of drinkers’ preconceptions: “People are often surprised to find out that I own and brew and am 100pc involved. They say: ‘But you, you’re a girl!'”
From her behind-the-keg perspective, she adds: “Although there still is an idea that beer is for men, there are plenty of girls in craft beer bars and interest is growing.”
So what are you waiting for? Step away from the monochrome mainstream and check out the variety, choice and sheer flavour that’s available in the Irish craft beer world. It’s an exciting time to be a beer lover in Ireland. Sláinte!
Caroline Hennessy is the co-author, with Kristin Jensen, of the recently published ‘Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider’ published by New Island
American Christina Wade set up the Dublin Ladies Craft Beer Society in 2013 with Doerthe Woltermann. With more than 300 members, the group encourages craft beer appreciation amongst women, hosts beer and food pairing events, brewery tours and get togethers.
Ten of the best Irish craft brews
No matter where you are in the country, it’s easy to get your hands on a selection of Irish craft beers from independent off licences that will deliver direct. Check out drinkstore.ie, bradleysofflicence.ie and mchughs.ie.
Jack Cody’s Brewery – Puck Pilsner (4.5% ABV)
Light and refreshing but with enough complexity to show why lager doesn’t need to be a dirty word.
Metalman Brewing – Pale Ale (4.3% ABV)
In January, Metalman became the first Irish craft brewery to install a canning line. Their delicious pale ale has long been a favourite on draught; in cans it’s going to reach an even wider (lucky) audience.
Farmageddon Brewing Co-Op – Gold Pale Ale (4.2% ABV)
Born from a love of self-sufficiency, this beer comes from a co-operative group of brewers, based in Comber, Co. Down. Light bodied, with a lovely citrus bitterness.
Kinnegar Brewing – Devil’s Backbone (4.9% ABV)
A rich amber ale from Donegal with deep burnt toffee and dried fruit flavours. Great with pork.
N17 Brewing – Rye Ale (5% ABV)
Owner-brewer Sarah Roarty has an inspiring use-it-all ethos; she’s also a dab hand at brewing. Her smooth, not too hoppy, rye ale (left) has a lovely dry spicy bite.
Black Donkey Brewing – Sheep Stealer (5.5% ABV)
This funky and slightly floral Belgian-style saison (right) comes from Roscommon and is the ideal food-friendly beer.
Eight Degrees Brewing – The Full Irish (6% ABV)
Voted Beer of the Year 2015 by members of Irish beer consumer organisation Beoir, their India Pale Ale (IPA) is a juicy, hoppy pleasure.
Galway Bay Brewing – Of Foam and Fury (8.5% ABV)
Hops, hops and more New World hops in this double IPA, giving it a real fruity depth and a lingering lusciousness.
The white hag – Black Boar (10.2% ABV)
An imperial stout with delicious rich comples malts and a velvety smoothness.
Carlow Brewing company – O’Hara’s Leann Folláin (6% ABV)
A complex dry stout with bitter chocolate notes and a supremely satisfying finish.
Posted on October 6, 2014
On a very wet Autumn morning myself and my buddy Dave set off to Ballinlough in furthest Roscommon. For some reason Google maps brought us the scenic route and we saw parts of Roscommon neither of us had ever seen before, at one stage I thought we were going to end up in Knock, indeed that would have been a different type of experience! We eventually arrived at the brewery which is, as so many Irish breweries are, located in a non descript industrial estate. Beautiful beer can be produced in the strangest of places.
Richard greeted us heartily, he had just taken delivery of some Mosaic hops, more on his plans for those in a bit. The unit is pretty big at 6,000 square feet but he is only using half of it at the moment. He showed us around and explained his plans for the near future. Next month they are taking delivery of a ‘holy shit’ automated bottling line which will ensure that you’ll be able to get Black Donkey beers all over this fine island. He is especially keen on getting into restaurants and ‘gastro’ pubs as Sheep Stealer, the main beer goes exceptionally well with food.
Richard’s plan for the beer is that it will be kept in the cold room and cold conditioned first, the beer is unfiltered, then it’s primed in the tank with fresh fermentables, bottled and put into the warm room where the beer will be stored for two weeks at 23 degrees celsius. I said it was a bit like the way I have put my home brews into the hot press in the past and he agreed, he’s an agreeable sort. He’s also very proud of the device which he had made to inject the priming sugars into the beer.
Sheep Stealer is the current main beer and it’s on draught in about fifteen pubs around the country including JJ Harlow’s in Roscommon town, the closest spot to the brewery for now. It’s made with Belgian yeast, Irish malt and Irish water of course! Richard had the water tested and while it’s not ideal for making super hoppy beers it’s perfect for maltier Belgian style brews. It’s actually similar to the high calcium, high temporary hardness, low magnesium and low sulphate water that’s used by Westvletereen and St Bernardus. He reckons that the farmhouse style of beer he’s making isn’t a million miles away from the ale that would have been brewed across Ireland before the wave of Black stout swept over the country.
The brewery is going to be busy between now and Christmas as well as the bottling starting in earnest there is a plan to brew a special Pale Ale with American hops maybe the Mosaic ones mentioned earlier, Belgian yeast and Irish malt, that’ll be a truly international brew! Richard also has plans to make a Roggen beer which is not something you see coming out of an Irish brewery every day. I’m looking forward to trying both of those.
All of this talking about beer helped us to work up a bit of a thirst so we had a wee sample or two. While we were at the bar a delivery van arrived with some equipment. The driver was offered a small taste and he declared; ‘It’ll be very hard going back to the chemical piss after tasting that!’
Mr Siberry is an excellent host, I asked him why he moved back from New York to rural Roscommon and he told us in a very round about way that he didn’t fancy growing old in the Big Apple. He also told us some great stories about his time working in various trades from construction to the stock market but sadly I don’t have a lawyer handy to check them in case of possible repercussions. You’ll have to chat to him at a beer show or wait for his autobiography.
Richard gave me a bit of a scoop! It’s not something you get to see very often in this blog as it’s mostly just my ravings! He has an anti gravity device. When he told us this we didn’t know what to expect. But basically it’s some dairy equipment that he’s made into an auxillary mash tun and it means that he can push the gravity of his brews from 1065 all the way up to 1085, that’ll really pack a punch!
Thanks very much to Richard for entertaining us and to Dave for the photography. Keep you eyes peeled over the next couple of months, Black Donkey beers will be available near you and if you see it, try it, Simon says you really should!