Craft beers are slowly but surely changing the face of the Irish beer market. Shane Hannon took a trip to the newly established Brehon Brewhouse recently to look at the beer-making process as a brewery finds it feet
Situated among the rolling drumlins of south County Monaghan, the Brehon Brewhouse has only been up and running for a matter of months. The rural set-up has a rustic charm to it that fits the artisan nature of microbrewing. Run primarily by Seamus and Siobhán McMahon, the brewery is housed in an old shed on a farm behind a milking parlour, not far from the pub where local poet Patrick Kavanagh would have taken a pint.
Kavanagh himself would have turned 110 years of age on October 21st, and his memory lives on in the area. The Brehon Brewhouse even have a fabulously well-hopped and refreshing Indian Pale Ale (IPA) in the pipeline named ‘Stony Grey’, in honour of Kavanagh’s poem ‘Stony Grey Soil’ which describes the land in the Farney county. “We’re in the process of doing the IPA. We did a test brew and we’re waiting to see how that’s coming along.”
Microbreweries began to emerge in Ireland in the 1990s, and by the start of 2014 there were around 50 such craft brewing businesses either in production or planning across the country. Siobhán McMahon of the Brehon Brewhouse explains that Ireland has been slow to accept craft beer as quickly as our neighbours across the Irish Sea. “You could go into a bar in Ireland with your eyes closed, you know what’s going to be there; Bulmers, Harp, Heineken and the rest. If you go to England it’s a totally different story, they have a great variety. It’s a fear of the unknown (in Ireland).”
The Brehon name is spreading quite rapidly throughout the craft-brewing industry in this country, with the ‘Brehon Blonde’ pale beer and ‘Killanny Red’ grand Irish ale already on the shelves of supermarkets and in bars and restaurants. Co-owner Siobhán explains that “Cork was really first, then Dublin and Belfast as well.Hopefully people will get the taste for it.” The Brehon website states “…we want our beers to be approachable and appreciated”, and that certainly looks like becoming the case. “We are supplying through SuperValu with the Food Academy, which is promoting newly-started businesses. We’re in SuperValu in Cavan and Monaghan and some in Dublin that were formerly Superquinn.”
Craft beers are renowned for an emphasis on quality, flavour and brewing technique, and the slow brewing process highlights the attention to detail. Everything at Brehon is hand-crafted, with two people bottling, two or three capping and one taking bottles and putting them in crates after the patient brewing process has ceased. Once the beers are bottled another two weeks of secondary fermentation must begin for the beer to bubble up again. “They are brewed to be a session beer so you can go and have 5/6 pints. People say they are strong but they are the standard 4.3% (blonde) and 4.5% (red). It’s the flavour that’s strong.” One major advantage is that Brehon use no preservatives, so a pounding hangover won’t be an issue.
Lager accounts for 60% of the beer sold in Ireland, but Brehon have no intention of going down that route just yet. “Maybe at some stage we might, but people are familiar with lager in its current form and we don’t want to be taking that on yet. It’s a craft beer; it is meant to be different and have a different flavour.”
Word of mouth is vital for any craft beer company getting on its feet, and Siobhán McMahon is confident more and more people are hearing about Brehon. “We were at the Taste of Cavan and got a lot of good feedback. It was the first time I saw for myself on the ground that there was a market for it, people wanted to buy it.”
‘Brehon Blonde’ and the ‘Killanny Red’ are available bottled and on tap in increasing numbers of establishments, including the award-winning Andy’s Bar and Restaurant in Monaghan Town. “We want our four basics; our blonde, our red, our IPA and our Ulster Black (subtle dark chocolate and coffee stout), and after that we will do seasonal ones like our Christmas stout and maybe a beer high in citrus hops for the summer.”
The small team at Brehon Brewhouse have made a flying start, and when every pint and bottle is hand-crafted, you can be sure you have a drink that is brewed to absolute perfection.