Friday 19 October 2018

Brehon lays down law in craft brewing

Brewhouse at the back of working dairy farm making strides

Brewer Phil Bizzell (left) and Seamus McMahon, Brehon Brewhouse
Brewer Phil Bizzell (left) and Seamus McMahon, Brehon Brewhouse

Francis Carroll

Craft breweries are growing across Ireland, and this is reflected in the north-east where one of their number, Brehon Brewhouse, is making strides since being set up by Seamus McMahon in 2014.

In his own words, he started in order 'to try to level the curve' and take a bit of the pressure off as a result of fluctuating milk prices.

Yes, Seamus still tends a herd of cattle in Killanny, Co Monaghan, not far from the border with Louth, and has been described as the only dairy farmer/brewer in Europe.

Indeed, he established the brewhouse out the back of his farm, and will be in business two years next April.

Many drinkers will be familiar with Brehon Blonde, Ulster Black, Stoney Grey IPA (the name. a nod to poet Patrick Kavanagh who came from nearby Inniskeen) and Killanny Red, among others.

'When the idea was planted, and the finance arranged, including a grant from Monaghan Enterprise, we wanted to hit the ground running and employed a brewer when he knew what we wanted,' explained Seamus.

Top of the list was a red and blonde beer, specifically to appeal to the traditional lager and ale drinkers from Monaghan, Cavan and Louth.

The recipe, so to speak is all down to the brewer, Phil Bizzell, originally from Dublin, where he worked in L Mulligan Grocer, where his special interest was to work on the pairing of beer with food.

He is a founder member of Beer Ireland, and has been very pleasantly surprised by the local reception of Brehon.

'Phil read our brief, saw what we were looking at, and he came down. He was the only person we interviewed. We are lucky to have him,' said Seamus.

The Brehon website explains the brewing process: 'We start by taking water that has fallen on the rolling drumlins surrounding us and then mash it with the finest of barley malts.

'In our copper we add fragrant hops from around the world depending on the particular beer we are brewing that day.

'The hopped wort is then cooled rapidly through the heat exchanger with chilled water from our own lake…..a very 'green' process.

'After fermentation the beer is filtered and conditioned, if it is to be kegged, or just conditioned if it is to be bottled.'

The Brehon Blonde is described as a refreshing, very pale, golden beer with a hoppy and citrus overtone and a malty, biscuity finish. Fabulous with fish or spicy dishes.

The Ulster Black is not your usual stout. It is a hand-crafted Irish stout with subtle dark chocolate and coffee undertones and a smooth but satisfying finish. Delicious with meat and cheese dishes.

Meanwhile, the Stony Grey is a fabulously well-hopped IPA that's refreshing and ready to excite. Great on its own but just perfect with a sharp Cheddar Ploughmans or with Indian and Mexican food.

The Killanny Red is a 'grand' Irish ale with russet red hues and a slightly malty, nutty flavour. Perfect with meats and cheeses or savoured on its own.

Seamus reports the beers have been well received locally in Monaghan, Cavan and Dundalk; and they have doubled capacity from last year.

The name has spread by word of mouth in most cases.

'The vast majority of pubs are independently owned. You build up a rapport with them, and see how it goes. A lot of pubs have come looking for a tap,' he pointed out.

Capacity has been doubled from last year.

One brew equates to 3,000 bottles and 50 kegs; and at maximum production there is four or five brews a week. That's a lot of beer produced by three full-time employees and three part-timers.

Brehon is with various wholesalers nationwide, and through Ireland Craft Beers they are exporting to London and Paris, and ready for America.

'The next push is towards export. At the moment we've probably not enough beer to satisfy where we want to go,' Seamus remarked.

And where did he get the name of the enterprise from?

'Brehon comes from Brehon Law in ancient times when every village had a brewery,' the boss explained.

'We didn't want anything too Paddywhackery.'

Paddywhackery! - there is nothing fake or faux Irish about Brehon.

Irish Independent