Inside the Galway Bay Brewery in Galway, Ireland, a tiny batch of imperial stout lies in Irish
whiskey barrels. When brewmaster Chris Treanor’s newest creation is released in
late February, it will join a small but growing number of imperial stouts —
stronger, more intense stouts — brewed in the country.
hand, it’s surprising the trend took so long to start. Few drinks seem more
Irish than one that marries the two drinks the country proudly claims to have
invented centuries ago, whiskey and stout. On the other hand, considering
Guinness’s domination of Irish brewing, and Treanor’s personal story, it’s
amazing the Two Hundred Fathoms imperial stout is being made
brewmasters, Treanor’s roots were in home brewing – but his trajectory from a
college kid making beer at home to save money to Ireland’s (and possibly Europe’s)
youngest brewmaster is uncommon. His is a story that could happen few places
besides Ireland, where the burgeoning craft beer scene is promising, but still
just young enough for a now-23-year-old to make his mark.
series of fortunate events just after college that he compares to winning the
lottery, Treanor found himself in charge of the only brewpub in Galway, creating
his own recipes to release on tap. Less than a year later, in 2013, Galway Bay
expanded to a new facility with a 100,000-litre capacity – more than 12 times the
size of the brewery’s original facility next door, allowing him to experiment even
further. Beers like Two Hundred fathoms illustrate how far Irish stout has come in the last few
Guinness first started brewing stout in the late 18th Century, very
few other breweries have successfully produced the beer in its ancestral home. In
the 19th Century, Ireland had more than 200 breweries, but in modern
times the Irish have had virtually no choice of stout except Guinness, and
its much smaller competitors Murphy’s and
Beamish. Then, in the mid 1990s, a few
independent companies entered the brewing scene and changed everything.
Cassidy, owner of JW Sweetman, the only pub in Dublin that brews beer
onsite, said much of the reason it took so long for smaller producers to begin
competing with Ireland’s big breweries is because of brand loyalty. Most Irish,
Cassidy added, also still lack a sophisticated palate for different types of
“Give us a
potato and we can tell you if it’s a regular potato, a roast potato – we can
even tell you what county it’s from,” Cassidy said. “[But] we’re terrible with
flavour profile… we’re just now starting to get better.”
a point. Even Guinness, the stout by which all others are measured, is not
particularly flavourful compared to many of its US counterparts. Don’t get me
wrong: I love Guinness. But it’s the subtlety and the creamy, silky texture that
make it so enjoyable. In fact, the Guinness Draught we know today is likely a
smoother, less robust version of the original. Now at a moderate 4.2% alcohol,
a pint of plain, as it’s famously called, has basically
become session beer.
less, droves of tourists still head to Ireland on a pilgrimage for a pint of
Guinness in the beer’s homeland, and swear it tastes better than in any other
place on Earth – there have even been studies that have proved that claim to be true.
Some say Guinness
tastes better in Ireland because beer doesn’t travel well; it’s intended to be
drunk fresh. But Guinness is brewed in almost 50 countries worldwide, so most
pints don’t have to travel that far (Guinness states all of its draught beer in
the UK, Ireland and North America is brewed in Dublin). Then there’s the urban
legend that the pub taps throughout Dublin flow directly from the Guinness
brewery at St James Gate. But the real reason likely has
just as much to do with sentimentality; Guinness tastes better in Ireland just
like a glass of Chianti tastes better while overlooking the hills of Tuscany. Going
further with the idea that the Guinness’ taste is largely psychological, Cassidy
went so far as to say the famously laborious Guinness
pour is more about “theatre” than it
is about taste.
harp and shamrock logos, and its monopolization of St Patrick’s Day, nothing screams
Ireland like Guinness, giving it more brand recognition than nearly any major
beer on Earth. But this brand loyalty, combined with restrictive tax laws and
Guinness’s stranglehold on beer distributors, has made it difficult for craft
brewers to compete – until recently.
of Ireland’s three big stouts – Guinness, Beamish and Murphy’s – are Irish
owned, which has been a boon for the country’s young craft brewing industry as
Irish consumers start to look for flavourful local beer.
first craft brewpub, The Porterhouse, opened in Dublin’s iconic Temple
Bar neighbourhood in 1996, it seemed doomed to fail. But surprisingly to most,
it became so successful it soon opened two other locations in Ireland, as well
as one in London and most recently one in New York. Part of Porterhouse’s
success probably had to do with its design – it has an energetic atmosphere, located in Dublin’s
most touristy area, with tables made from copper brewing equipment and a live-music
stage that rises through the centre of its three stories. It also makes some
very good beer, including the oyster stout: a sweet, creamy, slightly smoky
brew with a bit of a salty kick, due to the fact that it’s brewed with
year Porterhouse started serving pints to its patrons, Carlow Brewing Company in County Carlow began bottling O’Hara’s beer, today Ireland’s most
ubiquitous craft beer.
with those standout successes, another decade passed before craft brewing
really took off. In part thanks to the trailblazers of O’Haras and Porterhouse,
and in part thanks to government tax breaks implemented in 2005, the number of
Irish microbreweries began to grow. Soon after, breweries like Gallway Hooker
outside of Galway, and Franciscan Well in Cork (which was purchased by
Molson Coors in 2013) started producing high quality beer. Word about the new
wave of Irish beer began to spread. Demand for something different grew so big,
microbrewing spread to even the tiniest villages.
almost 250 years after opening, the Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna, a village of less
than 1,000, started brewing in-house under the name Burren Brewery, called such
because of the town’s proximity to the limestone landscapes of the Burren and the
Cliffs of Moher. Today, the Burren Red is so popular they have trouble keeping
it in stock. While the Burren Black is slightly more bitter, and not quite as
silky as Guinness, it still went down easy.
Galway, after I had a small sampler of Treanor’s beer, he recommended I sample
a pint of limited edition Kindred Spirit from County Cork’s Eight Degrees Brewing at Oslo Bar and Microbrewery, the brewpub that houses Galway
Bay. Aged in 25-year Irish whiskey barrels from Teeling Whiskey Company,
Kindred Spirit was a smokey black beer with a subtle hint of oak and whiskey.
beauty of a country with such a small craft brewing industry – the city’s
only microbrewery still supports other local brewers rather than competing with