Yes, I do love beer. And so, shortly after moving to Ireland I found out that this country is an absolute El Dorado for micro breweries and craft beer producers!
It was only the logical next step to do some research and find out where the nearest of these delightful facilities could be found and – lo and behold – there are two within less than an hour’s drive from where I live!
After some e-mailing back and forth, my wife got me an appointment for a tour at the West Kerry Brewery in Ballyferriter, near the western tip of the Dingle Peninsula. I admit that I was excited like a kid on the way to the toy shop and I was not to be disappointed!
The brewery stands next to the Tig Bhric Pub in Riasc, but if you’d look for the marks of an industrial facility, you would remain clueless. No big brewing hall, no massive warehouse with hundreds of casks. All that gave me a hint was a couple of steel tanks I saw when I pulled up at the pub (which is for sale, by the way).
While my son of two made contact with several dogs and Bobo, the one-eyed cat, I did the same with the owners, Adrienne and Paul.
Adrienne immediately took me under her wings and explained the principles of beer brewing to me. Not that I have never heard this before, but since college I was more interested in sampling the product than learning about the production process.
Patiently she walked me through the stages, explaining fermenting and conditioning tanks and pointing out interesting details that I had never heard about before.
For example, did you know that ‘bottle-conditioned beer’ means that fresh yeast is added to the beer before the bottling, so it continues to ferment?
Bottling is where Daniel entered the picture. He is a soft-spoken, bespectacled guy wearing a wool jumper, who fills and caps the bottles – by hand! Don’t get me wrong, he is not using a spoon to fill the bottles or a hammer to fix the cap, that’s done with simple machinery. But placing the bottles under the spout, putting the caps on and all the other little operations are done by hand.
To process one 400-litre batch takes Daniel a little over a day.
‘And what’s next?’, I asked him. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘we take the bottles upstairs and warm them up a little so the condensate dries off and the labels stick properly.’
So ‘upstairs’ is my next destination. Here, Nora is sitting, carefully labeling and stamping each bottle before it is packed into boxes, ready for shipping.
‘It’s like a therapy for me’, she said, ‘and what else would I do. Sit at home?’ Right she is!
Of course I did not part without tasting one of the beers; I had a sip of Cúl Dorcha and loved it, down to the bitter sting on my tongue!
I left, armed with Adrienne’s tasting notes and the distinct impression that at West Kerry Brewery they have a passion for beer and they enjoy what they do!
Facts about the West Kerry Brewery (or Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne in Irish):
The brewery was founded 2008 and had until recently an output of 400 litres per week. Because of the high demand, production has now been doubled and according to co-owner Adrienne Heslin, it still looks as if that is not enough.
The three beers continuously produced are:
- Carraig Dubh, a smooth, traditional Porter with flavors of coffee and vanilla (6% abv).
- Cúl Dorcha, a dark, fruity ale with hints of chocolate, balanced with the bitterness of hops (5% abv).
- Béal Bán, a pale ale with subtle hop aroma and a caramel malt aftertaste (5% abv).
The Brewery is located in Riasc, near the village of Ballyferriter on the R559, right next to the Tig Bhric Pub (which in turn is next to the road sign pointing to the Wine Strand).
If you are interested in a brewery tour with beer tasting, simply join an organised tour with Ireland To See.