CRAFT BREWERY EXPANDS AFTER SUCCESSFUL YEAR
Michael Fisher Northern Standard Carrickmacross News Thursday 11th June
Driving up the laneway to Seamus McMahon’s homestead at Dunelty, Inniskeen, you might think you were entering a dairy farm. On one side there is a large milking parlour for his herd of 120 cows. But a bit further on in what was once a calf shed, there is now an expanding alternative business, the Brehon Brewhouse.
It’s the only brewery of its type on a dairy farm, as Seamus points out. His cows continue to be milked twice daily. But it is beer, rather than milk, which is beginning to bring in more revenue.
The price of milk has continued to fluctuate and milk quotas were abolished two months ago. So this new enterprise was added to reduce the reliance on an income dependent solely on milk.
The Brehon Brewhouse started off as a small-scale venture a year ago, producing four types of bottled beer, crafted by hand. Seamus says their ambition was simple, to produce distinctive beers that reflected the trend towards all things craft and artisan.
After a new roof was put on the shed, along with a roller shutter door, a coat of paint and electrical installation, the space was ready for delivery of plant in April 2014 and the first brew was available in time for the Carrickmacross Festival.
Seamus decided that there was room for expansion and he ordered two large new tanks from China, as the cost was much better. By combining the fermenting and the conditioning processes in the same tank, this will allow the mini brewery to double the production capacity. The new tanks costing €25,000 will make the brewing process a lot more efficient, according to Head Brewer Philip Bizzell from Dublin, who has seven years’ experience of home brew. He said there would be less labour involved and the process would also be more hygienic.
He showed me how they started the brewing process by taking local water and then mashing it with the finest of barley malts.
Some of the malt comes from Germany, some from Britain and some from Ireland. A new malt supplier based nearby in County Louth has just been found. In the copper pans, fragrant hops from around the world are added, depending on the particular beer being produced that day.
The hopped wort is then cooled rapidly through the heat exchanger with chilled water from a nearby lake. After fermentation the beer is filtered and conditioned, if it is to be kegged, or just conditioned if it is to be bottled. One of Seamus’s four daughters Cait was busy working in the bottling area, putting labels on the beer bottles when he showed me the operation. Each blend of beer has a different coloured top, in order to help distinguish it. It usually takes five people two hours to label 3000 bottles when a brew is completed. The beer is left in the bottles to condition, but it can also be supplied in kegs.
Seamus and his wife Siobhán have also converted the old family house just behind the brewery into a visitor centre to host tasting events. Seamus lived there for the first six years of his life. It has its own small bar and some antiques, including the old family range and a vintage bottler and capper. The craft brewery is a potential jewel in the crown for tourism in County Monaghan, according to Bill Cotter of the South Monaghan Tourism Forum.
The beers produced are available in several pubs in County Monaghan, in stores such as SuperValu Carrickmacross and in the Íontas Centre, Castleblayney and the Garage Theatre. They are being distributed nationwide and now the push will be on to export them to the United States and the UK as part of a promotion of Irish craft beers.
The Brehon Blonde is a very pale, golden beer. Ulster Black is a hand crafted Irish stout. Stony Grey IPA takes its name from the stony grey soil of Monaghan. Killanny Red is an Irish ale. A Summer Ale is also available.
This weekend there will be a double celebration for the McMahon family in the old homestead, Coinciding with the expansion and the first year in business, there will be a party to congratulate the couple’s eldest daughter Ellen, who has graduated as a doctor from UCC. They will be joined by Ruth who is studying to be a physiotherapist in Liverpool, Cait, who is training in Dublin to be a national school teacher and by their youngest daughter Bella, a transition year student at St Louis Secondary School, Carrickmacross. It promises to be a busy year ahead for the Brehon Brewhouse.