In a bit of a Hot Chocolate rewrite – “It started with a tweet……” which led to a meeting with the organisers of two of the most significant beery events coming out of Manchester in 2016.
I was there, in the Knott Bar, listening to plans and ideas. I was overwhelmed with beer information (It was 1 month prior to The Independent Salford Beer Festival – I was OVERLOADED!). Then the question…
“So. Who fancies coming to brew a beer at Mourne Mountains Brewery?”
A moment’s hesitation from Connor meant that I found myself, on a blustery and rainy November morning (EARLY) flying Sleazyjet to the airport formerly known as Aldergrove, just outside of Belfast.
I was excited.
Anybody with a passing knowledge of Northern Ireland’s “beer scene” will know that it has been/is dominated by Guinness and Tennants. Nitrogenated “Stout”, “Red Ale” & Lager. In short, Grim.
But shortly after being picked up from Aldergrove by Tom Ray – Head Brewer of Mourne Mountains, I started to think that there might be a stirring. A releasing of that dread grip if you will….
We were here to brew. Well, shovel and stir etc….. And I have to say, that this is one of the most impressively set up Micros that I’ve seen! Huge space. Spanking new 10Bbl kit. A mill for the barley……
Located in Warrenpoint, on the banks of the Carlingford Lough and right on the border with the Republic, this town feels almost as close to Dublin as it does to Belfast. A beautiful small town with a thriving working port (always a thing that pulls at my heartstrings).
This brew was to be an IPA. At the perfect strength of 5.5%. Neither too big, not too small. Just right.
Connaire McGreevy, the founder and owner of Mourne Mountains, is a successful businessman and a keen beer lover and had the idea for having a brewery that brewed something, well…..better that the output of the all dominating giants. Not fancying full-time brewing himself, he took to that great friend to brewers and drinkers alike. Twitter.
And Tom answered the call. A brewer at Ridleys and the excellent Crouch Vale in Essex previously, he and his family had settled in Northern Ireland for some time when the tweet was seen and he fancied getting back into hands-on brewing. And making something different. What was obvious in our numerous chats was his passion for great beer.
With a 10:20 mash in that involved VERY little input from neither Andy nor myself, this was the first brewery that I have seen that crushes their own malt! I was fascinated (childishly so) by the crusher. The crushed malt (or grist) being pumped above the Mash Tun and mixed with hot liquor on its way into the vessel……
350kg of Malt (Pale, Wheat, Caramalt & Crystal). 10Bbl kit. Shedloads of aroma hops (Cascade & Chinook). And skill. That should be all that you need to know!
We had a number of tasters of the Mourne range throughout the brew. They were all excellent tasty beers, I was particularly taken with the “Big Rock” Wheat Beer and the East Coast IPA (the beer being brewed), both superb examples of the styles.
I’m not going to bore you with the standard “Brew Day”. One is much like another.
- You make a BIG bowl of porridge.
- You strain off the juice.
- You boil it with hops for more flavor
- You add more hops for taste and aroma.
- You add yeast.
- VOILA! Beer!!!
Unless you make good beer in Northern Ireland.
Dominated by Guinness (in its many beery forms) and C&C Group (Owners of Magners Cider & Tennents Caledonian & ABInbev distributors)
This is not an easy battle to win. This is a fight against decades of ingrained – almost genetically passed down – drinking custom and culture.
But if the beer is good, it’s worth fighting for. And the beers that Tom brews at Mourne are worthy of that fight.
Having finished the brew and leaving it merrily fermenting away, we checked into our hotel (The Lough & Quay on Havelock Place – facing the quayside and Carlingford Lough), ate in the hotel with Tom & Conor (Assistant Brewer). Then we had a beer and a little Warrenpoint tour, courtesy of Conor.
That is when the dire state of the beer scene in much of Northern Ireland was starkly revealed.
In the hotel, they had a bar with some of the Mourne beers on draught. In NI, draught overwhelmingly means keg. They had Mist (Pilsner), Gold (a juicy light Golden Ale), Big Rock (Wheat Beer) and Red Trail (Red IPA). The Red Trail and the Pilsner would play to local perceptions with the predominance of Red Ales and Lagers, but the Gold seemed to be doing quite well too, which is a big ask in such a market.
I do love that Big Rock Wheat though!!!!
We went in a few other local pubs, guided by Conor – part MM Cheerleader, part local tour guide – and the dominance of those big companies’ brands was clear. Heverlee, Clonmel, Tennants, Guinness, Smithwcks were on taps everywhere.
The hope was in the bottle fridges. Mourne Mountains, bits of Brewdog, but little else. Conor was a consummate salesman getting people to have a taste of some of the Mourne beers, but this is a desert for good beer. And Tom, Connaire & Conor are making inroads by making good beer that in part appeals to local tastes, whilst simultaneously pushing the local beer envelope.
To be honest, I couldn’t get back to the hotel quick enough. For some more juicy Mourne Gold & Big Rock!
This is good Irish beer. Try some. It’s #Tryanuary after all!
And – if you fancy a change in scene, Warrenpoint is a nice pretty seaside town. I’ll be back for sure!
(What a view to wake up to!)
The next day, after a hearty breakfast in the Lough & Quay and some more tidying at the brewery, it was time to go home – through some more foul weather. But Tom had a further little treat in store…… In the total spirit of #Tryanuary, he was taking us somewhere new…
Brewbot Belfast is a bar located on the Ormeau Road, about 2-3 miles south of Belfast city centre. On walking in, it felt….like home. Except without cask of course……
The Brewbot is a beer making machine, controlled by an app. A home Pico Brewery if you like. And if you look very carefully at the above pic….you may just about see one …top right.
Or look here for a close up….
The kit is designed for the small scale, full -mash home-brew drinker/brewer. The bar is another kettle of piscine beauty. It felt like something was starting here. Like the WOW that Port Street Beer House must have provoked when it first opened.
A fine range of “C” beers from all over. Ireland, UK, Europe. Simply massive bottle range. Good food too.
We were given a little tour of the “top secret” build facility upstairs too. WOW! No pics allowed, but, if you have a couple of grand spare and fancy a pico brewery that looks like it has climbed out of a Scandinavian style mag….. then join the waiting list!
I had a quick chat with one of the bar managers. The highest praise that I could give, was that this place would fit in the NQ of Manchester and STILL provoke a WOW.
This was a brilliant weekend. Massive thanks to Connaire, Tom & Conor for putting us up, picking us up, putting us back, putting up with us and generally…. Showing us that there is some excellent beer in Northern Ireland. And THEY are making a lot of it!
Thanks for Tom too for diverting to Brewbot. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Thanks to Andy for the trip. Even if the flights were things of terror!
And to you for reading.
This is #Tryanuary.
Try a new beer.
Try a new Brewery.
Or a new pub or bar. Or Micro pub.
In this month of all months, pubs/bars/breweries need your support.
They’ve got mine for sure.
(A version of this post was first posted on the Tryanuary website on 09/01/2015)