Craft Beer and Irish Whiskey – What the Best Friends Can Learn from Each Other
In the last decade there has been a groundswell in both the Irish craft beer and the Irish whiskey trades. While the liquids share the same DNA – barley and water – each industry has different strengths that the other could potentially learn from.
Enjoy with food
The craft beer breweries definitely had their day in the sun sooner and quicker than their friends in the whiskey business. One thing microbreweries executed well from the start was reaching consumers in restaurants. Venues caught on to the craft beer menu even before pubs and off licences realized what was happening.
The dining experience is an opportune way to wean consumers onto a new, premium drink. A few reasons why: first, you are seated and relaxed instead of queuing or standing in a shop. Your patience levels are higher and you’re more open to new things.
Second, the staff that looking after you is more likely to suggest a pairing with your food which causes a good first impression for the beer and a more enjoyable experience. Finally, you feel less pressure asking a waiter or a sommelier to recommend a beer from the menu than at a bar where things can be rushed if it’s busy.
While whiskey goes great with food as well, educating restaurant staff is important. They could, for example, offer Irish whiskey with cheese boards and desserts would have a similar effect that craft beer menus have.
On separate thought, a hot topic in Irish whiskey news lately has been transparency. While not every independent whiskey bottler has been forthcoming about the origins of their product, Irish microbreweries have shown great integrity when it comes to contract brews and credit where it’s due.
The whiskey brands in question could take a leaf out of their book if they want to gain the trust of their consumers.
Turning the tables, there are good practices that Irish breweries could glean from the Irish whiskey sector. A factor in the revival of Irish whiskey was exclusive style. Namely, the single pot still expression of whiskey, which uses raw barley as well as malted barley in the mash. The reason you could call this an ‘exclusive style’ is that it is essentially indigenous to Ireland, being produced nowhere else in the world.
During a recent visit to the Dingle Distillery, Master distiller Michael Walsh said that their winter release will be a single pot still whiskey. Now here’s a distillery with exclusive style, their batches are so small that the first bottling of single malt had a limited purchase rule – no more than 2 bottles per person. I can’t wait for the next one!
Another positive trait of good distilleries like Dingle and some others, is utilizing and emphasizing Irish terroir. The Irish grain and Irish water going into the spirit is certainly a contributor to the unique flavours in Irish whiskey.
The upcoming Waterford Distillery has many indications of their value for grain origins on their website which is exciting and worth watching. The journey from the grain to your glass could also benefit local barley farmers and maltsters.
Why do I say that craft breweries can learn from having exclusive style and more use of Irish terroir, as if they don’t already? Well many breweries out there are bombarding us with a myriad of IPA’s. “We have an IPA, a session IPA, double IPA, grapefruit IPA, New England Style IPA…” and on the list goes.
One of the reasons that stout excelled as a style here in Ireland is that the water – with its high levels of residual alkaline – is very suitable for brewing dark beers. In other words, Irish breweries at that time played their strongest hand and got a great reputation for it. Dry stout may not be 100% exclusive to Ireland but in terms of notoriety, it might as well be.
In the whiskey scene, to be Irish actually means something. Teeling even highlights that Dublin Whiskey was once a style in itself and they intend to make it so again. Let’s see Irish brewers do the same, this impact of this could make Irish beer more interesting and sought after.
There’s no better way for any two institutions to learn from each other than collaboration. We have already seen this happen successfully between Irish breweries and distilleries. Breweries small and large have aged their beers in seasoned whiskey barrels. Good examples are Galway Bay and Dotbrew who both used ex-Teeling barrels. Five Lamps did a red ale, an IPA and a stout all in ex-Glendalough barrels.
There have been a few more who have since followed suit but the trailblazer was Franciscan Well in 2013. Their Stout aged in Jameson Barrels was delicious and that came full circle when the stout barrels returned to Jameson and the whiskey went back in the now ex-stout barrels. Jameson Caskmates was born, which became a hit and was continued further collaborating with US and UK breweries and now an IPA edition debuted at home.
I personally wasn’t blown away by the IPA edition but would still enjoy a glass of the stout finish from time to time. The Teeling release aged in ex-Two Hundred Fathoms barrels is a great expression of this breed, it pairs incredibly with the same beer too.
Where does this path of cross pollination lead? My prediction for Irish beer and whiskey’s future is that we will eventually see what they are now calling in the States “Brewstilleries” here in Ireland.
Well known breweries have been distilling their craft beers, big names like Anchor who have a Rye Whiskey and Rogue who have at least four different whiskey’s including one with chipotle peppers in the brewing and maturation stages. Lough Gill brewery are planning a distillery so maybe they will be the first. A bit gimmicky, but kind of cool. When it happens, you heard it here first.
Jamie is a Dublin native with a love for craft beer and Irish whiskey. He is a guide for Dublin Whiskey Tours and his life goal is to start a microbrewery.
In the meantime he writes a blog jamiesbeertalk.ie as an outlet. His favourite topics are pairing beer with food, cigars, and whiskey. To learn Jamie’s findings on pairing beer with whiskey, read Beer with whiskey – the ultimate drinks convoy