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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Antarcticly Cool Lager

After an overnight ferry and the drive to the West Coast of Ireland I fancied relaxing, so I headed to the bar of the Dingle Skellig Hotel for a pint, glad that hotels serve on Good Friday even if the pubs are all shut.

The usual suspects were all on tap, Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks and assorted multinational Lagers and then my eye fell on Tom Creans, a lager from the Dingle Brewing Company. Now I am not usually a huge fan of lager, though a Peroni in Italy is always acceptable but my dedication to Local products meant that this ought to be tasted.

“Not seen that one before” I said to the barman as he pulled my pint, “They have only been going since last Summer” he replied.

Sinking into a deep leather chair I tried my first mouthful. Light, crisp , with a bit of a bite and well chilled it really hit the mark. Making further enquiries I discovered that the brewery was open to the public and determined to get along there to find out more.

“Do you know why it’s called Tom Crean’s” asked the barman as I ordered a second pint, luckily I did. Tom Crean was born on the Dingle peninsular and was a major figure in Antarctic exploration, travelling with both Scott and Shackleton. On Scott’s doomed mission Tom Crean fell ill and was excluded from the final party who died in the snow, but still returned with Shackleton.

When that expedition ran into trouble Tom Crean set off with Shackleton, in a small boat to the whaling station on South Georgia to get relief for the rest of the crew stranded on Elephant Island. Landing on the opposite side of the island he covered 35 miles over mountains in 18 hours, a feat reflected in the lager’s badge – a compass pointing South and the words 18/35.

Tom Crean retired to his home village of Anascaul – a few kilometres from Dingle and took over the local pub which he renamed The South Pole Inn.

Tom rarely, if ever, spoke of his explorations and ran the pub until his death in 1938.

Fittingly the beer was launched in The South Pole at 18:35 on his birthday 21st July 2011.

Finding the brewery is easy, just follow the sign to the Conor Pass and it is the big white building on the edge of town. It used to be the local creamery then stood empty for a number of years before being converted into a brewery and there are some relics from the creamery days inside.

Anyone can visit and be assured of a warm welcome though the full visitor experience is still a work in progress but do not let that put you off.

An explanation of the brewing process is being built and you are free to wander around the brewery with only access to the control panels being roped off as brewing was in progress.

There are a number of connections with South Wales, firstly being the fact that Shackleton set off from Cardiff flying the red dragon flag and, indeed he raised a lot of the capital needed through public appeals in South Wales. Secondly one of the exhibits from the old Creamery days is an Alfa Laval milk separator which would have been built in their Cwmbran factory, now sadly closed.

Another more tenuous link is that on Scott’s fatal expedition one of the crew was a south Walian who intended, like Tom, to run a pub when he returned. Sadly this was not to be as he froze to death. The final link is that the National Museum of Wales has been holding an exhibition of Antarctic Exploration Photography with many images of Tom Crean.

I hoped to take a bottle of the beer back to Wales and sneak a photo of it with the exhibits in Cardiff but was thwarted as bottled Tom Crean's will not be available for another few weeks as the recipe has to be slightly amended for bottling.

But enough of history, back to the present and the story of the new beer.

At its simplest beer is just a combination of Malted Grain, Water, Hops and Yeast, not a lot different to bread though obviously the water : grain proportions are very different! Like bread it is how you combine the elements and the quality of the ingredients that determine the outcome.

Where the multinational beer factories make significant additions and take a purely chemical approach to brewing small breweries such as the Dingle Brewing Company and Tiny Rebel in Wales produce an artisan beer where it is the skill of the brewer not a computer programme that determines the outcome.

The brewing process is clearly demonstrated in explanatory exhibits and you are able to get up close and personal with the brew in a way that a huge factory would never allow.

Obviously having only one beer available at present could be seen as an issue but, start small, get it right and develop a range over time is the way to go. Small or micro-breweries offer something that the chemi-brewers cannot, a quality product developed with much customer feedback and one that reflects local taste.

Dingle Brewing Company fit perfectly into this model and have formed a partnership with a Dingle butcher who is using the lager to add an additional taste element to his sausages. They are as good as the lager itself and beer and pork have a natural affinity which is well documented in the snags.

I am looking forward to my next visit when I hope to try a new beer or two and hopefully bring a few bottles home.

At present Tom Creans is available across Kerry and in limited outlets in Cork and Dublin but the sheer quality of the pint means that it will be demanded elsewhere.

A small, new brewery but one that is undoubtedly local and destined to be great.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the kind words about Crean's,Be sure to keep in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter