White Gypsy Brewery – The Story behind the Making of a First Class Brewer and a First Class Irish Stout

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White Gypsy Brewery Tasting at Greenville, 11th June 2017.

I love to leave local produce for guests who stay at Greenville. I will leave out a local cheese like Cashel Blue and a freshly made soda bread from my own kitchen and suggest they use full fat Irish butter on the bread – so I have to leave that out too, as otherwise guests may be tempted to desecrate the bread with some low fat spread. In more recent times another product has been added to the list. I leave a bottle or two of White Gypsy Brewery beer for people to sample, with some tasting glasses, specially designed for the brewery ( for a full list of their produce see http://www.whitegypsy.ie/).  I am always looking for high quality products to promote that originate in Tipperary.

From Hewlett Packard to Dwan’s Brewery – the Making of a Craft Brewer

In the late 90s Nollaig Baker and I, who were originally part of the tourism group ‘Tipperary Heartlands’, organised an event in Dwan’s Brewery in Thurles, launching a draft document to promote Tipperary as a county, with a spotlight on locally based food producers. At that stage, this was an innovative approach to take.  Honor Heffernan sang some jazz on the evening; the then Labour Senator, Kathleen O’Meara, launched the document – and we invited people to gather in Dwan’s Brewery in Thurles for the launch. Cuilan Loughnane was working in the brewery at the time and popped out to talk to me during the evening. I remember the conversation. I recall thinking he was clearly a person who was passionate about what he was doing there at that time – brewing beer. Cuilan had left a job at Hewlett Packard earning £650 a week to work in the brewery, earning £150 a week. He told me he had called in to meet Dwan’s original brewer David Jones and Jones acknowledged he was the first person who had come in to him, who knew anything about craft beer production. Cuilan had gained that initial knowledge from some experience in Canada working in brewing a few years earlier. Jones offered him a job. So Cuilan quit his high paying job to follow his passion – beer making.

Export Market

Within a few years Jones had left Dwans, and so had his replacement brewer – so Cuilan was soon running the brewing show there. Very few people had an interest in local craft beer at that stage in Ireland. The market lay in exports. So through a contact in the UK, Tony Brooks, Cuilan started to export the product he was producing in Thurles into the Newcastle/Bristol area and before long they were selling five or six pallets of beer a week into the UK. Happy days, as there was no tax then on exports, and the exchange rate of Sterling to the Irish pound was very good. Things were looking up.

Changing Ireland

But the economy was starting to change thanks to the Celtic Tiger. The market quickly dried up as competitors in the UK started to see they could produce their own beers locally at better value than imports, if not of the same high quality. Dwan’s Brewery was put on the market for sale, so Cuilan had to leave and took on the running of a brewery in Dublin. For six years he took the train to Dublin from Templemore each morning and returned home at night – a gruelling 12 hours a day that only a person passionate about his work could possibly contemplate doing for that length of time. Slowly the Celtic Tiger receded into a cage of history which many of us would rather prefer to forget ever existed.

The Brewery that Followed Recessions – Internationally

In 1996 Paulaner commissioned a brewery in Singapore but no sooner was it operational when the Asian economic crash happened. An Irish accountant from Kinsale, working in Singapore, had the brewery shipped back to Kinsale. He employed two men from New Zealand to run it, but in the absence of a large marketing budget, the two brewers lost interest –  so the brewery closed. Cuilan Loughnane would see an opportunity. Exhausted from the daily grind of travelling to Dublin, he decided to buy the brewery and bring it back to Templemore.  The brewery that originated in Singapore, then was shipped to Kinsale, finally landed in Templemore circa 2008. Just as the country was coming to a halt economically, it finally found a real home, despite following recessions around the world. When asked by his Bank Manager in 2008 what the five year plan was, Cuilan replied, ‘survival’. This came in the form of contract brewing for other businesses, which paid the bills during the recession.

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Mural being painted on the wall of the brewery by David McElgunn of Designedly.

Deal Locally

By this stage a lot of lessons had been learned. White Gypsy Brewery knew that its strength, as a small business, was in the local market. So they decided to focus on a 40 miles radius from Templemore where he and his staff could deal directly with clients, bypass distributors, and give a top class service and product to the publicans who stocked their product. This strategy paid dividends eventually and while changing people’s drinking habits in Ireland, to switch from big mass produced brands to locally produced crafted beer, was not, and possibly is still not, easy, gradually the beer has become popular and is now stocked in numerous local pubs.

Barrels – with a Difference

Despite the primary focus being local – White Gypsy Brewery still wanted to produce a beer that they could sell abroad. People might not think there is a connection between brewing beer and producing fine quality wines. Cuilan knew otherwise. He knew Guinness, at an earlier stage in their history, had used Russian oak to mature their stout, so with this in mind he headed to Dijon in France to see if he could get the right type of barrel made to mature his beer. Initially he was not taken seriously but still brought back to Templemore a basic oak barrel and started to take notes about the reaction between it and the beer. A year later he went back to Dijon and it was clear that he was, in fact, very serious about things, this time he returned to Templemore with a better barrel for continuing the experiment. Finally, after a lot of analysis and tasting, the correct combination was struck in using both French and American oak to create the perfect barrel. That, combined with adjusting the barrel to avoid oxygen affecting the beer (unlike wine, beer will be ruined by oxygen), the final product now sits in White Gypsy Brewery Templemore – the first of its kind ever made, a barrel specially designed to mature a craft stout.

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A barrel with a difference.

Brewing and Bread Making

I have a sourdough starter here at Greenville, that I mentioned in an earlier blog called GV. GV is now almost 2 years old, made from some apples from our orchard, strong flour and water, I feed it every day by taking out some of the mixture and adding in some more flour and water. This keeps the ‘culture’ alive – it is a living yeast and is used in sourdough bread making. I was very interested when Cuilan described, at his Open Day at the Brewery on June 30th last, the three key ingredients in making a beer unique to a brewery – 1): the microbes on the husks of the barley, which are living organisms; 2): the yeast used to ferment the beer, which is also alive; 3): the microorganisms in the room where the beer is brewed – all create the ‘good bacteria’ or ‘culture’, that destroy the ‘bad bacteria’, that can harm the beer. Get these 3 living things working together in a beer barrel, that has the right mixture of oak and is the correct size (as ratio of timber to liquid is very important too), and you can create a highly original and good quality product, that stays alive, once fed regularly (you take out some beer and add in more, just like feeding the sourdough starter). If the barrels are also ‘soured’, this helps ensure the product stays stable – and is capable of being exported to different climates.

Keeping Irish Stout at the Forefront of the International Market

Now White Gypsy Brewery have the tools to produce a fine quality stout that can be sold in smaller quantities, outside of Ireland. The product is ‘stable’ because the cultures are stable that ferment and give it flavor and maturity. Everything I have outlined here is of course, much more complex in practice than it sounds in theory and takes years of knowledge and hard experience to master. The passion and perseverance behind it all is what has led to this success story, and I have no doubt White Gypsy Brewery in Templemore will keep Irish stout at the forefront of the international market into the future.

Changing Legislation

Currently, Alan Kelly TD is working to introduce new legislation which would really enhance what White Gypsy Brewery Templemore are doing. This legislation would allow small brewers to sell from their premises, as it is illegal to do so at present.

It’s a Small World … and Pancake Making

A few weeks ago I had a lovely group stay at Greenville from Canada. When I called out to see them the day they were leaving, they told me they were so grateful I had left the bread, cheese and beer for them to taste and enjoy on their arrival. They told me they had gone to the brewery in Templemore hoping to buy some beer to take home to Canada. While they were sorry to hear they had to drive to Roscrea to buy some White Gypsy Beer, incredibly, when Cuilan and his wife Sally told them their eldest son Dylan is currently working in Canada, it transpired that he is working in a brewery in the town my guests came from. Not only that, but one of their husbands was involved in designing the bar at the brewery. Sometimes it can feel like a very small world.

Back in my world, in my kitchen, I am working on a pancake recipe, using White Gypsy Weiss beer instead of milk. They are turning out fluffy and light and very nice for a lazy Saturday morning brunch. More on this later. They are not quite ready for a photo shoot yet!

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