Getting stuck behind a tractor on a narrow country road doing 20 kilometres per hour can be frustrating, especially if they have silage dripping from a trailer. When that happens you would be forgiven for indulging in self pity about the symbolism of excrement landing on your car and how it is a reflection on your current status in life. But if you are driving to Blacks of Kinsale that thought is quickly replaced with awe for the beauty of Kinsale’s countryside. On a sunny June day bursts of different hues of green explode everywhere. Lanky trees do jazz hands overhead causing strobe lights of sun to surge through sporadically. Life is good especially when the tractor pulls in and you have open road and blue skies ahead.
The brewery is at the bottom of a small hill called Farm Lane. It’s home is in an average sized warehouse and a boat yard takes up some of the space in front. Even though the area is called an industrial estate, it does not feel like that in the traditional sense, it feels very personable.
Maudeline and Sam Black met each other for the first time in Sydney, ‘I went over to do that Irish thing of working in Australia for a year. Myself and a few friends moved into his house on a Friday and he moved out the next day, it was love at first sight! Then we just spent the year working and traveling around together.’ Maudeline sky-dived for the first time whilst there, an experience that, ‘was pretty upsetting, there’s a fast drop but it all came good in the end!’
Sam’s visa eventually ran out when he was in Australia so he returned home to the UK but they kept in touch and one thing was clear that if the relationship was to continue Maudeline was not going to leave Cork. ‘I had already lived in London for four years, then a year in Dublin and then a year in Australia. I was ready to come home!’ So they picked Kinsale as it was near their jobs in Cork City and as Sam says, ‘it’s just so lovely here, it’s the longest I have ever stayed in one place.’
‘Our flagship beer is the Kinsale Pale Ale, it’s recipe has not changed since we started and it continues to go from strength to strength. It’s an American style pale ale not too bitter not too sweet. There’s a nice balance of cascade and citra hops, it gives it a fruity finish. It’s 5% so it’s not too heavy going.’ They have a little tasting bar on site, it’s for the weekly tours that they hold. It also is proudly displaying their new 330ml can of Kinsale Pale Ale, ‘that’s a project we have been trying ot get off the ground for a long time and the beer is fantastic in the cans.’
A crowd pleaser especially with women is their Black IPA, it was the first commercial one in Ireland. Sam calls their Session, which has low alcohol content, ‘a perfect lawnmower beer.’ Then there is Rocket Ship, a 6.5% beer that tastes like marmalade. From January to February they brew stout and currently they have a double IPA called Hi Viz that’s still in the kegs as they finalise the labels. Their goal is to have more space to experiment with new flavours but for now it’s a balancing act of keeping up with demand. ‘Its pretty surreal, its like a child, it’s a different stress because its yours, we are completely independent, any pressure to perform is from us.’ Speaking of children they both have two young boys, ‘the five year doesn’t want to work in a brewery, he thinks the hours are too long! He wants to be a bin-man!’
One thing that strikes you about their beer on first meeting is the branding, it’s extremely distinct. They called it Blacks obviously because of their last name however Maudelines original last name is Crowley.
They took the name literally and decided to have a crow in the logo. ‘When we first started we brewed withEight Degrees Brewing. We did three batches there, we took a run at the branding ourselves because we had a limited window to get labels printed in order to get a production slot. The first labels were very corporate. When we sent the beer to bloggers and journalists to review they loved it but they all said that the label did not match the beer.’
The logo has a lot of white in it, which was a conscious decision as they wanted it to stand out in a fridge. The font is bold but fun, it commands attention. The crow swoops over a map of Kinsale with wings outstretched. It’s interesting to note that in Celtic legend a crow would be buried with its wings outstretched in order to symbolise the connection between this world and the otherworld as the crow was seen as a messenger between the two. It was also said to represent the balance between life and death and the creation of the new. It’s a fitting representation of Maudeline and Sams change of career not that they were aware of that meaning when they decided on the branding.
The business continues to grow, at the moment they are increasing the amount of bars that stock their kegs. They are also expanding to foreign markets and their long-term goal is to distill whiskey on site. ‘If it wasn’t for the kids we’d live up here,’ they quickly add cheekily, ‘we love our kids!’
Maudeline and Sam know what they want and act fast as their meeting in Sydney shows. They thrive off adventure. Their buoyant demenour radiates a confidence that knows where they are and where they want to go. Risk to them is freedom to control their own future. ‘I nearly drowned once when I was surfing here in Kinsale,’ says Sam, ‘I saved myself, I kinda had given up but suddenly there was kick of will to survive.’ It’s that incredible determination that they both have that has brought them to this point, which is celebrating their current feat, their new 330ml cans as the sun beats down on them and a crow caws in approval from above.
You can find Blacks of Kinsale in all good off-licenses & pubs.
You can take a tour of the brewery Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday for €10.
You learn more through their website http://blacksbrewery.com/