An Irish Independent Brewer Thinking Outside The Box

A glance at almost any off-license shelf or quick perusal of the taps in your local is a strong demonstration of the power of the craft beer revolution in Ireland. Our small island is now churning out an impressive amount of local brews, and their quality comfortably matches their international counterparts. With the independents now outshining the generics in both taste and aesthetics, craft beer is becoming the go-to for those looking for something more from their drinking experience. That means an increasingly crowded marketplace for independent brewers, but according to Shane Kelly, Managing Director of Dublin-based DOT brew, this can only be a good thing, spurring brewers on to become more inventive and creative with their output. His own venture into craft brewing had humble beginnings;

Starting Out On The Porch

 

‘Like most brewers I started out at home. It all began in my kitchen with a mate of mine at 7pm one Thursday evening. We finished up half-cut at about 5am and both had to work the next day! I tried to brew a Stout once, but because it was in a room with a really low ceiling there was loads of condensation. The place smelt like burnt toast for days afterwards and there were black spots on the ceiling. So I was swiftly kicked out to the porch! I was literally working in a space that was 2 metres by 1 metre.’

‘I’d compare the process of making beer to cooking food in that you know what you want to achieve, and you’re adding to the mix and checking it constantly throughout. I love that process – trying to combine flavours and figuring out how they work together. It’s like when you’re on iteration six of a curry, and know you’ve finally made what you set out to. That’s beer-making to me.’

Taking The Plunge

 

What started out as a porch-based hobby eventually became a consuming passion, but Shane was juggling it alongside full-time work in the architectural field;

‘I was ten years working for two different companies in that area and doing pretty well. In 2013 I was due to have my second child when I had a light-bulb moment and knew I wanted to give brewing a try. I decided to take the plunge, and that plunge was assisted by my fantastic partner who was pregnant for the second time in a year when this all happened, but still encouraged me to go for it. There was never any question in her mind that I shouldn’t try to do what I was so passionate about. She’s been an incredible support. My friends were unbelievably supportive too. They were my testers in the beginning! I’d give them any beers I felt had gone well and kept the dodgy ones to drink myself!’

‘My mates Mikey and Pete were both holding down full-time jobs at the time as well but got involved in the packaging side of things and put in some capital to start us off. Mikey and Pete have been there every step of the way. They’ve been involved in every conversation and decision about DOT brew and have invested their personal time and massive effort into making this a reality.’

‘Eventually I got a desk in The Exchange which is an amazing co-working space. They give support to start-ups and help ease you in, to a point where you’re ready to let go and do things on your own. You’re very much still free-falling, but at least there’s a bit of a cushion there! It took a good two years of planning before we actually had a bottle on the shelf.’

Barrel-Aged Brews

 

Since 2015, DOT brew have carved out a niche for themselves with inventive barrel-aged beers, and it’s a process they take immense pleasure in. For Shane there’s something fascinating about the craftsmanship of the barrel and the life it had before it arrived at his warehouse;

‘I’ve always really enjoyed the influence of wood on wine, and the massive influence of the previous contents of the barrel on whiskey. It’s an extra ingredient really, and a lovely building block to work off. We’ve done trials using wood chips or charring oak just to see what kind of effect it had on the beer. We’ve got barrels that are 80 years old. It’s incredible to think that 80 years ago someone made that barrel by hand, and that it still holds liquid today. On some of the older ones you can see little ‘makers marks’, or variations in the wood which is kinda cool. Its indicative of the way the wood was manufactured. That’s the secret stuff that no-one sees. A little history goes into each batch.’

‘A lot of the oak barrels that came over this way originally carried Bourbon. There were so many of them around at one point that they ended up getting used for other things as well. One of our barrels started out in Kentucky carrying Bourbon for 10 years, then went on to Jamaica where it was used six more times. The Scottish coopers bought it from Jamaica and then the we got from there. It’s amazing to think about the travels that barrel has been on. We’re lucky to have a great relationship with Teelings Whiskey who have a great array of barrels and casks that they’ve been kind enough to let us use. We’ve used a barrel belonging to them, then given it back. They’ve used it again for whiskey, so there’s a whiskey up in their distillery that’s been in a DOT barrel. Just that one barrel was used in the States for Bourbon, then used in Ireland for three fills of Single Malt, used for a DOT Stout and a DOT Red Ale, and then a whiskey again. It’s just incredible. Each round you’re getting a little bit of flavour from the previous run and it just keeps going.’

Changing With The Seasons

 

DOT’s seasonal produce is always well-received by their customer base, designed especially to accompany the seasonal cycle and to showcase different styles of beer, as well as play with perceptions of what we expect to drink at certain times of the year;

‘Last year we stuck with Saison – a Belgian French style beer – through the seasons to show the versatility of that one area. We went from light and airy through to something aged in chardonnay and then dropped it back down to something with oats, fruit and more body, so a much more traditional taste and aroma. Then at the end we did a port and rum fermented beer that was actually fermented in the barrels as opposed to just aged in them.’

Their Tequila Saison, an unlikely but refreshing pairing, is great example of their eagerness to experiment with infusions and blending flavours to create something truly unique;

‘Tequila is generally made in an old bourbon barrel. They use either a virgin oak barrel or old American oak barrel. It goes through several different iterations depending on the manufacturer. They could do four fills or a single fill which could last up to 15 years. When you fill the tequila barrels, you get a intense floral, herbal scent. It’s the scent of real tequila, without the teenage flashbacks of salt and lemon!’

‘We did an Amber Ale recently which was aged in Bourbon and finished with Jamaican Rum. It was really rich and dark. I remember seeing that barrel come in. They’re meant to hold somewhere between 180 and 190 litres but this one was tiny. I could smell it from 10 metres away though. Its last fill was rum, and it had been filled for up to 20 years so it was non-stop soaking in it. When rum comes through a warm environment, all that flavour gets pulled through into the wood. It had just been so saturated in rum that you could smell it.’

The Irish Craft Industry

 

Changes in the brewing industry have been brought about by the constantly evolving wants and needs of consumers, and it’s great to see the Irish craft beer industry responding to that change in the collaborative way Shane describes;
‘Craft beer is getting more and more exposure. International beers that you might never have gotten to taste here are starting to creep in, to the point that we now have full exposure to some of the best beers in the world. The way the Irish market has gone means people have a lot more awareness now. They’re more curious and willing to experiment. They’re also more health aware so willing to drink a bit less but spend a small bit more on what they are drinking. The craft gin explosion is a testament to that.’

‘As a collective I think we are standing toe-to-toe with the international brewers. Five years ago I probably wouldn’t have said that, but now definitely. The Irish market is evolving and it’s pushed us all in a good way. There’s more external influence, more international collaborations and a synergy between Irish makers. Outside of the industry, DOT has collaborated with fantastic vendors and retailers like Blackrock Cellar, because you can have a great product on the shelf, but if no one knows it’s there then what good is it? Our work with independent retailers is very important.’

‘Brewers here collaborate and help each other out. Every single one of our brews has an external influence in there somewhere. We wouldn’t be able to do anything without outside help and resources. You don’t see that collaboration in every field. The only thing that will do is drive up the quality of the product. Ireland’s a very small island so we have to be able to band together. There are private forums where we can share knowledge, discuss collaborations and organise brewers events. There’s great camaraderie there. There’s loads of local beers around that I like at the moment. The Irish guys have been really pushing the boat out! The markets shifted a lot. There’s legislation in front of the Dail at the moment to push a bit of money towards the Irish beer scene, so let’s hope that comes about.’

Find out more about DOT Brew here:
DOT Brew website
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