Jason Carroll: from recording bands to brewing beer

A background in music production paved the way for one brewer

Brewers: Jason Carroll (second from left), with Peter Simpson, Fedora Heavey and Aisling Ryan at Guinness’s experimental Open Gate Brewery at St James’s Gate in Dublin. Photograph: Maxwells

Brewers: Jason Carroll (second from left), with Peter Simpson, Fedora Heavey and Aisling Ryan at Guinness’s experimental Open Gate Brewery at St James’s Gate in Dublin. Photograph: Maxwells

 

Jason Carroll has what many might think of as one of the coolest jobs in the country. He is head brewer at The Wicklow Brewery. But with a background in sound recording, how did he end up at the brewery?

Carroll studied sound engineering at the Temple Bar Music Centre, setting up his own business called Driftwood Recordings at the height of the Celtic Tiger.

“I picked studios around the country and took bands to various ones depending on their budget. We would record an album or single or EP. Then I’d mix it.”

His business started with a bang, with the website getting 50,000 hits in the first week on the back of a competition Carroll ran to drum up publicity. “I got three studios to give one free day of recording. I contacted musicians and bands around the country, got them to send in recordings and then picked the winning three.”

The business did well until the recession hit, and Carroll started getting less and less recording work.

Nettle ale

One evening, he saw a chef on TV making nettle ale. The next day, Carroll went to Phoenix Park and picked a heap of nettles to make nettle ale.

“It was atrocious. I couldn’t really drink it. I then got some beer kits but wasn’t happy with the results of them either.”

He then created his own beer kit using a picnic cooler and a keg with the ends cut off. “I started making my own beers. I did a honey and lavender ale, and a peanut butter and raspberry stout. I entered a beer in the National Homebrew Club competition and won gold.”

He then moved back to Cork and started working in an off-licence doing tastings.

“I was still brewing at home, and sending bottles to bar managers, off-licences and breweries.

“I handed a six-pack into the Franciscan Well. Then I got a call asking would I meet with the Franciscan Well director Shane Long. ”

Carroll was offered a job as a brewer at the Franciscan Well, where he stayed until mid-2015, when he joined Diageo.

The first beer Carroll made while working at the Franciscan Well was a clementine and rosemary saison. It won an international bronze.

Experimental brewery

Last year, Diageo opened its experimental brewery in Dublin to the public for the first time in its history.

For over a century, the company has kept the workings of its experimental brewery, where Guinness was invented, firmly behind closed doors.

Beer enthusiasts and the general public alike can try beers not yet available to the public, including some that may never be launched, at the Open Gate Brewery.

Diageo’s global head of beer, Mark Sandys, said there has been an experimental brewery at St James’s Gate for over 100 years, where brewers can explore new recipes, reinterpret old ones and experiment freely to bring new beers to life. “The experimental brewery has been in this exact location since the 1960s. Guinness draught was invented at this location,” he said.

“We would do 50 or 60 litres [approximately one keg] for a test batch. If it’s good, we scale it up," says Carroll.

He says there is transparency from the brewery to the bar at Open Gate, and he liked the fact the brewers can get feedback, even if it isn’t good: “Any product or creative thing you do in the world will get criticism. If something isn’t working, you have to take it on the chin and improve on it.”

After five months at Diageo, he moved to The Wicklow Brewery to take up the position as head brewer.

* This article was amended on May 13th 2016 to correct an error.

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