Of the four main ingredients in beer, hops are the most talked-about. Yeast comes in second place, especially as more and more breweries are now starting to experiment with different strains and mixed fermentations. Water and malt, on the other hand, generally have a lower profile in the making of a beer – essential as they are.
At Ballykilcavan Brewery in Co Laois, however, barley plays a starring role – and that's because it's all grown on their 378-year-old family farm. The brewery is self-sourcing 100 per cent of barley which is then malted – the process of germinating and roasting – at the nearby Minch Malt in Athy before being used in brewing. (Barley contains starch that can be converted into sugar, which is needed as food for yeast so fermentation can occur.)
The old grain store and mill house will be home to the Ballykilcavan brewery – which is in planning – while there are also interesting plans for a taproom and visitor centre on the farm. In the meantime, Ballykilcavan beer is made at Lock 13 brewery in Co Kildare.
Bin Bawn Pale Ale is a solid, well-made pale ale at 4.6 per cent with a crisp finish, a good malty backbone and a light body. Ballykilcavan’s Gingerbread Beer is well timed for Christmas and has a lovely – but not too intense – ginger kick, with a touch of sweetness, vanilla and roasted flavours and is very light and drinkable at 5 per cent.
For something completely different – but also a little sweet – Stay Puft is a marshmallow porter by Tiny Rebel brewery in Wales. I wasn't sure about this one at first – there's a slightly artificially sweet aroma – but it grew on me. It has a smooth, rich body, a little bit of toasted bitterness, fruity sweetness and despite being relatively low at 5.3 per cent – it's a sipper.