"The world has changed; it has finally caught up with us," says Adrienne Heslin of the West Kerry Brewery, or Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne, based in Brick's pub in Riasc, and one of the earliest craft brewers. She may have been our first female brewer too, although she never received any formal training. "I am a brewer, a cook and an artist," she says. She moved to west Kerry in 1993 to be with her husband, Pádraig Brick, who sadly passed away. Originally a sculptor, she started a garden beside the bar, that now supplies botanicals for some of their beers – "I love the idea of using what is around," says Heslin.
The brewery was founded in 2008 – a coming together of two bars. Pádraig’s cousin Paul O Loinsigh, had a keen interest in world beers, and they had been selling them through their bar and off-licence. Heslin did the cooking. They formed a partnership with Dónal O Catháin who runs a bar in Ballyferriter a mile or so away. He is no longer involved but still sells the beer. It is still very much a family affair. According to Heslin, "Mammy does the foraging and sticks on the labels."
The brewery does things their own way. "We want to establish an indigenous product, with the notion of terroir through our water meeting our own yeast, our botanicals and the barley. Our yeast and limey water create a particular malty flavour. I am a purist and our beer isn’t for everyone." Carraig Dubh make small 800-litre batches of beer. Some is sold cask-conditioned in the pub and at festivals, the rest bottled and sold through off-licences. All are unfiltered and unpasteurised. The beers are full of lovely malt flavours, bigger and sweeter than many others craft brews. Even the flavoured beers, not always my favourite style, work really well. "Mainly I feel an artist now when I brew but I take a cooking approach. An artist is a state of mind and you turn your hand to whatever you are doing."
Riasc Black, their autumnal beer, flavoured with blackberries and blackcurrants, is about to arrive in Dublin. If that is not available, enjoy a bottle of the delicious creamy Carraig Dubh Porter with its toasty malts and dark chocolate.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Le Salare 2013
Italian trattorias in Ireland have never been known for the quality of their wine. Too often the choice is a series of bastardised names sold at a hefty mark-up by a smarmy waiter. Soave or Pinot Grigio for the white wines, Chianti, Barolo, or Valpolicella for the reds. Fame can be a double-edged sword. Everybody wants to buy the name, but not all are willing to pay the price. The outcome is usually a series of wines, ranging from delicious to undrinkable, all under the same name. And many of the latter seem to congregate on the trattoria wine list. Pinot Grigio or a PG blend is usually the cheapest white, and shoring up the red wine section, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. This is not, however, the worst thing in the world.
Some cheap versions of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be nasty and acidic, but most are simple earthy, rustic wines that go very nicely with pasta and other tratt favourites. I find pricey Montepulciano a little over ambitious; rich powerful and oaky, but devoid of any style. In the middle-ground, you will find the good stuff; fresh fruit-filled easy-drinking wines that go with a wide variety of foods. They are like the Italian version of Beaujolais.
The Le Salare is completely unpretentious; a plain label stuck on to a light-weight bottle, with the vintage stamped roughly on to the label. The wine is equally self-effacing with straightforward but delicious light crunchy juicy dark cherry fruits. The sort of wine you would love to come across in a bistro or trattoria. Otherwise pick up a bottle in Sheridan’s cheesemongers for a mere €14.99.