Through a beer glass, brightly

Sarah Roarty’s brewing philosophy blends sustainability with opportunity

 

The best part about being a food writer is the inspiring people you meet. You quickly learn that people’s inspiration to create food comes from both their creativity and from the way they deal with challenges.

When I met Sarah Roarty, creator of the superb N17 craft beers, in Galway recently, I expected to meet a formidable, dynamic woman, the sort of person who could be included alongside Veronica Steele of Milleens Cheese, or Seaneen Sullivan of L Mulligan Grocers, or Birgitta Curtin of the Burren Smokehouse, among many, many others whose work drives our artisan food culture.

Roarty is certainly the equivalent of these mighty food mavens, and then some. In her previous life she was an archetypal corporate high-flyer, working as a chemist with ICI in the UK, with DuPont in Germany and with Transitions Optical in Ireland.

Graduate
She may have launched the first pair of N17 brews only this year, but she has already qualified as Ireland’s first beer sommelier, having graduated from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London.

She has been chief executive of the Tuam Chamber of Commerce, is a director of St Jarlath’s Credit Union in her locality, and is a citizen juror.

Somehow, she finds time to make beers that are of such quality that the N17 Oatmeal Stout won a medal at the Alltech International Craft Beers and Food Festival in February. It was her first competitive outing just a month after establishing the brewery, and no fewer than 270 international beers were judged.

So, that’s the dynamic creativity. But what about the challenge?

Well, the N17 Brewery has one of those mission statements that seems simple on the surface, but which is fathoms deep: “Everything = Value. This is the ethos that inspires us at N17: we see value in everything and everyone.”

Ask Roarty about the statement, and the answer is startling. “The inspiration is my daughter Clara who, when she was a year old, was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome. It was devastating news to hear those two words, because it signalled all that she couldn’t do.

“That maybe she could not speak, could not walk, and that a fulfilled life was not on the cards. That was quite a challenge as a parent when your child is one year old.”

Angelman syndrome affects some 350 people in Ireland, and what Roarty realised was that it was essential to turn the diagnosis on its head. “You have to understand the value the child has as an individual. Do they have ability? You have to look for the value they can add. You realise that it’s all about how you view that person.”

Artisan food business
Fast forward, then, to the creation of N17 and we straight away see an artisan food business with a different way of working.

“In a linear production system, it’s take-make-waste. Because of the waste, we have first-world problems. So, you have to refocus that lens, and look at the waste as a resource.

“You look at the inputs and the energy when you are making beer, and you realise that in brewing, only 8 per cent of the finished product is beer, and 92 per cent is waste.

“So, how do you close the loop? How do you use resources so that everything travels from cradle to cradle? How do you rechannel elements to a natural home such as carbon dioxide, which is vital food for plants?”

While more than one person has already described Sarah Roarty’s philosophy as “the new Fair Trade”, she herself sees it as “traditional farming”.

“We are going back to a process where you utilise everything. Beer is the envoy, but N17 is really a way of doing business, a way of looking at things differently.

“I don’t have all the answers, and what I want to do is to engage with people and to come up with solutions in collaboration with them.”

The brilliance of Roarty’s N17 can be expressed simply: this is a vision of health that is truly inclusive: for individuals, for business, for the planet. It is a sustainable Irish food philosophy, as seen through a glass, brightly. See facebook.com/N17Brewery See angelman.ie John McKenna is the author of Where to Eat and Stay on the Wild Atlantic Way.

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