A few months back a guy pm’d me on twitter saying he’d recently discovered my blog and inviting me down to Dublin for a look around their brewery.
The guy was Padraig Fox and he works at the Open Gate taproom.
For those of you who may not know, Open Gate is the pilot brewery for Guinness, who are one of the biggest brewers in the world and their flagship Stout is still the most drunk beer in Ireland. However, Guinness and their parent company Diageo don’t exactly have a great reputation among the hardcore craft beer community.
Personally I’ve always been a big Guinness drinker, whilst most pubs have a tap selection that consists of a multitude of bland macro lagers a pint of the black stuff was and still is a great consistent fallback that you can be sure of getting pretty much everywhere.
Despite this however even I was skeptical of the surge in new brew styles coming out of St James gate in recent years. Were they a cynical attempt to cash in on the recent boom in craft beer or were they a real effort to bring the public what they seemed to want?
Padraig and myself messaged back and forth for a while and it quickly became apparent that he was genuinely passionate about beer and refreshingly open. In my experience most correspondence with brewery reps (especially the larger ones) tends to be them trying to sell the brand and keep to the company message, so my chats with Padraig were a refreshing change.
Finally I had a free weekend and decided to take Padraig up on his offer of a visit. So with the ever supportive Mrs Hallion behind the wheel we set off for Dublin.
I had one stop planned before we got to the Open Gate.
The Pearce Lyons Distillery had recently opened to the public and since I first saw pictures of those copper stills on that old church altar I was keen to get a look around.
Turns out the only way to get a look around at all was to book a full guided tour, more than I really wanted, but I had a bit of time to kill before heading to the gate.
The tour was pretty interesting and there was a lot about the history of the church and some of the souls buried in the graveyard and in more pleasant weather I maybe would have enjoyed that part of the tour more. As it was freezing and we all just wanted to get inside, get a look around and sample some whiskey.
The church itself was beautiful, with it’s unmistakable glass spire and impressive whiskey themed stained glass windows. And the two copper stills sitting proudly on the altar really were enough to make a man religious.
With the whiskey warming my belly the climate outside seemed much more pleasant than earlier and we made the short walk to the Open Gate Brewery.
The taproom is generally only open to the public from 5pm Thursday-Sunday. But Padraig said if we just called round after we finished up at the distillery he’d show us about before the doors open.
Open Gate is situated in Brewhouse 2 and Padraig started our little tour by giving us a brief history of the building, he was mercifully brief as despite my whiskey coat it was still pretty chilly outside.
We quickly moved inside where the bar staff were busy setting up for the night. The taproom is inside the working brewery, giving visitors the chance to see where the beer is made as they drink.
I’ve saw more than my fair share of breweries and Open Gate is exactly as I’d expect from such a high end side of the business. Very clean, laid out logically to allow for good flow and with all the fancy bells and whistles that the resources of Guinness can afford you.
One clever aspect I quite liked was the waste hot water, that is produced enmasse during the brewing process, is used to heat the taproom.
We quickly moved on to what we were really interested in, the beer.
With Padraig manning the taps, we worked our way through the entire range on offer that night, along with a few bottles for good measure.
I drank far too many to talk about them all, that and the whiskey at the distillery was the closest I came to lunch that day so my memory got a little hazy about half way through the sampling.
My highlight was the Rye Pale Ale which I really enjoyed, I ordered a full pint of it after we finished sampling. I could definitely have a session on that one without a problem. Also it was interesting to get to try foreign extra Stout from the tap as I’d only ever experienced it bottled before.
Mrs Hallion enjoyed the sampling probably even more than I did, I was surprised that she really enjoyed the chocolate and mint stout, but her favourite on the night by a long way was the champagne saison. She was also taken with the bottled wheat beer.
To be honest we didn’t have a single below par beer that whole night.
True, I felt that they were often a bit tame and not as complex or challenging as I’d often prefer. But that’s to be expected as they are made in a way as to appeal to as large a market as possible.
Plus they’d all been filtered and pasteurised, which improves clarity and prolongs shelf life but can detract from the flavour to an extent.
During the sampling we chatted back and forth about the taproom and how Padraig had ended up working there. He seems to have been a bit of a journeyman within Guinness, from storehouse guide to the quality team, and sales to finally taking on his current role.
As the drink flowed our conversation flowed too, from our thoughts on the future of the industry to our shared outrage at Ireland not getting the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
I was surprised by how much freedom the brewers there were given by Guinness. They seem to have free rein to brew whatever they can imagine.
These experiments are put on tap at the bar and they use the sales from there to just how popular they are. If it looks like there is a market for it they look at if it’s possible to scale the recipe up to mass production standards. This often isn’t possible, especially in the cases where fresh fruit is used or where the flavours are very delicate. Padraig explained that a delicate beer with a shelf life of say 6 months or less would be a non starter for Guinness’ marketing plan.
To be honest I could have probably stood and chatted all night but I was in need of food and I felt we’d taken advantage of our hosts generosity for too long already.
We’d arranged to call back in the next day before heading home, Padraig had squirrelled away a couple of bottles of “Stouta this world” for me from the recent international Stout day and Mrs Hallion was determined not to leave Dublin without a growler of that champagne Saison.
Unfortunately something arose and we were unable to meet up the following day but I’m sure we’ll be back.
If you’re planning on visiting yourself (which I recommend you do) it’s €8 entry and that also gets you a 4 beer taster flight. The taps change regularly but there’s a strong core range available.