There’s more to beer than hops and malt or why we love our local artisan craft beer

by Hans Wieland

Growing up in Germany our introduction to beer in our late teenage years was always accompanied by a toast “Hopfen und Malz, Gott erhalts!” meaning "God save hops and malt” and often by a lecture of an adult about “das Reinheitsgebot”, that mostly went like this:

“According to a 1516 Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops (yeast was not known yet). This German Beer Purity Decree or Reinheitsgebot was introduced in part to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye to ensure the availability of affordable bread.

The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993, which replaced the earlier regulations and which is in use in its 2011 version is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany. Top-fermented beer is subject to the same rules, but a wider variety of grains can be used, as well as pure sugars for flavour and colouring.”

Beer or Wine, that is the question

I was never a real beer drinker in my teenage years and I put it down to the fact that my father was working in a local brewery and beer was freely available at home and drinking it did not really qualify as an act of rebellion. Drinking Riesling was much more rebellious!

Arriving in Guinness-Land in the 80s and drinking the “black stuff” as an immigrant soon lost its novelty factor and we resorted to “import” German Rieslings for private consumption as soon as our fruit-wine experiments faded out. Lately our interest in beer was awakened by the arrival of the artisan craft beers. One of my early favourites being 8° from Skibbereen, whereas Gaby loved Galway Hooker, followed by Kinnegar and then our own Sligo craft beers White Hag and Lough Gill.

Breweries in Sligo - a very short history

Sligo has an interesting history if it comes to breweries. In the 1820s there were five breweries and distilleries operating locally. Talking to James Ward on a recent visit to his Lough Gill Brewery he told a story about Love Lane, who supposedly brewed beer in Sligo in the 1700, had to leave for Chile and founded the first brewery there, but this is a research project for another day.

Confirmed is that in 1834, the firm of Davy & Cochran built a brewery on a site at Old Shambles Street now Kempten Promenade off Bridge Street. The business was named Lough Gill brewery and operated until 1842 before closing due to bankruptcy. It was then acquired by Charles Anderson. Anderson operated a brewery on Water Lane and transferred his business to the larger site. After Anderson’s death in 1882, the brewery continued to operate for a time.

Anderson’s Brewers in 1875

Anderson’s Brewers in 1875

For a short period, O’Connor, Walsh & Company operated a Sawmills and timber warehouse at the site. By 1889, the buildings were bought by Edward Foley who returned the buildings to brewery use and later mineral drinks production until it closed in 1972. 

In the late 1970’s the Rehab Centre took over the building till 2000. It was then bought in 2006 by Philip McGarry and renovated into The Velvet Room nightclub. Today, it is run as Anderson’s restaurant bringing the old name back into use.

How artisan craft beer came to Sligo

The renewal of beer brewing in Sligo kicked off with well-known Keash publican James Ward. While Lough Gill Brewery is the first brewery to be based in Sligo town for over 100 years, it is Ward’s second beer-making operation. In 2013 he founded the White Hag Brewery in Ballymote, Sligo before selling the company on to the group of investors who initially backed the project.

beer display lough gill brewery.jpg

Asked for the reason behind setting up breweries in Sligo James says: "The raw products available here are of excellent quality and the water is perfect for brewing. While creating employment, we also want to create an important tourist attraction. Our brands will include the heritage of the region."

He and his wife Valerie are now running the Lough Gill Brewery, continuing the tradition of brewing in Sligo. His 16 Hectolitre Brewery near Doorley Park produces 7 core beers and a myriad of interesting editions based on seasons, history, new flavours and ingredients. While his bestselling IPA is brewed with American hops, which gives it a distinct fruity flavour, many of the new creations with seaweed, sea salt, pecan and macademia nuts or the sour beers are, he says, “consumer driven” and “we always try to come up with new and exciting recipes”. They also collaborate with other breweries and have just returned from a trip to the USA, brewing beers to be released just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

The finest ingredients make the best beer,

James and his team, like most small craft breweries, produce from grain to beer: Milling, mashing, boiling, cooling, fermenting, filtering (aging in barrels), carbonating, canning and packaging. Using the finest Irish Malt and some speciality grains from Belgium and Germany,American and Indian hops and water from Lough Gill they create beautifully flavoured beers, winning awards along the way. The latest prize was: Best beer at the Dublin Craft Cup for their Barrell Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout.

but it needs people with a passion!

“Our Beer philosophy is to brew the best beer using the best ingredients and where possible to add some local indigenous ingredients to the brews. We like to experiment, we like to have fun but most of all we enjoy nothing more than watching our friends & family of customers enjoy our beers,” says James.

Lough Gill was awarded Best New Sligo Business 2017 and the company exports to USA, Brazil and the Netherlands and other countries and are now also available in Aldi stores.

We love their funky and artistic designs on the cans, developed in-house and with a street artist from Sligo. They are already collector’s items.

On our food tour Paul from Thomas Connolly’s Pub features Anderson’s Ale, which back in the 1800s was the most popular beer in Connacht when the Anderson family owned three breweries in the province. The new Anderson’s Ale produced by the Lough Gill brewery is revisiting that tradition. James told food writer Billy Lyons in an interview in 2017, that he and his wife Valerie went back to the region’s roots to brew a traditional Irish ale that is their interpretation of what was originally produced.

It is definitely a fitting finish on our food tour.