Americans may swig coloured pints, but you can choose real green beer options at home
Exploring the world of craft beer with the Leader's award-winning beer columnists Susan and Judith Boyle
What better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than with some excellent Irish craft beer?
While our American cousins may be swilling green-coloured pints, on this Emerald Isle, why don’t we choose to mark the day with beer that is green in origin and ethos rather than hue?
Whether it’s forty shades or four green fields, our country is intrinsically linked to the colour green. Ireland has a cool, wet climate which ensures our lush and verdant landscape.
The physical characteristics of the countryside also evoke the concept of an environmentally green land. Green has become synonymous with environmentally friendly and Ireland’s artisan producers can benefit for this association.
There is a desire for Ireland to be green in both senses of the word. The Board Bia initiative, Origin Green, incentivises food and agriculture businesses to adhere to sustainable, environmentally aware practices. And at the inaugural UCC Food Conference, which took place in Cork last weekend, keynote speaker Darina Allen expressed her wish for Ireland to become an organic island.
But how can our choice of beer impact the environment? First, by choosing beers that are locally brewed on this island your beer choice has a greatly reduced carbon footprint and a more gentle impact on the environment.
Put simply, the shorter the distance a product needs to travel to be consumed, the more environmentally friendly it usually is.
Moreover, local production keeps jobs in the locality making a better economic environment. These are simple consideration which have an deeper impact and can be the first step in making an ethical beer choice even before you consider choosing beers that use locally grown grain or light weight packaging solutions such as cans or refillable kegs.
Another step in greening your pint is to look at where the spent grain and other brewing waste product goes.
Many Irish breweries have imaginative ways of using spent grains. Wicklow Wolf Brewery is a shining example. They currently get manure from local farmers to enrich their home grown hop farm and in return give their spent grain to theses farmers to use as cattle and pig feed. Even their spent hops don’t go to waste, and are reused as mulch for the growing hop plants.
Local ingredients are at the heart of a green choice of beer. Look for breweries that have their own wells, their water will not be treated with excess chemicals. Kildare’s own Trouble Brewing has their own water source on site in Kill.
The next ingredient we should look at is malt. With such fine quality barely growing in Ireland, excellent malt is readily available here. There is are growing number of craft brewers using Irish malt but still many are not.
In Kildare we have the good fortune of having one of the most respected malting companies in the world on our doorstep in Athy.
A bag of Athy's Minch Malt's Hook Head series
Minch Malt have been malting close to the Barrow river since 1847. Understanding the growing importance of traceability, a dedicated malting line was recently installed which insures that malt from a specific location can be tracked through the malting process. This means that you can sip a beer brewed from Minch Malt and know where exactly it was grown and who grew it.
This field to glass approach has been embraced by many craft brewers. Minch Malt has identified barley grown on the Hook Head Peninsula as having specifically desirable qualities for malt production.
The salty, maritime climate influences the soil and growing cycle of the barley found in this specific geographic location and has been proven to produce exceptional barley. Minch Malt have been working with a select group of farmers in this area, some of whom have been growing barley in this area for over four generations. Now they are getting recognition for the unique produce they are farming. A sustainable, green approach to farmers, maltsters and brewers working together!
Judith Boyle is a qualified chemist (MSc) and accredited beer sommelier. She loves helping people discover delicious beers. Her sister Susan Boyle is a playwright, artist and drinks consultant. Susan is fascinated by the history and stories behind drinks. See www.awinegoosechase.com. Both sisters are proud to be fifth-generation publicans. Their family business is Boyle's bar and off-licence in Kildare town.
They write the 'Brewing Up A Storm' craft beer column weekly in the Leinster Leader