At the end of July Sligo’s award winning brewery The White Hag celebrated their third birthday. They did so in style by hosting a beer festival at the brewery, where the 1,000 people in attendance were treated to a range of over 60 beers with The White Hag range alongside over 50 beers from 22 different Irish and international breweries. The unique experience was that these beers had never before poured in Ireland.
White Hag kindly invited O’Briens along to a talk and tasting of their Barrel aging program before the main event. Joe Kearns, White Hag’s masterbrewer, who oversees the entire project and their barrel agent Alex Saxon, talked the assembled crowd through their vision for the program which now houses over two hundred barrels, from whiskey and sherry casks to red and white wine barrels. The pair give an insight into care and attention that goes into not just the aging but also the selection of barrels. The level of toasting or charring, the previous contents of the barrel, size, age and variant of oak used to make barrels (French, American, Hungarian) are all qualities that will affect how the beers will develop.
Alex, whose background is in sourcing barrels for wineries, joked that Joe is his pickiest client when it comes to barrels selection. However, Joe is looking for barrels that wineries would run a mile from. These are Brettanomyces infected barrels that a wine producer would burn to avoid any cross contamination. Brettanomyces, or Brett for short, is a wild yeast that has the potential to ruin wine and can produce an undesirable ‘barnyard’ aroma and flavour but when used correctly by a skilled brewer has the potential to produce incredibly complex and great tasting beers. This Brett works with the local wild yeasts strains as they evolve in barrel to give the beers produced in The White Hag a real sense of place.
Each barrel is taste tested by Joe weekly to assess the qualities as they develop. On the day, we got to taste three beers that Joe considered had developed suitable characteristics. Sliver Branch, a sour golden ale blended with Brett cider and aged in French chardonnay barrels, was incredibly soft and elegant. Olcan, a barrel aged Brett IPA, brought a delicious musty complexity to a fresh hoppy IPA. Finishing with the barrel aged Black Boar, an incredibly rich and dense bourbon barrel aged imperial stout.
Due to the nature of the barrel program these beers will be limited releases so be sure to snap a couple up when they release. Of course, you can also pick up White Hag’s excellent fresh core range year-round including their superb Session IPA, White IPA and Puca which you will find in our 6 for €15 can offer for August.