On a very wet Autumn morning myself and my buddy Dave set off to Ballinlough in furthest Roscommon. For some reason Google maps brought us the scenic route and we saw parts of Roscommon neither of us had ever seen before, at one stage I thought we were going to end up in Knock, indeed that would have been a different type of experience! We eventually arrived at the brewery which is, as so many Irish breweries are, located in a non descript industrial estate. Beautiful beer can be produced in the strangest of places.
Richard greeted us heartily, he had just taken delivery of some Mosaic hops, more on his plans for those in a bit. The unit is pretty big at 6,000 square feet but he is only using half of it at the moment. He showed us around and explained his plans for the near future. Next month they are taking delivery of a ‘holy shit’ automated bottling line which will ensure that you’ll be able to get Black Donkey beers all over this fine island. He is especially keen on getting into restaurants and ‘gastro’ pubs as Sheep Stealer, the main beer goes exceptionally well with food.
Richard’s plan for the beer is that it will be kept in the cold room and cold conditioned first, the beer is unfiltered, then it’s primed in the tank with fresh fermentables, bottled and put into the warm room where the beer will be stored for two weeks at 23 degrees celsius. I said it was a bit like the way I have put my home brews into the hot press in the past and he agreed, he’s an agreeable sort. He’s also very proud of the device which he had made to inject the priming sugars into the beer.
Sheep Stealer is the current main beer and it’s on draught in about fifteen pubs around the country including JJ Harlow’s in Roscommon town, the closest spot to the brewery for now. It’s made with Belgian yeast, Irish malt and Irish water of course! Richard had the water tested and while it’s not ideal for making super hoppy beers it’s perfect for maltier Belgian style brews. It’s actually similar to the high calcium, high temporary hardness, low magnesium and low sulphate water that’s used by Westvletereen and St Bernardus. He reckons that the farmhouse style of beer he’s making isn’t a million miles away from the ale that would have been brewed across Ireland before the wave of Black stout swept over the country.
The brewery is going to be busy between now and Christmas as well as the bottling starting in earnest there is a plan to brew a special Pale Ale with American hops maybe the Mosaic ones mentioned earlier, Belgian yeast and Irish malt, that’ll be a truly international brew! Richard also has plans to make a Roggen beer which is not something you see coming out of an Irish brewery every day. I’m looking forward to trying both of those.
All of this talking about beer helped us to work up a bit of a thirst so we had a wee sample or two. While we were at the bar a delivery van arrived with some equipment. The driver was offered a small taste and he declared; ‘It’ll be very hard going back to the chemical piss after tasting that!’
Mr Siberry is an excellent host, I asked him why he moved back from New York to rural Roscommon and he told us in a very round about way that he didn’t fancy growing old in the Big Apple. He also told us some great stories about his time working in various trades from construction to the stock market but sadly I don’t have a lawyer handy to check them in case of possible repercussions. You’ll have to chat to him at a beer show or wait for his autobiography.
Richard gave me a bit of a scoop! It’s not something you get to see very often in this blog as it’s mostly just my ravings! He has an anti gravity device. When he told us this we didn’t know what to expect. But basically it’s some dairy equipment that he’s made into an auxillary mash tun and it means that he can push the gravity of his brews from 1065 all the way up to 1085, that’ll really pack a punch!
Thanks very much to Richard for entertaining us and to Dave for the photography. Keep you eyes peeled over the next couple of months, Black Donkey beers will be available near you and if you see it, try it, Simon says you really should!