“It’s about people wanting something different,” says beer enthusiast John Duffy to a packed house at Neary’s Bar in Dublin’s city centre. I am in the back with a couple of fellow craft beer enthusiasts, and we’re all listening to a panel discussion with Mr. Duffy, joined by Seamus O’Hara and Conor Donoghue, founder and head brewer of O’Hara’s, one of Ireland’s oldest craft beer labels.
We are all celebrating (and eagerly anticipating) the release of a special, limited-edition imperial stout marking the twentieth anniversary of the founding of O’Hara’s. I’m particularly excited, having attended the launch of their Notorious red IPA last month. The panel is discussing the founding of the brewery (Seamus tells us that they were “green, but enthusiastic” when they put down that first small batch so long ago) and Ireland’s long, complex relationship with stouts and porters in general.
“Porters were the world’s first industrial beers,” John continues, noting its connection with London’s Industrial Revolution and its new army of (thirsty) manufacturing workers. “Before long, London porter breweries began shipping their product to Ireland.” The rest, as they say, is history.
In recognition of the Irish love affair with dark beers, upstart craft breweries know they better make a good one, and fast. The nitro Irish stout was the third beer to come from the O’Hara’s line, and the recipe hasn’t changed since that first batch. To mark their tenth anniversary—ten years ago, whaddya know?—O’Hara’s brewed an extra stout: extra malt, extra hops, extra alcohol, extra everything. It was supposed to be another limited run, but as Seamus says, “It was so good, we just had to continue!” The appreciative crowd salutes with their bottles of Leann Folláin, the very same beer, still enjoyed around Ireland and abroad ten years later.
After a short intermission to break out the star of the show, the belle of the ball, Conor walks us through the imperial stout. “It continues the story of the ten-year stout,” he begins. I am looking at the viscous black beer in my glass, with a dark brown head of big bubbles and clear “legs” on the glass like a full-bodied wine. “It’s ten percent alcohol,” I take a whiff of the nose and know he isn’t exaggerating, “and bottle conditioned. It has eight different malts, and they all contribute something different. Because it’s so young, I can pick up something different every time I taste it.”
He invites us to take a nose and take a sip, and I have a few thoughts immediately: Big. Big and complex. Like barleywines and other high-gravity beers, this one has a lot going on, and like other bottle-conditioned beers, this one has the fresh, living energy of a drink that hasn’t been put into stasis with chemicals and cooking. Like most stouts, chocolate and coffee stand boldly at the front, but a loud whisper of (not unpleasant) anise comes through the boozy bite. Conor smiles and says, “I’d say this will continue to improve over the next three years.” I finish the thought myself, …if any bottles last that long.
— Carlow Brewing Co (@OHarasBeers) March 16, 2016
The future of this delicious limited-edition beer may be a short one, but O’Hara’s looks to continue to innovate and grow, making delicious beers all the way. Coming off of a very successful (and very tasty) collaboration beer—Lublin to Dublin, a thick milk chocolate stout cooked up with Poland’s Pinta Brewery that I had the pleasure of trying on draught in Kilkenny—the O’Hara’s team announces that they have only recently returned from a trip to Virginia to make an American-style red ale with Starr Hill Brewery. With a tasty, reliable main line of beers and the adventurous series of collaborations (and their award-winning whiskey barrel–aged beers), O’Hara’s looks to be just the right fit for fans of the familiar and seekers of new sudsy adventures.
As the gathered crowd gives the O’Hara’s team another raucous salute for a job well done and another legendary brew, I start to look forward to 2026. Maybe it’s the imperial stout thinking for me, but I begin to wonder what they’ll come up with to celebrate their thirtieth year designing and brewing spectacular beers for tourists and snobby connoisseurs alike.
Thanks to the team at O’Hara’s for inviting us to this imperial stout launch. Look for more news—and more brews—from Carlow Brewing at their website.