The Open Gate Brewery at St. James’s Gate brewery opened its doors to the public for the first time just last December, but Guinness has run a pilot brewery for experimenting with different brewing ideas and developing different beers since 1909. The present location within St. James’s Gate has been operating since the mid-1960s and their tinkering and inventive spirit has led to the development of things we think of as ubiquitous, such as draught Guinness.
The Open Gate Brewery is open to the public on each Thursday and Friday between 5.30pm and 10.30pm, and you will need to book a spot in advance through the brewery’s website, guinnessopengate.com. The €6 cover charge gets you a tasting tray upon entry, where you can sample any four of the beers on tap during your visit in one-third of a pint measures.
This is the second in our series of profiles of the members of brewing team behind what goes on at the Open Gate Brewery, where went to find out just how their ideas for new beers journey from their sketchpads to our tastebuds.
Liquid Technologist at St. James’s Gate Brewery
Having worked previously as a Home Economics teacher, Aisling Ryan’s interest in brewing was piqued during her time studying for a masters degree in food technology which took her to St. James’s Gate as part of an internship. Now bearing the somewhat exotic title of Liquid Technologist, and en route to completing her brewer’s diploma, Aisling works with the rest of the brewing team in the Open Gate Brewery splitting her time between creating experimental brews that will be available to the public at the Open Gate Brewery’s bar and Diageo’s innovation projects around the rest of the world (including their three African breweries) which are managed from the pilot plant here in St. James’s Gate.
“I work on innovation projects all around the world,” explains Aisling, “and recently I’ve been working on launching a new Guinness variant for Africa, so I’ve been travelling a lot to Kenya and Nigeria and Ghana, and working with locally-based brewers to produce the new beer which we have just launched there called Guinness Africa Special.” Guinness has been brewing in Nigeria since the early 1960s when the first Guinness Brewery outside Ireland and Britain was built in Lagos in 1962, and their Foreign Extra Stout has been popular across the continent for decades. A variant on Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the Guinness Africa Special incorporates African spices and herbs into its recipe to give it its distinct and local taste.
At the Open Gate Brewery, there is both a hard scientific approach to minutiae of technology and research in their field as well a heady cross-pollination of ideas from differing brewing traditions and beer styles. Like Aisling, fellow brewer Feodora Heavey has also worked on projects for Guinness’s substantial African markets, while other team members Jasmin Winterer and Wiebke Hense both have German brewing heritage. “We all come from different backgrounds, which makes it interesting,” says Aisling. “We’ve got a mix of male and female brewers, and everybody’s got their own different tastes and things that they’ve taken on board from around the world.”
Another particular interest that Aisling has focused on at the Open Gate Brewery is with experimental maturation processes for different beers. Ageing alcoholic drinks in wooden casks affects the flavour of the beer in a two main ways. Firstly, the material of the barrel lends the beer certain characteristics depending on which type of wood it is made of. The second crucial factor is what beverage that barrel has had stored in it before, which seeps into the porous wood and subsequently influences the taste of the beer left to age within.
“We’re working with guys from the spirits industry, who have a wealth of knowledge from that field, to develop new beer styles through wood-ageing and cask-ageing which is particularly exciting,” explains Aisling. “Recently we’ve been playing with ageing beer in bourbon barrels brought in from the United States. Since it went in, the style of the beer has changed so much. It’s developed a fruity, oak character from the bourbon. We brought it in and over the three months it lasted, it developed so much in terms of flavour. We didn’t sell it at the bar, but some customers are invited to try a small glass to see how the taste develops.” For the next maturation experiment, the team at the Open Gate Brewery have put the Antwerpen Export Stout in a bodega style cask that had been used to store whiskey. “It’s imparted a really lovely, slightly spiced, fruity tone to the beer,” says Open Gate Brewery’s Bar Manager Pádraig Fox. “It definitely brings out a raisiny, Christmas cake type of flavour at the moment, but that could change by the end of the week!”
While the fundamentals of the brewing process are ancient and traditional, the Open Gate Brewery – through a combination of exacting scientific research and an apparently limitless stream of new ideas – has shown that there are always surprising possibilities to explore. Given that the last five years have seen a sea change in Irish beer drinkers tastes, with customers becoming au fait with different types of beer, and more curious to experiment with new flavours, Aisling and the team at the Open Gate Brewery are delighted that the doors have been thrown open, and the work they do is now available to an audience of the general public. “We’re lucky in that we get to have such freedom in what we do, to come up with our ideas ourselves and work on them. This set up means we can let the public taste something that may never be able to reach large scale production, but that is still a really great beer.”
WHAT’S ON TAP
Alongside the regular taps in the bar at the Open Gate Brewery which pour Guinness Draught, Hop House 13 and Nitro IPA, there are new experimental brews introduced to the taps directly from the brewery itself. The experimental batches are made only in a ten hectolitre brew and when the taps run dry, those beers are gone for good! Here’s a sample of what’s in store for visitors this month.
1516 ANNIVERSARY PILSNER
Created by German brewer Jasmin Winterer, the 1516 Anniversary Pilsner is a light and finely balanced classic German pilsner style made with the purest of recipes: only water, barley and hops. The anniversary it celebrates, is of the Reinheitsgebot, or German Purity Law, adopted across Bavaria 500 years ago. The 1516 Pilsner is delicate and crisp combining a sweet graininess with a subtle bitterness at the back of the mouth.
CHOCOLATE & VANILLA STOUT
The Chocolate & Vanilla Stout is dark in appearance like Guinness’ regular stout, but has a flavour that really sets it apart from the norm. A creation of brewer Feodora Heavey, who has a love of all things stout, it is brewed using cacao, chocolate malt and vanilla to give the beer a full-bodied taste that balances the bitterness from the dark malts and dark chocolate with a hint of sweetness from the vanilla.
You can follow the latest developments from the Open Gate Brewery on Twitter at @OpenGateBrewery
This post is sponsored by Diageo.