Linanne's Lobster Bar, Gregan's Castle, and most of the other classy joints in my neck of County Clare are featuring beers from a local microbrewery called Western Herd.
The beers come with such eccentric names as Blue Jumper IPA (inspired by an episode of Father Ted) and Siege Pale Ale (best enjoyed high in a Norman tower house with a battle raging below?). If you like India Pale Ales (IPAs) you will love these guys! They make several styles, and they are all brilliant!
Siege is Western Herd's signature brew. It's an American-style Pale Ale with a crisp, hoppy edge and an elegant finish. I had a glass of Siege at McHugh's pub, a place where you can sample the whole line-up of Western Herd beers on tap.
McHugh's Pub on Parnell Street in downtown Ennis is owned by the brewery and showcases every beer Western Herd sells (and occasionally some that haven't been released yet).
There you'll often find chef/owner Maeve Sheridan working a shift in the kitchen. The pub features a tapas menu with several excellent taco selections.
The tortillas come from Blanco Nino tortilla factory in Clonmel. In fact, it was the Blanco Nino folk who suggested I get to know the Mexican food-loving Western Herd crew.
I was so nostalgic to find real tacos on 100% corn tortillas, I ended up ordering every taco on the menu. I loved the buttermilk fried chicken taco, the sublime monkfish taco and the old-fashioned, downhome, pulled pork taco.
But enough of the taco tangent--my goal was to learn more about beer, and to do that I had to visit the actual brewery which is located out in the countryside. And as it happened, my friend David Donohue of Taste of the Burren Food Tours was heading out to the brewery one day last week, so I tagged along.
There we met Brewmaster Ian Garry, a veteran of several U.S. micro breweries. The little brewery in Clare has a capacity of 16,000 liters, he explained. The entire brewery can be dedicated to the production of one variety of beer at a time. The beers are then stored in tanks or barrels.
And what about the wacky ride 'em cowboy "Western Herd" name?
Ian explained that the Western part of the name refers to the location in a repurposed barn on a cattle farm in Kilmaley, County Clare--this is Ireland's Wild West. The owners, Michael Eustace and Maeve Sheridan (nee Eustace), are the eighth generation to raise livestock on this piece of land. Cattle wander around and sometimes munch on the grass just outside the brewery building. So the "Western Herd" moniker is amusingly appropriate.
Brewmaster Ian Garry uses as many local ingredients as he can in making the beer. Many of the malts are made from local Irish barley and the oatmeal used for flavoring is Irish as well.
The brewmaster is especially proud of Western Herd's Dolmen Irish Whiskey Stout . Chocolate and coffee, dark malts and a trace of hops linger on the palate after every sip. It's a bold-flavored brew that's a perfect complement to a cheese board or a hearty bowl of lamb stew.
The label explains that its made from a blend of locally roasted Sumatran and Central American coffees, cocoa nibs from Hazel Mountain Chocolate in the Burren, three varieties of dark malt, oatmeal and hops. It's aged in whiskey barrels.
Pick up a bottle of Western Herd beer next time you're out and let me know what you think.