Third Barrel

Meet the wizards brewing from a cupboard

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One of the best things about getting out into the world again is meeting brewers I’ve spoken to a lot on the phone, and seeing if my mental image of the brewery in any way matches up with the reality. While the team of three at Third Barrel are even more fun and charming in person, having tasted their excellent beer I’d pictured at least a medium-sized brewery with lots of automation, and perhaps even a gleaming Italian canning line. In reality, the trio are working their magic out of a tiny industrial unit behind a cash and carry. It honestly makes the whole thing all the more impressive.

The brewery is growing steadily though, with new tanks coming in and soon a depalletiser for its small four-head canning line. There’s also a potentially very exciting new restaurant and bar project in the offing, though we’re sworn to secrecy at this point.

“That’s going to be a big change for us if it comes off, not least because the licensing laws are very restrictive here,” says the brewery’s Kevin McKinney. “We can't sell direct from the brewery, we’re not really allowed to have taprooms. Those who do, like Rascals and Wicklow Wolf have to buy a separate licence, which is about 60 grand if you can get one at all. It's a shame because I think, especially around here, It could be a real draw; all the local breweries could have their own little tap rooms, and it just becomes its own community.”

Getting a space to physically connect with local customers and welcome tourists seems to be high on the agenda of every Irish brewery. But with the best will in the world, there has to be one eye on expanding into other markets.

Kevin, the head of marketing

Kevin says: “The growth for businesses like us is in exports, as well as the pub game. Ireland is still a very, very small market. There are cities in Europe that have a bigger population than the whole of Ireland. That’s why lockdown has really put the brakes on a lot of Irish breweries; for the last 18 months, we've still been sending on our beers to France and Spain, but not meeting those people, not getting out to festivals, not doing in-person collaborations. That's how you build your story in a new country; craft beer isn’t just buying, selling and drinking – it’s the community and having an emotional connection to something.”

We’re very happy to be bringing Third Barrel’s excellent Cold IPA to UK drinkers though, even if the order has caused some long days at the brewery. All 50,000 cans have been filled and labelled on the brewery’s small canning line, before being loaded onto pallets which filled the already-limited spare space floor-to-ceiling. So remember that when you’re cracking open your can.

“Cold IPA is kind of a trendy style that we’ve wanted to try for a while, and thought this would be a great opportunity,” says Kevin. “The more we’ve tasted it, the more it’s like a regular IPA to be honest, though it is very clean and does have that snappy bitterness. And that’s no bad thing, because the dry hopped Strata and Idaho-7 are great. 

“There’s a bit of corn in the mash bill, which gives it a slightly different sweetness, though we’ve not used rice in it, which I know a lot of the US guys are doing with this style. They're saying everyone will use a lot more adjuncts in the next few years. The protein yield is getting worse on malt, and keeps things interesting as well trying different grains.”

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