No longer hiding its light
Saturday 12 March 2022
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Rye River may be the biggest Irish craft brewery you’ve never heard of. Based in a set of cavernous sheds on a site west of Dublin, it started life as a production brewery for a group of distinct brands that became popular across Ireland and beyond. A few years ago though, a change in management spurred a new focus on quality and a push to bring these brands together under the Rye River moniker.
Its head brewer is the charming Bill Laukitis, a Michiganite whose brewing career only started after he’d moved to Ireland and taken the Guinness tour. “I was like, that'd be a bit of craic, so I knocked on the door a week later and was like ‘can I work for you guys?’. Like, that’s not how this works, is it? But actually they had interviews going on the next day so invited me to drop in for that. I’m still not sure how, but I got the job.”
It was while working at Guinness that Bill met Alex, now the head brewer at Whiplash, and the pair would swap homebrew recipes and talk about doing something more creative. “All of a sudden, a door opened for Alex to come and brew here at Rye River, and then a few months after that he opened the same door for me.”
Rye River itself started brewing in 2013, long before Bill or Alex arrived on the scene, at its original location down the road in Kilcock. The brewhouse fabricated for that site is the same one the brewery still uses today, and was the first manufactured in Ireland in over 100 years. It’s arguably getting a little small these days; Rye River is one of the hardest-working craft breweries you’re likely to find, brewing pretty much on a 24/7 schedule to keep its forest of fermentation vessels filled with a wide portfolio of beers.
“We still mash in by hand as well,” says Bill. “The beer we’re brewing today is one of our smallest mashes because it's 3.8%, right? So, roughly 400 kilos of malt. But then our bigger beers that make up most of our core range go up to about 800 kilos. We’re expanding the brewery site itself, but we’re definitely reaching the point where we’ll need a new brewhouse; throwing manpower at it isn't going to make sense anymore.”
The move to its current home enabled a step change in quality. Chemical-laden city water is now put through reverse osmosis, allowing the brewers to add minerals according to the style being brewed. A high-capacity centrifuge does the heavy lifting of removing hop content as beer is transferred from fermenter to bright tanks; a compromise between flavour-removing filtration and the extended crash periods that smaller breweries must use to strip out particulates. There is also a lavishly-equipped lab and shelf-life room, presided over by a full-time QA technician, Jessica.
Rye River’s investment in the technical aspects of its brewing has allowed Bill to forge strong relationships with his suppliers. For example, while we’re walking round, there’s a batch of Citra Pale Ale being canned that used experimental Spectrum liquid hop extract instead of the usual P90 pellets. This new format promises greater yield, but it needs breweries like Rye River to see how it behaves in a practical, commercial setting, before it can go into full use.
A similar technique is being used for the beer in this month’s box: Little twist Session IPA.
“That was a fun recipe as well,” says Bill. It's driven forward by El Dorado and Simcoe hops, supported by Mosaic and Amarillo, with a Maris Otter backbone, supported by wheat and oats. And then, again, the grapefruit extract; distilled hop oils merged with grapefruit oils, which is 100% soluble into the beer. It gives it this lovely, consistent quality that you'll get every time. That's added right before packaging, mixed in as we're centrifuging, so those hoppy, fruity aromas are going into the can absolutely as fresh as they can be, held there until you open it up.”
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