Back in Blacks

We head back to one of our favourite Irish breweries, to catch up on an eventful year


We’ve been fans of Blacks of Kinsale since we included its sensational Marching Power Cryo IPA with issue #23 last year. Not only did we have a great time with founder Sam Black, but we also really admired the way he was going about things on the brewing (and distilling) front. So it was a no-brainer to include him as the Irish representative among our collection of rugby nations.

It’s been a busy year at Blacks, and in Irish craft brewing in general. The biggest change has been an update to the much-lamented and frankly idiotic law requiring anywhere serving drinks to have a full, €60,000 pub license; Ireland’s new Taproom Bill allows breweries and other businesses to operate a kind of ‘pub-lite’ arrangement, with limited opening hours and other restrictions. There’s still further to go, but even this is a huge deal for the country’s burgeoning craft movement, and Sam is working hard to move Blacks’ small tasting room into a separate building and make it legally compliant. 

This move would also free up some much-needed space on the crowded brewhouse floor; space that Sam intends to fill with a couple of small pot stills for his own Irish whisky (Blacks already makes its own spirits, but whisky production legally requires a specific setup). 

“The plan was to start whisky distilling in the first quarter of this year, but time is ticking, so we at least hope to have the groundwork done,” says Sam. “We’re looking at fairly small production, with four or five barrels filled each week. We’re upgrading the brewhouse too, increasing the level of automation and upping our capacity a bit. We’ve just had three or four months of solid double brewing to meet demand. That’s doable, but everyone’s all hands to the pumps all the time. If we can automate a bit, that gives us time to focus on doing other things.”

For this month’s box, Sam has brewed a brut IPA – a style which uses additional enzymes to break down long carbohydrates into fermentable sugar, producing a very dry, usually high-strength beer. Sam first heard about the style from a friend in America and immediately set out to master it.

“It sounded great,” he says. “I love lots of hops and I’m not mad about huge malty flavour, particularly if there’s a lot of crystal in there. Back then, you had to go to the US to get the enzyme, now you can pick it up in a homebrew store. The first time I brewed it, I was aiming for a 6.5%, but we really didn’t know anything about using the amylase enzyme or how it would work with the finishing gravity - it was just a finger in the air guess. That beer finished up around 8.5%, and the next few small batches got progressively better.”

“The grand-slam brut IPA for Beer52 was a bigger batch. The finishing gravity of that beer was so low that it was out of the scope of what the hydrometer is able to measure. So we had to use an Anton Paar density meter, which is a slightly more sophisticated machine, usually used in distilling. In the end it came out at 6.2% which was about where we wanted.

“One of the great things about brewing is that you’re constantly learning. When a completely new style like brut IPA comes along, you have to get a feel for how the ingredients will behave – it’s like learning to brew again, which is very exciting. I had faith in our process though, and was really pleased when we got to the point where we can reliably brew a good brut IPA to the specifications we were looking for. We hope the members enjoy it too.”

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