We caught up with our Head Brewer Alex Lawes and with Francis Finan the persona behind our latest McGargles family member, to discuss the search for exceptional hops, Clydesdales, and being the Long Lost McGargle!
In today’s competitive and bustling craft beer scene it can be sometimes hard to do exactly what you want. We felt for a while now that the McGargles lineup could do with something hop forward, and that comes with its own challenges. We already make a pretty hoppy offering in Cousin Rosie’s Pale Ale, it’s all hopped up in the whirlpool and dry hopped in the tank. It’s actually our most popular beer on draught and when I was a shift brewer here when we started it was one of the few beers I got to play a part in the creation of. I wanted Rosie to be a decent, punchy Pale Ale that focused on grapefruit and mandarin flavours and we achieved that by utilising hops that we could get our hands on in our very early days with Chinook, Amarillo and Summit. We push the dry hop on that one too, hopping such a light and sessionable beer with over a lb per barrel. We’ve always wanted to push things further in this area though, and when the guys told me they wanted us to come up with a new beer for this nice guy Francis, we said we wanted to do something hop-forward to compliment our more mature and malt-forward lineup of Stout, Lager, Red Ale and English IPA (Neds).
When you’re a startup like us, getting new and good quality hops is difficult. Really difficult. I meet so many people who reckon they’ve spotted a trick in the market here and think if they open a brewery that does really hoppy beers they’ll do really well. The fact is yes – they probably would, but then things go quiet when you ask a really simple but obvious question: “That’s cool, where you getting the hops?”. I honestly want to know this and it’s not a condescending or catch-you-out question. I need to know. We all share sources. When I go out for a beer with other brewers from other breweries it always comes up. “Yeah Amarillo has disappeared, can’t get it for another 3 years.”, or “I had Galaxy sorted for next year, but someone (another brewery) bought the whole allocation for cash and it’s gone”. There’s loads more stories like this but one of the beautiful things about the craft brewing community is we try help each other out, and if I’m really stuck for supply or someone else needs help with a few bags – you spare what you can. And that’s kept a lot of breweries going in tough times over here.
We’re growing at such a dizzying rate that we really can’t rely on the kindness of others like this anymore. Everything we use is contracted, and this helps the growers predict how much of which varieties to grow each year. The problem is everyone wants the same hops and it’s really unsustainable for folks growing out in Yakima (Washington, USA). There’s something like two breweries opening every day in the US at the moment and the majority want to make really hop-forward beers. So when you want to buy hops off the shelf your options are generally limited over here as all these new US breweries get first pick and the hop agents don’t have to stretch themselves too far.
I knew all of this before I embarked on trying to get the hops for Francis. I’ve heard of a brewery on the East Coast of the US whose head brewer’s job is now just sourcing hops wherever he can for 8 hours a day (ouch), as it’s getting that difficult now. So we took an unconventional approach for a European brewery. We went straight to the source. Rather than focus too much on our current suppliers, who I must say are absolute legends for everything they beg, borrow and steal for us – I took the approach of contacting the farms. They put me onto the wholesalers who put me onto the agents until I found someone who could handle our varieties and volumes further up the chain. And it’s been great, but kind of scary. We made big commitments for almost the rest of the decade at quantities that would keep a few hop farms afloat. Francis is here to stay.
So what were the hops I was in search of? Mosaic, Simcoe and Columbus. Columbus is easy enough to get hold of, but Simcoe and Mosaic? Tricky. Columbus, or CTZ as it’s sometimes called as it’s interchangeable with Tomahawk and Zeus, is a staple of the craft beer world. It gives this fantastic resinous bitterness at the back of an IPA if you brew with it in the kettle. Mosaic has been the darling of the brewing world for a couple of years along with Citra and now Equinox. Amarillo had all the buzz years back and still has it, and new varieties like Vic Secret and Azacca are becoming extremely popular now as new stars. I’ve always loved Mosaic for its tropical, mango juice, soft fruitiness and wanted it to really shine in this one. Lastly we wanted to use Simcoe to give the Mosaic a piney, citrusy and traditionally sharper edge to sharpen the edges of that tropical passionfruit from Mosaic. When you put these together you get the main flavour and aroma of Francis. And the malt? 100% hand-turned, traditionally floor malted Maris Otter. The cream of the crop. Nothing else. Enjoy.
Hey, my name is Francis and I originally hail from Sligo but reside in Galway, last year I was selected to have a character created based on me. A character for what? A character for a new, yet to be determined beer in the McGargles range.
Francis Finan the persona behind Francis McGargle talks to us about how he developed an interest in Craft Beer and his journey to become the latest member of the McGargles family!
I‘m no stranger to beer, I started drinking , responsibly, with that great entry level beer, that others might refer to as water that brings to memory, Christmas and Clydesdales. Since then my tastes have matured somewhat. In the last few years, craft beers have burst onto the bar scene, no longer were they for the select few who could be bothered to take the time and effort needed to create such nectar. People were hit by a recession and turned to home brewing, these people then realised that craft beer was much much better than the slop we drank as teenagers and they began to tell their friends, their friends then told their friends and before you knew it, craft beers were on the shelves of nearly any half decent bar around the country.
Now I don’t claim to be one of those few who already knew about the benefits of craft beer, or even the friend of someone who knew about craft beer, but somewhere down the line, I noticed these beers popping up in just about every off sales I visited and I was intrigued. So I began drinking them and I began liking them. I tried and tested many of the beers on offer but I am nowhere close to trying them all. So far, of the McGargles range I have to say that my favourite is Cousin Rosie’s Pale Ale, so far that is.
In the last year and a half I dabbled in the world of home brewing, I made a couple of batches of red wine, drank most of it myself with the ad of my lovely lady! Even got myself a decanter, ya know, to add some class to my 50 cent bottle of wine. I then decided to branch out into the world of beer and cider, beer for me and cider for my girlfriend as she cannot stand the smell of hops, I know, but a blessing really, at least she won’t steal my beer! But wait, I am lazy and I used kits for the production of these alcoholic treats. Shock and horror must be gripping you now, well tough, I am lazy and the les I have to do the better. By the way, the cider actually made your face feel fuzzy, mad stuff altogether. Also made some ginger beer, that was wicked sweet and gave a banging headache the next morning. That was a one off beer!
Anyway, back to the reason for this finger cramping writing, in October 2014 McGargles ran a competition, they asked people to take selfies with a bit of software they supplied and then post these selfies to their page with a couple of auld hashtags. Anyway, myself and a few others got selected to be the chosen few, McGargles would post a task for us each day to perform online and we would shout out our genuinely hilarious answers, just turns out I was the most hilarious in the land and I won the competition.
Next I was informed of the prize and what was in store for me, I was to have a beer brewed based on me, a character based on myself, you may remember I mentioned that earlier, and a shedload of free beer!
So in the next while you will be able to purchase beer with my ugly mug on it, I know, amazing, right!?!
The journey here has been great, I had a couple of visits to the brewery, one at Christmas so that sorted my Christmas beer, and another a few weeks ago. At the time of writing this there is currently another competition being run for other folks so that they can come to the brewery, get the VIP treatment, sample my new beer and best of all, they get to meet me! I can imagine that they will be fighting to get that last treat!
Anyway, that is enough from me, if you get the chance I do recommend that you have a wee sup from the beer that brandishes my face because I have already tasted it and it’s a cracker!