Brewer Spotlight: July 2013 – Cahalbrua

This month’s interviewee is Cahalbrua.

Cathal is a member of Dublin’s North County Brewers and his Belgian farmhouse ale was winner of the Twisted Pepper‘s homebrew competition last May.

Today he tells us about his favourite beers, his equipment setup and the highs and lows of his homebrewing career so far.



Cahalbrua, thanks for taking part in this month’s “Brewer Spotlight”. Whereabouts are you based?

Thanks very much! I live in Swords, the home of the world-famous “North County Brewers“.


What are you favourite local craft beer haunts?

The “Bull & Castle”, “Brew Dock” and “The Black Sheep”. Though my favourite of all pubs would be “WJ Kavanaghs” on Dorset Street, simply because they always have 3 or 4 cask ales on.


What are your 5 favourite commercial beers?

My favourite Irish beers are “Porterhouse Wrasslers XXXX”, “Metalman Pale Ale”, “Dungarvan Coffee & Oatmeal Stout”, “O’Haras Stout” and “Franciscan Well Shandon Century Stout”. I also love Sierra Nevada’s “Pale Ale”, “Torpedo” and “Bigfoot”.


Congratulations on winning the recent “Twisted Pepper” competition. Tell us about your award-winning beer.

The farmhouse ale was originally brewed as a saison at an North County Brewers’ brew day. The recipe itself came from a few different recipes in the “Clone Brews” book. I was trying to use up whatever ingredients I had in the house. One thing that took it out of the “saison” style was that I used sweet orange peel instead of the bitter Curaçao variety. Also, for the first 5 days it was fermented at 20°C because my fermentation chamber wasn’t free, so I used an immersion heater instead that was locked at 20°C. I had planned on 26°C for the whole fermentation. Then I transferred it to the fermentation chamber after 5 days and upped the temperature to 26°C, the recommended maximum temp for WhiteLab’s “WLP568” strain.

I brought the beer to a Capital Brewers meet-up where I was told it was to sweet for a saison but it could be entered as a farmhouse ale. I had noticed when stewarding at the National Homebrew Competition that judges came across a lot of quality beers that lost points because they weren’t to style, beer that may have done a lot better in a different category.


How long have you been home brewing and how did you get started?

About two and a half years. I went to a brew demo at The Homebrew Company and then started going into the Beoir meet-ups about 6 months later.


What beers styles do you brew regularly and why?

Everyone who knows me knows I like dry stouts. After that it’s pale ales and IPAs. I have also brewed a few Belgian styles and wheat beers.


How often do you brew?

It was as every month up to 6 months ago. But I’m now trying to do one every 2 or 3 weeks.


Do you have one beer that you have brewed over and over to perfect the recipe or process?

Just variations of a plain dry stout that I do for Christmas and a more roasty variation on the original.


Describe your current brewing equipment set-up?

I have a plastic 30 litre fermenter, with 2 argos kettle elements, a 33 litre cooler box mash tun, a copper emersion chiller, I’ve recently bought a 54 litre stainless steel Blichmann fermenter. This fermenter will form part of my new 50 litre stainless steel brewery.


Describe your typical brew day for us?

I mostly brew over 2 days. I mill the grain, mash and transfer to the boiler in one evening. I boil on the following day and the wort is still pretty warm. Using half a campden tablet to remove chorine during the boil, I also use a Whirlfloc tablet to act as a clarifying agent. I cool my wort with my copper immersion chiller. I’ve just started to aerate using a stainless steel air stone and air pump which I use for 30 mins and 1 hour. I find I’m getting my fermentation of to a better start than before.


What’s your favourite part of the brewing process? Least favourite?

My favourite part is doughing in. Least favourite is cleaning grains out of the mash tun!


Do you have any favourite malts or hop varieties?

I really don’t have any individual favourite hops at this point in time. I prefer all the new fruity citrusy hipster varieties over the noble varieties. Malt-wise the only thing I brewed that showcases malt in a beer are my stouts so obviously I love roasted barley and chocolate malt and also like to use peated malt in my stouts. I like Vienna and Munich aswell.


Do you favour liquid or dry yeasts? Any favourite strains, or ones you use most often?

I use mostly use dry yeast – Safale S-04 for my stouts and US-05 for pale ales.


What has been your most ambitious or challenging home brewing project to date?

Nothing crazy. I recently corked and caged a Biére de Garde into champagne bottles which was bottled with champagne yeast and will be highly carbonated. I’m leaving it to condition until 2014.


Tell us how you’re currently involved in the NHC’s Barrel Project?

We’ve done a Russian Imperial Stout. I had never brewed a beer with a gravity that high before. I think the average ABV was around 9.5%. I got my gravity from 1.092 down to 1.014 and it bubbled like mad for 3 days. I’ve been told that all the batches that went in were bang on when tasted, which of course is no surprise with the NCB!


Do you have a favourite source for recipes?

I have used a few from BYO magazine and “Clone Brews” by Tess and Mark Szamatulski.


Have you had any bad batches, or other brewing disasters to speak of?

I’ve had one absolute disaster! While brewing a Belgian Wit that called for “grains of paradise” (which I didn’t have) I found a cooking website that gave a substitute for it by mixing 3 or 4 different spices, one being cardamom but I used way too much. It smelled and tasted like an Indian curry – a new category of IPA was born! It was so strong that I figured it was never going to mellow, so I had to throw it out.


Any big home brewing projects planned in the near future?

I bought a beer engine on Ebay the other day and am hoping to get a 20 litre pin, so looking forward to getting that set up. My purpose-built brewery shed is coming together after about one and a half years, which I hope to be up and running in the next 2 months.


What is your top tip for successful home brewing?

Never use cardamon! Also, when starting off brewing, brew one style of beer regulary that you love. I’m not saying only brew that style just have a recipe that you want to perfect. If you can do a good job or perfect that style, you shouldn’t have many problems with anything else you want to brew.


Cathal, thanks for taking part in this month’s “Spotlight”!


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