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The White Hag Brewing Co, White Sow

Our first 'Nitro' beer. Pour hard. Be brave. Drink well.

The White Hag Irish Brewing Company from Sligo, Ireland launched in the summer of 2014. From day one they were making a name for themselves for their progressive, modern and, let’s be honest, brave beers. Brave that is for a country that was only really known for one black stout (Sligo is about 135 miles north-west of Dublin and the famous St James’ Gate Brewery).

The award-winning combination White Hag have hit upon seems to be thanks to a young Irish team and a master brewer from Ohio, Joe Kearns. Having cut his teeth at a small brewery in the US, Joe found himself heading up the brewing staff at Main Street Grille and Brewing Co. in Garretsville, Ohio. A place where he seems to have been quite happy until he stumbled upon an advert for a head brewer in Sligo on ProBrewer.com. Skype calls led to a meeting in New York that led to an offer. One that Joe couldn’t refuse as he and his family relocated across the Atlantic in 2014.

“I saw it as an opportunity to make my mark on the [brewing] industry there.” Joes told us. When he left the US there were in the region of 3,000 small brewers but there were less than two dozen in Ireland at the time (there are about 100 now).

Joe recalls the early days at White Hag and an occasion when they were setting up stall at the Irish Craft Beer Festival in Dublin. Some other brewers took a look at their range of beers and, in particular, their 7.2% Irish IPA. They weren’t all convinced. “They told us that this isn’t going to work in this country but by the end of the day there were people queuing up to try our beers.”

This approach has served them well so far. In their first four years, The White Hag has been voted Best New Irish Brewery 2015, Beoir Best Irish Brewery 2017 and best Irish Beer in 2017.

Despite the modern approach to brewing, there is a clear reverence to Ireland and it’s folklore. We asked Paul Mullin, managing director and self-proclaimed chief bean counter what’s with the name of the brewery?

“The White Hag is a mythical character and entity, who is essentially Mother Nature. The area of the north-west and indeed Ireland is steeped in mythology and lore, with most place names and landscape features linked to characters and happenings from ancient times. The mythology of our area represents Ireland and ‘Irish-ness’ like no other aspect of our culture, and we see it as a credible way to present our brand of brewing and beers. The main reason for our exact location of the brewery in Sligo is the water from Lough Talt, which is just the right PH balance for making great beers. The lake itself is fed by streams from the 600 million-year-old Ox mountains.”

The beers might seem modern but there is more than a nod to some much older styles. Paul again.

“We have undertaken a mission to make great Irish beers, and in some cases recreate beers that have not been made here for hundreds of years. Our signature Heather Sour is a unique Gruit ale [a traditional beer where herbs are used to flavour and bitter the beer, not hops - Gordon] and is one of our unique standout beers, this year listed as one of the best 365 beers in the world. It has its origins here in the north-west of Ireland and harks back to a time before the availability of hops from California and New Zealand. As an Irish brewery, we are also fond of an odd stout, and our range of stouts have won us a bunch of awards and admirers across the land. Ranging from a Dry Stout to an Imperial Stout, via a Coffee Milk Stout and an Oatmeal Chocolate Milk stout, there’s a black beer for everyone in the range. Named after a bunch of famous swine who roamed the North West of Ireland, you will recognise the stouts by their beast inspired titles; The Black Boar, The White Sow, The Black Pig and the Black Sow are now staples in our range.”

This week’s beer, the White Sow is their ‘Nitro Oatmeal Chocolate Milk Stout'. From this description you can tell that there’s a lot going on with it. The use of oats and lactose aren’t uncommon in a stout to provide body and that ever so velvety mouthfeel. With the added cacao this becomes even more luxurious (drink this and get someone to whisper “chocolate buttons” in your ear). Then there’s the nitro. The idea to add nitrogen to this beer came after an earlier experiment with the beer on keg. Impressed with the results, Joe decided that he had to work out a way of making that available in bottle and can. This beer is deluxe, but you have to pour it hard (see below).

And the White Sow? In folklore she was the mother of the Black Boar, a symbol of fertility and birth. The White Sow came to a sticky end but legend has it that her fallen body shapeshifted into the Mountain of Kesh (a landmark near Sligo).

The good news is that since we ordered this beer the people at White Hag have secured a UK distributor so you should start to see their beers cropping up at good pubs, bars and bottle shops near you. If you like this week’s beer make sure you look out for their Imperial Stout. Rumour has it there’s a bourbon barrel version about to be made available. Or try their signature Irish IPA at 7.2% and tell us what you think.

You’ll also find White Hag at this year’s London Craft Beer Festival and IndieManBeerCon as well as some other great beer events across the UK. Then there’s their own Hagstravaganza, a combination of an International Brewery Festival and birthday celebration at their brewery in Ballymote on July 28th. Here you can expect 24 breweries from 11 countries pouring 60 beers never poured before in Ireland. They even rent out their own train for the occasion. Find out more on their website and follow White Hag on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Nitro beers and the ‘hard pour’

This is the first ‘nitro’ beer we’ve featured in the subscription box. So we thought we’d explain what’s going on.

Why add nitrogen to a beer?

Nitrogen is an inert gas that, in this case, replaces some of the CO2 in your beer. CO2 lowers the pH value of your beer and helps it taste crisp and delivers aroma. It also helps to protect the beer from oxidisation or unwanted bacteria and provides the beer with a foamy head. Nitrogen doesn’t lower the pH value of the beer because it’s an inert gas. Nitrogen also produces much smaller bubbles in the glass (hence the hard pour). So the result is a creamier tasting beer with more ‘mouthfeel’. But you gotta pour it hard.

The hard pour?

This works best if you chill your beer a bit more than you normally would for a Stout. Half an hour or a bit more in the fridge will do. The trick is to open the can and completely upend it, pouring the contents into the glass with no need to tilt either of them. The beer really needs to come out hard and not smooth to make this work. If you do this right you will see a beautifully creamy head start to form as the bubbles make their way up the glass. You have to be brave and trust the science folks. If you are feeling timid choose a slightly bigger glass than you would normally use.

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