Clanconnel Brewing Company gives beer rivals a brewed awakening
Mark Pearson is single-handedly reviving hand-crafted beers in a village once famed for the artisan skill. Paul Gosling reports
The Clanconnel Brewing Company is a one-person traditional brewery, owned and operated by Mark Pearson in Waringstown, Co Down. "We're a small, dynamic and innovative microbrewery committed to producing only natural, high-quality, handcrafted beers," said Mark.
The business, which was established in 2008, stems from Mark's personal commitment and enthusiasm for the craft brewing trade. He was driven by his desire to offer beer drinkers a wide range of choice, in particular to compete against the dominant mass-produced beers.
"I am bringing alive an age-old skill, once prevalent in the village and lost over 180 years ago," he said.
"It is combining the old traditional, artisan ways with modern twists. "We are a dynamic and innovative company, who enjoy making great beer and want to share it with beer drinkers and non beer drinkers alike.
"We're committed to bringing beer drinkers a select range of quality handcrafted beers, brewed by traditional methods, using only the finest natural ingredients.
"We are uncompromising on quality – we guarantee that all of our beers are free from artificial colours and preservatives."
Clanconnel brews three beers: the Weavers Gold, McGrath's Irish Red and McGrath's Irish Black.
The business received a major boost four years ago when its McGrath's Irish Black was declared 'Champion Beer' at the Belfast Beer Festival.
This accolade helped establish the reputation not just of the beer, but also of the business – which is now breaking into the American and other international markets.
Mark says that he wants customers to be as excited by what he terms his "innovative and alternative beers" as he is.
They are, he boasts, "full of flavour and as fresh as we can possibly make them".
"All our beer is handcrafted in small batches, using traditional artisan methods," continued Mark. "We use only the finest ingredients – simply water, barley malt, hops and yeast to produce the perfect beer.
"Malt is added to the Mash Tun and mixed with hot water, which releases the sugars and produces a sweet liquid known as wort. The wort is then moved to a large kettle known as a copper and boiled for a period of time.
"It is here that the hops are added and the flavours infused into the wort.
"The wort is then chilled and transferred to a fermenter where yeast is added, which ensures that the sugars turn to alcohol.
"Once the fermentation process is finished the 'green beer' is moved to a conditioning tank where it is allowed to condition for a lengthy period of time allowing the character of the beer to develop," he explained.
"When the conditioning process is complete, the beer is then filtered and bottled, ready for sale.
"Our beer is naturally brewed, with no chemical additives being used to quicken the process. It is simply a creative fusion of malt sugars and hop flavours blended together with the purest water," said Mr Pearson.
As one of at least four micro breweries operating today in Northern Ireland, Clanconnel is part of a growing sector that is mixing traditional production techniques with contemporary approaches to marketing.
For Clanconnel this involves an impressive online presence at www.clanconnelbrewing.com.
But the name reinforces the link with tradition, which is at the heart of the business's brewing processes. The ancient lands in this part of Co Down were called Clanconnell, named after Conaill, who was son of Caolbadh, a King of Ulster.
The Clanconnel brewery is doing much more than re-establishing the tradition of brewing in Northern Ireland. In its reliance on artisan skills and values, it is helping to forge an important part of the agri-food sector: small, artisan firms that help revitalise the hospitality and tourism trades by enabling the region to market itself as a food and drinks destination.