Since graduating from college, Aine O’Hora has been honing her craft, gaining experience and setting wheels in motion on both sides of the equator. From starting out on her first college placement to heading up one of the West of Ireland’s burgeoning brew houses, - Connemara Brewing Co. - the past twenty years have brought this Tuam-born brewer on quite the journey.
Aine’s love affair with the drinks industry began at the tender age of four, crouched down behind the couch with her dad’s empty whiskey tumbler in hand, desperately chasing the final drops around the bottom of the glass. Years later, that love had never waned and Aine went straight into studying Biotechnology in DCU, which just so happened to cover all the fermentation sciences.
“I was very lucky that my second year project was in Brewing, I got my work placement in Harp and my final year project was in Brewing,” Aine recalls. “There was a new pub down the road from the college - Porterhouse North - and it was the first craft beer pub I had ever been in. It just blew my mind. There were so many different beers - I was amazed!”
Bitten by the craft beer bug, Aine went on to further her studies with a Masters degree in Brewing and Distilling, but it wasn’t until she went Down Under in 2007 that she really sank her teeth in. “You need to have a good knowledge of science and theory, but you have to be physically able to do the work and that’s what I learnt in Australia,” Aine tells me. “I worked for a small brewery for years and then I went into Carlton, one of the biggest breweries there is in Australia. Craft brewing and commercial brewing are two different beasts and I got to see both sides of the coin, but ultimately I decided that craft is where I wanted to be.”
A quick visit home for her brother’s wedding showed Aine O’Hora that Ireland was levelling up - “There were craft breweries everywhere! There were jobs going that just weren’t there two years previous, when I was last home. I realised for the first time ever that I could get a really good job at home in Ireland. Six weeks later I was in Dundalk starting a brewery!” Equipped with practical knowledge from her time overseas and a driving ambition to make her mark on Ireland’s brewing industry, Aine quickly became a well-known name where beer was concerned. After years spent working in Boyne Brewhouse and Wicklow Wolf Brewing Company, they made the decision as a family to move West - something Aine believed to be a sacrifice.
Laughing today at just how wrong she was, Aine tells me how she quickly fell into her role as Head Brewer of Connemara Brewing Co. “My sister-in-law’s husband knew Francis O’Flaherty [the brains behind the operation] and knew he had bought a brewery and was looking for a brewer. I was like, this is just so lucky! He put us in touch and it’s nearly two years down the line now. That’s why I call it Smallway!”
The past two years have proved challenging and rewarding in equal measure for the team at Connemara Brewing Company. Originally planning to launch their brews by going straight into pubs, Covid-19 quickly put paid to that endeavour. “We wanted to get all our taps up and running, do all kegging and then move on to packaging at a later date,” Aine says. “Then Covid came and it was a whole different ball game. There’s only one mobile canner in Ireland, so trying to get them alone was hard work. We were lucky in that we had only started the roll out into pubs, so we were agile enough to change direction. It’s the worst time ever you could launch a beer, but it’s the best received beer I’ve ever launched.”
Aine puts this warm reception down to that innate Irish sensibility of showing support for yer man down the road and keeping our money local. “For me to get home to brew in Galway and to see the reaction of people when they see Connemara on the can, you get the sense that they’re supporting you because you’re local and they’re proud of you because you’re local. You don’t get that in Australia. Seeing the interest through emails and social media, everyone has lifted us up and supported us as much as they can and you see that in Galway more than anywhere else.”
A clean, simple and contemporary brand that’s inspired by its surroundings, Connemara Brewing Co. is an innovative brewhouse rooted in tradition. With a firm focus on perfecting a small number of beers, they produce consistently high quality batches of refreshingly robust Connemara Lager and flavourful Connemara Ale. Through combining the local landscape’s world-class water and superb raw materials with incredible skill and old-school recipes, they’ve managed to produce two pretty perfect beers that will appeal to any palate.
Speaking on the thought process behind the approach, Aine says that she was adamant not to intimidate anyone. “I wanted your everyday Heineken drinker to taste our lager and appreciate it,” she says. Inheriting and updating an old working brewery showed them that traditional methods were key to producing a high quality beer, so all automation is kept to a minimum at CBC HQ. “We are rooted in some of the best traditions, around some of the oldest and most beautiful places in the world, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be old worldly,” Aine believes. “Something modern, different and very good can come out of that. We’re from an old place with long traditions, but we want a fresh, approachable beer that everyone can enjoy.”
From the minimalist design on the can to the deliciously tasty flavours that lie within, Connemara Brewing Co. have it down to a fine art. They may make producing a beer that appeals to all the senses look easy, but Aine assures me that a whole lot of physical labour goes into every batch. “When I first started brewing, I had to do weight training because I just wasn’t strong enough to keep up with the job. Big breweries are all automated but in a small craft brewery, the first thing you have to do is mash in. You have to mix 25 kilo bags of crushed grains in with hot water and essentially make 10 hectolitres of porridge, and that’s just the first 20 minutes of the day. You’re scrubbing and lifting and moving - it’s not all beer for breakfast!”
Making the time to speak to us while off on maternity leave, keeping the show on the road at work and having a laugh in the process - there’s no doubt in our minds that Aine O’Hora is some woman for one woman. Currently operating online, Connemara Brewing Co. have plenty of tricks up their sleeves for the road ahead including seasonal specials and a potential pop-up. Until the time comes that we can order in a round of beer from below in Cheathrú Rua, you can get them by the box right HERE.
Anyone else absolutely gasping for a pint?
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