The whole world is familiar with the black stuff, but there’s a chance you haven’t heard of Guinness’ Open Gate Brewery. Based in Dublin at the same location as the Guinness Storehouse, the Open Gate is the Guinness brewers’ licence to be creative.
Although there’s been an experimental brewery at St. James’s Gate for over a hundred years, the Open Gate taproom only opened to the public in late 2015. Most of the experimental beers are exclusively available in the taproom, although some of the most successful have made their way into bars, restaurants and off-licences across the UK including Citra IPA and Hop House 13.
We were really excited to have a chat with the General Manager of the Open Gate, Padraig Fox to discuss all things beer, food and the third annual Guinness x Meatopia which takes place at the Open Gate Brewery, 5th-7th July 2019.
Can you introduce yourself to those who don’t know you?
I’m Padraig Fox – though almost everyone calls me Foxy! – and I’m the General Manager of the Guinness Open Gate Brewery taproom in St James’s Gate. I’ve worked for Guinness since I was fresh out of college, starting on a two month contract as a German tour guide… 15 years ago!
Since then I’ve had the opportunity to work in the quality and sales teams both in Ireland and the US, and also worked with two Irish craft breweries after I moved back from the US, before ending up back at Guinness to manage the taproom here – I’m perfectly happy behind a bar chatting beer, so this job is perfect for me.
Guinness is one of the biggest brewers on the planet – how has the rise in craft beer affected Guinness?
I think it’s been really good for the whole beer industry. I really think a rising tide floats all boats, the more people who try beer and talk about beer, the better for all of us. People are much more receptive to different flavours than 10 or maybe even 5 years ago, so our brewers have the opportunity to showcase more of their skills to the public now than previously.
We’ve actually released more beers in the last 3 years than in the previous 8, so it’s been fun coming up with new recipes and being able to mix between some of our more historical re-brews and being able to try the opposite end of the scale with something like a Nitro IPA.
Is the Open Gate brewery a direct response to the rise of craft beer? Do you consider what you do ‘craft’?
We’re definitely not a craft brewery, the Guinness Open Gate is a small part of the overall Guinness brewery – it’s 10hL in size which to us is our little brewery but is actually quite big compared to a lot of craft breweries. We’ve actually had an experimental brewery in St. James’s Gate for over 100 years, and it’s been based in the same building that we now occupy since the 1960s, so there’s always been a huge focus on experimentation – for example, Guinness Draught only came about 60 years ago, which surprises a lot of people!
By opening up the taproom it means that we can share some of these small batch brews now rather than keep them to ourselves. More and more people are interested in tasting new flavours, not just in beer but also in food, so three years ago felt like the right time to open the taproom.
When you go out to a bar it’s great to see people chatting about what’s in their glass, which wasn’t really the case a few years back; that’s one of the main reasons we opened the taproom, to talk about beer more and introduce some of the processes and people behind the scenes that go into every Guinness beer.
So a big part of what you do is opening people up to new styles & flavours and opening their eyes a bit to what beer can be?
Definitely! When you book your ticket for the Open Gate Brewery, you pay €9 but that gives you a flight of four beers on arrival, and we usually have 12 or so to choose from. Behind the bar, we’re all beer fans, so we love to help people along the way – a lot of our customers may not have ever tried an IPA or a sour before, so it’s a great opportunity for us to help them try new flavours.
Sometimes you meet someone who “doesn’t like beer”, but when you chat to them they may have only ever tried lagers or stouts, so by being able to try four completely different styles they’ve never had before, it may not be that they don’t like beer, they just haven’t found the beer for them!
We take our time in serving the flights, it’s almost like a personal flavour consultation – we can suggest a barrel-aged stout to a red wine drinker, a saison to a white wine drinker, or even the difference between a New England IPA and a West Coast IPA can be an eye opener to people who may think all ales are bitter.
I’ve found some people who have tried their first ever IPA with us come back a few weeks later having tried the IPA from their local brewery, which got them on to the double IPA, and so on…
Can you tell us a bit more about the Open Gate – the brew-kit, the beers you serve etc?
On the brewing side, we have a team of five brewers, all of whom are given free reign to brew whatever they’d like. It’s a pretty big building, so in addition to the 10hL kit, there’s also a 3hL and a 1hL kit as well. All the ideas start off on the 1hL kit, and if we like it then it might get scaled up.
Once it goes into keg we put it on the bar, and in addition to the experimental brews (roughly one new beer per week), we also of course serve Guinness Draught and Hop House 13. If a beer is really popular in the taproom, we might rebrew it and try it again, and if it’s still popular it might get scaled up in the big Brewhouse 4 – which is how Open Gate Citra IPA, Pilsner and Pure Brew 0.5% Lager came to be – and these are available in Ireland and the UK on tap, and in bottles and cans.
We also love having guest taps on, from really close neighbours like Dot Brewing and Four Provinces, to other parts of Ireland such as Boyne Brewhouse, Loudon’s and even further afield – for example, at our International Stout Fest last November we had stouts from Holland, Mexico and South Korea!
It’s really great, especially for visitors from overseas, to be able to give them a small snapshot of just how great the Irish beer scene is.
We spotted from your Instagram that Jason Momoa turned up once! How did that happen?!
Turns out Jason Momoa is a huge Guinness fan. He happened to be visiting Dublin and dropped us a line in advance asking if he could visit – of course we said yes! We also brewed up a one off sour beer for him to take home – he still has a personalised barrel in the brewery too!
He was brilliant to have in – a lovely unexpected surprise for anyone who was in the taproom that evening. He’s actually been back a few times, I think you could call him one of our regulars!
Have you had any other unexpected celebrity guests?
There’s been a few – J.J. Watt from the Houston Texans was one of the first shortly after we opened – but a personal highlight for me as a rugby fan was teaching Will Greenwood and Donnacha Ryan how to pour a perfect pint during the last Six Nations. Not the best result on the day for Ireland, but we had good fun in the run up to kick off!
What have been the best beers you’ve produced to date?
It’s all subjective of course, but two of my favourites were a Damson Plum Sour, which was a bright pink taste sensation – lots of sweetness from the damson plums up front, before giving way to a real puckering sourness.
The other is our Strawberry Porter, which uses 50kg of fresh strawberries and a little bit of basil as well to give it that taste of a punnet of freshly picked strawberries. We first brewed it three years ago and actually just re-brewed it, back on the bar this month pouring on nitro!
…and the worst? 🙂
I’m not sure if it was the worst, but it was definitely divisive – one of our former brewers, Patrick, brewed a special Patrick’s Potato & Shamrock Ale a few years back for St Patrick’s Day… it used potato flour in the mash, shamrocks in the kettle and poured an unusual shade of green. We didn’t sell a huge amount of that one but it was a good laugh explaining it to customers!
Are you brewing anything exciting at the moment?
We’ve got three special brews for our upcoming Guinness x Meatopia event which are brewed in collaboration with three of the chefs to pair specifically with the dishes. It’s almost like a Chef vs Brewer challenge to see who can create the best pairing, plus we have a gose and a micro New England IPA in the works too. Oh, and more barrels being filled with stout as we speak.
Can you tell us a little more about Meatopia? What can we expect?
Of course! Guinness x Meatopia takes place 5th-7th July 2019 and is a 3 day celebration of live fire cooking, with six amazing chefs cooking a bespoke dish each day. Our brewers and beer sommeliers have created matching beers for each chef, which are served at each cooking station to make sure you taste the pairing. The best part is you can chat away to the chefs and brewers while there, so if there’s any burning questions you may have on beer or live fire cooking this is the chance to ask them!
In addition to the food, the Cutting Room stage (led by Melissa Cole) plays host to a series of talks and panel discussions on beer, food, curing meat, live fire cooking, and much more.
As day turns to night, there’s a super programme of live music and entertainment to keep the party going! Tickets include five unique dishes paired with five perfectly matched taster beers and a pint of choice from the beers available for the festival weekend. There are limited tickets left, available from www.guinnessopengate.com.
You recently opened a kitchen in the taproom – how do you come up with the food pairings?
It’s really collaborative; sometimes the chefs will design a dish around one of the beers, sometimes the brewers will create a beer to go with one of the dishes, and sometimes we’ll base it around a theme, such our Belgian Beer Week, where our head chef Sean created some amazing Belgian dishes to pair with each of our Belgian style beers, and of course the obligatory chocolate pairing as well.
What’s your favourite beer and food pairing? Hint – the answer is pizza.
We’ve actually just added a really tasty smoked chicken flatbread pizza to our menu which really hits the spot washed down with one of our pilsners… if I’m fully honest I’m one of those people who thinks pineapple absolutely belongs on a pizza, so you can’t best a Hawaiian pizza with an old school West Coast IPA – sweetness from the pineapple, salty ham, crusty base and hoppy bitterness, all the best flavours coming together in harmony!
We’d love to see better beer menus in restaurants in general – there’s always a lengthy wine menu – but beer doesn’t seem to get the same respect. Do you think we’re starting to see that change?
I think so – we’re starting to see it a bit more but there’s always more to be done. More food outlets are putting a lot of effort into staff training across the board – not just in beer but in wine, cocktails and food – so that will have a natural effect on staff being more confident in offering a beer as a pairing.
As customers we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a beer in a restaurant either – it’s been paired with food for centuries! When I lived in the US most places had a great beer list as well as a wine list as the norm, so i think that should be the ambition for Ireland too. We have a lot more breweries in Ireland than vineyards so we should be shouting about that more both to locals and tourists!
How do you feel like the beer scene in Ireland shapes up compared to America?
I would say that Irish brewers and their beers are certainly on a par with their US counterparts in both taste and quality, so nothing to hold us back on that front. We’re definitely getting there at getting beer to the forefront of the conversation around food, but that is something the US does exceptionally well from pub grub to fine dining.
The taproom scene in the US is something that I loved when living there, and I really hope it takes off in Ireland in the same way. Saying that, I hope we don’t follow the trend of queueing outside a brewery for four hours to buy a max limit of 2 cans of a limited release!
Is there anything exciting you in the Irish craft beer scene?
I’m really looking forward to more breweries opening their own taprooms in Ireland. It’s been such a great boost to the US beer industry for tourism and hopefully here follows suit.
There’s also such a huge range of styles and methods on offer now, I really can’t wait to try the brews from Wide Street Brewing in Longford – amazing to think there’s a 100% wild fermentation brewery in Ireland now, unthinkable 5 years ago!
What are your favourite non-Guinness beer(s) at the moment?
I’ve been brushing up on German beers over the last little while, and Grevensteiner Helles from Veltins has been a really superb discovery. Amid all the IPAs and barrel-age trends, a really good historical European beer holds up well to scrutiny!
You’ve been in the beer industry for a while now…. what’ve been your beer highlights so far?
Oh there’s a lot, it’s going to be hard to choose! Fallon’s in Dublin 8 will always be one of my favourite bars in the world; a great Guinness and one of the best toasted sandwiches in Dublin. I’ve celebrated a lot of important milestones there.
I loved Harpoon’s taproom in Boston – a great brewery with great beers, and a super view across the harbour. The staff were always excellent too!
On honeymoon in California we got to taste some beers right out of the barrel at Firestone Walker, and I have to say the Porterhouse in Temple Bar really started (and continues) a lot of my beer exploration and education.
One of the biggest beer highlights for me was tapping up the Guinness and Timmermans collaboration for the first time last year – a blend of our West Indies Porter and Antwerpen Stout, plus their Oude Gueueze – it just felt really special at the time and I was delighted to be a part of it!