Ireland has a history of brewing dating back over 5,000 years. Traditional Irish monks were expert herbalists who could flavor beers with the local flora, and legend has it that St. Patrick himself had his own personal brewer. Ireland’s beer has always been good not just to suit the country’s high demand for the stuff. Ireland also enjoys the perfect trifecta for growing barley: fertile soil, gentle rain, and the cool breezes that waft over the northern Atlantic.
That tradition continues wherever the Irish settle. Drumconrath Brewing Company, named for its founder Sam Corr’s ancestral hometown in County Meath, Ireland, began like most microbreweries do nowadays: with an avid enthusiast, a garage, and a lot of trial and error.
“The first batch of beer I ever made was with a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit,” said Sam. “It was pretty bad. The side of the box had a guy holding up frost mug of beer with the caption, ‘It’s real beer, and I made it’ and I was like, ‘No, it’s reconstituted syrup.’ So I gathered a modge podge of makeshift equipment and got a fermenter starter kit from the local homebrew shop and dove in head first with all grain brewing.”
“Almost all of my beers use base malt that I get from Ireland.” Said Sam, “It’s not the base for all my beer, but it is in all of them one way or another. I say we make North Dakota beer with an Irish spirit, and the Irish malt is that spirit.” Drumconrath beers feature malt from all over the world. Ireland, England, Germany, Patagonia, even from North Dakota and Minnesota. “We’ve used local malts from time to time. We use Rahr quite a bit, and a significant portion of their barley comes out of North Dakota, but I wouldn’t really call them a craft maltster. But we’ve also used malt from Two Track Malting in Lincoln, ND and from Maltwerks in Detroit Lakes. Just depends on what sort of character we’re looking for.”
That quest for character leads Drumconrath Brewing to always try to be creative. With over half their taps dedicated to rotating styles, and the ever-evolving tastes of the public looking for something new and exciting, the challenge is not just making good beer, but also coming up with beers that others in the area don’t have. “You have to be innovating, otherwise you’re always behind. One of the things I like to play with is nitrogen. By nitrogenating a beer it changes the profile from how it would be if it were served on carbon dioxide. It would be smoother, easier drinking. But should erupt with aroma.”
You can try any of Sam’s creations at Drumconrath’s taproom, a beer hall adjacent to the brewery with 50 seats, a patio, and eight taps. Five of those taps rotate to demonstrate Sam’s latest inventions. The other three are devoted to Sam’s most popular beers.
The Ribbonman Red, an aptly named Irish red ale, is Drumconrath’s flagship beer. It’s a malt-forward beer with a deep red color, almost dark enough to be confused with a stout. Ribbonman Red owes a great part of its sweetness to the 20 pounds of local honey used in each batch, which also lends it a hint of plums and currents.
Drumconrath’s GaelForce IPA is brewed in the classic American fashion. Darker and with a maltier backbone than most modern IPAs, GaelForce’s hops add to its flavor and aroma instead rather than bitterness. “GaelForce’s intense sweetness and citrus scent make it taste almost like you’re drinking juice,” said Sam.
The third staple of the taproom is the Saints Peter and Paul Porter, a jet black beer with a rich flavor, light notes of hazelnut, and aromas of chocolate and coffee. “The beauty of running your own brewery is that you can offer less conventional beers, ones you know people will love, without having to run it by a committee first,” said Sam. “It means you can let your vision lead you, not sticking to what’s ‘safe.’”
“The Fargo area is a great place for brewers,” Sam continued. “There are a lot of experienced people around to learn from, but microbreweries are still relatively new here, so there is plenty of room to grow.”
Drumconrath Brewing Company is located at 349 Knutson St, Unit B in Mapleton. Go there any time of year to try one of Sam’s finely crafted beers on-site and take their mainstays or new varieties home with you in a 64-ounce growler. It’s the best way around to get the finest that Ireland, the Midwest, and, most importantly, beer have to offer.
By David Scheller