Mike Mallone is a brewer at The White Hag Irish Brewing Co. in Ireland. Mallone was the brewer at Main Street Grille and Brewing Co. in Garrettsville when the brewpub closed in 2016. He decided to move to Ireland, where he now works under brewmaster Joe Kearns, another former Main Street brewer.
Question: Why did you become a brewer?
Answer: I think I became a brewer for the same reason a lot of people did. They have a huge love of craft beer! For a lot of my life, I was a Natty Light kinda guy. (Don't shoot me, but I still don't hate it. It's carbonated water!!!) I had joined the military in 2008 and got some pretty sweet orders to Italy which afforded me the ability to travel through a lot of Europe at the time. Before that, I had drank some craft beer and was just kind of getting into it but when I moved to Italy that's when my interest really piqued.
I found that all these different countries I was going to had a lot of the same style beers but with a variety of unique flavors. That really opened eyes. For example, I would be in Latvia drinking a lager or wheat beer that was completely different to the lagers or wheats I was drinking in Germany or Italy. That got me really curious about what made a beer that's the same style taste different depending on where you were and who made it. So I picked up the Holy Grail, John Palmer's "How To Brew," and started reading about the process of creating beer, which helped me understand what made those differences. It was at that point, I knew at the very least I wanted to homebrew.
Q: How did a kid from Hiram end up as a brewer in Ireland?
A: Haha. I'll try to shorten the story of how I went from Hiram to Ireland as much as possible. In 2012, fresh out of the military, I went to the IX Center International Beer Fest in Cleveland, and that's where I discovered Main Street Grille and Brewing Co. which was only about five miles from my house in Hiram. I tried their beers and they were really good. So I started going to the brewery on half price growler night (Tuesdays) and filling a couple growlers to drink while me and my friend Brian were homebrewing.
One Tuesday, I saw a crowd of people getting a tour of the brewery and asked if I could go meet the brewmaster (Joe Kearns). After his tour was over, we started talking. I told him I was just out of the military and wasn't sure which direction my life was going. Do I go back to college? Do I get a job? I had no clue what I wanted to do.
I did know that I loved homebrewing and wanted to make better beer at home. So I asked if I could help him out there in exchange for knowledge. He took me under his wing and I ended up apprenticing there for the next year and a half. In 2014, he moved with his family to Ireland to help start The White Hag, and left me to take over at Main Street. In the middle of 2016, The White Hag was exploding out in Ireland and with that came brewery expansions and a lot more work.
Joe rang me up one day and asked how I would feel about moving to Ireland to help him. Being solely trained by him meant that I already did things the way he liked and he needed someone who he wouldn't have to re-train. So I couldn't miss the chance to move to Ireland and take a position that had a lot of opportunity for growth with the added benefit of traveling around Europe again. I mean come on ... would you pass that up?
Q: Tell us a little bit about the beer market in Ireland. (Is it the same as the U.S.? Different? Are there a lot of craft breweries? Do Irish beer drinkers have different tastes?)
A: Heineken (lager), Guinness (dry stout), and Smithwick's (Irish red). These are the core beers/styles that kind of define Ireland and the average beer drinker.
In 2012, there was somewhere between 10 and 15 craft breweries in Ireland (which is about the same size in square miles as South Carolina). Now in 2019, there are more than 70 craft breweries and that's not including gypsy brewers (brewers who don't have their own facility and rent tank space from other breweries.)
The one thing you will notice about all three of those styles is that they're all rather light, clocking in between 4.3% and 4.5% ABV here in Ireland. (I'm aware Heineken is around 5% ABV in the states but not here.) The average Irish beer drinker wants something lighter (in ABV and bitterness) that they can "session" on all day while watching the football (soccer) matches at their local pub.
It has taken awhile (just like anywhere) but the market is finally starting to really open up to all sorts of different styles of beer. When Joe was talking about moving to Ireland initially, he had told me one of the big reasons he really wanted to do it was because it would be like stepping in a time machine and going back to the U.S. craft beer scene in the mid '80s to mid '90s. He wanted to help pioneer the movement and go down in the annals of history for the Irish craft beer industry.
So the market out here is definitely a bit different but it's not too far behind the U.S. now. Brewers here are constantly watching what trends are happening there and then trying to bring that trend to Ireland. NEIPAs and Hazy IPAs for instance started to explode a couple years ago in the U.S. and now we are seeing that change here. It is really interesting to watch the U.S. beer scene from out here and say for instance, "Oh shit, Milkshake IPAs are becoming a thing ... right, let's get on that!"
Q: What's your best-selling beer and why do you think it's so popular?
A: Our No. 1 seller for here in Ireland and our export market is our Little Fawn Session IPA. It clocks in at 4.2%. It's a really smooth and sessionable beer, dry hopped with Mosaic for that beautiful tropical fruit nose and flavor. It makes up about 50% of our production and that's quite a lot considering we have a core range of about seven beers and a portfolio of over 50 different styles including sours, collaborations and barrel-aged beers.
The biggest challenge here (like anywhere) is trying to create a beer that appeals to everyone. So this is a beer that has (in my opinon) quite a bit more flavor than the beers I mentioned in the question above while still remaining that light and yet flavorful pint of beer that you can drink all day without overwhelming your palate or getting drunk. While it would be a lot of fun for us to just focus on our barrel aging and sour programs, those beers unfortunately don't suit everyone. So the Little Fawn is that beer we do that can please your average consumer as well as the craft beer heads.
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/brewed and why?
A: Other than Natty Light? Haha I'm kidding, or am I...? Don't judge me!
This is the hardest question because I have fallen in love with tons of different beers for different reasons. Some of them because they nailed the style perfectly, some because of the moment/location I was drinking them and others because they were strange and unique.
Blue Moon was one of the beers that got me into "craft" beer. Stone Smoked Porter was the first dark beer I fell in love with. And the first time I had New Holland Dragons Milk, I was in awe. But all those have a nostalgia factor to them for me.
So I'd have to probably say either Indra Kunindra by Ballast Point just because it was pretty complex with all the spices in it and had with the perfect level of heat to it. Or ... and I'm not saying this because I work here but The White Hag's Scotch Barrel Aged Black Boar. (Disclaimer; I wasn't actually working for this brewery when it was made. I only got to try one of the bottles about a year after it was made, and it still blew my mind.) It was a Russian imperial stout that went into single malt scotch barrels, and the product that came out had all of my favorite flavors. The smoky, vanilla, and oak notes from the barrel on top of a thick roasty stout with notes of molasses and chocolate. It was f***ing amazing, so shout out to Joe Kearns for that one!
ALSO, SHOUT OUT TO ALL THE BREWERS IN OHIO!!! MISS YOU ALL AND THE INCREDIBLE BEERS YOU DO!!!
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