Many in the north west of the county often enjoy the sight of the magnificent Muckish mountain as a stunning backdrop along the great Atlantic Way.
Now, not only can they marvel at its majesty, but people can also sample a tasty beer named in honour of the famous landmark.
Donegal’s newest beer company, Muckish Mountain Brewery, has just been established and already their debut drink is winning praise from beer connoisseurs across the county.
Muckish Mountain Brewery was established by husband and wife duo, Leo and Janet Harkin, who live close by Ards Forest Park on the outskirts of Creeslough.
Leo, the son of Seamus and Tessie Harkin, was raised under the shadow of Muckish and went to school locally. Like many in the 1980’s, he had to leave home in search of employment and settled in London where he resided for 20 years.
It was there he met Janet, who hails from Cumbria in the North of England.
Leo worked in construction and wooden flooring while Janet worked in marketing.
The couple have two boys, Finn and Dara, and back in 2005 decided to make the move to Donegal and set up home in the rural countryside.
Both became fascinated with brewing and beer production while living in the UK. Janet’s brother-in-law, Ian, established a microbrewery almost 20 years ago and the couple looked forward to visits north to see what was the latest brew in production.
Ian then established the Coniston brewery and soon became an award winner for his first beer called “Blue Bird Bitter”.
Leo says it was during this time he enjoyed watching, and tasting, the process on their regular visits to Cumbria and the pair harboured a pipe dream to do something similar.
Having dabbled in home brewing as a hobby in recent times, Leo and Janet decided to further explore the idea of establishing a micro-brewery in the locality.
This led to them setting up Muckish Mountain Brewery.
“We have been thinking of this, on and off, for the last couple of years. Looking back on it, when we first started going out, we used to go back up the Lakes in Cumbria and we saw Ian setting up a micro brewery . We saw it from its early days to him winning awards for his beer. It was great to see but it was something we couldn’t do because back in the mid-90’s were still in London. Then when we decided to come home in 2005, I spent a couple of years building our house and then ‘footered about’ the building game. Of course that has now died a death,” Leo explained.
Janet adds that the current downturn soon affected her also and they spent a some time considering the future.
“I was made redundant last year and that was the real start of this for us,” she said.
“It had just come to a point in our lives when we thought what are we doing or where are we going? We just thought we had nothing to lose and protect our assets like the house as best as we can and go for it. When else were we going to do it?.”
This led them to the Donegal Enterprise Board for assistance on establishing a small company. Leo then set about contacting as many craft brewers as possible across the country and many in the UK. He undertook courses on brewing and worked closely with highly regarded beer consultant, David Smith.
Focusing on creating their own employment they struck upon a unique, flavourful, red ale to be their first brew.
In keeping with the heritage of the company name, they christened their first beer “Miners Red Ale” in homage to hard working miners who toiled digging silica sand on the famous mountain in the 1940’s and 50’s.
“We are not after world domination, or to take on Guinness or anything like that, but if we could build a brewery that could employ our sons when their time comes, then job done. That’s where we would love to be,” she adds.
The first batch of Miners Red is on the shelves of local pubs in the locality, and also in Ballyshannon and Cork, and was brewed as part of a feasibility study into researching the viability of a micro-brewery in the area.
They have received much help and support from fellow micro-brewers across the country, including Kinnegar Brewery in Rathmullan and the Donegal Brewing Company in Ballyshannon.
To assist with their initial study they secured the services of ‘Eight Degrees’ in Cork to brew their Donegal recipes, with the view to establishing their own dedicated facility at home if feasible .
Janet explains: “It is a bit like using someone else’s kitchen to bake your own cake in. It is our beer but we just don’t have the facilities yet.”
Leo adds: “We would like to set up our own brewery down at my home place and convert the farm buildings. There are two ways of approaching this, we either try put in huge investment at the start and go for it straight on which is quite risky. It’s a lot of money and we thought this was a better way. So we approached the Donegal Enterprise Board, who have been very helpful,”
“What we are doing first is a contract brew using the beer consultant and that was a lot of fun. Then we contracted the brewery in Cork, Eight Degree’s, who have won awards themselves,” Janet explained.
They settled on the recipe for “Miners Red” and are delighted with the results and their focus is now on consistency and maintaining the quality in the next brew.
Janet says: “Having a proper beer with flavour and taste is much more important to us now, not least because we don’t get out so much anymore. When we do, however, we want to drink beer that’s interesting and fresh, something that’s not clocked up the air miles to reach us and that hasn’t been mass produced on a soulless production line.”
An official launch night at the Kildarragh Fair on Friday August 9, with beer tasting, music and entertainment.