Spotlight : McCrackens Real Ale

As part of the Bangor Beer Club series hosted by The Salty Dog, CATW had the opportunity to meet Ryan McCracken of McCrackens Real Ale and sample some of the wonderful brews they produce.

McCrackens Real Ale is a small family run microbrewery based in Portadown, County Armagh. They craft, bottle and package all of their ales by hand.

We caught up with Ryan to ask him a few questions :

Hi Ryan! Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in brewing ?My love for brewing started out like many brewers, a present from my wife Nicola.  It was the kind of kit that all you need to do is add hot water, sugar and yeast, wait a few weeks later and you’ve got 40 pints of beer.  It didn’t quite turn out how I imagined, although that was me hooked. Rather than getting another extract kit I went straight into all grain brewing in the hope that I could produce something more like how I had imagined. I ordered an American IPA kit from Geterbrewed, a local brewery supplier based in Randlestown.  This time it was a lot more involved and required all the steps that any of the large breweries do albeit on a much smaller scale.  The end product was how I had hoped. I spent the quite a bit of time on similar kits refining my skills before coming up with my own recipes. It was then a case of continual improvement upon my previous attempts to get the best flavor profile possible. 

What started out as a hobby quickly became a passion and then a dream, the dream was to open my own Microbrewery.  I came up with the Microbrewery name, McCrackens Real Ale as it fitted in with what I wanted to achieve.  Other than having the name and brand McCrackens I didn’t know where to start.  I spent quite a bit of time researching on the internet to find out what was involved in starting a business. There are quite a few sites dedicated to helping people in my position and I started to become aware of what was required to get things off the ground. I also signed up to Invest NI’s GoForIT program which helped quite a bit with guidance and direction.   By no means was it all plain sailing, there had been quite a few occasions where the kitchen roof and walls have been covered in ale and grain.  Fortunately, this has not been an issue since we moved to the County Armagh countryside where we have renovated a suitable building and turned it into our Microbrewery.   

Once we established McCrackens Real Ale as a business we had to wait for several months before we received the relevant documentation allowing us to sell it to the trade. This time ultimately came in useful as it allowed us to build up a stock. We were brewing very small batches using a 50 litre system which had a capacity of producing only 100 or so 500ml bottles at a time.  We have since upgraded our system and are now able to produce up to 2400 500ml bottles per days brewing. This is small in comparison with any of the larger breweries however it will allow us to reach more of Northern Ireland potential customers.   

We currently have three ales in our range, McCrackens GoldIPA and a limited edition “Legacy” Double IPA

Do you have a creative process for dreaming up new ideas?Really just knowing what you want for the end product and working on it in small batches until its ready to be scaled up.

Do you have any superstitions for brewing (like some brewers only wear odd socks when they brew etc) ?I wouldn’t call it a superstition as such but I start every brew day at 3am. The first time I brewed on my new full scale system I stupidly decided to do a double brew day. It took 23.5 hours before I was finished up. After that I only completed single brew days for a while before re-attempting a double brew day again. Thankfully I have now got the double brew day down to 12 hours.

Do you come from a family of Brewers? – Not directly.McCrackens Real Ale is not the first brewery to bear the name McCracken. Two brothers Peter and Robert McCracken, grandchildren of the Belfasts Captain John McCracken, in the 1840s followed their younger sibling Alexander McCracken out to Australia.  They disembarked in Melbourne and quickly became discontented when they tried their first Aussie Ale. They found it too expensive and heavy so had decided to never buy another pint again. They founded McCrackens City Brewing Company and were famous for their Amber Pale Ale, they contracted up all the local taverns and hotels and grew to be ones of the largest breweries in Australia.  .

Have you ever considered doing a stout?I have, there are a few I would like to release beforehand although expect to see a McCrackens Stout at some point in the not so distant future.

Have you ever thought about doing any wacky flavours or brewing techniques? And how did it turn out?At the minute I’m concentrating on the more traditional styles of ale. There are a load I want to create in the first instance although rest assured I will only release a product if it’s something I know I would go out to buy myself.

Where can we find out more about MRA?

Where can we buy your beers? –We are currently stocked in over 40 outlets across Northern Ireland and the list is growing by the week. To see a current list of stockists see: https://mccrackensrealale.com/stockists

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I’ve included the tasting notes from on all 3 ales (courtesy of Young Brian) :

Irish Pale Ale : Peach smell. Very easy to drink. Grass notes. Rich after taste. Doesn’t taste like 5.6%. Starts off hazy then clear

Gold : Citrus. Refreshing. Tastes stronger than it is. Could tar a prison roof with a bucket of these.

Legacy Double IPA : Smooth but packs a punch at 6%. Hoppy. Cloudy. Peach. Good kick of an aftertaste. Traditional IPA hop taste. Personal favourite.

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