March 17, 2007
A Bit of Ol' Blarney with Brian MacIsaac
A one minute interview with the ...
BREWMASTER OF CRANNOG ALES
Brian MacIsac and his wife Rebecca Kneen own a farm in Sorrento BC where they raise crops and animals according to organic methods. They also produce Canada's only certified organic farmhouse microbrews, Crannog Ales , which they make in the manner of the best Irish traditions. That's the couple in the photo above, pouring some of their ales at a local brewfest.
Born in Canada and yet more Irish than the Irish, MacIsaac displays his artistic side in his hand-crafted beers, on his bar door, and openly on his sleeves. In honour of St. Patrick's day we talk to him about beer, Irish icons, heritage pigs and everything else that goes into the Celtic soul food mix.
Just how Irish are you?
My folks are Irish and I lived there for a few years
Used to be everyone wanted to be Italian. Now it’s Irish.
I’ve been Irish all my life – it’s just an accident of birth that I was born in Vancouver.
What's the difference between Irish and Celtic?
Irish is a Celtic (hard ‘c’) language and the Irish are Gaels – a particular branch of the Celtic people. So the Irish are from Celtic stock.
If you are an Irishman at heart, why did you settle in Sorrento?
If you see this place, it is about as Irish as Ireland – you wouldn’t be getting homesick if you lived here. We (Rebecca and I) looked all over BC for the right farm and specifically the right water for brewing.
There's no question your ale is distinctive but what makes your ale "in the Irish Style" and what makes it organic?
Well, there’s the hard water and I usually add a heavy malt note, basically the hard water balances out the acidic nature of the malted grains we use. We have been certified organic for eight years. The grains come from an organic farm in Saskatchewan and our hops are grown on our farm.
Do you ever make Poitin (Irish moonshine)?
I wouldn’t be able to answer that question, since it is illegal – but I will tell you that it is potato white lightning.
How much beer do you produce?
About 2,000 litres a week.
Are you a supplier to fellow countryman Sean Heather? Of beer, that is.
We supply his restaurants with Red Branch Irish Ale.
How will you celebrate St Pats day?
I always take advantage of any concerts but this year there’s nothing in our neck of the woods so we are celebrating in The Bloody Stump -- our tasting room. We will have traditional music, whisky and our own brew, called the Backhand of God, and some stovhine – Irish lamb stew.
How would you celebrate it in Ireland ?
I celebrated there a few times – in one of the backwoods towns such as Sligo, listening to music, stomping my feet and set dancing. It's what square dancing is trying to be – only faster and with ability.
So then what’s your opinion of River dancing?
It is lovely to watch, but like everything else it has been hyped so I think it has been done to death.
What is that Canadians don't understand about the Irish?
First of all they could get rid of the leprechaun because on Chinese New Year you don’t have a caricature of a Chinese person – nobody looks like a leprechaun.
We just invented them to sell trinkets to tourists and those people in the new world who come over to Ireland looking for their roots.
What would you with a leprechaun if you did catch one?
I would set him to work in the garden – we already have a pot of gold.
What else should we know?
That as a people we have a vast literary history. I’ve been reading a lot of Ken Bruen – a writer from Galway.
You certainly draw from the great Irish artistic tradition yourself. What's the story behind the striking designs on your barn door?
It's stylized to make it look like a wrought-iron gate. I have been a Celtic artist for the past twenty years. I went to Capilano College Art School - I'm 43 now.
But still a rebel, eh? What's up with all your tattoos?
I have angel wings on my back. I guess it is something I have earned by pushing the good agenda – I am an activist in a positive sense, meaning I want to force change regarding sustainability, more gratefulness and a bit more cooperation with like-minded individuals to make the government more obsolete.
We'd heard you've had a very active political background. Sounds like there is material there for a whole other article than what a food magazine can provide.
We are also part of the slow food movement and I want to make sure that people have enough good, nutritious food. I can only affect change locally so I will start in my own backyard.
Yes, you raise free range pigs here on the farm. Do they all end up as Irish bacon?
Most certainly. Up here we don’t have any federally inspected butchers so I can’t legally sell any pork products to a restaurant. But when they are butchered we make a special trip to Vancouver to our private customers. This year we will raise 10 pigs and they are fed out of the brewery spent grain exclusively. They eat waste yeast and drink any old beer.
Do they act up after a few pints?
Yes, but then we take the car keys away from them. Sometimes when we have friends over they are known to swear but then they get cut off.
They do that themselves.
I would put them in the dog house but Conall is already there.
How does an Irish man impress an Irish woman?
Wit, candor, and my wife is just outside so I wouldn’t want to say much more…
Right. Otherwise YOU might be in the dog house. How would you advise Canadians to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day
To anyone who wants to celebrate Irish-ness, look to Easter and the start of May; both times are pivotal in Irish history.
What's the truest thing an Irish person every said to you?
Hunger is a good sauce. People need to be a little bit hungry to appreciate their food. And a little bit thirsty.
Well, we can all drink to that.
Interview by Jane Mundy.
Photos courtesy of Crannog Ales.