Founded in 2015, Garage Beer Co. has been a pioneer of the craft beer industry in Spain, with the Barcelona brewery developing a reputation for quality that has seen its beers exported to many countries around the world.
In late 2018, Owen Ashmore joined the Garage team following some time brewing in his native Ireland and then in London with Beavertown. In this Q&A, Owen talks in greater detail about his brewing background, his decision to swap London for Barcelona and how Simpsons Malt products feature in many of Garage’s top-drawer beers.
What is your background in brewing to date?
I studied to be a Mechanical Engineer back home in Dublin and, after I left college, I started homebrewing. I became not all that keen on a career in engineering and, after a few years, I started looking for a job in brewing – as by that point I was really into my homebrewing and reading up on anything and everything. I started applying for some jobs in the brewing industry in Ireland and I got one at Rye River Brewing Co., which had recently opened at the time. At the same time, I was studying the IBD Diploma in Brewing. I was there for two years as a Lead Brewer and then left to go to a brewery in Wales. After a brief stint there, I got a job at Beavertown in London, originally in the main production of their core beers like Gamma Ray and Neck Oil before moving to the mixed fermentation Tempus Project.
After 18 months in London, I got a job here at Garage and started working in both our main production facility and our brewpub which is in the city centre. More recently, after the previous Head Brewer left at the end of August, myself and Dan Ashley, who’s been here for a few years, assumed Head Brewer roles, with myself focusing more on the process, recipe, quality and innovation side of things and Dan in control of things like staff management, raw materials management, operations and production.
Garage was launched in 2015 and you obviously joined in late 2018. At what point did you start to become aware of the Garage brand?
I only became aware of Garage in late 2017 to be honest with you. I’d only ever tasted one of their beers, maybe two, before arriving in Barcelona but had heard a lot about what they were doing and the reputation they were developing. It was a good friend of mine, Alex Lawes, who I worked with at Rye River and who is one of the founders of Whiplash Brewery in Dublin, who put me in touch with the guys over here and that’s how it came about.
What was it in particular that drew you to a job in Barcelona?
I had become quite fed up towards the end of my 18 months in London and I was looking for a change in lifestyle. I wanted to be in a smaller, less manic city with a gentler pace and obviously better weather. I wanted to learn Spanish, too, so that was another factor – even though Catalan is the first language here! As for coming to Garage, it was the opportunity to brew a constantly changing line-up of beers and there was a level of innovation there that I was excited about.
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How is Garage positioned in the Barcelona beer market?
It’s an interesting one. The majority of beer drinkers are very much focused on drinking industrial brands like Estrella and San Miguel and, in some places, you can get a pint of either for as little as 2 or 3 Euros. Because there’s not a strong beer drinking history and culture here, I think a lot of people are reluctant to pay for a craft beer when they can get a pint of Estrella or San Miguel for half or even a third of the price. A lot of education has been done though, with still plenty of work to do.
But in saying that, our brewpub in town – which is the original Garage site – is in an area with a lot of young people and others who are willing to try something new and spend a bit extra on craft beer. There are also quite a few hardcore beer geeks in the city too. The brewpub is located in a bit of a craft beer hotspot close to other craft beer bars such as our neighbours BierCaB and Brew Wild, which showcase a lot of exciting Spanish breweries and many international offerings. If you walk a little further there are four or five bars – maybe more – that focus on craft beer and there are many more littered across the city, so there’s quite a good craft beer community here. To be honest, if you find yourself in Barcelona, you won’t struggle to find a decent beer.
What styles do you lean towards brewing?
At Garage, we made our name making styles that are all the rage at the moment. For example, hazy IPAs are probably 80% of our output currently, from session all the way up to Triple IPA. Then we make plenty of fruited kettle sours and quite a few stouts. In amongst these, we are making some modern takes on classic styles such as West Coast IPAs, pilsners, porters and stouts. The trends going on here are reflected in what you see in taprooms and off-licences across the city. It’s hazy IPA wall-to-wall and as much as I like a hazy IPA, sometimes when you’re needing a stout or a porter, it can be difficult to find – unless you’re after a pastry stout! We brew a lot of those, but we’re also producing some drier, roasty, classic stouts from time-to-time and it’s the same for West Coast IPAs, which seem to be making a bit of a comeback.
When did you start using Simpsons Malt products?
When I was at Beavertown, we’d been using ‘super-sacks’ of Best Pale Ale and Extra Pale Ale, as well as Caramalt and various others. The majority of malt we used there was Simpsons and, as for Garage, they’ve been using Simpsons Malt through Agronet long before I came here, maybe since the early brewpub days looking back through old records. When Garage started really making a lot of hazy IPAs, that’s when Golden Promise started being used a huge amount here in the brewery. Most of our IPAs below Double IPA strength use Golden Promise as a base, including our flagship IPA Soup and lower ABV IPA, Ocata. In all of our dark beers, it’s generally a base of Maris Otter and then we can use the likes of DRC, Chocolate, Brown, Caramalt, Crystal Light and Crystal T50. But pretty much most of the Simpsons Malt product range is in our stock at one point or another.
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If you had to pick a favourite malt of ours was, what would it be?
I’ll have to give two. The first one is going to have to be Golden Promise because of what it does in our beers like Soup. In a 6% IPA, Golden Promise helps to give that perfect balance between sufficient malt character and a slight biscuity flavour, while not interfering with the hop character. It sits nicely in balance and harmony in an IPA of that strength. The second one, which I’ve started working with more so since I’ve been here, is DRC. We use it in a lot of our stouts and I really like the dark fruit, slightly acidic cherry and plum notes that you get with roast character. It’s a nice complex malt that adds a lot to our darker beers.
Garage is one of the main breweries behind the MASH Festival. How important is the festival to the brewery and do they help to bring a wider audience to your beers?
It’s massively important, yeah. It’s a shame that it couldn’t go ahead this year as it puts a spotlight on the Barcelona beer scene internationally and also locally. With 50 of the world’s best breweries coming to the city, you really get to try a lot of incredible beers. As entrance is reasonably priced, you get punters that turn up who aren’t craft beer fans or know anything about it but want to try something new. A lot of people discover both Garage and craft beer at MASH Festival.
What does the future hold for Garage in 2021 and beyond?
I think the quality of our beers has been on an upward trajectory throughout 2020 so we want to see that continue in 2021. Also, we’ve always been good attendees of festivals across Europe and beyond, so we hope to be able to get back to going to some in 2021. Before COVID-19 hit, we were looking at growth possibilities to keep the supply of our beers satisfying demand, but that has been put on the back burner for now as the world sorts itself out. So hopefully, in 2021, we can start looking into that again.
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