Antarctic Explorer Tom Crean bought a pub when he retired from the navy and returned to Ireland. Therefore, it should be no surprise that he has had two beers named after him.
Crean’s Lager, which was brewed by the Dingle Brewing Company, was the first of those beers, but that company ceased trading in 2017.
That company had nothing to do with Tom Crean’s own family, but the next beer brewed in memory of Tom does. His granddaughter Aileen Crean O’Brien launched Expedition Ale in 2016 and it’s proven to be a success ever since.
Aileen had a background in the foodservice industry. Her late husband Matt was a well-known Michelin-starred chef and in 1992, the couple set up D’Arcy’s Restaurant in Kenmare.
Things changed following Matt’s untimely death in 1998. Aileen leased the restaurant for a number of years but eventually took over again, renaming it as Tom Crean Fish and Wine. Her new restaurant and guest bedrooms pay homage to her family’s heritage, with Tom Crean memorabilia displayed throughout.
Since opening, Aileen has been joined in the business by Bill Sheppard and her son Cian. They have expanded by opening the Ice Bar, which stocks Irish craft beers and ciders as well as wines, and by launching Expedition Ale.
“We named it in honour of Tom’s three expeditions to the South Pole and also our 2016 South Georgia Centenary Expedition that we – my sons, Bill and I – undertook to sail 800 miles and cross South Georgia to honour Tom in a small way and to get a sense of the environment he experienced,” says Aileen.
They developed the ale in partnership with Torc Breweries, a brewery based in Killarney. The result is a red ale that has a smooth caramel and biscuit base that’s complemented by an earthy and spicy hop character. It’s now sold in restaurants and hotels throughout Kenmare as well as in Dingle, Tralee, and Tom Crean’s home village of Annascaul.
Like its namesake, it has also travelled far beyond its home county of Kerry. Expedition Ale is currently served on board the MS Expedition cruise ship on its tours to the Arctic and the Antarctic, and Norwegian Airlines started serving it on their Irish routes in 2017.
The story of Expedition Ale doesn’t end there. Aileen and Bill are currently building the Tom Crean Brewery Kenmare, their own microbrewery at the back of their restaurant.
“We first developed our ale in partnership with Torc Breweries and had a great working relationship, but as demand and volumes increased, we had to move to a larger brewery, 9 White Deer Brewery in Ballyvourney,” says Aileen.
However, Bill has a growing interest in the craft beer movement and started to think about brewing the beer himself. “He attended brewery courses at Bath Ales and Cask Marque at Thwaites Beer in the UK and also worked with head brewer Kevin McLaughlin at Hillstown Brewery in County Antrim,” says Aileen. “Our equipment was supplied by Jonathan Mitchell and our brewery and tourist experience has just opened. It’s the first carbon-neutral brewery in the country.”
The Expedition Ale won’t be the only beer brewed on the premises. They also intend to brew a selection of beers, opening initially with a stout, an IPA, a lager and a wheat beer.
They will do this while keeping Tom Crean’s memory alive. “We’ll offer brewery tours consisting of Tom’s history while also giving an insight into the history of brewing in Ireland, the brewing process we use, the expedition we undertook in 2016 and our commitment to sustainability,” says Aileen. “A donation from every guided tour will also go to local charities.”
The restaurant will also open the Tom Crean Tap Room in 2020 to complement the brewery opening hours.
For now and into the future, Aileen, Bill and her sons will make sure they give Tom Crean’s legacy the respect it deserves by keeping his name alive.