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Dublin: 14°C Wednesday 17 August 2022

Lucky homebrewers got the chance of a lifetime to brew their recipes in St James's Gate - let's meet them

And see how they got on.

One of the finalists was a duo - here's Stephen and Brian in the pilot brewery
One of the finalists was a duo - here's Stephen and Brian in the pilot brewery

SINCE BACK IN September, homebrewers around the country have been busy at their buckets and bottles preparing Christmas ales for winter.

We even got into the brewing process here at, with our journalists, sales bods and tech team brewing three different types of Christmas ale in the office kitchen.

All of these brewers – from seasoned hobbyists and aspirational amateurs to everything in between – were working towards a common goal: the Smithwick’s Homebrew Challenge.

Two months ago, Smithwick’s partnered with the National Homebrew Club to challenge Homebrewers across the country to submit their recipe for a Christmas ale.

There were over 240 applications to the Homebrew Challenge, with two final favourites selected through a tasting session packed with beer experts. These finalists were invited into in the pilot brewery in the historic setting of St James’s Gate in Dublin city centre to brew their recipes.

The infographic below shows the breakdown of the entries from around Ireland:


From this, the duo Stephen Ryan and Brian Mooney from Celbridge were chosen along with Sebastian Kondol, originally from Poland now living in Dublin for the last ten years. They were invited into the Open Gate Brewery at St James’s Gate, in a first for the brewery, and got to check out the brewing experience from start to finish.

Brian and Stephen haven’t been brewing for that long, as Brian tells us:

Stephen started brewing first, about two years ago, when his wife bought him a brew kit as a gift. Once I saw the brew kit and tasted his first brew… I knew it was something I wanted to do. After a few months of brewing separately, we joined together, it’s more fun now – we get to experiment on more new beers together.

Sebastian, a member of the North County Brewers, has been trying his hand at brewing for a little longer -

I’ve brewed over 100 batches and each year I have always brewed a special beer for Christmas time. This year will be incredible as I will get to enjoy the beer that I create in St James’s Gate with my friends in the pub.

The winning recipes

There was huge variety in the 70 entries that came in and were tested – from nuts and spices to honey and chocolate. Stephen and Brian’s – dubbed Old Town Christmas Ale – was a medley of cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise, while Sebastian’s Apple Pie Ale, inspired by his mum’s apple pie, concentrated on apple, cinnamon and spiced ginger flavours.

bub1 Sebastian and professional brewer Natasha Alves inspect the brew

Stephen, one half of the Old Town Christmas Ale team, remarked:

This is the first homebrew competition we’ve ever entered, and only our second attempt at an all grain beer – and now we’re getting to brew in St James’s Gate. My middle son questioned if I was even this excited and happy when he was born.

Natasha Alves, a Smithwick’s brewer in St James’s Gate who had been involved in the tasting and scoring process, said the recipes the finalists had entered “nailed it” and that she was “blown away” by the beers they created at home.

While both teams really want to win, of course, they feel that even having got as far as they have has been ‘a dream come true’.

Brian sampling a brew

What happens next?

The next step in the Homebrew Challenge is picking an overall winner – and that will be down to the general public (that’s you). Over the coming weeks, each brew will be available for sampling in 10 pubs around Ireland, the locations of which will be announced on the 1st December 2015.

So get out there and support some homebrewers. The winner will be up to you. Watch this space…

Now read: Meet the people who brew Ireland’s beer – from just a few bottles to enough pints to supply the country>

Next: Bucket to bottle – here’s how we got on brewing our own beer in’s office>

Next: 7 handy tips to get you started with homebrewing>

If you would like further information about the Smithwick’s Challenge visit or to learn more about homebrewing and to pick up some tips visit

Happy brewing!

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