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Former Guinness Master Brewer, Wachusett Brewing Co. Come Together for Collaborative Effort

January 29, 2019 GMT

WESTMINSTER -- For 33 years, Fergal Murray poured his heart and soul into one specific -- and extremely well known -- beer.

That beverage? Guinness.

But though Murray devoted his career from 1982 to 2015 brewing the world’s most famous stout in Dublin, the wheels in his head never stopped turning. After stepping away from his post as Guinness’s master brewer, ideas and concepts that had built up in Murray’s head were free to come to light.

And, by his own admission, there are many, many ideas Murray would love to put into practice.

In each of the last two years, he’s brought those ideas to Central Massachusetts, brewing pair of “Fergal Project” beers as part of the 1794 Limited Edition Series at Wachusett Brewing Company.

“It’s a chance for (Wachusett) to put together a product with a legend, at least in the way they’ll tell it,” Murray said with a smile in Wachusett’s tap room Tuesday morning.

This year’s offering is “Fergal’s Honey Blonde,” a easy-drinking blonde ale brewed with orange blossom honey, orange peel and local malt and hops. The 4.5 percent alcohol by volume brew follows in the footsteps of last year’s “New England Stout,” using Irish malts and American hops to stretch the boundaries of a style familiar to Murray.

This time, staying locally-sourced as much as possible was a deliberate act.

“It came out of us just tossing around ideas and wanting to use local products,” Murray said. “We got some Massachusetts malt and I asked what else we could get. We ended up getting some local honey, the orange blossom honey, and I said ‘Let’s go with that theme and put some orange rind in it.’ We came up with the recipe, with the mash times, fermentation times, the yeast and how we hopped it after the inspiration started flowing.

“I’m so delighted with how it turned out. It’s pretty good.”

Wachusett president Christian McMahan, who worked with Murray at Guinness for several years, says that while everyone is pleased with how the Honey Blonde has turned out, Murray’s already planning for his next project with the brewery.

“He’s got this creative energy and passion now, having gone all around the world and we’re now able to be the outlet for that. We’re proud and grateful for him being here,” McMahan said. “Fergal has so many ideas, but given his background, we figured we had to do a stout the first time. Now we’re branching out with him.

“It’s amazing to see what he comes up with with our team here.”

McMahan says that having Murray on board for projects like this works well for the brewery, as there’s “no better global beer ambassador than Fergal.” For his part, Murray says that he’s thrilled to be working with the team at Wachusett to help bring his ideas to life.

“Christian knew my passion for beer and asked if I’d like to come brew some beer. ‘Sure, why not?’ It seems like a throwaway line, but after coming and meeting the people here, I realized this is the place to be for a project like this,” he said.

Though the project was born out of a friendship between McMahan and Murray, it didn’t take long for Wachusett Brew Master Dave Howard and his team to impress the longtime Guinness brewer.

“When he came out last year, he saw the passion and creativity of our guys here. It’s more than just the relationship I have with him now; he loves the beer team, he loves the people here,” McMahan said. “He’s complimented the quality of what we make here as some of the best in the world and that’s pretty amazing for us. As a local brewery in Westminster, to be recognized by somebody like that. ... It’s pretty special to have him here.”

“Fergal’s Honey Blonde” is currently available on draft in Wachusett’s Brew Yard and multiple Central Mass. restaurants, as well as for growler and 32-ounce crowler fills in the Wachusett’s tap room.

Follow Nick Mallard on Twitter @n_mallard.