A Sixpack of Irish Craft Beer

Ireland’s craft beer industry has been developing quickly (over eighty commercial beer-making sites in a country with a little more than 4 million people). The past three years have witnessed: significant development of the domestic malt industry, which now offers a variety of high-quality pale malts; improved supplies of hops; and improvements in both capacity and quality control at contract packaging facilities. Happily, much of the investment and ownership comes from local brewers–Ireland’s beer industry is small and locally-minded compared to other European countries, and expanding US craft brewers have found greener pastures in Germany and Scandinavia leaving this market to develop on it’s own.

The ties between Ireland’s craft brewers and Ireland’s slow food movement are very close. People are usually surprised to learn that the slow food movement started in Ireland (tip of the hat to Myrtle Allen’s Ballymaloe Inn in Cork, and Cork’s English Market, where chefs and provisioners have been analyzing and developing the local terrior, traditional crops, and historic production methods for the past fifty years). Ireland is in the midst of a revival of their seafood industry, so if you’re out for a pint at some craft beer pub and notice steamed mussels are on the snack menu—order yourself a dish to enjoy with your stout or hoppy ale. The local oysters are delightful, and very reasonably priced.

Very little Irish craft beer makes it to the USA, so you’ll have to go there if you want some.

N17 founder Sarah Roarty pours a pint at a craft beer exhibit in Dublin.

N17 founder Sarah Roarty pours a pint at a craft beer exhibit in Dublin.

N17 Brewery, (Tuam, Co. Galway–brewery). N17 takes it’s name from the road that connects Galway City to Sligo along Ireland’s west coast, which runs runs through Tuam. N17’s brewery is located in a historic building—currently, not open for visitors, but there are plans to build a tasting room in the near future. My pick from them—Oatmeal Stout; light and digestible, with a perfect balance between roastyness and sweetness.

Simon Lambert & Sons, Wexford

Simon Lambert & Sons, Wexford.

Yellowbelly Brewing, in the basement of Simon Lambert & Sons.

Yellowbelly Brewing, in the basement of Simon Lambert & Sons.

Simon Lambert & Sons, and Yellowbelly Ales (Wexford Town—brewpub) Simon Lambert opened his pub in the late 1960s—currently it’s run by the founder’s two sons who last year installed a brewpub system in the cellar. Head brewer Declan Nixon is one of the unofficial beer ambassadors of Ireland. He’s worked at several craft brew startups and has consulted on a few commercial projects before joining Simon Lambert. He also makes delightful aged beers. Wexford is on the sea in Ireland’s “Sunny Southeast”, and a gateway to Waterford and Cork, the birthplace of slow food, and the center of Ireland’s dairy and meat production industry. When you make it there—try one of their aged sour beers at the bar, go along a burger. You’re likely to find Yellowbelly beer on tap or in bottles at a craft beer bar in Dublin too.

8 Degrees Brewing (Mitchelstown, Cork—brewery). Founded by an ex-pat Australian and an ex-pat New Zealander, the brewery tends to work along the same pathway as Scotland’s Brewdog (clean-fermented ales with new world hops and old world malts). Amber Ella (American Red Ale with Irish base malt, Ella, Galaxy and Simcoe hops, 5.8% 54 IBUs) is one of their most successful offerings to date, and despite it’s name, is a portmanteau of the traditional Irish and American Red Ale styles.

McGargles (Celbridge, Kildare—brewery). As Irish craft brewers go, McGargles is one of the larger ones. Besides handling their own beer, they do contract work for other Irish brewers, and in addition, they distribute imported Innis & Gunn and San Miguel beers. Their house beers tend to be heavily influenced by USA West Coast products. A good intro beer from this brewery is Francis’ Big Banging’ IPA–US-style IPA with Columbus, Simcoe and Mosaic hops. Amazingly, they’re sometimes available in the Chicago area in Binny’s stores.

The Sunflower Pub, Belfast.

The Sunflower Pub, Belfast.

Boundary Brewing (Belfast, NI—brewery). Belfast is one of the brighter stars in Ireland’s food and beverage constellation—home to such institutions as the Crown Bar (a historic watering hole, owned by the national trust, and managed by Nicholson’s Pubs), The Sunflower Pub (great music venue and local hangout) and Mourne’s Seafood Bar, likely Ireland’s best seafood restaurant. Best city on the Emerald Isle for public transportation, too. Founded by US ex-pat Matthew Dick who learned to brew while working in West Coast breweries, Boundary Brewing’s co-operative ownership arrangement is unusual for a small brewery, and it provides the brewery with regular sales and an energetic marketing team. Boundary’s Export Stout and American-style IPA are both excellent examples of their styles.

The Beer Dock, one of Galway Bay Brewing's five Dublin-based tied houses.

The Brew Dock, one of Galway Bay Brewing’s five Dublin-based tied houses.

Galway Bay Brewing (Galway, City—brewery, small pub chain)— Based at the Oslo Pub in Galway City with the brewery nearby, Galway Bay is as famous for their beer as their small chain of 11 tied houses which feature extensive menus of craft beer offerings and contemporary gastropub food. My Galway Bay recommendation: 200 Fathoms Imperial Stout, especially if you can find a release that was aged in a whisky barrel. If you’re in Dublin’s Northside, be sure to have your pint at either of Galway Bay’s local pubs: The Black Sheep or the Brew Dock. Great places to go to sample the entire range of Irish craft beer.

4 comments to A Sixpack of Irish Craft Beer

  • Nice topics.I used to live in Ireland.I believe, Guinness is the most famous beer in Ireland.

    • Tom

      Guinness was taken over by Diago (an English company), and around the same time, Beamish & Murphy’s was taken over by Heineken (a Dutch company), which left Ireland in the same situation as Canada– most of the beer was being made by foreign-owned companies, and large regulatory barriers were preventing new domestic players from competing with them. Just as in Canada, government regulators did an about-face and make it easier for small companies to enter the market. At this point, Ireland has over 80 brewers, with new ones opening every week. The only thing in short supply is capital and the goods and materials needed to produce.

  • bielskit

    I remember being in Galway years ago – I’ll have to remember checking some of these out when/if I go back.

  • Philadelphia has a few breweries that are attached to restaurants serving the best home brews (beer and whiskey)…….. i have often wondered if the New Hope train tour will feature an adult only ride with locally brewed beverages and locally sourced foods.

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