Craft brewing is increasingly popular in Ireland as the country seeks to move away from the drink it has become synonymous with. Pictured, Oslo Bar, Galway
Oscar Wilde called work “the curse of the drinking classes”. But in his native Ireland these days, it seems their main chore is finding a drinking establishment that’s still open: since 2006 more than 1,000 pubs have closed. However, a new generation of craft brewers and brewpubs are filling the gap, catering for drinkers who want something more than the ubiquitous pint of Guinness.
Reuben Grey of Beoir, a consumer group that supports microbreweries, says small brewers are innovating in the face of formidable competition from Guinness and the rest. “Back in the 1990s the craft ale scene in Ireland didn’t really exist,” says Reuben. “But a change in beer duties meant independent brewers got 50% tax rebates, which changed everything. Even though people have less money, they can see the appeal of supporting boutique local breweries.”
Now there’s a wide variety of pubs pouring good bespoke beers in Ireland. Here’s a selection of the best.
Matt Molloy’s, Westport, Mayo
Matt Molloy is the flautist in The Chieftains, one of Ireland’s most successful groups, so, unsurprisingly, his pub is known for its trad music nights as well as its pints. He stocks Clifford’s Connacht Champion Golden Ale, recently created at nearby Hill Point Farm by West Mayo Brewery , one of the country’s newest microbreweries. Grab a nook in the bar area (the place is standing room only at weekends) and pray that Matt stops pulling pints to play a tune.
• Bridge Street, mattmolloy.com, Clifford’s Connacht Champion ¤4 a pint
A former criminal barrister with a passion for ale, Oliver Hughes founded the first Porterhouse bar in Bray, County Wicklow, in 1989. It now has branches in London and New York, but this vast Dublin brewpub (with possibly the longest bar in the city) is the nerve centre for craft ales in the hedonistic Temple Bar neighbourhood. It brews more than a dozen beers, including Oyster Stout and a fiery 7% brew appropriately called An Brain Blásta, but it’s also a good spot to try more unusual creations such as Down and Outz, chosen and partially created by Def Leppard singer Joe Elliot.
• 16 Parliament St, porterhousebrewco.com, Oyster Stout €4.50
The outside of this bar may not dazzle you but it’s a friendly place to drink – with modish striped banquettes, a curved (and rare) outdoor seating area and a den with games and beanbags for the kids. It’s also the best place in town to sample the wares of Metalman Brewing . Based in Waterford, Gráinne Walsh is one of Ireland’s few female brewers – she left a career in IT to start the brewery in 2011, making Windjammer, with hops from New Zealand, and Metalman Pale Ale, which tastes of grapefruit and mandarin.
• Ballinakill Centre, Dunmore Road, oskars.ie, Metalman Pale Ale €4.40
Castle Cafe, Cork
The glass-walled, minimalist Castle Cafe may look incongruous in the courtyard of 19th-century Blackrock Castle but it is one of few spots that offer ales created by Elbow Lane. This tiny new brewery was founded by the team who run the cafe (and nearby restaurant Market Lane) last year, with the aim of creating stout, lager and ale that works well with food. Dinner might be duck on pea and scallion risotto, then baked cod with adzuki and mung beans.
• Castle Road, Blackrock, castlecafe.ie, Elbow Lager €4.60
Franciscan Well Brewery, Cork
This microbrewery, reached through an archway on a residential street, was built on the site of a monastery that dates from 1219. Founder Shane Long, who set up shop here in 1998, boasts that the range of beers brewed on site, including a clove and banana-imbued German wheat beer called Friar Weisse, are entirely free of preservatives. There are daily tours of the brewery, and it has a large heated and covered beer garden – ideal when the Cork drizzle gets too much.
• North Mall, franciscanwellbrewery.com, Friar Weisse €4.80 a pint
Oslo Bar, Galway
Locals Jason O’Connell and Niall Walsh already owned three Galway boozers before opening the town’s only microbrewery in 2009. Their craft beers include a toothsome Bay Ale and the wonderfully named Buried at Sea. Oslo is ideally situated just off the promenade facing Galway Bay, and the kitchen behind the long brick bar serves gargantuan plates of pancakes and eggs Benedict at weekends.
• 225 Upper Salthill, galwaybaybrewery.com, Buried at Sea €4.90
Larkins, Portroe, Tipperary
Flagstone floors, open fires, sleeping dogs, trad acoustic music sessions … Larkins harks back to an older Ireland, more redolent of Brendan Behan than Bono. With acclaimed dishes of seafood chowder and honey-roast Silverhill duckling coming out of the kitchen, it’s a good spot to try the crisp, slightly lemony Emerald Pale Ale. It’s brewed in the town by Cuilán Loughnane, who was inspired to start his White Gypsy Brewery in 2009 after tasting his first pint of real ale in, of all places, Heathrow airport.
• Garrykennedy, Portroe, larkins.ie, Ruby Red Irish Ale €4.20
John Benny’s, Dingle, Kerry
John and Éilis Moriarty, owners of this seafront gem, are traditional musicians who can be relied on to begin the nightly live sessions – John on accordion and Éilis on flute. There’s a vintage woodburing stove, no TV, a seafood menu rich in local produce, including Glenbeigh oysters, and a top-notch brew on draught in Tom Crean’s lager, the sole beer made by Dingle Brewing Company (dinglebrewingcompany.com). There are two self-catering apartments upstairs.
• Strand Street, johnbennyspub.com, Tom Crean’s €4.30
The Roadside Tavern, Lisdoonvarna, Clare
Run by the Curtin family since 1893, this boozer is in the heart of the village of Lisdoonvarna, near the Aran islands and the Cliffs of Moher. Its piano may be 113 years old but this isn’t a pub stuck in the past. There’s a New York graffiti-style mural by artist Jim Ricks and in 2011 an on-site microbrewery started turning out pints of Burren Gold, Burren Red and Burren Black.
• Kincora Road, roadsidetavern.ie, Burren Black €3.90
Hilden Brewery, Lisburn, Antrim, Northern Ireland
There are plenty of pubs where you can sample beers made by Owen Scullion, whose parents founded the Hilden Brewery in 1981, but there’s no better place to work through his 11 ales, stouts and porters than the brewery. It’s in the courtyard of Hilden House, a manor formerly owned by a family of linen barons in Victorian times and, where William Wordsworth and Edward VIII stayed. The Tap Room restaurant next door serves robust Irish dishes such as rolled pork belly with Clonakilty black pudding fritters, champ, kale and Armagh cider jus.
• hildenbrewery.co.uk, Hilden Ale €4