There has been a spate of new brewery openings in Ireland, these last few years especially. While that appears to be decelerating as less breweries start up, there is still growth in craft beer sales. According to a Bord Bia report from 2016, there was at least one microbrewery in 23 of the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland. The three odd ones out were Laois, Westmeath and Kilkenny.
All three of these counties have since been spoken for and have breweries now.
In Laois, there is Ballykilcavan Brewing – which I have yet to taste – functioning in a repurposed grain store and millhouse on the farm that has been in the Walsh-Kemmis’s family since 1639.
In Westmeath, there is Dead Centre Brewing, mentioned by my colleague Christina Wade in the autumn edition of TheTaste. As for Kilkenny, there is Costello’s Brewing, which I distinctly remember tasting at the Irish Craft Beer Festival 2016. There you have it, every county in ROI has a local brewery as of 2017.
This report doesn’t cover the six Northern Irish counties, but I’m sure you are curious, now that I’ve mentioned it, so here it is: Antrim – yes, Down – yes, Fermanagh – yes, Derry – yes, Tyrone – yes, Armagh – No.
So, 31 down, 1 to go, unless my information is out of date, which it could be at the rate that this sector has grown (surely it’s only a matter of time before somebody in Armagh picks up the gauntlet). There is a cider brewery but here we’re talking beer. On a side note: the one and only craft beer brewed in Fermanagh is called Inish Mac Saint and it’s brewed with rain water – it is not yet available in ROI though! #beerpilgrimage
While this proud and thirsty nation waits for a beer brewed by our future friends in Armagh’s first craft brewery, here are three great beers from different corners of Ireland…
Representing County Clare is Western Herd. Unlike many modern breweries, their branding is not attention seeking, rather understated actually. That means that this is all about the liquid, which is no bad thing. They also have a farm that has been in the family for generations, on which their brewery is located. They have a core range of four beers, namely, wit bier, red ale, pale ale and IPA.
The style that I tried was Fox Catcher Red Ale which is 5.2% ABV and can be purchased at Redmonds of Ranelagh.
A considerably dark, red ale, with good foam that when slightly dissipated, can be resurrected nicely by a whirl of the glass. Dark chocolate and roasted notes on the nose at first and more subtle notes of soft fruits and delicate citrus. Caramelized nuts on the palate with more bitter dark chocolate and milk chocolate too. Still rich in the finish along with bittering hops and a dry/ medium-sweet ending.
Carlingford Brewing Company, another beer brand with a cow on the label! Just kidding, it’s a bull, actually it’s THE bull, better known as Donn Cúailnge of the Irish legend – Táin Bó Cúailnge. These guys are based in County Louth with a core range of five beers now – blonde, red ale, pale ale, stout and of course an IPA.
Taaffe’s Irish Red Ale was also very interesting: a 7.5% ABV, whiskey barrel aged red ale matured in ex-Irish whiskey casks (which were also Bourbon refill). This is also a nod to the whiskey heritage in the local area of Cooley where the brewery is based. The beer itself is ruby in colour with a chestnut tinge. Ripe melon on the nose, with hints of hot toffee, bourbon and freshly cut timber. Instant flavours of vanilla in the first sip then more cocoa powder and truffles and a semi dry finish with candied grain in the final note.
From County Sligo, Lough Gill are brewing up incredible beers. Their canned Rebel Stout series, ‘Irish punch up’ series and staple brews like Mac Nutty brown ale are all bursting with flavour, as they are with personality and attitude. My personal favourite is the Flanders Red showcased at Beer Fest this year, it is hard to come by though.
My next favourite comes from the Rebel Stout series, number 2, the Imperial Coconut Porter with a monstrous 10% ABV. The number 1 of this series, an Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Cream stout was also a hit at Alltech Brews & Food Fair 2016. The appearance is black as coal with a khaki coloured collar.
A powerful nose of wasabi (which I’ve never detected in any beer before), Marmite, coconut and chocolate mousse. Deep and rich flavours similar to the dregs at the bottom of a near empty mug of hot chocolate. Further tastes of coconut oil, which adds a thick texture and tantalizing alcohol kicks underscoring every mouthful. The finish is a stingy, sweet one, reminiscent of brandy cream on Christmas pudding.
The can reads “There’s more than one stout in Ireland and we can prove it. Rebel stouts are the dark Irish beer that your mother didn’t tell you about. Creating dark, mysterious and unique brews is our passion.” In short, Lough Gill is a brewery to keep a look out for and expect big beers with big attitude.
These beers from the Wild Wesht and the Ancient East all emerged fairly recently and appear to be thriving. They are exciting additions to the growing selection of Irish beer and great examples of how Ireland’s map of craft beer is expanding in the right direction.
Jamie is a Dublin native with a love for craft beer and Irish whiskey. He is a guide for Dublin Whiskey Tours and his life goal is to start a microbrewery.
In the meantime he writes a blog jamiesbeertalk.ie as an outlet. His favourite topics are pairing beer with food, cigars, and whiskey. To learn Jamie’s findings on pairing beer with whiskey, read Beer with whiskey – the ultimate drinks convoy