If you’re visiting Dublin for the first time, you have to try Guinness, but there’s a whole world of Irish craft beer out there to explore as well!
For a long time, walking into a local, you’d have your choice of mass market beer, whether it be Heineken, Budweiser, or even Coors, but even big German producers weren’t represented. True story, one day just a couple of years ago I went into my local for my annual Christmas visit, ordered a bottle of Paulaner that I spotted behind the bar, and was given the non-alcoholic version. When I brought it to the bartender’s attention, he said, “oh, I just figured, since anyone who orders that in here just isn’t drinking,” if that gives you an idea of what we’re sometimes up against.
Still, over the past few years we’ve seen new Irish breweries pop up at every beer festival and while the craft beer scene may never catch up to North America, if you’re visiting or just new to the craft beer scene, the ever expanding selection of craft beers being brewed in Ireland can be challenging to navigate.
While many old school, old man pubs do have a craft option now, it is often one of the more readily accessible offerings with a wide distribution network, like O’Hara’s. O’Hara’s is grand and my friend Rory is actually a big fan of their red ale but I wouldn’t base your opinion of Irish beers as a whole on O’Hara’s. If you happen to stop by one of the picks in my Guide to Dublin Beer Bars you’ll be well looked after, but when you’re traveling with a crew, you can’t always call the shots. In Part 1 of our ongoing Irish craft beer series, we’ve handpicked 6 breweries to look out for as they churn out solid hits on repeat.
You may notice that some of the recommendations are skewed towards saisons and farmhouse ales as they’re my personal favourites, but rest assured that that is just one of the offerings available from these breweries.
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Brewed in: Mitchelstown, Co. Cork
Their name refers to both Ireland’s location at 8 degrees west longitude and their suggested temp for serving their beers. With some of widest distribution of our picks, you are almost guaranteed to see 8 Degrees if you spend any time in bars or restaurants in Dublin. Founded by an Aussie and a Kiwi and based in Cork, 8 Degrees serve up reliable ales and also regularly release seasonals.
Beer we wish they would bring back: this Belgian Dubbel from 3 years ago
Brewed in: Letterkenny, Co. Donegal
They have a farmhouse saison (unfortunately not part of their Core Range) called Swingletree that’s 7% abv and I figured out this strategy where basically what you do is drink a lot of it, and it gets you more fucked up quickly and for less money. It’s called getting “Swingletreed” and that term actually came from a Kinnegar rep that I spoke with at The Big Grill.
Okay, okay, so I know that there are beers with a higher ABV, but from a drinkability perspective and for the quality buzz, it doesn’t get much better.
If you can’t get your hands on Swingletree, try Rustbucket (Rye IPA) or Scraggy Bay (IPA).
Find them at these quality stockists
Brewed in: Kilbarrack, Dublin
Sometimes a new brewery launches and just nails it from the outset. From their branding and distribution and more importantly to their great tasting beers, it’s hard to imagine what life was like without Hope. Now in their third year, they’re one of the few beers actually being brewed in Dublin and they’ve done an amazing job building a story behind each beer. A big fan of Belgian styles myself, I immediately fell for their farmhouse ale (Grunt) and blonde (Passifyoucan), but ordering any of their beers is a solid choice.
Brewed in: Clonshaugh, Dublin
A newcomer to the Irish beer scene, and also brewed in Dublin, Hopfully debuted with a strong offering at last year’s Big Grill and sustained that momentum at the Alltech Craft Brews and Food Festival this March. They also took the crown for Best Branding and Best New Irish Brewery in the Irish Sun’s Golden Pint Awards for 2017. But crucially, they’ve got a lot of creative flair that they’ve managed to harness into great tasting beer. A lot of breweries have cool ideas about incorporating usual flavours but fail in their execution. That’s not the case here; try Beet Juice, their beetroot saison, which is rounded, refreshing, and not a gimmick.
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Our second edition of Endangered Species, Agnostic Pucker is ready to be released into the wild next week. Sit down to enjoy this one. Packed with 8 different hops; Citra, Cascade, Zozo, Apollo, Eureka!, Columbus, Rakau and Bravo and Double Dry Hopped, Agnostic Pucker is our take on a Traditional North Western Double IPA. Savagely Bitter, Piney and Fruity packed in one. This is a big beer from start to finish. Well rounded, well balanced, well hopped and packs a bite. Make sure to grab this one before it goes extinct. #craftbeer #irishcraftbeer #hops #dipa #irishbeer #endangeredspecies #wolf #wicklow
Brewed in: Bray, Co. Wicklow
Let’s put it this way: I have yet to try a Wicklow Wolf brew that I don’t like. They have a wide selection of ales in their Regular Brews (an amber, 2 ipas, and Elevation Pale Ale) as well as a kolsch, porter, and Kentucky Common (an American style beer). They’ve also done some really cool seasonals, notably their Children of the Revolution IPA, which almost inconceivably sparked some controversy over the title mentioning children and thus somehow potentially appealing to young drinkers. It’s indeed quite a stretch, particularly as underage drinkers are not usually sophisticated enough for IPAs (no offense, we’ve all been there), but the beer itself was a cool way to pay tribute to the centennial of the 1916 Rising and likewise a nod to the craft beer revolution that’s happening in Ireland.
Brewed in: Dungarvan, Co. Waterford
These guys are doing cool things with beer, like incorporating seaweed: they’ve done limited runs of their Seaweed Saison for several years now (recently relaunched, end of April 2018!!), as a collab with the renowned Norwegian brewery, Nøgne, and I may be guilty of clearing the shelves of any off license where I find it. Of their core brews, I’d recommend trying Helvick Gold, a bright and bitter Irish blonde ale.
Have a fave Irish craft beer that you want to see in Part 2? Let us know in the comments!