Love craft beer but dazed by the ever-increasing selection? Drinks Editor John Wilson selects five exciting Irish microbreweries whose beers are deliciously different.
The last decade has seen an explosion in craft brewing all over Ireland. We can now choose from a huge selection of locally brewed beers. Typically, an Irish craft brewery will have a core range that includes a pale ale, a stout and an IPA or red ale, and then a few seasonal specials.
There is nothing wrong with these beers; they have more flavour and character than the mass-produced international brands. But who are the real innovators, the people who produce beers that make you sit up and take notice?
This month we feature five Irish craft brewers who do things a little differently.
Mescan Brewery, Westport, Co. Mayo
Founded in 2010 Mescan (Mescan was St. Patrick’s brewer) is a Belgian-influenced brewery based in the shadow of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo. Co-founders Bart Adons, who is Belgian, and Cillian Ó Móráin, who loved Belgian beers, both worked as vets, while gradually learning how to brew the beers they enjoyed.
While the standard beers are very good, not surprisingly it is their excellent Belgian-style beers that stand out. There is a Lambic, a Blond, a Strong Blond, a Double, a Tripel, a Special Reserve and sometimes a Saison too.
As their beers are aged from four to nine months, supply can be erratic, but it is worth persevering. They are available from mescanbrewery.com.
Some are relatively high in alcohol, or at least more than we are used to; these are not session beers. They are meant to be sipped and savoured over an hour or two, or accompanied by food, as they would be in Belgium.
One to try: Mescan Tripel
A warming 8%, this is a rich, complex beer with malty toasty beer with red fruits and a slightly sweet finish. Pair it with substantial dishes; a beef stew, a gourmet burger or a hard cheese.
Kinnegar Brewing, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal
Founded by Libby Carton and Rick LeVert in 2011, Kinnegar is very proud of its Donegal roots. The first brewery was down a country lane in Rathmullan; more recently they have moved into a larger brewery in Letterkenny.
They have retained the original brewery as Phunk Farm, where they experiment with wild and mixed fermentations. Kinnegar produces beers that are modern and clean, but innovative and full of character at the same time.
Once lockdown ends, they will welcome visitors, as well as running a two-day beer academy for anyone interested in beer.
While the Limeburner Pale Ale has many fans, you shouldn’t miss the refreshing lightly spicy Rustbucket Rye IPA and its big brother, the toasty full-bodied Black Bucket IPA.
Kinnegar has just released their first multipack, featuring eight different styles of beer, available from off-licences for €24.
One to try: Thumper Double IPA
Unfiltered and hazy, this explodes with exotic fruits – peaches, pineapple and orange, with a definite herby note. Finishing dry and pleasantly bitter, this is a lovely beer.
Lineman Brewery, Rathcoole, Co. Dublin
Lineman was founded by husband-and-wife team Mark and Vivienne Lucy. It is one of the more recent arrivals on the craft beer scene but the brewery has been a long time in gestation.
Mark, an engineer, has been brewing since his teens, starting off with homebrew kits, before building a garden shed to house his obsession. Their first commercial beer was released in August 2019.
The beers are not mainstream. As with Mescan above, the couple has an interest in Belgian beer and produce a Saison, several flavoursome stouts and porters, a red IPA, and Saga Tart Kviek a refreshing and unusual wheat beer.
One to try: Astral Grains Foreign Extra Stout
This award-winning stout is powerful and full-bodied with notes of roasted coffee and dark chocolate. One to sip and savour.
Black Donkey, Ballinlough, Co.Roscommon
Founded by Michaela and Richard Sibbery, Black Donkey treads the line between mainstream and ‘challenging’ very neatly.
In the past, they have released Underworld Sauvage Ale, made with wild Roscommon yeasts, Sergeant Jimmy, a barrel-conditioned Saison (both gold medal winners), and Double Barrel, a barrel-conditioned rye ale.
All of these are complex, often powerful beers. If your tastes are less esoteric, the regular releases, bottled unfiltered are all very moreish and worth looking out for.
“Really I am trying to raise and change the profile of beer in Ireland,” Richard Sibbery tells me, “Wine occupies a lot of space where beer should be.
Underworld is a restaurant beer. If a restaurant is serious about provenance, they should be serious about Irish beer.”
One to Try: The Sheep Stealer
Their best-selling beer is labelled as an Irish Farmhouse Ale, but is in fact a delicious thirst-quenching lightly malty Saison, with a refreshing tartness.
Whitefield Brewery (formerly White Gypsy), Templemore, Co. Tipperary
Cuilan Loughnane is one of Ireland’s most experienced craft brewers, having started out in the late 1990s.
His beers are individual and always well made, often with a nod to tradition. “We are small,” he tells me, “and the future for us is to make different, more interesting styles of beer, taking time to make them special.
We cannot compete with the larger craft breweries.” I have always enjoyed the traditional stout below, as well as the Dunkel (a dark Bavarian-style lager) and Terroir, a powerful Pale Ale.
One to try: Whitefield Traditional Irish Stout
“The large 75cl bottle of stout is one of the best we produce,” Cuilan tells me. “We get a lot of farmers coming in to buy three or four cases because it reminds them of the old large bottle of Guinness. It is one of our best sellers locally.”
White Gypsy Brewery
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