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BREWPUBS, CRAFT BREWERS & CIDER MAKERS - 10 OF THE BEST

Slainte, The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider by Caroline Hennessy and Kristin JensenCaroline Hennessy and Kristin’s Jensen’s superb book Sláinte, The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider really does tell you everything you ever wanted to know about craft beer and cider in Ireland (plus a whole lot that you hadn’t ever thought about) and, among many other things, it details the brewpubs and craft breweries that have emerged since 1981. There are dozens of them and the number is growing all the time, so we’ve picked just ten to illustrate the range - and, it being the apple season, we’re kicking off with a couple of cider makers, even though they’re in the minority (so far).

Highbank Orchards
Cuffesgrange, Co. Kilkenny

Highbank OrchardHighbank Orchards are most well known for their award-winning Highbank Orchard Syrup, Ireland’s home-grown answer to maple syrup. But Rod and Julie Calder-Potts are nothing if not innovative, and their organic seventeenth century farm has also produced apple juice, hops and, as of 2012, cider. Theirs is the only certified organic cider in Ireland and they currently make three distinct versions: the Highbank Proper Cider, made with their own organic cider apples and wild yeast; Highbank Medieval Cider, which is a variation of their Proper Cider but with organic honey added to it; and Driver’s Cider, a sparkling non alcoholic cider. They only produce small batches, so keep your eye out for it and snap it up whenever you see it – their own farm shop is a good bet.
Ciders: Highbank Driver’s Cider (non-alcoholic), Highbank Medieval Cider, Highbank Proper Cider

 

The Apple Farm
Moorstown, Cahir, Co. Tipperary

The Apple Farm - Con's Irish CiderCon Traas farms apples on – where else? – The Apple Farm. The fruit-growing business is a family affair that was established by his parents in the 1960s when they moved from the Netherlands to Tipperary. Con himself studied Agricultural Science in UCD before bringing his knowledge back to the land. He grows a wide variety of apples – almost 50 types at last count, on close to 40 acres – for eating, juicing and now, cider-making. While this is a relatively recent move, he has been the go-to guy for cider producers throughout Ireland for many years. Writing in the Sunday Business Post, Tomás Clancy called him ‘a gravitational force around which many artisan cider producers orbit’, as Con offers a contract apple pressing and bottling service that many start-up cider-makers have availed of. Already well known for his superb apple juices, Con’s Irish Cider, blended from the unique Karmijn de Sonnaville apple (Con is the only grower in Ireland), along with Jonagold, Bramley and Dabinett, will undoubtedly see him making his mark in the artisan cider sector. The Apple Farm also runs a well-stocked farm shop and an on-site camping and caravan park if you would like to sip cider from the comfort of your tent while gazing out at the apple blossoms.
Cider: Con’s Irish Cider

 

J.W. Sweetman
Burgh Quay, Dublin 2

J.W. SweetmanThis brewpub, first set up in 1998, was originally named Messrs Maguire, but by 2013 it had come under new management and was rebranded as J. Sweetman. As Messrs Maguire it had some distinctive brewers – Cuilán Loughnane was there before setting up White Gypsy and Melissa Camire, from Washington, DC, briefly brought a refreshing US air to the Irish craft beer scene from 2010 to 2011. With an enviable location overlooking O’Connell Bridge, it is now Dublin’s only brewpub, with the on-site brewery run by head brewer Rob Hopkins. They serve their own beers on tap (and do a neat tasting tray of the core range), along with a wide selection of other Irish and international craft beers, while their comprehensive food menu focuses on matching beer and food. They also sell and fill their own growlers.
Beers: Irish Red Ale, Kölsch, Pale Ale, Porter, Weiss, regular seasonals.
Tours: Yes

 

Hilden Brewery
Lisburn Co Antrim

Hilden Brewery logoEstablished in 1981 at a time of major political unrest in Northern Ireland, Hilden Brewery is Ireland’s oldest independent brewery currently in operation. It was set up by Seamus and Ann Scullion (Ann was Ireland’s first female brewer, or brewster) when they returned home after living in England and discovering the joys of real ale.

While initially very successful, especially in the cask ale market (at the time, it was Northern Ireland’s only microbrewery), the market dominance of large brewing companies meant some tough times during the late 1980s. The couple didn’t let grass grow under their feet. They set up a beer and music festival in 1984 and diversified into other related areas in the 1990s: the Tap Room Restaurant at Hilden and Molly’s Yard restaurant in Belfast.

Their son Owen, who knew that he would be doing a brewing degree at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University before he even knew what a degree was, joined the family business in 2005. He is now overseeing an expansion that will almost quadruple brewing capacity, from 4,000hl to 14,000hl, and Hilden’s bottled beers are widely available throughout Ireland.
Beers: Barney’s Brew, Belfast Blonde, Cathedral Quarter, Headless Dog, Hilden Ale, Hilden Halt, Hilden Irish Stout, Mill Street IPA, Nut Brown, Scullions Irish, Titanic Quarter, Twisted Hop
Tours: 12 noon and 6.30 p.m. daily, £6.50 per person, including samples. Must be booked in advance.

 

Franciscan Well Brewery and Brew Pub
Cork

Franciscan Well Brewery and Brew Pub - logoIn January 2013, big boys Molson Coors bought Cork’s Franciscan Well beer brand and microbrewery in a multi million-euro deal, causing an almighty kerfuffle amongst craft beer devotees. Estimates at the time calculated that the Irish speciality beer market would grow from €24 million to approximately €235 million of the Irish beer market by 2017. Molson Coors was determined to get its own slice of that pie, and to that end announced that it had plans to expand the brewery’s existing range of brands and set up a new 50hl brewery in Cork’s Marina Commercial Park to boost the brewery’s former capacity of 11.5hl – big changes for a tucked-away little brewpub that was set up in 1998 by Liam McNeill and Shane Long. The beer garden out the back plays host to some legendary festivals, most notably their annual cask ale and Easter beer fests.
Beer: Blarney Blonde, Chieftain IPA, Friar Weisse, Purgatory Pale Ale, Rebel Red, Shandon Stout
Tours: Brewery tours and tastings (€10) take place Monday to Friday at 6.30 p.m.

 

Porterhouse Brewing Company
Blanchardstown, Dublin 15

Porterhouse Brewing Company - logoMany Dubliners got their first taste of craft beer from taps at the Porterhouse Temple Bar, Ireland’s first brewpub, which opened in 1996. Finding decent beer amidst the hen and stag party madness was a surprise; the fact that it was Irish had us hooked. Founders Liam LaHart and Oliver Hughes had already been through a couple of failed breweries – Dempsey’s of Inchicore and Harty’s of Blessington both opened and closed in the early 1980s – but they put their experience to good use in Porterhouse, where the microbrewery was the centrepiece of the bar. Head brewer Peter Mosley came on board not long after they opened in Temple Bar and he now runs the brewery at a separate site in Blanchardstown, with a 65hl traditional infusion mash brewhouse. As the Porterhouse group grew and demand for their products increased – they now have three bars in Dublin and one in Bray, and have also expanded to Cork, London and New York – Dublin city centre brewing ceased in 2002. Porterhouse is considered to be one of the early pioneers of the craft beer scene in Ireland and their beers are top notch.
Beers: Porterhouse brews the widest range of any Irish microbrewery, with a good selection of regulars that are available in bottles and on draught from the Porterhouse pubs: Brainblasta, Celebration Stout, Chiller, Hersbrucker, Hop Head, Oyster Stout, Plain, Red, Temple Brau, TSB,Wrasslers XXXX.
Tours: No

 

Dungarvan Brewing Company
Dungarvan, Co. Waterford

Dungarvan Brewing CompanyIt is a family affair at Dungarvan Brewing. Head brewer Cormac O’Dwyer, along with his wife Jen, his sister Claire Dalton and her husband Tom, launched the brewery in April 2010. Cormac has always loved traditional cask- and bottle-conditioned beer, which Dungarvan has become noted for. For the uninitiated who wants to know how their cask beer is dispensed, Claire asks them to think of the pub in Coronation Street. Even if you aren’t a fan of the soap, you probably remember the handpump in the Rovers Return, behind which a variety of barmaids alternately glowered and simmered and stomped around in leopard print. The brewery has a solid rotation of seasonal specials, including a smooth, full-flavoured Coffee and Oatmeal Stout for wintertime, which uses oats from Flahavan’s Mills in Kilmacthomas and Badger & Dodo coffee from Fermoy.
Beers: Black Rock Irish Stout, Copper Coast Red Ale, Helvick Gold Blonde
Ale. Seasonals: Mahon Falls Rye Pale Ale (spring), Comeragh Challenger
Irish Bitter (summer), Coffee and Oatmeal Stout (winter).
Tours: By appointment

 

Eight Degrees Brewing
Mitchelstown, Co. Cork

Eight Degrees BrewingDarina Allen described them as two cocky foreign guys; Caroline has been known to call them worse. When Kiwi Scott Baigent and Aussie Cameron Wallace set up EDB in 2011 with a 15hl brewhouse that they purchased from Carlow Brewing, it was with the aim of producing the kind of beers that they loved to drink back in their respective homelands. Drawn to and rooted in Ireland by two Irish women – Caroline is married to Scott, while Pamela took on Cam – they decided to set up their brewery in Mitchelstown, at the foot of the Galtee Mountains. A Kiwi and an Aussie going into business together? Anything for a good pint, and the lads, with the calming assistance of head brewer Mike Magee, have been producing plenty of those. They say that they are naturally adventurous: in 2013, they were pushing the hops with their Hurricane IPA vs Cyclone IPA hopoff, before turning to the malty dark side with the Back to Black Trilogy. They started 2014 in style when their one-festival-only beer, Amber-Ella, took a bronze medal at the brewers’ equivalent of the Olympics, the World Beer Cup. It was a particularly cheeky win, given that they entered an American-style beer into an American awards process and beat the Americans at their own game.
Beers: Amber-Ella, Barefoot Bohemian Pilsner, Howling Gale Ale,
Knockmealdown Porter, Sunburnt Irish Red and regular limited editions
Tours: By appointment

 

Galway Bay Brewery
Salthill, Galway

Galway Bay BreweryThe Galway Bay Brewery has become a bona fide Irish craft beer juggernaut. Galway locals Jason O’Connell and Niall Walsh owned a few pubs in the city before opening a microbrewery at their Oslo bar in Salthill in 2009. They didn’t stop there. They headed across the country to Dublin to expand their mini-empire, and they now run five bars in the capital (Against the Grain, Alfie Byrnes, The Black Sheep, The Brew Dock and The Dark Horse) in addition to their quartet in Galway (The Cottage Bar, The Oslo, The Salthouse Bar, The Scholar’s Rest). As Porterhouse has proven, if you already own a brewery, it makes good financial sense to have some tied houses, and all the bars have an extensive selection of GBB beers on tap alongside an extensive range of Irish and international craft brews. Head brewer Chris Treanor is sticking with sea-themed names for the beers he produces, which include the dry and dark Stormy Port porter and a lusciously hopped double IPA called Of Foam and Fury that created quite a
stir on its November 2013 release and was justifiably voted as Beoir’s
beer of the year.
Beers: Bay Ale, Buried at Sea, Full Sail, Of Foam and Fury, Stormy Port
Tours: Organised through the Oslo pub; contact oslo@galwaybaybrewery.com

 

Whitewater Brewery
40 Tullyframe Road, Kilkeel, Co. Down, BT34 4RZ

Whitewater Brewery‘How do you make a small fortune in the brewing industry?’ asks Whitewater owner Bernard Sloan. ‘Start with a big fortune!’ After having survived in the industry since 1996, Bernard has seen plenty of breweries come and go. Looking around him at the 2013 Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival, he couldn’t resist cautioning that ‘there‘s no easy money to be made’. It might not be easy money, but Whitewater is now Northern Ireland’s largest microbrewery and its products are widely stocked in supermarkets throughout Ireland. It also owns the CAMRA award-winning White Horse Inn at Saintfield, Co. Down, which boasts a large range of Whitewater beers on cask and keg, along with a menu that features locally sourced food. It is worth searching out their Clotworthy Dobbin, a rich ruby ale that was named as one of the World’s Fifty Best Beers in 2007 by judges in the International Beer Challenge.
Beers: Bee’s Endeavour, Belfast Ale, Belfast Black, Belfast Lager, Clotworthy Dobbin, Copperhead Pale Ale, Hoppelhammer Sláinte
Tours: Occasionally, must be pre-booked
 

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