Ireland’s microbreweries

There’s a revolution happening across Ireland in its pubs, shops and homes

Hilden Brewery, County Armagh
Hilden Brewery, County Armagh

The rising taste for craft beer is bubbling nicely. Bar owners and customers are taking note. Fans of the craft beer movement are seeing new tastes, more options and better beers hitting their shelves and their glasses. And who’s responsible for this movement? Ireland’s micro-breweries.

Competing against some of the world’s biggest brands hasn’t daunted Ireland’s craft brewers. These beer scientists have experimented with different combinations of hops, malt, yeast and water to produce their signature tastes.

Here’s the science bit: the yeast is crucial.

According to the brewers and the connoisseurs, getting the yeast right in a batch of brew is essential as each variety has its own distinctive effect on the beer. It’s thanks to the magic of yeast and the master brewer’s TLC that you’ll remember every single sip.

The good old days

It may come as a surprise, but 19th century Ireland was home to over 200 breweries. That number dwindled to a modest 12 in the following years. Today, happily, independents are changing that figure and there are now 16 microbreweries on the island.

We spoke to three of them to find out the secrets behind their success.

Hilden Brewery, County Antrim

Founded in the 19th century, Hilden Brewery is Ireland’s oldest independent brewery. Like many spots in County Antrim, Hilden has a Titanic connection. This is the former residence of Helen Barbour who was the daughter of the ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews.

On the craft movement, Owen Scullion from Hilden Brewery says: “Many beer aficionados are now realising that that beer is not just a commodity, but a product that can be carefully crafted by dedicated brewers to produce beers that meet a multitude of new tastes.”

Visit the brewery: On Wednesdays and Saturdays; or groups of more than eight by appointment.

Taste the beer: “At Botanic Avenue in Belfast, Molly’s Yard or the Hillside in Hillsborough, which usually has 2-3 of our beers on draught.”

Eight Degrees Brewing, County Cork

The brewmasters at Eight Degrees are actually from Australia and New Zealand respectively but have chosen the Rebel County to establish their brewery. It’s very much hands on production by the team who studied their brewing technique in the United Kingdom. These guys have a sense of humour about their work and describe their Sunburnt Red Ale as: “Like an Irishman on holiday in the Canaries, this beer has a red tint but with a chilled out, mellow feel”.

Owner of Eight Degrees, Cam Wallace, explains his favourite thing about craft brewing is the same thing that makes it so appealing to the public: “We can experiment and we are very flexible on what we can produce. That’s our big advantage”. Customers like the choices offered by experimentation, Wallace points out.

Visit the brewery: It’s not currently open to visitors but its location in the Ballyhoura Mountains is worth a trip regardless.

Taste the beer at: Mad Monk in Middleton, County Cork.

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Armagh Cider Company, County Armagh

This brewery is a family business, run by the Troughtons who have grown apples at Ballinteggart House for over 100 years. While the apples were always in demand, the cider making didn’t start until 2006 and the Troughtons have been run off their feet ever since.

“We use predominantly the Armagh Bramley apple”, says Helen Troughton, “which is blended with some cider apples and some dessert apples. This entitles us to use the PGI logo (EU standard of Protected Geographical Indication) on our products which confirms its provenance”.

Visit the brewery: “Following numerous requests from our customers we plan to open the farm and cidery to visitors from blossom time 2014”. Keep an eye on their website for updates.

Taste the cider at:Groucho’s in Richhill is the ideal pub to sample local beers and our ciders. It has lots of character and the food is simply excellent!”

With such hard working microbreweries producing their wares, make sure you ask for one next time you’re in an Irish pub or restaurant. Staff have become incredibly knowledgeable and according to visiting American blogger Erica Reed, they are always eager to help: “In The Black Sheep pub in Dublin city, I was directed by a wise bartender towards St Peter’s Stout – just amazing”.

Later that day Erica visited a friend and had “a big-name bottle of lager pushed into my hand. I took one sip and couldn’t believe the difference in taste”. She adds, “those craft brews should come with a warning: may cause taste buds.”

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