Irish Craft Beers… That Not So Elusive 19th Hole

The reputation of Ireland’s ‘19th hole’ has been well known for many years. Without dipping into the pool of clichés which accompanies our famed hospitality, let’s just say that we know a thing or two about a grand night at the bar, stories that embellish any encounter and a camaraderie that wraps its arms around the world.

But in recent years, pubs have been closing at a frightening rate. There is, however, one very bright spark in this darkness… Irish craft brewing has created a new lease of life for beer drinkers.

Bars are stocking a wider and wider range of beers, ales, stouts and ciders, and the explosion in craft brewing has swept Ireland up in its embrace. Craft beer may only account for 2% of sales (it was 0.4% in 2012) but it continues to grow rapidly and the consumer – i.e. you and me – has become more discerning as well as more demanding.

Two years ago there were 21 craft brewers in Ireland; today that number is 63. Sales have risen by 70% year on year and, most importantly, pubs, bars, off licences and supermarkets around the country are rushing to stock up. Almost every craft brewery now in existence set up business after 2009. You could say it’s a revolution and certainly the response of the mass brewers indicates that they see craft brewing as a threat to their business.

A visit to my local Supervalu (in Gorey, Co. Wexford) revealed over 25 different Irish brewers stocked on the shelves. Every time I look there seems to be a new one. There’s stout, beer and cider, but the focus is on pale ales – Indian pale ales to be precise. The story behind IPAs is a long one – and not for this blog – but the most perfect quote I heard was made by Seamus O’Hara, owner of the Carlow Brewing Company. It went something like this: ‘mass brewers brew the taste out… craft brewers brew the taste in.’

Brewers talk about aroma, nose and body. The beers are denser and stronger. You won’t knock back a bottle of Galway Hooker in the same way a bottle of Heineken disappears. And there’s nothing wrong with that… quite the opposite in fact. Craft brewers will experiment and test all manner of ingredients - The White Hag brewery is producing a stout that uses milk chocolate and coffee, and they're looking to try something where the hops are replaced by heather.

So, in honour of the beautiful north west – home to Carne Links – here are three brewers pursuing their passion. If you’re up this way you should look out for Reel Deel(Crossmolina), The White Hag (Ballymote) and Mescan (Westport). They may be small brewers but their beers are firm favourites in the region. Wayne Dunne, a craft beer aficionado and owner of the Irish Beer Snob blog has this to say about the three brewers.

Brewery – Reel Deel – Crossmolina, Co Mayo

Brewer Marcus Robinson, a Yorkshire native who’s moved to western Ireland for the lure of a lady has been producing beers in Crossmolina since September 2014. He brews a cheekily named Amber ale called Irish Blonde, an IPA called Jack the Lad and a stout called Say Nowt Stout. It’s the stout that is a favourite of mine. A traditional Irish Stout at 4.8% ABV lovely aromas of coffee, roasted chocolate on the nose, with a nice fruity undertone. A pleasing finish and a fine pairing with native oysters, stews and roasted dark meat.

[Golfers will find Irish Blonde and Jack the Lad in bottles at Enniscrone Golf Club… you’ll find the bar man is really rather enthusiastic about them!]

Brewery – The White Hag – Ballymote, Co Sligo

Led by Brewer Joe Kearns, the White Hag exploded on to the Irish Craft Beer Scene at the RDS Irish Craft Beer Festival in 2014. Bringing a range of beers that wowed Irish drinkers, they continue this on with great aplomb. Everything from Sour Ales, to ales made with a heater, Imperial Stouts to Milk Stout. However here I’m going to recommend their Bran & Sceolan Irish IPA – 7.2% so definitely a US influenced IPA. As you’d expect there is a citrus aroma, with hints of pine resin. Citrus to the fore which fades into a balanced finish. A very well balanced beer that masks its alcohol content very well. Would be nicely paired with anything spicy but also with a Grilled Steak!

Brewery – Mescan Brewery, Killsallagh, Westport, Co Mayo

A brewery that has Croagh Patrick looming over them has been producing Belgian Style beers in truly artisanal fashion in Mayo since 2014. Set up by two vets, one from Ireland, Cillian, and One from Belgium, Bart. The focus of this brewery has been to produce Belgian Style beers in the heart of Rural Mayo. The brewery itself is on a working farm and there is no waste. The spent grain is used to feed the herd, and hops used to fertilize the plants. I’ve picked their Red Tripel, which comes in at 8% usually a golden colour the beer has a red hue thanks to the addition of Caramel Malt. A little bit of invention with a classic Belgian Style – this beer has that familiar fruity smell of Belgian ale, red fruits on the nose, with a good body. Try this beer with hams and cheeses and you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks Wayne. I'll take his word for it as I've never had the pleasure of trying them. I live in the opposite corner of the country, so I have to content myself with the craft beers local to this area (tip of the hat to Dungarvan Brewery's Helvick Gold blonde ale and 12 Acres Brewing's Pale Ale)

It's safe to sat that Wayne knows his stuff (I follow him on Twitter, and he and his wife are seriously into their craft beer... and why wouldn't you be, given what these brewers are producing ). He also provided the three images, which are credited to the three brewers.

Unfortunately, golf clubs won’t necessarily stock these beers (Enniscrone certainly) as their sales wouldn’t warrant it, but check out the hotels so popular with golfers, such as Mount Falcon (Ballina) and The Diamond Coast Hotel (Enniscrone), which are eager to support local brewers and stock a good range. Even if your hotel doesn’t stock any craft beers, visit some of the local pubs and discover what makes these beers so very special.
Posted by admin at Jun 23, 2016 Category: Other
Tags: Irish Craft Beer, IrishBeerSnob Blog, Mescan Brewery, Reel Deel Brewery, White Hag Brewery