Ale drink to that . . .
Ireland's craft beer scene is blossoming. Here are the best brewpubs for sampling the new ales. By Rob Crossan
Oscar Wilde called work "the curse of the drinking classes". But in Ireland these days, it seems the main chore is finding a drinking establishment that's still open: since 2006 more than 1,000 pubs have closed. However, a new generation of craft brewers and brewpubs are filling the gap, catering for drinkers who want something more than the ubiquitous pint of Guinness.
Reuben Grey of Beoir, a consumer group that supports microbreweries, says small brewers are innovating in the face of formidable competition from Guinness and the rest.
"Back in the 1990s, the craft ale scene in Ireland didn't really exist," says Reuben. "But a change in beer duties meant independent brewers got 50pc tax rebates, which changed everything. Even though people have less money, they can see the appeal of supporting boutique local breweries."
Now there's a wide variety of pubs pouring good bespoke beers in Ireland. Here's a selection of the best.
Matt Molloy's Westport, Co Mayo
Matt Molloy, the flautist in The Chieftains, stocks Clifford's Connacht Champion Golden Ale, recently created at nearby Hill Point Farm by West Mayo Brewery, one of the country's newest microbreweries. Grab a nook in the bar area (the place is standing room only at weekends) and pray that Matt stops pulling pints to play a tune.
* Bridge Street, mattmolloy.com, Clifford's Connacht Champion €4 a pint
A former criminal barrister with a passion for ale, Oliver Hughes founded the first Porterhouse bar in Bray, Co Wicklow, in 1989. It now has branches in London and New York, but this vast Dublin brewpub is the nerve centre for craft ales in Temple Bar.
It brews more than a dozen beers, including Oyster Stout and a fiery 7pc brew appropriately called An Brain Blásta.
* 16 Parliament St, porterhousebrewco.com, Oyster Stout €4.50
Based in Waterford, Gráinne Walsh is one of Ireland's few female brewers – she left a career in IT to start the brewery in 2011, making Windjammer, with hops from New Zealand, and Metalman Pale Ale, which tastes of grapefruit and mandarin.
* Ballinakill Centre, Dunmore Road, oskars.ie, Metalman Pale Ale €4.40
Castle Cafe Cork
This tiny new brewery was founded last year by the team who run the cafe, with the aim of creating stout, lager and ale that works well with food.
Dinner might be duck on pea-and-scallion risotto, then baked cod with adzuki and mung beans.
* Castle Road, Blackrock, castlecafe.ie, Elbow Lager €4.60
Franciscan Well Brewery Cork
This microbrewery was built on the site of a monastery that dates from 1219. Founder Shane Long, who set up shop here in 1998, boasts that the range of beers brewed on site, including a clove-and-banana-imbued German wheat beer called Friar Weisse, are entirely free of preservatives. There are daily tours of the brewery, and it has a large heated and covered beer garden.
* North Mall, franciscanwellbrewery.com, Friar Weisse €4.80 a pint
Oslo Bar Galway
Locals Jason O'Connell and Niall Walsh opened the town's only microbrewery in 2009. Their craft beers include a toothsome Bay Ale and the wonderfully named Buried at Sea.
Oslo is ideally situated just off the promenade facing Galway Bay.
* 225 Upper Salthill, galwaybaybrewery.com, Buried at Sea €4.90
Larkins Portroe, Co Tipperary
Flagstone floors, open fires, sleeping dogs, trad acoustic music sessions . . . Larkins harks back to an older Ireland, more redolent of Brendan Behan than Bono.
With acclaimed dishes of seafood chowder and honey-roast Silverhill duckling coming out of the kitchen, it's a good spot to try the crisp, slightly lemony Emerald Pale Ale. It's brewed in the town by Cuilán Loughnane, who was inspired to start his White Gypsy Brewery in 2009 after tasting his first pint of real ale in, of all places, Heathrow airport.
* Garrykennedy, Portroe, larkins.ie, Ruby Red Irish Ale €4.20
John Benny's Dingle, Co Kerry
John and Éilis Moriarty, owners of this seafront gem, are traditional musicians who can be relied on to begin the nightly live sessions – John on accordion and Éilis on flute.
There's a top-notch brew on draught in Tom Crean's lager, the sole beer made by Dingle Brewing Company (dinglebrewingcompany.com). There are two self-catering apartments upstairs.
* Strand Street, johnbennyspub.com, Tom Crean's €4.30
The Roadside Tavern Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare
Run by the Curtin family since 1893, this boozer is in the heart of the village of Lisdoonvarna. There's a New York graffiti-style mural by artist Jim Ricks and in 2011 an on-site microbrewery started turning out pints of Burren Gold, Burren Red and Burren Black.
* Kincora Road, roadsidetavern.ie, Burren Black €3.90
Hilden Brewery Lisburn, Antrim, Northern Ireland
There are plenty of pubs where you can sample beers made by Owen Scullion, whose parents founded the Hilden Brewery in 1981, but there's no better place to work through his 11 ales, stouts and porters than the brewery. It's in the courtyard of Hilden House, a manor formerly owned by a family of linen barons in Victorian times and where William Wordsworth and Edward VIII stayed.
* hildenbrewery.co.uk, Hilden Ale £3.40