Raise a toast to founding fathers and the broods of hens who fill the bars
AT ONE stage Dingle had 52 pubs, the largest number of taverns per head of the population in Ireland. By the Nineties, Dingle moved away from its pub image and reinvented itself as an upmarket tourism destination.
After the crash the town suffered due to a major downturn in tourism, strict new fishing quotas which decimated an already fragile fishing industry, and a collapse in demand for new holiday homes – an event which put a lot of skilled builders and tradesmen out of business.
However, the town is once again taking off, with unemployment falling below the national average to 10 per cent – and it's all down to old-fashioned beer and beverages.
The town now boasts two new bespoke distilleries and a brewery. Elsewhere, the town's pubs have found a brand new market – hen and stag parties – with thousands of revellers converging on the town every weekend.
Last winter the first purpose-built distillery in over 200 years opened in Dingle.
"The Dingle Distillery, which opened last October, cost just under €2m to build and was fully funded by the Porterhouse Group. It is going very well and we have a range of drinks from a single malt pot still whiskey, Dingle Original Gin and Dingle Vodka," explains distillery marketing director Fiona Roche.
"We eventually hope to create about 30 jobs in total between the distillery and a visitors' centre, which will open next year."
As a novel marketing exercise, the distillery established the Dingle Founding Fathers. Patrons can buy one of only 500 250-litre barrel of whiskey for €6,100, which will yield 450 bottles at 40 proof.
A solid investment, after five years the casks will be worth over €12,000. To date over 300 casks have been sold to business people from across the world, from Japan to Australia. As an extra incentive, the connoisseur investors will be invited to an annual Dingle Founding Fathers celebration in the town.
"It is a great way of networking and getting like- minded people from all over the world together. Our first get together will be over the August weekend," said Fiona.
The Dingle Brewery and visitor centre, located in Dingle town's 19th-Century creamery, now employs 10 people.
Founder Gerry O'Sullivan takes up the story: "We opened two years ago on July 20 – which was Arctic explorer Tom Crean's birthday. At the moment we brew over 2,000 litres a day of Tom Crean lager, and we mainly concentrate on hubs like Cork and Dublin and Dingle, which are going very well. We have fierce demand for Tom Crean; so we are now looking at Galway and trying to expand capacity."
Gerry O'Sullivan, who was originally involved in tourism and construction, bought the old town creamery several years ago. However, its true value was underground rather than in surface-level bricks and mortar.
"I remember one day an old boy in town said to me, 'It is not what is above the ground but beneath it that is valuable – a mineral-rich spring', and that is what gave me the idea to start a brewery. That is why our beer tastes so good and doesn't give you a hangover."
Gerry O'Sullivan plans to start distilling on site as well.
"We will be doing the whiskey very soon and we will call it Shackleton; so it should be interesting to have the two Arctic explorers back together again. The brand has been trademarked and we have a lot of interest in from Asia and North America," added Gerry.
The new buzz in the town has also brought a new wave of visitors in the form of hen parties who descend upon the town every weekend and fill all the bars.
However, not everyone is jumping over the moon at the arrival of gangs of scantily clad ladies, with mutterings in some pubs of hens doing most of their imbibing indoors in their B&B rooms before hitting the tiles.
Elsewhere, prices in restaurants and hotels have been lowered to revive the home tourism market; a strategy which appears to have worked.
Stately Benners Hotel on Main Street has seen business making a steady recovery to pre-boom levels: "As far as business is concerned, there has been a big boost from the Irish and American market and we have had the best July in over five years. The Irish market, which includes some hen parties, is certainly coming back to Dingle. So far so good – we are very pleased," said a hotel spokesperson.