We recently returned from our epic Irish pub crawl that lasted 12 days (excluding travel time). Before I go through some of the beers we tried, let me tell you – Ireland is awesome. It is so awesome, I had thoughts of not returning. This might have had something to do with the weather; it didn’t rain at all until the very last day and even then, it was only a sprinkle. But it also had to do with the fact that the people are awesome (dry sarcastic sense of humour, funny as hell, lively) and there is *literally* a pub on just about every street corner, as well as a few in between. That place is a beer drinker’s mecca (based on volume, not necessarily variety).
We visited Dublin, Cork, Adare (small town outside of Limerick) as well as Galway. Each city had it’s own culture, vibe and selection of beers. Without further ado, here are some of the highlights of the trip.
Before arriving in Dublin, we were in London for a day. It was quite accidental, since our connecting flight had been randomly cancelled, so we could only catch a much later flight. In any case, we booked ourselves onto a hop on-hop off bus tour and decided to explore a little. The most shocking thing I found in London was that everything opens really late. Most pubs say that their trading hours are from 10:00 but realistically it’s more like 12. So we walked the streets for a good few hours before tasting anything. #pfft.
We eventually found a place that was open before 12 and decided to try some English Ales. I tasted a Doom bar by Sharps – an English bitter. Ash tasted an IPA by Greene King.
We were both … disappointed in our beers. They were both completely insipid. I notched it down to different styles, or cask pulled rather than keg poured. Nevermind – we moved on. After a lot more walking around, doing the main attractions, we found a tiny pub called the Red Lion and stopped for another beer. This time we were not disappointed. I had a Seafarers English Ale, and Ash had a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (finally we got to the taste the legend). Both were pretty good, but I reckon the Seafarers was better (style differences aside). It restored my hope in English beer. Interestingly, it was a beer that grew on me, rather than being an instant favourite.
It was also the first of what I noticed as a trend – branded glasses per brewery. After these we had to start making our way to the airport to move onto Dublin.
We landed in Dublin and made our way to the pub that our friends and family were at – which was down the road from our hotel. It’s called the Celt. It’s a bit of a hidden gem in Dublin central – one of a few bars that locals actually go to. Well – we arrived and both just wanted to try a Guinness. The suspicion that it would taste different to the Guinness in SA was right – it is 150% better. I actually can’t describe how delicious Guinness in Ireland is. Needless to say, we had a lot of it. It was also, generally, the best priced pint that one could find.
In Dublin, we did a few awesome things but visiting the Guinness Storehouse has to be the biggest highlight. If you ever visit Dublin, you have to do it. It’s 7 stories of Guinness gloriousness. Some highlights are figuring out your Guinness sipper moustache, learning how to pour the perfect pint as well as checking out the advertising and packaging from the beginning to now. It’s truly awesome and well worth the couple of hours spent. Also, there’s a great gift shop downstairs which has everything from t-shirts and slippers to sauce and fudge.
A few quick facts about Guinness: Africa consumes 40% of all Guinness – we are the 2nd biggest consumers. Mostly because of the breweries in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Guinness is well known to be a great employer; even in the days of World War II the employees jobs were promised once they returned, workers enjoyed 2 free pints a day and other benefits included free medical care. Guinness has always been involved in the community too; they restored one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Dublin and they have sponsored ambulances (the joke is that the branded ambulances bring Guinness to those who desperately need a pint! :-p)
Ok, off to the rest of Ireland. The craft beer movement is still young; with only about 50 microbreweries that are active. From what I tried, they’re starting to embrace different styles other than Porter and Stout; I found a few IPAs, Red Ales and even a Weiss or two. The main alternative to Guinness was actually Guinness brewed alternatives (called the Brewer’s Project), of which there were even some lagers. The second biggest brewery is Smithwicks (pronounced Smithicks or Smiddicks) which is responsible for a lovely red ale (& interestingly enough was the inspiration behind Two Okes Irish Red Ale). But surprise! They’re owned by Guinness too.
There were two breweries that stood out for me: McGargles and Rising Sons. McGargles got my attention initially because of the branding; the labels could come out of a Roald Dahl novel. They’re fresh and interesting. They also propose to be the highest rated Red ale on Untappd. Now, I have one of the red ales… but I haven’t tried it yet. I could only find their pale ale on tap. It’s a great pale ale. I had a few of them :-p
Rising Sons is a brewery I found in Cork. We were in an ancient pub called the Oval and I was so excited to see a black IPA on tap, that I had to have it. It was wonderful. I reckon it was beer of the trip for me; but after accidentally stumbling upon the Rising Sons brewpub I have since decided that they rock. They’re simply awesome. Good vibes, great branding and fabulous beer. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it (read: didn’t look too hard because of luggage restrictions) bottled. The standouts were the Black IPA, Raspberry wheat ale and the Sunbeam lager. All great brews!
Over the course of the trip I tried many more beers – some were shockingly bad (Dick’s Stout) while others were great (Wild Boar English IPA). One surprise was trying Blue Moon, an American wit in Cork. They drink it with a slice of lemon (interesting!). There were a few from the Guinness stable that were marvellous – West Indies Porter, Dublin Porter. There is a brewery called the Galway Hooker (pronounced hoowker, not hooker) which I didn’t try much of. Too many beers, too little time! Below are some pics 🙂 If you’ve been to Ireland and enjoyed any beer in particular, hit me up in the comments! I’d love to hear about your experience.
So raise a glass and Sláinte – it means “health” and is the local toast. It is pronounced Slanje or Slanche. Weird Irishmen :-p
*So it turns out I was spelling sláinte incorrectly throughout our tour of Ireland. Whoops..