Beer drinking experiences in Ireland
Whilst the big hitters of Guinness and Smithwicks still dominate the headlines they are now sharing the stage with the fruits of a burgeoning craft beer scene that’s arguably one of the strongest in the world.
With its grape-hating climate Ireland's version of the vineyard tour is a brewery tour and that suits us just fine. There are options in every corner of the country and here’s a selection (a mere smidgen) of the best brewery, microbrewery and craft brewery visits in the land.
The world’s most famous porter is synonymous with Ireland. It would be criminal not to sink a great number of these black beauties whilst in its spiritual home.
The home of Guinness is the giant Diageo-owned brewery on the west side of the city centre. The Guinness Storehouse is a visitor experience which takes you through the brewing process and the exceptional marketing of the black stuff but you will not see the beer actually being made. There are cool concepts like the pour your own pint station and the tasting tutorials plus the mother of all gift shops that elevate this to the status of a beer pilgrimage. A free pint with 360 degree views of Dublin in the Sky Bar is a fitting finale to your visit.
Smithwicks is a refreshing red ale from the marble city of Kilkenny and is widely regarded as Ireland’s second beer. You’ll find this tasting treat on tap at almost every pub in Ireland and many of the Irish prefer this tipple over Guinness.
The brewing of Smithwicks moved to the Diageo site in the Sixties so, as is common nowadays, the brewery visit is a visitor experience which focuses on the product and history over the brewing. Hot on the heels of the success of the Guinness Storehouse, it’s very much in the mould of the Dublin attraction. Slick and well presented and right in the city centre, it would be rude not to pop in when in Kilkenny.
Hilden Brewery – Ireland’s oldest brewery has been brewing quality ales for over 35 years in Lisburn, just south of Belfast. Tours of the microbrewery only run once a day at noon on Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays but it’s also got a great on-site restaurant for the rest of the time.
Franciscan Well Brew Pub – arguably the city of Cork’s finest watering hole is built on the reputation of the Franciscan Well microbrewery. A quality-over-quantity beer portfolio includes one each of a red ale, weiss beer, stout and IPA and can be enjoyed in their atmospheric (and importantly, heated) beer garden with a seriously scrumptious signature pizza.
Walled City Brewery – across the Peace Bridge from the walled city centre of Derry is the brewed-in-a-bathtub type brewery of the Walled City Brewery. A little gem where beer tasting paddles are beautifully complemented by tasty tapas.
Open Gate Brewery – an experimental brewery for over one hundred years at the St James’ Gate Brewery which has only just opened its doors to the public. The €8.00 admission price comes with a beer tasting paddle featuring a mixture of some beers that will see worldwide fame and others that will never leave the brewery. Recent successes include the Hop House 13 lager that’s taken Ireland by storm and the jurys-still-out Rockshore light lager. Refreshingly exclusive with a Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening only opening and compulsory online pre-booking,
Wicklow Brewery – a Disneylandesque brewing site that’s got an onsite brewery, classic Irish pub, and glamping facilities. Mickey Mouse and co. can’t serve up anything half as good as the family-run Wicklow Brewery’s offering of hooleys, trad music, brewery tours, great food and a wide variety of home-brewed beers. The magic happens in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains so a drive-and-stay option is recommended.