A sampler paddle at Lock 13 Gastro Pub and Craft Beer House is a good way to get a taste of different microbrews.(Lock 13 Gastro Pub and Craft Beer House)
Beyond the pale of Dublin’s fair city, where tourists pour into the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’s Gate, there’s a rebellion of flavor brewing with the country’s latest wave of craft beer.
To get a taste of it, spend a week sampling seven of some of Ireland’s best microbreweries on a relaxed-pace road trip from the east through the Emerald Isle’s rugged southwest coast.
Here’s where to get your fill of Irish craft beer — and a few extra attractions along the way:
Lock 13 Gastro Pub and Craft Beer House
Sallins, County Kildare
This inviting spot near the Grand Canal offers guests a sampler paddle stocked with small portions representing the extensive craft beer selection on tap.
The full-on tangy burst of citrus from Carlow craft brewer O’Hara’s Pale Ale is a good jump-start, while the round caramel flavor from Cork’s Franciscan Well Rebel Red coaxes even the most lily-livered taster to experiment.
Ireland’s current national brewing champion, Brendan Murphy, is teaming up with Ballykilcavan Brewery owner David Walsh to bring the latest entry to Lock 13. It’s a biscuity malt ale, currently brewed on-site and slated for an April launch.
Side trip: Take a 10-minute drive to the round tower ruin at hilly Oughterard, where the grandfather of stout, Arthur Guinness, rests in peace.
Sullivan’s Brewing Co.
Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny
Pint-sized Kilkenny was once the ale capital of Ireland under the control of two brewing dynasties: the Smithwicks and the Sullivans. After 800 years of brewing history, the city was left with a mere Smithwick’s visitors center/tour attraction (www.smithwicksexperience.com) once the brewery moved lock, stock and barrel to Dublin a few years ago.
“Kilkenny is screaming out for a return to brewing,” said Alan Quane, CEO of Sullivan’s Brewing Co.
Who better to bring it back than the direct descendants of both Kilkenny’s brewing families? Sullivan’s beer is available again after a century-long absence — this time with pizza, in its glassy, sunlight-filled city center taproom.
Sullivan’s master brewer Ian Hamilton’s 35 years’ experience comes to bear on a red ale with classic biscuit and caramel notes, followed by a hint of a bite on the finish.
Side trip: Drop by Kilkenny’s new Medieval Mile Museum for a deep dive into The Marble City’s history.
Elbow Lane Brew and Smoke House
Cork City, County Cork
With a brewing capacity of only 500 liters spread over two floors, this intimate property — one of the smallest breweries in Ireland — looks as though it came straight from a Lemony Snicket movie set.
“We would term ourselves to be a nano brewery, as we’re even smaller than a micro,” part-owner Conrad Howard said. “Our beer comes direct from the conditioning room tanks, as we’re so close to them.”
The brewery’s crowd pleaser is Arrow Weiss, with its sweet and spicy balance and banana and clove aromas.
“We try to ensure that our beers are accessible to the casual craft beer drinker, so while others may put finings, enzymes and stabilizers into their beers, we keep it real simple,” Howard said.
Side trip: Drive to the historic port and fishing village of Kinsale for gourmet overload in ye olde world seaside setting.
South Pole Inn
Annascaul, County Kerry
While visitors to the South Pole Inn might be forgiven for thinking that this pub in the one-horse village of Annascaul got its name from the Dingle Peninsula’s southerly location; it is in a fact a quasi-shrine to Tom Crean, Ireland’s greatest Antarctic explorer.
Once Crean tossed aside his adventures, he manned the taps at the South Pole Inn until his death in 1938.
A few miles away in Dingle Town, Dingle Brewing Co. is going places. Its Tom Crean’s beer is served on Ireland’s national airline carrier, Aer Lingus. But this invigorating, easy-drinking lager is best enjoyed at South Pole Inn on a warm summer’s day with beads of moisture on the glass.
Side trip: The craggy, hard-to-get-to island of Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has cropped up on bucket lists across the globe since its cameo in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Treaty City Brewing Co.
Limerick City, County Limerick
Founded in 2014, Treaty City is the first brewery in Limerick City in more than 130 years, owner Stephen Cunneen said.
“We’re just a small artisan microbrewery, so everything we do is by hand,” he added.
Cunneen comes from farming stock, so it was an easy transition to the brewing field when he returned from Vancouver after seven years of working in the medical and pharmaceutical industries.
Treaty’s flagship brew, Harris Pale Ale, gets its name from the late legendary Limerick actor Richard Harris. It has big, bold aromas and is available in 40 pubs throughout Limerick City, which has been enjoying a renaissance of sorts over the last decade.
Treaty’s Thomond Red Ale has a honey, earthy aroma, while Shannon River IPA is bursting with a pine and grapefruit tang.
Side trip: King John’s Castle on King’s Island is fresh from a multimillion-euro face-lift and brimming with interactive gadgetry.
Larkins Bar & Restaurant
Garrykennedy, County Tipperary
“You want to sample craft beer?” a friend asked me.
A couple of hours later, we’re sailing in his boat across the River Shannon to this 300-year-old pub in a micro village on the shore of one of Ireland’s biggest lakes, Lough Derg.
Larkins had its door wide open to welcome in the sunshine, and that’s when I had my first encounter with White Gypsy Blond Weiss Beer, a brew with an explosion of flavors after a soft arrival on the palate. It’s made up the road from Garrykennedy in Templemore, in keeping with the brewery’s ethos that its beer should only travel a short distance before it reaches the tap.
White Gypsy’s Ruby Irish Red Ale has a sweet, medium body with a molasses flavor.
Side trip: Ten minutes away, the lookout on the road between Ballina and Portroe is the best vantage point for an Instagram moment overlooking Lough Derg.
The Burren Brewery
Lisdoonvarna, County Clare
Peter Curtin opened his Burren Brewery in 2011 next to The Roadside Tavern, a popular place that’s been in the Curtin family since the late 1800s. The lively pub is in Europe’s matchmaking capital, Lisdoonvarna, where thousands of romantic hopefuls descend each September for various events aimed at pairing people up.
Burren Gold is a refreshing lager with a crisp finish. It works well with the menu’s fish and chips (the beer is used in the batter).
At the Burren Storehouse next door, Curtin’s wife, Birgitta, works tirelessly to heighten the town’s culinary reputation.
Curtin also offers his own red ale and stout on tap.
Side trip: The breathtaking Cliffs of Moher because you need to see the view, at least once.
Vic O’Sullivan is a freelance writer.