Ireland Craft Beers

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A No-Nonsense History Lesson on Irish Craft Beer

Posted By Deirdre Kirwan on June 8, 2015

Not being one for the long winded version of a story I’ve decided to give our fellow craft beer enthusiasts a bit of quick and snappy history lesson on how the craft beer industry became what it is today. I know there’s reams of articles, blogs, and academic papers on this topic but I’ve broken it down, taken out all the boring bits and left you with a brief synopsis. You may even like to regurgitate this information in a social situation where you want to appear as well-read.

Aaaaages Ago, More Than 5000 Years (Neolithic Era)

Back around this time all the lads and lassies ate nothing but berries, nuts and fish. Basically anything they could hunt or gather. Nowadays we call these people paleo except rather than gathering berries and harpooning fish in the Phoenix Park, they go to places like Urban Health in Ranelagh.

Anyway, as usual the nod came from Europe and farming was slowly introduced to Ireland which brought crops such as wheat and barley (cue eye-roll from aforementioned paleos). So along with learning how to build some very impressive monuments and tombs, the lads also decided to mix some warm water with their new crop and see what happened. This led to a very merry-old-time. And so brought the arrival of alcohol, beer (and the fear) in Ireland.

On a side note, the population of Ireland increased from 10,000 to 100,000 around this time. Probably unrelated but worth noting.

A Good While After That… (Iron Age)

Beer and ale was widespread throughout the Bronze and early Iron Age and legend has it that good old Saint Patrick himself was fond of his craft beers. Apparently he even had a personal brewer called Mescan to keep him filled to the brim with the good stuff. It really makes sense now that he’s our patron saint.

Anyway the monasteries in Ireland had a huge influence on the brewing and supply of beer at the time and it was actually the Monks (who were expert herbalists) that came up with the idea of using hops to flavour their beers.

But wait for my favourite part – these genius Monks would literally drink beer for all of lent (without eating, adhering to the Lenten fast) and call their ‘carry-out’ Lenten Bread! What a clever loophole to disguise going on a 40 day bender. (Wonder if this would be a valid excuse for missing a few days of work next February!)

Another Long While After That…

Jumping forward now to the 17th century it was the ladies who took over from Monks, not with the Lenten beer binge but with the brewing. These ladies were referred to as Alewives and would brew the beer in their cottages for it to be drank in alehouses. Alehouses were effectively just normal houses with a private room set aside for a session. Sounds like a little place I know outside Hilltown!

Then The Giants Got Involved…

In 1756 Guinness was born and pretty much dominated the beer market in Ireland, creating jobs and in effect putting Ireland in the European (and eventually world-wide) spotlight when it comes to beer. Around the 1900’s there were maybe 200 breweries in Ireland but many of them dwindled and couldn’t take the multi-national pace. Guinness however, survived Ireland’s Independence, where several other breweries folded and managed to solider on even through World War Two.

Full Circle… Modern(ish) Day…

Nobody really bothered to question or compete with the big multi-national beer companies like Guinness for a long time but in the 1980’s a bit of a craft beer revolution began. This may have been as a result of the recession at the time which seemed to spur on the incubation of a lot of indigenous creative companies. Hilden Brewery opened its doors in 1981 along with a couple of others around Dublin and the south east a few years after. Perhaps the latest recession was another acceleration for the craft beer revolution we’re experiencing in more recent times.

From Tomb Builders To Now…

It’s fair to say we (most of us) have come a long way from our Neolithic cousins dancing around a camp fire after discovering alcohol. I’m sure in our lifetime we’ll see plenty more progression and evolution in terms of beer and the craft beer industry. For now though things are skyrocketing and we need a directory to weave through all of the amazing breweries available to us. Follow Beoirs link for a look at what’s on offer near you: Beoir Directory

According to Beoir, in 2010 there were only 27 pubs serving craft beer in Ireland and in early 2014 that figure was 559 which has likely increased! Onwards and upwards we say!