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The ultimate guide to Irish craft beer

Novices and enthusiasts alike have plenty of choice with Irish craft beer offerings

For casual beer drinkers, or those who prefer an alternative tipple of choice, craft beers can seem inaccessible due to the terminology used, along with associations of beer as a widely accessible but mild-flavoured beverage. Combined, these factors may deter new consumers from discovering the wide range of flavours and styles available from quality Irish microbreweries.

However, thanks to the explosion in the Irish craft brewing scene over the last 15 years, breweries that are passionate, creative, and highly skilled have come to the fore with an offering that showcases the potential for beers to be considered on-par with other alcoholic beverages in terms of the tasting experience that it can provide to consumers.

The Irish Beer Map is a new interactive database that has 66 microbreweries currently listed that are located right across the country. Participating breweries are profiled along with their product ranges, so it is a brilliant way to find local, quality beers wherever one might be.

Whether seeking complexity, tartness, sweetness, bitterness, or fruity aromas, the key to finding the right beer is to understand the differences in each beer style. The most popular of these have been simplified below, with commentary provided by some of the participating breweries.

Demystifying craft beers

IPA (Indian Pale Ale)

The characteristic beer style that is associated with craft brewing. Its enduring popularity is as a result of its hop-forward taste that is often complemented by fruity flavours. It originated in India and was brewed for British Infantry to enjoy as a refreshing, light beverage.

Peter Curtin from The Burren Brewery in Lisdoonvarna describes this style as a “heavily hopped taste” which Adrienne Heslin from West Kerry Brewery in Dingle says is typically complemented in the Southern Hemisphere by “stone fruit flavours” but, according to Jono Crute from Crew brewing in Limerick, the aroma “can range from citrus and pine to tropical fruit.”

DIPA (Double Indian Pale Ale)

This variation on the IPA is ‘double’ in terms of strength or ABV, and flavour; which is achieved by adding twice the amount of hops, and more malt to the base which results in a deeper colour and flavour. It is often a longer fermentation process too.

Aiden Murphy, founder of Galway Hooker describes this beer as “One for special occasions. Drink in moderation and treat like a wine.”

Sours

A ‘Sour’ beer has an intentionally acidic, tart, or sour taste. This is achieved using wild bacteria and yeasts which can combine with fruit to result in a completely different flavour profile than a ‘typical’ beer.

Fionn Carty, from Lough Gill Brewery in Sligo describes this style as “Tart and refreshing, sour beers contain lactic acid and fruit can also be added. Our pastry sours are popular with cider drinkers and people with a sweet tooth.”

Session Beer

Named due to the ‘sessionability’ of this beer style, it is light and refreshing and lower in alcohol percentage. The most versatile of all craft beer styles for its suitability to many occasions.

Richard Siberry from Black Donkey Brewery in Roscommon described it as “Easy drinking with sub 5% alcohol. Balanced flavours of malt and hops, not too bitter, but clean and refreshing.”

Imperial Stouts

This style of porter or stout is very dark, almost black, and boasts rich, deep flavours ranging from sweet to tart. It is higher in alcohol and has a much stronger flavour than a regular stout.

Grainne Walsh, from Metalman Brewery in Waterford says; "An Imperial stout is, basically, a stout fit for a queen! Originally for export to the Queen of Russia, so-called Russian Imperial Stout these days means a stronger, souped-up stout, higher in alcohol, more roasted malts and darker, stronger flavours." These stronger flavours, according to David Walsh-Kemmis from Ballykilcavan in Laois are "often more pronounced coffee and roasted grain notes."

Unpasteurised beer

This beer style which has risen in popularity over the last few years is largely defined by what it is not. Pasteurisation is a heat treatment that kills bacteria present in a beer, thereby extending its shelf-life. Unpasteurised beer is safe to enjoy but it has a much shorter shelf-life. Many enjoy the complexity in flavours that unpasteurised beers possess.

Libby Carton, co-founder of Donegal’s Kinnegar says; “The biggest advantage of unpasteurisation is freshness, as pasteurisation is typically done for shelf-life. It therefore, will be handled more carefully and can have more flavour as a result.” Marcus Robinson from Reel Deel in Co Mayo seconds this by saying; “All our beer is unpasturised, as it means that the beer is still alive and fresh.”

Low/No-alcohol beers

In response to changing consumer and lifestyle trends, low-alcohol and no-alcohol beers have become available for consumers who like to enjoy the taste of beer without the effects of alcohol.

Wit Beer

Witbier or ‘wheat beer’ is a Belgian-style that is brewed using un-malted wheat in much larger proportions than barley to produce a distinctive hazy colour and fuller mouthfeel. It is often mixed with citrus for a refreshing beverage.

Barry O’Neill, from O’Brother Brewing in Wicklow describes witbier as “An effervescent Belgian style beer, that is creamy due to a high proportion of wheat used in the grain bill. It may contain spices such as coriander and orange peel. Delicious and refreshing.”

In search of new flavours

Once familiar with popular beer styles, more adventurous consumers often enjoy tasting beers that are quirkier and have more complexity. Innovation is at the heart of Irish brewing; with microbreweries constantly developing, perfecting, and expanding the variety of flavours and methods used in production. This has resulted in the rise of seasonal, limited edition beer in recent years, and through these small-batch brews, the vibrancy and creativity at the heart of the Irish brewing industry is evident.

These experimental beers often feature novel strains of yeast that are either new to Ireland or indeed sourced in the locality of microbreweries. In addition to this, ‘Coolships’ - an open stainless steel vat that beer is produced in which was made popular in the Lambic tradition – are rising in popularity due to the ability of this process to encourage spontaneous fermentation to occur, resulting in unique beers that are ephemeral in their flavour profile.

Please drink alcohol responsibly