The Dublin beer scene conjures up visions of dark pubs and darker beers and conversations with people that you can only kind of understand. Yes, I encountered some dark pub interiors and with Guinness Stout everywhere the dark beer part of things was well covered. I didn’t run into much of the stereotypical Irish brogue though which was fine with me although when It is encountered, there is kind of a charm to it. Coming to Dublin from England where there is a very vibrant small brewery scene, I was curious to see if I would find anything similar in Dublin. As it happens, there is a good bit of craft brew activity, but nothing on the scale of what I experienced in England.
While there was no where near the diversity of beers and breweries, there was plenty of interesting places to visit and beers to try. Certainly my stein was more than half full. Add to that the fun of walking around in a photogenic, ancient city and learning a bit of the broader story of Dublin and I would rate it A+ as a destination for the beer tourist.
I tried to visit as many breweries and craft beer venues in Dublin and the area as I could identify as interesting based both on talking to lots of people about what they recommended as well as by doing web research. Lacking a car, I focused on venues that were reachable by public transportation (tram, bus, train) and walking. Google maps is a useful tool for inventorying the places to visit, and clicking on the map image above will lead you to an interactive map that has embedded links to the various venues websites.
Some wee but fun and tasty spots …
There is no shortage of pubs, bars, and other small beer venues in Dublin. In order to not be swamped by all of the possibilities, I tried to spend some time gathering recommendations from kindred souls who enjoy good beers, craft beers, and one-of-a-kind beer culture experiences. Many regrets for all the great beer spots that I missed out on this time around, but I was not disappointed by what I did find.
Five Lamps Brewery was a fun stop. Although they are not set up to receive drop-in visits (I didn’t know that before I went there), master brewer William Harvey was gracious to show me around and share some samples of their fine products. I asked where the brewery got its name, and as I understand it “do you know the five lamps?” is an old-time Dublin expression that can be asked in a situation where someone is perceived as being a jerk. Whether they answer yes, no, or are silent the resulting instruction is the same — ““go hang your bollocks off them.” So asking someone whether they know the five lamps is kind of like telling a jerk where they can go.
J.B. Sweetman and Porterhouse are brew pubs that brew and serve their own ranges. The Beer Market is a taproom operated by Galway Bay Brewery (located on the other side of Ireland) that serves their range. P. Macs and 57 The Headline are notable craft beer bars/pubs that serve a variety of craft choices from both near and far. I found them both to be very friendly places with knowledgeable beer tenders. L. Mulligan Grocer is kind of in its own category. I’d call it a restaurant/pub that features excellent food with local ingredients as well as a good range of Irish craft beers.
The Open Gate Brewery is also a unique place along the way. This is Guinness’ experimental brewery where they craft all kinds of different beers. I think the idea is that every once in a while one of these may turn into something to market in the larger marketplace, but most of these will never be served outside of the Open Gate taproom. This is not a drop-by pub or taproom — it is only visited on Thursdays through Sundays and requires an admission ticket that can be purchased online.
The following gallery has images from wanderings between the smaller venue beer visits in Dublin — click on any image to open a larger view and slide show.
… and then there is Guinness
On the far, far other end of the spectrum is Guinness, the massive enterprise that has been a fixture in Dublin since 1759. The main public face of Guinness is known as the Guinness Storehouse — a giant old brick warehouse that has been converted into a slick museum and visitor center. In the building, visitors proceed up through seven floors of exhibits, interactive experiences, and tasting stations culminating in arrival at a penthouse bar with close to a 360 degree view high above the city. Although there are tasting opportunities for everyone, a premium ticket gets you admission to an additional small group tasting experience along the way.
There are exhibits about the brewing plant and process, company history, marketing and branding campaigns, and more. Everyone who wants to gets the chance to learn to make the perfect pour and docents (drinker docents?) in an ultra-modern looking tasting room take groups through the ingredients, aromas, and tastes that make their flagship stout special. Fog infused with the aromas and beer esters of beer ingredients rise out of multiple pots in this room.
It’s slick, it’s touristy, it’s crowded, but I wouldn’t miss it on a beer-themed visit to Dublin. With plenty of craft choices to try, I have to admit that this was the only place I treated to myself to a Guinness Stout during my time in the city.
A nicely done 2.5 minute video of the perfect pour at the Guinness Storehouse by Dave at theplanetD.com
Craft Breweries in Ireland
I never heard a compelling explanation about why there weren’t more craft breweries in Dublin, so I went looking for some background at The Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland — the Irish Craft Brewers Association. It turns out that although small in numbers, craft breweries are well dispersed throughout the country geographically. As is the case in various jurisdictions in the U.S., taxation and regulatory issues tend to be significant barriers to entry and success for small breweries. There are about 75 craft breweries in Ireland with another 25 or 30 “brand owners”, or breweries that fulfill demand for private label brands. Very few craft breweries have on-site visitor facilities at their breweries although most would like to have this. Craft beer has about a 2.3% market share by volume domestically (U.S. comparison 12.3%). I would welcome and love reader comments providing more and better perspective on craft brewing in Ireland and Dublin.
Photo Credits: J. Baruela, M. Eskandari, L. Tozzetto, P. Martin, A. Palomino, J.F. Blanchette