By JOHN VERLING
Craic, that great Irish word covering everything from laughing with friends to telling stories over a pint. Irish brewers love having the craic with visitors, while producing beers with names that would take a novel to explain. You will find breweries in disused cow sheds, centuries-old pubs and working farms. The Wild Atlantic Way takes you along the west coast, going from beautiful town to beautiful town, letting you sample the local beers and eat some of the best, locally produced food imaginable to go with your brew.
A good start is Dicey Reilly’s in Ballyshannon, County Donegal in the far northwest of the country. Located in Ireland’s oldest town, it boasts a micro-brewery in the back garden. They do daily tours of the brewery, which need to be pre-booked for groups of ten or more, but are worth it. Afterwards they do a tasting session in the bar, where you can also take in some fine traditional music. Their range of beers includes Donegal Blonde, Atlantic Amber Ale, West Coast Pale Ale and other seasonal brews.
Travelling south and even further west, you will come to the West Mayo Brewery near Castlebar, in county Mayo. Run by Iain and Caroline Price, this purpose-built brewery is on their working farm. They have Clew Bay Sunset, a full-bodied red ale and Clifford’s Connacht Champion, a golden ale. A specialty is Paddy’s Pilgrims Porter, flavoured using gruits, an ancient method of preserving and flavouring beer, which predates the arrival of hops. Bog Myrtle, collected locally by the Prices’, is the gruit used in this special porter and adds a unique taste.
Tours are by appointment; this is very much a hands-on operation. If they are not brewing, the Prices are delivering beer or looking after the cattle.
If you can drag yourself away from Mayo the next stop down the coast has to be the Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare. Home to Ireland’s smallest professional, microbrewery and the brewer Peter Curtin was actually born upstairs. This cracking pub serves his wonderful beers such as the lager Burren Gold, the Burren Red Ale and the Burren Black Stout. Peter collects wild yeast when in season and flavours the beer with locally gathered gruits in the summertime. This place is more than just a brewery though.
The award-winning Kieran’s Kitchen is also on the premises, producing all sorts of beautiful meats and fish to go with your beer.
At the southern tip of the Wild Atlantic Way is Blacks of Kinsale, under the careful eye of Maud and Sam Black. Tours run from May to September and are very popular, so you may need to book in advance. The great range includes the always excellent Kinsale Pale Ale, which has a perfect balance of malt and hops. Their Model T stout needs a strong hand at 5.0% APV, while the Session Ale at 3.5%, is the perfect summer afternoon tipple.
These small breweries are popping up everywhere in Ireland and are usually family-run operations, or small places operated by friends. They all share an interest in what we all love: great tasting beer. Drop in for the craic and you won’t be disappointed.