When the average person thinks of Irish beer, Guinness (established in 1749) is almost always the first to pop into his or her head. Even if it’s not the traditional Irish stout brewed under the company’s name, that person might still think of a brand that’s owned by Guinness, like Harp or Kilkenny, or one made by Guinness’ parent multinational company, Diageo plc, like Smithwick’s. No offense to one of the largest and most successful beer companies in the world, but there are a lot of delicious Irish brews out there made by different folks, and we’d like to take a look at a few of them now.[related]
This list contains a couple of the major companies competing alongside Guinness, but we also included a healthy dose of tasty independent and craft beers from both longer-standing and up-and-coming breweries around Ireland. As St. Patrick’s Day quickly approaches, keep these options in mind whether you’re taking a trip to Ireland, or just making a beer run to a nearby distributor.
A beer staple since 1792, Beamish and Crawford has undergone some changes on the business side (it is now owned by Heineken), but the same great name still has the same great taste. For folks in Ireland looking for a reliable stout with a storied heritage, Beamish Genuine Irish Stout is about as dependable as you can get.
Carlow/O’Hara’s Brewing Company
Founded in 1996, Carlow Brewing Company/O’Hara’s Brewery is an independent, Irish, family-owned business and one of the country’s first craft brewers. Located in the “Barrow Valley” region of Ireland, the company is best known for both its Celtic stout and Gold Irish wheat varieties, in addition to almost two-dozen core, draught-only, Hop Adventure, collaboration, limited edition, and seasonal brews.
Galway Bay Brewery
The current young stud of the beer game is Galway Bay Brewery and its six varieties, specifically the 8.5 percent ABV “Of Foam and Fury” double IPA, which merges the expected uber-hoppiness with fruit flavors that contain hints of mango, blood orange, and grapefruit. Don’t be fooled by the mentions of fruit though; this is a serious brew with a kick of slightly-nutty caramel, in addition to the kick given by the high alcohol content.
A newcomer to the beer scene, Kinnegar was only founded five years ago, but it’s already making a name for itself. With six varieties (an amber ale, IPA, rye, porter, and two pale ales), we’d recommend starting with the Devil’s Backbone amber ale (which contains a hint of chocolate or burnt toffee) or the 2015 Beoir “Beer of the Year” first runner-up, the Rustbucket Rye.
Brewed since 1856, Murphy’s became Ireland’s second largest brewery in 1906, and hasn’t looked back since. Now also owned by Heineken, Murphy’s produces two beers, an Irish stout and an Irish red, as well as a rotating seasonal variety. The stout features chocolaty, espresso-like flavors with a caramel head, and the red ale is dry, crispy, hoppy, and very carbonated. The latter was originally called “Lady’s Well Ale” after the eighteenth-century religious site across the street from the Murphy’s brewery in Cork.
Porterhouse Brewing Co.
Currently celebrating its 20-year anniversary, Porterhouse Brewing Company is Ireland’s largest independent brewery. Offering stouts, ales, lagers, and seasonal/special varieties, the most popular is the Oyster Stout, which is actually made by shucking fresh oysters right into the conditioning tank. Although a hint of oyster flavor sticks with the beer, the classic rounded malt flavors, creamy texture, and smooth finish are the real stars here.