So what do you think of when you hear the words “Irish beer?” St. Patty’s Day, and inevitably, Guinness come to mind. Maybe Harp Lager too. Not exactly beers of the craft brewing movement, being owned by massive conglomerates based outside of Ireland. We’re not knocking the beers—Guinness defines what Dry Irish Stout is. For many of us, it was the first good beer we’d ever tried, informing us that there are options other than bland fizzy lager. And Harp ain’t a bad brew either. But these are the big boys of the country. Lucky for the citizenry of Ireland, the Irish mega breweries pump out much better beers than the big boys that we have domestically.
But what’s the craft brewed beer scene like in Ireland? Relatively young; some would say just getting started as it claws its way out from the shadows of the ubiquitous megabrands. At the forefront of Ireland’s craft brewing movement is the Carlow Brewing Company. Independent and family owned, it was founded by the O’Hara family in 1996, building on a keen interest in the craft of brewing and a desire to revive a tradition once common in every town and village in Ireland, but lost since the end of the 1800s.
The brewery is housed in 'The Goods Store', an old stone building which once served as the local provisions sale point for the town’s traders. Beautifully restored and converted, the visitors’ bar is a great place to have a beer after taking a tour of the brewery.
Carlow B.C. is situated in the historical hop and malt growing region of Ireland, the “Barrow Valley” region, evident by the many malt houses dotted throughout the county landscape. Brewery founder, Seamus O’Hara, aimed to revive not only the small brewery culture but also the qualities found in Irish beers from that era and beyond. As Seamus puts it “at Carlow Brewing Company we have gone back to basics and brew our beers as they used to be brewed—with natural ingredients and no artificial additives. We believe this leads to a superior quality product, with robust body, taste, flavor and aroma. Compare these characteristics with any of the mainstream brands and you will taste the difference.” Going up against the big boys, their O’Hara’s Stout was named “world’s number one stout,” by a panel of 33 international judges at the Brewing Industry International Awards, in 2000. Ah, the luck of the Irish.