Drinking & Nightlife
Famed around the world for Guinness and whiskey, Ireland has a well-deserved reputation as a place to enjoy a drink or six. Every town and hamlet has at least one pub, usually several, and a visit to one or more is the best way to get a handle on what makes the country tick.
The traditional Irish pub is often the hub of a community, whether urban or rural, a meeting place and venue for quiz nights and live music. What makes the Irish pub scene unique is the survival of the 'spirit grocery', a combined pub and grocer's shop that emerged in the 19th century when a growing temperance movement forced many pub landlords to diversify their businesses in order to remain solvent.
These places are found all over Ireland, and usually have a bar counter on one side and a general store counter on the other, a combination that has engendered the international image of the Irish pub as a place littered with old signs and bric-a-brac. There are pubs today where you can buy a box of nails, a tin of peas or a pair of wellies as well as a pint, and others that encompass more unusual businesses, notably McCarthy's in Fethard, County Tipperary, which famously combines the functions of pub, restaurant and undertaker (motto: 'we wine you, dine you, and bury you').
In the last decade there has been a swing away from the big international brands (even Guinness is now part of the multinational Diageo drinks group) in favour of beers made by small, local breweries – so-called 'craft beers'. Many of these have their own pubs, or even combine pub and brewery in one place.
Feature: Irish Drinks
Stout While Guinness has become synonymous with stout the world over, few outside Ireland realise that there are two other major brands competing for the favour of the Irish drinker: Murphy's and Beamish, both brewed in Cork city.
Tea The Irish drink more tea, per capita, than any other nation in the world and you'll be offered a cup as soon as you cross the threshold of any Irish home. Taken with milk (and sugar, if you want) rather than lemon, preferred blends are very strong and nothing like the namby-pamby versions that pass for Irish breakfast tea elsewhere.
Whiskey As recently as the 1990s there were only three working distilleries in Ireland – Jameson's, Bushmills and Cooley's. An explosion in artisan distilling has seen the number grow to more than 30, exhibiting a range and quality that will make the connoisseur's palate spin while winning over many new friends to what the Irish call uisce beatha (water of life).
Other Irish Beers
Although mainstream lagers are most pubs' best-selling pints, the craft-beer revolution has seen around 100 microbreweries come into operation all over the island, making artisan beers that are served in more than 600 of Ireland’s pubs and bars. Here’s a small selection to whet the taste buds:
- Devil’s Backbone (4.9% alcohol by volume) Rich amber ale from County Donegal brewer Kinnegar.
- The Full Irish (6%) Single malt IPA by Eight Degrees Brewery outside Mitchelstown, County Cork.
- O’Hara’s Leann Folláin (6%) Dry stout with vaguely chocolate notes produced by Carlow Brewing Company in Moneybeg, County Carlow.
- Metalman Pale Ale (4.3%) American-style pale ale by the much-respected Metalman Brewing Company in County Waterford – now available in cans.
- Saturate (8.0%) A double IPA with a hefty kick, from County Wicklow–based Whiplash Beer, voted Irish beer of the year in 2018.
- Twisted Hop (4.7%) Blond ale produced by Hilden, Ireland’s oldest independent brewery, just outside Lisburn.
A handful of independently owned distilleries have opened in recent years, producing whiskies (and, in some cases, gin and rum) that have added a fine bit of diversity to the range of Irish spirits.
- Blackwater Distillery A distillery in Cappoquin, County Waterford, that produces around 50 casks of whisky (without the 'e', in accordance with Munster tradition) a year.
- Dingle Distillery Whiskey, a quintuple-distilled vodka and a London dry gin made on the edge of Dingle town.
- Listoke Distillery & Gin School Gin distillery that gives you the chance to make your own.
- West Cork Distillers Blended, pot still and single malt whiskies, as well as liqueurs and vodka.
- Slane Distillery The first batch of triple cask matured whiskey was made in 2017 at this new distillery.
- Teeling Distillery Dublin's first new distillery in 125 years was opened in 2015 by the same family that owns the Cooley Distillery in County Louth.