A few months back, I visited Galway, Ireland, an Irish town known for its fantastic nightlife, live music and, of course, a quality Guinness pour. But it was a trip to Roscommon, about an hour east of the city, where I really learned a thing or two about Irish beer. And, as we roll into St. Patrick’s Day season, this might be an appropriate lesson for us all.
Aidan Murphy and Ronan Brennan have been struggling with the hard truth about beer in Ireland since 2006 — when these first cousins from Galway became craft brewers. The two joined forces to produce something that wasn’t a stout or a lager for beer lovers and came up with Galway Hooker, an Irish Pale Ale (similar to an American IPA) only to find that many Irish beer drinkers were too stubborn to appreciate flavorful beer.
Galway Hooker is one of only a handful of craft brewers in the whole of Ireland. This is because Guinness has managed to overrun the country with stout, practically forcing a pint of the dark stuff into every open hand in the country. The beer giant, now owned by Diageo (an international company based out of England and Wales), buys out every small brewery that shows promise to keep the national competition to a minimum.
But the Irish pale ale has successfully infiltrated over forty bars in Galway and many other Irish cities and towns. Even while some old-fashioned Irish drinkers turn their nose up to anything hoppy and delicious, Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale is being served next to Guinness, Smithwick’s, Harp, Budweiser (which is like Heineken to us) and Carlsberg (which is like Budweiser to us). Other craft brewers, like O’Hara’s from Carlow Brewing Company and brews from Mhor Arainn Brewing Company pop up in grocery refrigerators in small gourmet food shops, like the one we found in Galway.
It seems as though there’s plenty of room on the island for Guinness and all the other micro-breweries. Even after a fire ignited in Guinness offices this past December, the brewery seems un-scorched and they’ll probably be back to their micro-brewery steamrolling ways in no time.
While most Irish beer drinkers are more than willing to allow this to happen, and may not even notice to a degree, one patron at the Roisin Dubh, a famed bar and music venue back in Galway (where I found Galway Hooker on tap), waxed poetic about a small brewery located near his home in Dublin that had been bought out by Guinness, wiping it’s tasty beers, including one lager he really enjoyed, off the face of the earth.
Since my trip, the Irish craft brewing industry has made strides toward protecting small brewers across the Emerald Isle. Beoir, a consumer’s lobby, has been created to promote beer and cider from the island’s micro-breweries in an effort to give the craft brew movement in Ireland a chance.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll find Irish micro-brews at your local beer store in the states or on tap at your local watering hole and it might be hard to support them from this distance, it’s important to remember that the country is in the early stages of their craft beer development and support from craft brewers in America and other craft brewing countries is key.
America’s craft brew revolution has been going on for over thirty years but many European countries are just starting out and trying to get a toe hold on their national audience before they start sending anything overseas. Plus an imported Galway Hooker at a Chicago pub might cost you a pretty penny (although if you ever do see it on tap, I highly recommend it).
Regardless, while you’re sipping your yearly pint of Irish stout (perhaps Murphy’s?) this March 17, keep in mind the small Irish breweries that would also like to be celebrating with you this season and raise a glass to them.