Come for the pretentious title, stay for the opportunity to praise some fantastic – and thoroughly unpretentious – Irish beers.
It's our second February in Ireland, and we've now been around long enough to determine some favourite local breweries (all without leaving leaving the house). I know I sound like a broken record, but I am continually surprised by just how high the quality is with breweries that are only a few years old; their flagship beers are not just relatively new to me, but often still new to most everyone else, too, at least beyond the nerdiest of beer nerds (e.g., My People). That said, many of them have a firmly-established sense of place, and, especially in a time when travel is not possible, there's something about that local hook that can make the story behind those beers resonate even more. I love to see this storytelling element in beer – thank goodness we've moved beyond the 'x was a wild homebrewer, had a brainwave and now he's the master brewer here' origin story. These locals are each doing a bang-up job of tying local lore and ‘feeling’ to fantastic beer.
Hope Hop-on, Session IPA, 4.3%
First, and most importantly, it's simply a great go-to beer - an all-around, friendly-with-food session IPA. But the label design and 'backstory' add that true local flavour: the Dart (I LOVE TRAINS) and the story of two boys who took the Dart from Howth Junction (not coincidentally, where Hope is based), eventually hopped a ferry to the UK and blagged their way onto a flight to New York - the '80s were a different time, and the podcast looking back on the episode is well worth a listen. I really miss having this beer fresh on tap, but now that we've moved to Dublin's Northside (for friends outside Dublin, the Northside/Southside thing is a whole mood), it feels even more like a beer 'for us,' thanks to the hyper-local angle.
Ballykilcavan Bambrick's Brown Ale, 5.8%
Beernerdia is always lamenting the imminent death of the brown ale, yet it's very much alive and well here, thanks to Ballykilcavan - this beer is simply gorgeous. Don't let the middling 3.8 on Untappd fool you; this may not be a 10% double IPA (though they make one of those as well), but it's a fabulous beer. Again, Ballykilcavan's sense-of-place game is strong; their Instagram shots of their 17th century family farm's beautiful outbuildings, which then find their names and stories represented in the beer labels, are very much characters. It will be delightful to actually *visit* at some point in the future.
Kinnegar Scraggy Bay IPA, 5.3%
Scraggy Bay is the name of the beach near the brewery in Donegal - a place I still haven't managed to visit - and Kinnegar's perfect, old-school IPA really does evoke that windy, beachy feel. The can art, again, brings the sea to the consumer, and stamps the beer with the locale. Kinnegar's mascot rabbits (hares?) are busy captaining and rolling kegs onto the ship. Kinnegar's very name is an Anglicization of the Irish for 'rabbit,' so their origins are built into the beer. And going back to the beer itself, in a world of hazy/cold/milkshake IPAs, having a well-crafted, balanced IPA is a bit of a novelty.
So, there you have it – just a quick selection of Irish beers for #FlagshipFebruary that also happen to convey a strong sense of where they come from – and I can’t wait to raise a few glasses with the Craic Beer Community at the next (virtual) meetup!