Refreshing festival of craft beers hits RDS

by Gazette Reporter
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It’s no secret: Irish brewing is booming. There are twice as many breweries as there were in 2011, spreading from Donegal to Wexford, with dozens more planned. In fact, the only place to miss out so far has been Dublin. Scarce real estate and high costs meant new breweries skipped the capital until now.

That’s changed since last autumn, though, with the launch of three new ventures: Four Provinces, Stone Barrel and Rascal’s. Look for them among over 30 small, independent producers of beer at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival at the RDS next month.

To Feargal Chambers and Andrew Murphy, there was never a question of setting up Four Provinces Brewing Co. somewhere cheaper.

“We’re not in it for the money,” says Chambers, “We don’t want to drive to Navan every day. We’re a Dublin-based brewery.”

Four Provinces have plans for a new brewhouse in Kimmage. Their first beer is called The Hurler to reflect their mutual love of GAA. It’s an easy-sipping copper ale with enough character to hold your attention. “We intentionally brewed it to 4.2%, a sessionable beer,” says Murphy, “We went for something different.”

When Niall Fitzgerald returned from travelling, he found his friend Kevin McKinney excited to share his new hobby: homebrewing. Fast forward three years and that hobby is Stone Barrel Brewing Company, based in Ballymount.

Their passion is clear in Boom, a pale ale made with citrusy American hops. McKinney believes tastes are changing, saying, “Now there are regular people who mightn’t have drank craft two years ago who are into hoppy beers.” But he isn’t getting precious about it, adding, “At the end of the day, beer is beer.”

Emma Devlin and Cathal O’Donoghue have a bit of a Hollywood to their story: fall in love in New Zealand, create an award-winning beer with their creamy Ginger Porter, and open a brewery. The reality of Rascal’s Brewing Co. is bit less glamourous.

“A brew took ten hours to start but we’re down to seven now,” states O’Donoghue, “Us having time to make sales has been the hardest part.” The upside is having their own kit in Rathcoole, close to all their customers. “We haven’t really pursued other markets,” says Devlin, “We want to grow our roots here.”

For all three, having the city on your doorstep is a definite advantage. Distribution is easier but almost as important is the personal touch. “A big part is talking to people, convincing them you’re not going to be gone in five years,” says Four Provinces’ Chambers. Stone Barrel’s Fitzgerald echoes that sentiment: “We’ll always know every barman in Dublin ourselves. We’re Dubs. It will always be our spiritual home.”

The elephant in the room, of course, is that many Dubliners already do drink local, from a certain brewery at St. James Gate. The brewers, however, can find advantage in that. “The first time I tasted Guinness I didn’t like it. My father said, ‘It’s an acquired taste,’” explains Fitzgerald. “It’s hard to learn to love, but if you can do that, you can like craft beer.”

Murphy agrees: “In Ireland we’re quite brand loyal. Craft beer is going to taste different and that can be intimidating. But there are plenty of beers that aren’t so shocking – just give it a chance.”

The Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival is September 4-7 at the RDS. Tickets are now available online or at selected pubs and off-licences. See or @irishbeerfest for details.

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