Skip to Content

The Joys and History of Irish Beer

Discussions of Irish beer usually begin and end with one word: Guinness. There is no doubt that Arthur Guiness’ great creation is the most famous beer in the world, let alone in Ireland. But there is much more to the beer scene on the Emerald Isle than just the meal-in-a-glass that draws all the headlines.

Irish Beer Varieties and Irish Breweries

Guinness – The Ultimate Irish Beer

a pint of guiness

Of course one cannot simply ignore Guinness when dissecting Irish beer. In the Eighteenth Century, Arthur Guinness opened a brewery producing porter, a style borrowed from England. But to avoid a tax on malted barley, the Guiness brewery used unmalted barley, producing a drier variety, now known more commonly as stout. The stout is an important part of Irish history as it was the principal beverage for the ordinary citizen for many years.

Irish Pale Ales

murphy's Logo

Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the advent of pale ales began to drive the market away from stouts and porters, but Ireland remained a stronghold. This bastion of dark, heavy brews was due to the enormous success of Guinness but also the emergence of Murphy’s (previously known as Lady’s Well until 1983) and Beamish as worthy domestic competitors in the smooth and creamy world of dry stouts. Both Beamish and Murphy’s come from County Cork, so there are regional preferences in stouts as Guinness is made in Dublin.

Irish Stouts

Irish stouts are very frequently served at or near room temperature. Americans, unused to warm beer, are frequently stunned by this practice upon visiting Ireland. For those unable to handle the lukewarm style of the Irish stout, Guinness does brew a version of its famous draft in an Extra Cold version. The temperature of the stout will be familiar to American tourists, though it does take a little away from the authentic experience of a Guinness Draught.

Lagers in Ireland

Harp Lager

Like many other countries, the infiltration of pale ales eventually caught up with Ireland and now roughly 60% of beer sold in the country is of one pale variety or another.

The most popular lager in Ireland is made by Harp, a very new entrant on the Irish beer scene. Having been brewed only since 1968 and in Dundalk, Harp represents a totally different type of beer drinking experience than its much older counterparts. But Harp does serve a deliciously crisp and clean lager and rivals any beer in the British Isles in quality.

Irish Reds

smithwicks irish ale

Falling somewhere in between stouts and lagers are Irish Reds. These beers are named as such because of their reddish color derived from roasted barley, rather than with caramel coloring like American reds.

The largest brewer of these reds is Smithwick’s, based in Kilkenny . It is the oldest operating brewery in Ireland, going strong since 1710. Smithwick’s has a wonderful red hue and a smooth finish, much like a stout. There is much more of a complex taste involved in an Irish Red than with either a stout or a lager. MacArdle’s Ale and Messrs. Maguire’s Rusty Ale are other reds that are not hard to find in Ireland but would cause a longer search back in the States.

As is the case with Scottish beer, Irish brews are best enjoyed in the company of locals at a pub. Many American tourists have been to St. James’s Gate , the Guinness brewery in Dublin , and many more will follow. But to truly get the most out of the beer experience while in Ireland, head for a pub, ask for a pint and enjoy any of the brews native to the island.

Written by Michael Orr for

Best Irish Breweries

The Irish people are justifiably proud of the fine beer created in their country. You can sip local productions in every pub in Ireland, but for a full understanding of the cultivation and culture of the country’s famous tipples, you’ll need to journey to the source. These breweries located around Ireland, are open to the public and offer comprehensive tours and tastings.

Guinness Storehouse – Dublin

The most famous beer in Ireland is Guinness, and many people claim it just tastes better in its home country. The Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin offers self-guided tours that culminate with a free beer at the Gravity Bar, a glass-enclosed bar offering 360-degree views of the city. Discounts are offered for seniors and students, and if you book online, you’ll get an additional 10% off and first place in line.

St. Francis Abbey Brewery – Kilkenny

The St. Francis Abbey Brewery produces Smithwick’s beer, and offers tours weekdays at 3pm. The Brewery is the oldest in Ireland, founded on the site of a Franciscan Abbey in 1231. The tours are free, but visitors need to pick up a ticket at the security gate. A short audio visual presentation is followed by a tasting session of the freshly brewed beer.

Biddy Early Brewery – Inagh

The Biddy Early Brewery, in County Clare, is an independent microbrew-pub that brews four beer varieties (plus seasonal specials) onsite. The brewery offers guided tours of the production facility, an explanation of the brewing craft, entertaining folk tales like the legend of the brewery’s namesake, Biddy Early, and a sample of the finished product. Come for the tour, and stay for a few more pints in the brewery’s pub.

Carlow Brewing Company – Carlow

The Carlow Brewing Company crafts several award-wining beer varieties, including a stout, wheat beer and red ale, using traditional Celtic methods. They offer daily tours of the brewery facilities by appointment-only, so it’s important to plan ahead.

Kinsale Brewery – Cork

The Kinsale Brewery, on the southern coast of Ireland, also offers daily tours of its brewery. Tours are conducted by the brew masters and are quite comprehensive, offering an overview of the entire brewing process and in-depth demonstrations of brewing techniques. Of course, like all great brewery tours, it ends with a few samples of the quality beer crafted onsite.

Written by Katie Hammel For

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Europe Up Close

Share your love for Europe!

Help spread the word. You're awesome for doing it!