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Sunday, June 18, 2006

It's not soda

Derek Speirs for The New York Times

A glass is filled at the Messrs. Maguire brew pub in Dublin.

Microbreweries in the Land of Guinness

Published: June 18, 2006

RECENTLY, a couple of tourists walked into a postcard-worthy pub in the West of Ireland, complete with a fieldstone fireplace, and asked for two pints of Guinness. Nothing unusual there: Guinness is practically the national drink of Ireland and a Guinness or two is an expected way to cap off the day, or, in some cases, start it.

But the woman behind the bar — Fionnuala Garvey, who runs the pub with her son, Niall — patiently explained to the two visitors that maybe they wanted to rethink their order. The Biddy Early, the pub they had just entered, is in fact a microbrewery.

From the blank looks she got in return, she might have said that the Biddy Early was out of beer.

Mrs. Garvey thought for a minute, then she picked up a menu and pointed to the back. "See, we brew our own beer," she said. "If you like stout, we have the Black Biddy, or we have the Red Biddy or Blonde Biddy, a lager. ... Or, we have Guinness?"

"N-o-o-o! Two Black Biddy please," they said, finally comprehending. And just like that, two more people were initiated into the world of the Irish microbrewery.

None of Ireland's big stouts, Guinness, Murphy's or Beamish, are Irish-owned today. Guinness (along with Smithwick's Ale and Harp lager) is owned by the British beverage conglomerate Diageo, Murphy's by Amsterdam-based Heineken and Beamish by the British brewer Scottish & Newcastle. Budweiser and the Danish beer Carlsberg typically round out taps in Irish pubs from Dublin to Doolin.

But craft beer does still exist in Ireland — helped in part by a tax break for small brewers that the Irish government put into effect in 2005 — and the best way to find it is to go straight to the source. On a recent trip to Ireland, my husband and I sipped our way across the country, sampling smooth stouts, crisp ales and bold lagers, all made by small, independent brewers.

Our tour kicked off in Dublin at one of the country's largest microbreweries, the Porterhouse, then ended at the Biddy Early in Inagh in County Clare, conveniently located on the way to the Cliffs of Moher. In between, we indulged our palates with hops and malts in the city of Cork and a few small-town destinations, like Carlow and the pretty seaside village of Kinsale. We discovered plenty of good beer, but we also stumbled into quirky settings and ancient buildings that have been restored and converted for a new use. Most were quiet pubs or tasting rooms, off the tourist map though not exactly on the local circuit either.

The Porterhouse is one of Ireland's brewing pioneers. Two cousins, Liam LaHart and Oliver Hughes, started brewing in 1996, and today the Porterhouse encompasses several brewpubs around Dublin, the original in Bray and one in London. When we walked into the Porterhouse in Dublin's trendy Temple Bar neighborhood and saw 10 beers on tap, it felt as heartwarming as the sound of an Irish band striking up "Danny Boy. "

Why in an otherwise good article on Irish brewpubs, does the writer reach back for a cliche. You're as likely to hear Up the IRA or the Pougues or Arctic Monkeys as Danny Boy. Why does the editor let it stay in?

The larger point is that even in a newly economically growing Ireland, the interest in fresh, locally brewed beer is expanding.

posted by Steve @ 8:58:00 AM

8:58:00 AM

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