After a surprisingly successful venture into Iceland’s craft beer scene, we were off to a land that prides itself in its dark beer, smooth whisky and raucous pub life — Ireland.
Everyone knows that when in Ireland, you must visit:
- The Guinness Storehouse
- Jameson Whisky Distillery
- A pub
- Another pub
- Probably another pub
So we did.
Mostly on a whim, we found ourselves at the Jameson Whisky Distillery first.
Technically, the actual distillery is located down south in Midleton, County Cork. But the Bow Street location in Dublin is where the distilling originally happened and where you can now take a tour. We loved the tour! The tour is actually less a walking tour and more a stationary experience. Over the course of 45 minutes we passed through three different rooms where we (1) learned about the history of Jameson, (2) learned about whisky’s ingredients and the distilling process and (3) had a whisky tasting. The whole experience was fantastic. Our guide’s passion and enthusiasm was tangible and contagious, and the use of interactive technology was one of the best we’ve ever seen. The free drink from the bar afterwards was just a bonus. We left far more impressed and having had more fun than we’d anticipated and would highly recommend the Jameson Distillery to any drinking adult visiting Ireland.
Of course, there are plenty of pubs in Dublin to sit down for a beer — and we did — but we also managed to fit in a couple visits to breweries. As far as we can tell, Ireland’s craft beer scene is still catching up a bit to the US’s; as of July 2017, it was still illegal to sell alcohol (beer or liquor) from a brewing/distilling location, though a law being proposed at the time would allow sales between 10am-6pm to customers who had taken a tour of the facility first. Perhaps the laws have changed since then; either way, we didn’t have any issues at either of the two brewpubs we visited.
We found Urban Brewing in Dublin conveniently located in the same building as EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum (which proved to be one of the best interactive museums we’ve ever visited. Seriously, Ireland is doing some cool stuff with technology!). Everything about Urban was just that — urban — and we loved it! From the windows and glass ceiling to the hanging lightbulbs and wooden stools and tabletops — everything about Urban created a drinking space that felt modern and trendy.
Urban features its own rotating list of beers as well as over 200 beers and wines from around the world. We sampled several, including a fantastic barrel-aged sour that even Adam enjoyed, a delicious saison and a lemon verbena IPA that was like nothing we’d ever tried before! Were we not off to the EPIC museum next, we would gladly have spent a lot more time at Urban. So far, Ireland’s craft beer scene was off to a great start!
The second brewpub we made it to was The Porterhouse in Temple Bar. Temple Bar, we discovered, is actually not a single bar but an entire river-side neighborhood of Dublin filled with bars, restaurants, pubs and tourist-y attractions. The Porterhouse had been recommended to us by an Instagram follower (shout out to @demolitionrob!).
The beer was good, though service didn’t stand out. What we most loved was the look and feel of Porterhouse — somewhere between a craft brewery and a traditional Irish pub. Musicians played live music in a corner.
They did let us slap some stickers on their sticker wall as we were leaving, though, so if you ever visit The Porterhouse Temple Bar keep an eye out for Beaver Island, Copper Trail, Hop & Barrel and Girls in Craft; those were us!
Our final excursion into Ireland’s beer was the most notable by name, significance and legacy — the Guinness Storehouse. We were surprised to learn that the Guinness Storehouse is the most popular attraction in all of Ireland; having visited the Cliffs of Moher — where we joined the thousands of people lining the cliff tops — it’s hard to think of more people passing daily through Guinness’ facilities. And yet apparently it’s true. Guinnes’s entire facility is massive, taking up several city blocks. However, we only had access to the building intended for tours — a seven floor “world’s largest pint glass” (that’s what the website says anyway…we saw no indication that it was a pint glass ourselves).
We’re just going to be frank — we were incredibly underwhelmed by the Guinness experience. To begin, it felt very impersonal. Following such a stellar experience at Jameson, we were surprised to find the Guinness tours self-guided. To make matters worse, the tour was confusing; with unclear markings and direction from floor to floor, we actually got lost at one point, and even the employee who helped us admitted it was an awful layout and that people get lost all the time. Third, the tour didn’t really offer much more than we already knew. If you’ve ever taken a tour of any craft brewery then you already know the basics of beer — the ingredients and brewing process. Obviously, there are some unique qualities to Guinness’ beer and brewing, but a lot of time and space was spent showing and telling things we already knew.
The tasting experience was unbelievably commercial and impersonal; herded into a bland, boring room with a group of 50-75 other people, a kid on a microphone gave us a rushed, unenthusiastic spiel on how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. We were then offered sample glasses already filled with Guinness and joined the kid in an adjoining room more decorated but also more cramped. Here, he continued his scripted spiel about what the Guinness should taste like, taught us the meaning and pronunciation of the Irish word “Slainte,” and invited us to join him in downing our sample glass. And like that, we were herded off to the next part of our self-guided tour. By now less than impressed, we hurried the rest of the way to the crowded rooftop Gravity Bar, drank half a pint of Guinness each and left for something else more worth our time and money. Needless to say, we were disappointed, unimpressed and wouldn’t recommend the Guinness experience.
We really did love our time in Ireland. It’s a country rich in history, culture and alcohol, our personal preferences aside. To their credit, Jameson and Guinness have been around a long time and had long-lasting impacts on what many of us drink today. It was neat to learn, see and taste that legacy for ourselves. But we were also glad to see craft — or modern — beer establishing its place in Ireland. The craft beers we tasted were by and large as good or better than some of the craft beer coming out of Minnesota (depending on who we’re comparing it to).
As with Iceland, we left Ireland all too soon. But we left feeling accomplished and half-way towards our goal of visiting a craft brewery in every country of our Europe tour.