Coinciding with the growing number of microbreweries in Ireland, and the pubs that serve their beers, there’s also an increasing number of special events around the country where Irish craft beer can be tried. Often, the brewers use these to launch special edition beers that can’t be had anywhere else.
Several of the specialist beer pubs also run events during the year: both the Porterhouse and Bull & Castle have special Irish beer promotions in March, plus an Oktoberfest in the autumn, as does the Bierhaus in Cork. You’ll also find Irish breweries represented at food and drink events like the Waterford Festival of Food (14-17 April) and the Belfast Christmas Market (19 November - 18 December [TBC]). This article, however, is about the full-sized festivals where you can have a day out and sample the best our native brewing industry has to offer.
Easter Beer Festival
Cork, 23-24 April
This is the longest-established craft beer event in Ireland, held over the Easter weekend each year in the beer garden of the Franciscan Well brewpub (14A North Mall). Virtually every craft brewery on the island is usually represented, as well as the custodians of the pilot brewery in University College Cork: a unique opportunity to sample their wares. And there are plenty of other rarities among the range of festival specials produced by Carlow Brewing (including their sublime Druid’s Brew and Easter Stout) and White Gypsy (Raven Black Imperial Stout being a particular hit recently), plus cask editions of beers not normally available this way.
Admission is free and the venue is a heated, covered section of the brewery yard, and an on-site barbecue keeps festival goers fed. A popular event locally, it can get quite crowded in the evenings so arriving soon after the doors open at 2pm is recommended, for maximum leisurely sampling.
Brewers on the Bay
Galway, 30 April - 1 May
Returning for the second year, Brewers on the Bay is hosted at the Oslo microbrewery in Salthill village. A wide range of Irish microbreweries will have stands selling their own beers, plus selected quality imports. The full range of beers from Oslo’s own superb bar selection is also available, as are beers from the Bay Brewery located on-site. In 2010, local homebrew supply company HomeBrewWest.ie also ran a stand, and will hopefully return for this year’s event.
The venue is split between the spacious rear bar room and the outside beer garden allowing plenty of room for visitors of all ages, in all weathers. Food is available from a barbecue, as well as the normal pub menu. Admission is free and doors open at 3pm.
(Photo courtesy of Jake Spruit. Used with permission.)
Bloom in the Park
Dublin, 2-6 June
For two glorious years Bord Bia ran a specialist artisan drinks festival in Phoenix Park called SeptemberFest, showcasing the best in beer, cider and spirits from independent Irish-owned firms. In 2010, however, they changed tack and incorporated this element into the popular Bloom garden festival, held over the June Bank Holiday weekend in Phoenix Park. The Bloom Inn tent featured beers from Trouble Brewing, Whitewater, Galway Hooker, The Porterhouse and Dungarvan, as well as Cooley Whiskey and Double LL cider. Plans are afoot for the Bloom Inn to return in 2011.
The spacious beer tent is situated inside the main festival catering area and includes outdoor seating.
Lughnasa Beer Festival
Dublin, 19 August
This one-day-only rollicking shindig is organised by Ruth Deveney of Deveney's off licence in Dundrum. The venue is rather closer to town, however: the Pod complex on Harcourt Street. Irish and international beers will be showcased on the night, in both draught and bottled form. The event aims to give visitors the opportunity to taste a wide variety of beers by offering small samples rather than full measures. The vast selection includes a number of rare and pricey beers and the chance to taste them without having to pay the full whack.
There will also be live music, as well as beer and food matching. Only 1500 tickets will be available, and are likely to sell out in advance when they go on sale in late April. See the Deveney's beer blog and Twitter for more updates as they happen.
Hilden Beer & Music Festival
Hilden, 26-28 August
On the last weekend of August each year the sleepy Co. Antrim village of Hilden comes alive to the sound of a three day live music festival in the yard of the local brewery. Hilden is Ireland’s oldest independent brewery, making ales in the former stables of the grand Georgian mansion since 1981. For the festival, the brewhouse is converted into a bar, serving a range of Irish craft beers from breweries north and south, plus a hand-chosen selection of imports from Real Ale breweries in Great Britain.
It’s perhaps the most family-friendly festival on the calendar with lots of wide-open space plus face-painting and giant games for the kids. A barbecue runs all day, and there’s full service at the Tap Room restaurant next to the brewery. Weather-proofing is provided by a series of gazebos in the yard, plus a pair of giant teepee tents. The main stage offers a mix of rock, folk and blues during the festivities, with more sedate acoustic trad in the teepees.
Hilden is easily accessible by train, travellers from Dublin should change at Portadown. Times and admission prices vary over the three days.
All-Ireland Craft Beerfest
RDS Dublin, 23-25 September
A newcomer for 2011, this is shaping up to be one of the highlights of the annual calendar. The Carlow Brewing Company is the driving force behind it and almost every independent brewery on the island is expected to attend for the three days.
Set in the majestic surrounds of Dublin's RDS and with an impressive entertainment programme to accompany the beers there will be something for everyone, including a variety of food options as well as a dedicated family area.
Admission is €10 for one day, though three-day passes are also on sale at €15.
Belfast Beer & Cider Festival
Belfast, 17-19 November
2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the Campaign for Real Ale in Northern Ireland. For years, the winter fixture in the Ulster Hall offered a rare opportunity to sample cask beers from across the water as well as providing a showcase for the small local breweries: Hilden and Whitewater. 2010 saw the addition of Clanconnel to the line-up and a much greater emphasis on the local beers. Centrepiece of the event was a barrel-aged version of Whitewater’s Clotworthy Dobbin ruby porter, and the beer of the festival award was claimed by Clanconnel’s own McGrath’s Black stout. Sadly no Armagh cider featured in 2010 as in previous years but the hope is that Irish beer and cider will become more and more a feature of the festival.
The Ulster Hall (1-7 Bedford Street) is a recently-restored jewel of Victoriana in the centre of Belfast. The modernised facilities incorporate a restaurant open during festival hours. Admission is £3 in the afternoons and £5 in the evenings, including a complimentary glass.
Cask & Winter Ales Festival
Cork, February 2012 [TBC]
Another recent addition to the calendar, the Franciscan Well hosted this free three-day event for the first time in February 2011. All of the country’s microbreweries were encouraged to send cask beers along, and a special festival bar was set up selling these plus a range of winter beers on keg. As with so many of these special occasions, it pays to arrive early, and anyone hoping for a taste of Dungarvan’s special Coffee and Oatmeal Stout needed to be there on the first afternoon to avoid disappointment. There was a choice of 17 other Irish craft beers over the weekend, however, so plenty of alternatives.
As the craft beer sector in Ireland grows more festivals are being arranged all the time. For all the details as we get them watch the Beoir event calendar and the Events section of the forum. And don’t forget, of course, that craft beer is not just for festivals and special events: it’s available all year round all over the country. An ever-growing list of the pubs, bars and restaurants which stock it can be found in our directory here.
Please note, while every effort has been made to have this article accurate and up-to-date, please do check all times, dates and arrangements with the event organisers. If in doubt, contact us via the forum.