The Irish Craft Beer Revolution
Thursday, June 26, 2014
With the much anticipated launch this week of The Mills’ sister company, 9 White Deer’s first sublime craft beer, known affectionately as Stag Bán, the amazing rise in the popularity of craft beers and ciders in Ireland is plain to see. The joy that is felt in that exquisite, thirst quenching first taste of a fine beer, stout or cider is known to all those who call The Mills Inn a home away from home, and is often followed by a symphony of satisfied ahhhhhhhhhhh’s.
We believe that brewing is both a passion and an art and are thrilled that craft breweries throughout Ireland are growing from strength to strength. Each microbrewery creates products that are unique to that region and paint a story of the breweries history, its ingredients and the people who created it, which are relived with each refreshing sup.
Ballyvourney and the West Cork region is no stranger to the brewing of fine ales and has an amazing variety of breweries close at hand. The Mills Inn is thankful for that and is all too willing to sample each and every one of the products from time to time. From the newly launched 9 White Deer, honouring the history and mythology of Ballyvourney’s ancient past, to the mysterious and wild The Mountain Man Brewing Co high in the Derrynasaggart Mountains of the Muskerry Gaeltacht, the people of Ballyvourney, Macroom and the surrounding Gaeltacht area are spoilt for choice. A short journey through West Corks majestic landscape and you can come across a number of other independent microbreweries, all creating amazing beers and ciders (as well as other alcoholic delights) with their own unique blend of passion, knowledge and local ingredients. A sample of such brewhouses include Kinsale Brewing Company in Kinsale, Co. Cork and Stonewell Craft Cider in Nohoval, Co. Cork. Leaving the majestic green hills and meandering of rivers of West Cork’s idyllic countryside, we come across a world renowned craft brewery in Cork city centre, known as the Franciscan Well Brewery.
While America has been long credited for the craft beer revolution, beginning in the 1980’s and early 1990’s that has gone on to take the world by storm, Ireland itself has a long and proud history of brewing in every corner of our island that can be traced back thousands of years. The story of brewing in Ireland is steeped in culture and legend and is a part of our heritage. While the art was lost for a time, being smothered out by the growth of major international breweries, the tradition endured through the dedication and love of expert brewers and beer enthusiasts alike, surviving in the fond memories of tastes, smells and the experiences that accompanied them. Thankfully, following the craft beer movement in America and the rising demand of unique craft beers throughout the world, Irish microbreweries have risen from the ashes with their wide variety of locally crafted products growing in immense popularity locally and nationally, while also generating international interest. This is resulting in the welcomed changing of public opinion, that such craft beers are to be enjoyed and savoured, like a fine whiskey or gourmet food. The drinking culture is showing signs of change, going back to a time that The Mills Inn remembers fondly, when a drink was a special occasion all in itself, with each drop appreciated and revered, wishing it would last a lifetime.
So where did the tradition of brewing in Ireland originate from?
There is evidence to suggest that brewing in Ireland can be traced back over 5,000 years. Indeed brewing is said to have taken place in Ireland throughout the bronze and early iron ages, where “the magical trilogy of fertile soil, soft rain and gentle, cool breezes made for a climate that could produce superb barley.” (http://www.guides.ie/blog/history-beer-ireland) Looking back through the history of the Mills, we know that cooking on this stretch of the River Sullane may have its origins in the Bronze Age (2500-500 BC) if we consider the many prehistoric water-boiling or cooking sites (fulachtaí fia) found nearby. Two of these were archaeologically excavated by Professor Michael J. O’Kelly (UCC) in 1952 near St. Gobnaits wood. We like to imagine a little brewing may have taken place as well in the area in the following centuries, long forgotten now. The tradition that is so prevalent and cherished in the region today has long been a part of us to be sure.
Ireland’s past is rich in culture, folklore and legend. The history of Irish brewing has a place in many of these stories passed down from generation to generation. There is a legend that St, Patrick, Ireland’s Patron Saint, had his very own personal brewer. A fabled priest named Mescan. The love of a finely crafted ale runs deep in our blood it seems.
Religious roots intertwine with Ireland’s past and there is a religious element to the story of Irish brewing. Irish monasteries played a leading role in the creation of and suply of ales for many centuries. As John and Sally McKenna explain in their guide of The History of Beer in Ireland, monks would of been expert herbalists flavouring ales with various herbs to create distinct tastes specific to each monastery.
Ballyvourney’s very own microbrewery 9 White Deer’s story also derives from religious influences. The story goes that St. Gobnait was told by an angel where she finds the nine white deer is where she will set up a church and abbey and find a well with mystical healing powers. The richness of the stories behind craft beers bring them to life.
In the dying embers of the 18th Century, the rise of the major breweries began following the purchase of Arthur Guinness of a brewery in Leixlip Co. Kildare in 1796, who later went on to take a 9,000 year lease on a brewery in St. James Gate in Dublin. It has been the home of the fabled black stuff ever since. As the major commercial breweries continued to grow, the smaller independent breweries began to vanish unable to compete with the industry giants. The demise of craft brewing was swift and devastating. The ancient traditions of the past became a memory, lost in nostalgia.
Thankfully, the art survived and in the shadow of the giants, Irish craft brewing has answered the public's desire for a bespoke experience, that offers something personal and memorable. Something that the main brands cannot give them.
We hope that the newly found success of the craft brewing industry in Ireland continues and The Mill’s will continue to support it, stocking a wide variety of craft products sourced locally, as well as bringing a taste of what the world’s best microbreweries have to offer.Next time you visit the traditional Irish pub in The Mills Inn, Ballyvourney, ask us about our selection of craft beers and ciders and indulge in the many special tastes that are on offer.