Beer in Ireland

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Murphy's Irish stout

Brewing in Ireland has a long history, and total production of beer stands at over 8 million hectolitres, and approximately half the alcohol consumed is beer.[1] Lager accounts for 60% of the beer sold, Stout 34% and the remaining 6% is Ale.[2]


By the beginning of the nineteenth century there were over two hundred breweries in the country, fifty-five of them in Dublin. During the nineteenth century the number of breweries fell to about fifty, and by 2007 only about 12 remained.[3]

Historically Ireland produced ale, without the use of hops as the plant is not native to Ireland. Large quantities of hops were imported from England in the 18th century. In 1752 more than 500 tons of English hops were imported through Dublin alone.[4] In the second half of the 18th century beer, mostly Porter, was imported from England in increasing quantities: 15,000 barrels in 1750, 65,000 in 1785, and over 100,000 in 1792.[5] In the 1760s about 600,000 barrels of beer were brewed annually in Ireland.[5]

During the 18th century the Irish parliament used taxation to encourage brewing at the expense of distilling, reasoning that beer was less harmful than whiskey.[5] In the 1760s the Royal Dublin Society offered prizes to brewers who used the most Irish hops and those that produced the most Porter.[6]

Brewing prospered in the early decades of the 19th century and by 1814 Ireland was exporting more beer to England than it imported.[7] Irish exports to England accelerated as the century progressed[7] and from a modest 11,328 barrels in 1828, exported 689,796 barrels by 1901.

Beer market[edit]

in 1998 Ireland produced approximately 8.5m hectolitres of beer per annum, this rose to 8.7m in 2002. Exports were 3.5m hectolitres in 1998 and fell to 2.4m in 2002.[8] Whilst Ireland lies 6th in the world for beer consumption per capita, it ranks 4th in the consumption of alcohol, with 11.7 litres per head in 2011.

Per capita beer consumption 2012
Rank Country Litres
1 Czech Republic 148
2 Austria 107
3 Germany 106
4 Estonia 102
5 Poland 98
6 Republic of Ireland 98
14 USA 77
18 Belgium 74
22 UK 68

Lager brewing[edit]

Irish lager advertisement: "Harp, the pint we call our own."

The first lager brewery in Ireland was set up in Dartry, Dublin, in 1891, but did not survive very long. Lager was later brewed for a short period in Kells, in the Regal Brewery.[9] Harp Lager has been brewed in Dundalk since 1968.

In 1939, the consumption of lager in Ireland and United Kingdom was five times greater than the 1950s figure elsewhere, and the potential of brewing and marketing lager with a traditional continental character in the islands was realised.

Heineken Ireland, based at the Murphy Brewery in Cork, have the largest share of the lager market.[10] In addition to Heineken, they brew Amstel and Coors Light, as well as the brands they acquired from Beamish & Crawford including Fosters and Carling.

Irish red ale[edit]

The ales produced in Ireland are now largely in the Irish red ale style, with a slight red colour, generally in the 3.8 – 4.4% ABV range (although export versions are often stronger). The largest national brand is Smithwick's, produced by the Diageo multinational. Others include Diageo's Macardle's, Franciscan Well's Rebel Red, Carlow Brewing Company's O'Hara's Irish Red and Messrs Maguire Rusty. Ireland's second-largest brewer, Heineken, no longer makes a red ale in Ireland, having discontinued local production of Murphy's Red and Beamish Red. Dungarvan Brewing Company's Copper Coast red ale was released in 2010, along with Clanconnel Brewery's McGrath's Irish Red. Eight Degrees brewery launched their Sunburt Irish Red Ale in 2011.[11]


The Guinness brewery
Main article: Irish stout

In 1756 Arthur Guinness set up a small brewery, moving to Dublin in 1759. Having initially brewed ale, he switched to producing porter, which was a style from London. In the early twentieth century, Guinness became the largest brewer in the world, exporting the Irish style to many countries.[12] Although no longer the largest brewer in the world today, it remains the largest brewer of stout in the world today. In 2014 Guinness sales amounted to 19% of all beer sales in Ireland.

Stout brewed by Guinness (and the smaller brewers Murphy's and Beamish) once dominated domestic beer consumption in Ireland, with lager and ale having much smaller shares. Lager has subsequently grown in popularity with Carlsberg taking 8% of the market and Budweiser 7% in 2014.[13]

Draught Irish stout is normally served nitrogenated, to create a creamy texture with a long-lasting head.

Craft stouts available in Ireland include Shandon Stout by the Franciscan Well in Cork, O'Hara's Irish stout by Carlow Brewing Company, Black Rock Irish Stout by Dungarvan Brewing Company and Irish stout by Galway Hooker Brewery.

Irish craft beer and real ale[edit]

Beginning in the 1990s brewpubs and microbreweries began to emerge. While some, such as the Biddy Early Brewery, Dublin Brewing Company and Dwan's, have since ceased production, the Franciscan Well Brewpub in Cork and Dublin's Porterhouse have both celebrated 10 years in business, while the Hilden Brewery in Lisburn is Ireland's oldest independent brewer, having been established in 1981.[14] Carlow Brewing Company, makers of the O'Hara's range, is another survivor of the first wave of Irish craft brewing.

The second wave began in the mid-2000s and has included the Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne brewery in County Kerry, Galway Hooker brewery, in County Galway, Dungarvan Brewing Company, Clanconnel Brewery, Trouble Brewing, Metalman Brewing,[15] The Dingle Brewing Company in County Kerry, Bo Bristle (formerly Breweyed) and Eight Degrees Brewing.

The third wave of Irish craft brewing began in 2013.[16] The surge of new breweries is largely a result of changes in excise requirements, access to LEADER funding,[17] and an increase in brewing education courses run by the government-funded Taste4Success Skillnet.[18] Many third wave brewers are also involved in a professional brewers' association called Beer Ireland which has provided members with networking opportunities and provided information on setting up a brewery.

Going into 2014 there are approximately 50 Irish craft brewing businesses which are either in production or in planning. Despite this growth, in 2014, craft beers represent only 1.5% of beer sales by volume in Ireland.[13]

The British-based pub chain "J D Wetherspoon" has about 9 outlets in Northern Ireland selling real ale, opened pubs in Cork and Dublin in early 2014 with three more planned for 2016.[19]

Professional and Trade Associations[edit]

There are three brewing associations operating in Ireland.

The Irish Brewers Association is over 100 years old. It claims to be "the representative voice for the brewing industry in Ireland" despite having only five members which include Diageo, Heineken, and Molson Coors.[20]

The Independent Craft Brewers & Distillers of Ireland is a group founded in early 2013 by Carlow Brewing Director Seamus O'Hara. The group was initially established to support craft brewers and distillers in Ireland, but re-focused its efforts solely on brewing in late 2013 to become the Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland. [21] Membership of the group is open to anyone operating a microbrewery in Ireland within the definition of same by the Irish Revenue Commissioners.

Beer Ireland was founded in 2012 by a group of third wave brewers hoping to set up their own microbreweries.[22] By year end 2013 the group had 100 members, including brewers at approximately 20 Irish craft breweries.[23] The group has embraced the spirit of comradery and collaboration typical of the craft brewing industry. The organisation's goal is to improve the quality and proliferation of Irish craft beer.

Pseudo-Irish beer[edit]

A number of beers claim an Irish provenance or are commissioned by Irish companies, but are produced outside Ireland. In the past these have included Árainn Mhór beers and Time Lager. Today, the Strangford Lough Brewing Company produces a concentrated wort which they export to the UK and US where contract breweries turn it into finished beer.

Many breweries outside Ireland produce Irish-themed beers which are not commonly available in Ireland, such as Killian's Irish Red and Wexford Cream Ale.

Spirit grocery[edit]

Old advertisement for Beamish stout

A spirit grocery combined a public house and an ancillary retail business, usually grocery or hardware, in Ireland in the 19th century and early to mid 20th century. Several spirit groceries can still be found in remote areas.

List of breweries in Ireland[edit]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]