For some time now craft beer has been making its way slowly into the Northern Irish drinking scene. Branching off from the mainstream, craft beer offers its drinker an authentic local product. Over the last decade the number of small independent breweries here in Northern Ireland has tripled and we now boast 32 active breweries throughout the country.
What is craft beer and why should I try it?
Speaking technically, The Brewers Association states that to be defined as a craft brewery and therefore produce craft beer, the establishment must be:
Small – producing 6 million barrels of beer or less annually
Independent – whereby less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcohol industry
Traditional – Craft beer must be made with a blend of traditional and non-traditional ingredients to create a unique taste
The result of this is that craft beers are niche, they are individual, and they are often very distinctive. Craft beer offers diversity to the drinker and the possibility of discovering a quirky alternative to conventional beer. Due to the small size of these breweries they rely on local ingredients, employ local people, and exude a local identity within their brands. The names of the breweries or the beer they produce reflect the geography and the culture of where they are based, from Mourne Mountain Brewery’s beer ‘Melter’ to Hilden Brewery’s beer ‘Belfast Blonde’. Locality bubbles in every sip.
Due to the growing popularity and production of craft beers a number of ‘beer based’ events and activities are now being organized.
Tasting Experience – Taste and Tour offer private or group tours for local food and drink in Belfast. Alongside their ‘Gin Jaunt’ and ‘Whiskey Walk’ they also offer a three hour tour of Belfast’s best beer bars. A resident beer expert will be on hand to help you learn about the local beer scene. During the tour you will visit 3 bars and 1 restaurant whilst tasting 8 craft beers from local and independent breweries. Click here to find out more, book a gift voucher, or organise a great local day out.
Festival- Belfast Craft Beer Festival launched in 2016, is an opportunity for craft beer enthusiasts to learn about local Irish brewers and taste their creations. Over 200 craft beers and ciders are sold at the festival alongside local Northern Irish food, and live music. The annual event will take place 31st May – 1st June 2019 in Custom House Square. Tickets range from £1- £10 depending on how quickly you get your hands on them. Browse their website to see photos of previous events or to find out about booking your tickets for next year
Pubs and Bars – Finding establishments that sell local craft beers can sometimes be difficult. Luckily, Visit Belfast have compiled a list of pubs and bars in the city centre which sell local craft beer. So have a look, see which ones you recognise, or plan your next pub crawl here
Breweries – There are a number of different types of brewery in Northern Ireland. Here’s our quick guide to understanding the differences:
- Microbrewery/Craft brewery – a brewery that produces smaller quantities of beer as explained above.
- Brewpub – a restaurant or pub that brews beer in-house for sale on their premises. These slightly less common here in Northern Ireland.
- Client and contract brewers – a brewer whose beer is produced at another brewery site. This is essentially a lending of premises and the resources. The beer may be brewed by the client brewer themselves or on their behalf by the contract brewing partner.
- Commissioner – a business who pays a brewery to brew a particular beer that they then label and sell. For example, a bar or restaurant may commission a signature beer.
If you are interested in craft beer you can visit your local brewery, most will sell the craft beer they produce on site, and some offer tours and taster sessions. We have listed the active breweries (Nov 2018) in Northern Ireland, where they are based, and the number of different beers they brew. Click on the links provided to read ratings and feedback on the individual beers and to find out more information about the brewery itself.
Ards Brewing Co. – Newtownards, Microbrewery, 14 beers
Barrahooley Craft Brewer- Martinstown, Microbrewery, 4 beers
Beer Hut Brewing Company – Kilkeal, Microbrewery, 3 beers
Boundary –Belfast, Microbrewery, 102 beers
Bullhouse Brewing Company- Newtownards, Microwbrewery, 12 beers
Clanconnel- Craigavon, Client Brewer, 7 beers
Clearsky – Dungannon, Client Brewer, 4 beers
Cloughmore – Client Brewer, 3 beers
Dopey Dick – Derry/Londonderry, Microbrewery, 1 beer
Downstream – Belfast, Contract Brewer, 1 beer
Farmageddon Brewing Co-Op- Comber, Microbrewery, 32 beers
Fermanagh Beer Co. – Fermanagh, Microbrewery, 7 beers
Fifth Quarter – Belfast, Commissioner, 4 beers
Glens of Antrim – Ballycastle, Microbrewery, 4 beers
Heaney Farmhouse Brewing – Belfast, Client Brewer, 9 beers
Hercules – Belfast, Commercial Brewer, 7 beers
Hilden – Lisburn, Microbrewery, 32 beers
Hillstown – Randalstown, Microbrewery, 15 beers
Knockout Brewing – Belfast, Microbrewery, 8 beers
Lacada Brewery Ltd – Portrush, Microbrewery, 25 beers
Loopland Brewing Company – Belfast, Microbrewery, 1 beer
Maltmeister – Bangor, Microbrewery, 2 beers
Mourne Mountains Brewery – Newry, Microbrewery, 18 beers
Night Cap Beer Co. – Belfast, Client Brewer, 2 beers
Northebound Brewery – Eglinton, Microbrewery, 11 beers
O’Connor – Greysteel, Microbrewery, 1 beer
Red Hand – Dungannon, Microbrewery, 2 beers
Sheelin – Eniskillen, Commercial Brewer, 2 beers
Station Works (Alltech) – Newery, Commercial Brewer, 13 beers
Walled City – Derry/Londonderry, Brewpub, 3 beers
When We Are Giants Ltd – Belfast, Client Brewer, 3 beers
Whitewater – Castlewellan, Microbrewery, 29 beers
Do you think the craft beer scene is changing in Northern Ireland? Do you drink craft beer? What do you like about it? Can you give any recommendations or advice to those trying it for the first time? Join or start the conversation below.