Dingle brewery leads craft beer revolution.
DINGLE, Ireland — Tiny Dingle Brewing Co. is injecting local flavor and excitement into the once-bland Irish beer scene.
Boston is a big part of its success.
“When we opened (in 2011) there were just 16 small breweries in Ireland,” said brewery founder Jerry O’Sullivan. “Today, there are 60 or 70.” (Irish craft beer site Beior.org lists 67 breweries around the country.)
Dingle Brewing is wedged between the rugged hills and scenic waterfront of County Kerry. Its only product, Tom Crean’s Fresh Irish Lager, is a bright golden, effervescent, easy-drinking beer. Namesake Crean was a heroic Irish explorer from nearby Annascaul who, among other adventures, survived Shackleton’s “Endurance” expedition to the South Pole during World War I.
Crean’s boasts something of a secret ingredient: natural well water so clean and pure it’s unfiltered and untreated. O’Sullivan drew a crystalline pint of Kerry mountain water for us right from the well.
The brewery boasts other romantic touches: It sits in a 19th-century fieldstone dairy barn, while the stainless steel brewhouse vessels are lined with stained pine boards, adding a certain rustic Old World charm, even if it’s only superficial.
The beer boasts a rapidly growing audience across Ireland and so far is served in only one U.S. market. It debuted in Boston on St. Patrick’s Day. You can hoist draft pints of Crean’s at the Blarney Stone in Dorchester, the Burren in Somerville or J.J. Donovan’s at Faneuil Hall, among other watering holes. Four-pack cans arrive next month.
There are historic connections to Boston, too. Dingle is a beautiful little fishing village and popular tourist town with brightly painted storefronts in rural Country Kerry, the extreme southwest of Ireland.
The Dingle Peninsula is the westernmost point in Ireland, “the next parish to Boston,” as locals often note. A preponderance of Boston’s Irish-Americans have roots in Kerry.
Images of Boston adorn the Dingle brewery. There are pictures of O’Sullivan with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh; a collection of police patches that come largely from Massachusetts towns, Boston, Braintree and Fall River among them; visitors from across the Bay State have signed the guest book; U.S. dollars hang from the rafters.
The beer scene in Ireland feels much like it did in Boston 20 years ago. A sudden proliferation of small breweries are making craft-style beers such as India pale ale, though with varying degrees of success, as was the case here in the 1990s.
It’s a much-needed shake-up in the Irish beer scene.
Americans wax romantic about Irish stout. And Guinness is a great beer and one of the great global brands. The reality, though, is that the pubs of Ireland have offered little variety for generations: You had stout, Irish red ale or mainstream lager. That was it. A frustrating experience for American craft-beer consumers.
Yet within days of arriving in Dingle earlier this month, we had sampled Kenmare Irish Red Ale, Torc Wheat Beer and a one-off IPA from West Kerry Brewers, all from upstart Kerry craft beer makers.
Dingle Brewing Co. has purposely taken a different approach, tackling head-on the much larger lager market, currently dominated in Ireland by the likes of Budweiser, Carlsberg and Heineken. Almost every Irish pub serves all three.
Crean’s is making an impact among these international leviathans. Guinness, for example, recently released a series of new historic-themed and craft-style beers, led by Hop House 13 — an effervescent golden Irish lager, much like Crean’s. O’Sullivan sees it as a shot across the bow of the fledgling Irish craft beer industry.
“We’re public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of Guinness,” said O’Sullivan.
(Dingle Brewing Co., Spa Road, Dingle, County Kerry, dinglebrewing company.com)
Kerry J. Byrne is a food writer for the Herald and began his career here writing one of the nation's first newspaper beer columns. In his spare time, he pens thoughtful Buffalo wing-themed haiku and publishes the critically acclaimed ColdHardFootballFacts.com.
Kerry also writes for SportsIllustrated.com, was twice voted North America's best beer writer at the Great American Beer Festival and has been honored by the Pro Football Writers of America for the nation's best game reporting and enterprise reporting.