As I pull a pint in my teenage years for another tourist entering Mother McHugh's pub on the Copper Coast in Co Waterford, I would regularly ask "so why Ireland, why did you come here?"
"...it's just so green, and you people are great craic" Our two greatest assets: our land and our people. What else is there? Oil and crack; I think I'd rather pass on that staple of greed, capitalism, violence and war.
Farming is something to be proud of in Ireland. We are blessed to have an excellent climate for farming. We have an abundance of good rich grass for our animals to feed on, we grow excellent cereals.
From a brewing perspective; where do we lie? We have an imaginary reputation based on our cultural history and association with drinking. For a long time scotch ruled the whisky world until the world realised that Irish Whiskey (Uisce Beatha which is Irish for Water of Life, shortened to Uisce, altered to Whiskey - - nice little urban legend for you!). Now there are distilleries starting up again which have pride and ability to present to the world. Why did the Irish drink so regularly? The climate: the pub was one warm and dry place you could go, somewhere to meet your neighbours and discuss the religion and politics of the country. (at one point discussion of politics and religion had to be banned from most pubs because of the heated debated - I feel the two should be now encouraged as we see a global apathy towards the subjects which has led to tragic circumstances in 2016).
The elephant in the room: Guinness. Our destroyer and saviour. A company that did a great job of buying up and closing down most of the breweries in Ireland. We once had hundreds dotted around the country: namely Deasy's brewery in Clonakilty which produced the famous Wrasslers 4x which was reincarnated by Porterhouse Brewing company and was a favourite of the great Michael Collins before his time finished in Beál na Bláth. I'm honoured to be now brewing with his ancestors in Co. Tipperary as you can't step left or right on this island without being steeped in intriguing history.
But Guinness, through marketing, put Irish beer on the map globally. When you go into a wine shop you'll tend to look for France, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, California, Chile and Argentina. If you were to ask what countries might be the equivalents for beer you'd probably hear back Belgium, German, Czech, England, America and probably Ireland. This despite not having the beers to merit until recently. So the people want it.
Now here is the crux of this blog insight: what do we have that those other beer producing countries don't have? We aren't shackled by history of tradition: the Belgians produce Quadrupples, Tripels and Dubbels. Czechoslovakians have pilsners, Germans lagers and some bocks, British have ales and bitters. The Americans in fairness led the craft beer revolution: they had to make new beers because they didn't have access to European beers at the quality we could because of transport and time issues. By the time bottle of Leffe reached the states it could have hit all sorts of temperatures, taken plenty of time and not be in the condition it's beloved monastic maker had intended. They blew the market open with hoppy beers and then diversified in a million different directions.
We are following in this route but now we have the chance to go a step further and link the seed to cellar. We can work hand in hand with farmers and have incredible control over what goes into the beer. More so than our American counterparts. We have water, plenty of it, farming skills, increasing brewing skills and we've always been able to drink a glass or two of beer. We once grew plenty of the hops going to Guinness. Some may say for reasons of higher profits, they would argue for reasons of consistency. I'd rather a bit of wabi sabi in my life. Celebrate the inconsistency: that's the beauty of nature and existence is it no?
While we may be a bit green on experience, we have a thirst for learning and always improving. So going back to the tourist arriving to these shores: Cuilán of White Gypsy has a beautiful and realisable vision: that there will once again be hundreds of breweries dotted all around Ireland. And you could be sitting in a snug in a small pub in rural Ireland, listening to a bit of fine local music and drinking amazing seasonal beers unique to that place and that moment in time. What a special experience that would be. Especially if there was a bowl of Maggie's crubeens waiting for you at last orders.
External links if you're a bit interested in picking out a bit more, some for reading, some for listening and some for watching.
The magnificent copper coast in County Waterford
Report on the closure of Deasy's Brewery in Clonakilty
What the hell are crubeens?
The school of life: Wabi - Sabi
A beautiful depiction of the place of the pub in Irish society
History of farming in Ireland
Irish Farmers Journal Podcast