“It’s all about the process,” my new friend Padraig tells us. He lets a handful of roasted grains run through his fingers and passes the jar along for all of us to have a sniff. I do as instructed, and pick up the dark-caramel-bordering-on-chocolate characteristic of grains of this roast. It’s nice. Padraig continues, “You can’t cook good meals without good ingredients; you can’t brew good beer without good ingredients.”
It is a fact well-known that Killarney is one of the most beautiful places in Ireland — if not our great planet. I’m here in the village with my family to explore the region’s famous lakes and mountains and to meet the good folks — and the good beers — at the brand-new Killarney Brewing Company.
Padraig points out the brewing operation on the floor below from our balcony viewpoint, allowing us to trace with our eyes the grain-to-glass path of the beer as it moves along. This is the advantage of the craft brewery tour over the mega-brew experience; the entire process can be contained within a single large room.
A metallic clang rings out as the brewers below work their magic at the shiny stainless-steel mash tun, kettle, and fermenters. Padraig points to the sky at the sound, “the Angelus!” he exclaims, referencing the tolling of the prayer bells broadcast every day at lunchtime and dinnertime on Irish television. The occasional hiss of steam keeps time as we have a chance to smell pelletized hops — nothing new for me, but I see quite a few surprised faces among my fellow sniffers unfamiliar with the pungent, earthy smell of this sometimes-overlooked ingredient in its purest form.
Padraig had begun our exploration with a quick overview of Killarney’s history from monastic settlement to Norman stronghold to Victorian playboy estate to a national park and one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations for locals and foreigners alike. From there, we had stepped into the film room for what I had thought was going to be a bog-standard brewery presentation: beer-porny closeups of grain pouring into a barrel, hops on a vine, and a fresh pint pulled by rough, calloused hands.
But as Padraig finishes telling us about the clearing and bottling process, I’m still laughing at the video we’d seen to kick off our boozy experience. Featuring monks, ninjas, Vikings, polyamory, General Custer, the 1848 Gold Rush, Prohibition-era zoot-suited gangsters, and the occasional nod to Killarney, it traced the fictional history of the town’s brewing tradition from County Kerry’s early Christian days to the clean, modern bar we are all enjoying this evening. (Maybe I’m smiling a bit too much thanks to the pre-tour samples I’d enjoyed down in the taproom.)
Back in the taproom after the tour, Padraig is behind the bar with Paul taking us all through the Killarney Brewing lineup. I’d already tried the tasty Devil’s Helles — a nod to the Devil’s Punchbowl, a nearby lake — which Paul tells me is a nice “transitional beer” for those used to mass-produced lagers, competing not only at the price point, but also the “taste point” with the familiar Big Boys.
As we move along to the darker and hoppier offerings they tell me of craft beer education sessions with local bartenders. As a craft beer fan, I sometimes forget that not everyone would know at a glance the difference between a helles and a hefe or a session and a saison. It’s a good business decision, I think as I try the Casey Brothers Extra Stout, my favorite of the day, although the pale ale also deserves a serious look with its heady, fresh hop aromas.
As I finish my glass of stout, I toast the brewers and the front-of-house team at Killarney Brewing for bringing beer tourism to this corner of Ireland. After one last look at the brewing equipment, which I notice have clever names like “The Dude” and “Lupulin,” I walk back out into the evening with a smile and a chuckle. Ninjas, General Custer, and really, really good beer, I think to myself. What else could one ask for?
Nuts and Bolts
- Killarney Brewing Company offers tours from Tuesday–Saturday at 15:30, 17:00, and 18:30; tours can be booked in advance online; €12.00 tour includes a guided tasting of the draught lineup and a half-pint of your choice.*
- If you can’t make the tour, visit the taproom for a pint of one of their great beers. Ask about any seasonal brews and, coming soon, a wood-fired pizza.
- Thanks to Barry, Paul, Padraig, and the whole team at Killarney Brewing Company for showing us a great time and some great beers.
*Tour times and prices updated May 2016 and are subject to change. Check KBC’s website before your visit to confirm your visit details.
— Cory Hanson (@HansonCory1) May 25, 2016