Our Ireland beer tour continues as we leave Dublin and make our way across the Irish Countryside. Click here for day 3.
Traveling across Ireland
Today we certainly did our share of driving. The bus is very high with lots of unobstructed window viewing areas. Driving across the Irish Countryside only one word comes to mind: green. It’s true – the primary impression from looking out the window for a few hours at a time was simply just how emerald the Emerald Island is. There’s lots of horses and sheep to be sure. The grass is always green; the fields are always green as well.
It was about 1.5 hour drive from Dublin to our first stop in Carlow. Frank our driver / guide provided lots of commentary regarding horse farming and dairy. The Irish countryside is certainly verdant and full of farms. The cows and sheep and horses surrounded by miles of stone walls certainly make for a bucolic setting.
We stopped at the Carlow Brewing company, the makers of O’Hara’s beer. We received a great tour of the facility. Although we all pretty much knew the basic process of making beer, what made this tour stand out were the in process samples. We each got to sample the wort or brewers’ breakfast. This is completely non alcoholic and is basically sugar water soaked in grain (the sugar is from the grain). We then each got to sample a pre- filter and post – filter batch of beer. The beer was centrifuged before the paper filters. The filtering really changes the taste of the beer – more so than I would have expected.
Finally we got to taste test as much O’Hara’s as we cared for. They’ve developed some very nice brews including some IPA’s. My personal favorite was a nitro stout. The brewery is 20 years old although the facility we toured is a very new 2007 vintage. We also learned that it takes between 6 and 8 weeks for a batch of beer to make it to a US bar or store. This is not a problem since kegs have a life of 10 months (stouts) to 18 months (IPAs). The staff at Carlow Brewing were great – they gave an amazing tour and never shut down the taps during the tasting. You definitely got the feeling they loved the product – and who can blame them?
We then headed to the small town of Dualla in the Irish Countryside. Here we stopped at a sheep farm. First we had a soup and scones. This was a welcome change from the usual heavy Irish food and was just the right amount of food. It was served in the main house of what used to be a bed and breakfast. now it’s simply the farmers house.
Next we headed outside to watch the owner’s border collies herd sheep. This was most fascinating to see and hear. All the commands are shouted (“out”, “come”) and the dogs are super responsive. It looks like this is what they want to do all the time. The dogs were able to move the flock pretty much anywhere that the owner wanted. We also learned that sheep are marked in colors and patterns for sheep management. This includes age, who has gotten which medications / vaccinations, and which ram has fathered which lambs. Additionally we learned that sheering the wool is a necessity and is break even. The money comes from selling the lambs for food. Each year they have about 600 sheep and end up with 900 after lambing.
We then headed over to the city Cork where we passed the Rock of Cashel. This was the center of Irish religious life for over 1000 yreas. In Cork, we found the very small Franciscan Well brewery. We were not the only ones to find this brewer since Molson-Coors recently invested some money (bought out one of the owners) to fuel an expansion. In the tasting room upstairs, we sampled Rebel Red (features the malted barley) along with Friar Weisse (features the wheat) and Chieftain IPA (features the hops). The Rebel Red (a typical Irish Red style) was especially nice. Downstairs in the bar we sample their stout which as very good as well.
Franciscan Well has collaborated with Jamison’s, the famous Irish Whisky maker. Jamison’s stout aged whisky uses Franciscan Well’s barrels. This is a very nice brew pub. You can find more information about this brewery here: http://www.franciscanwellbrewery.com
We then spent about 1.5 hours on the bus getting to Killarney across the Irish Countryside. We’re talking about classic Ireland green on the trip. Here’s a short video of part of our drive. This was taken from our seat on the bus, looking directly out the front windshield on local roads. Note the tall hedges and trees at roads edge. One thing you won’t see are sidewalks or shoulders on the roads. At the very end, you’ll also notice giant windmills in the distance. We saw many of these during our trip.
This video gives you a great feel for the countryside. Most times we traveled on the National or Regional roads, where were very much like US highways.
Check in at the Killarney Plaza hotel was a breeze – someone greeted us with our hotel room keys and within 15 minutes our bags were dropped off at our room. Fantastic. The group had dinner together in the hotel – which offered very nice choices. They were particularly attentive to allergies and even made up a special (not on the menu) gluten free / Rosemary free pasta dish. Others in the group raved about the desert. After dinner we walked around town a bit but it was late (dinner started at 8 pm) so we shortly did a bit of work and headed to bed.
Reflections – Irish Countryside
This was a long day as we not only drove across much of the country but made numerous stops. As nice as the brewery tours were, the sheep herding really stuck out with me. It was great to speak with the owner and see the border collies work up close. I also especially appreciated the homeyness of lunch. We have found the Irish very friendly and down to earth (unpretentious).And very polite. Even the drivers are polite. What a difference from the US!