Last Updated : 02/02/09
fter visiting Ireland off and on for the last ten years or so I had built up a pretty watertight stereotype of Irish beers; the mainstream stouts were crap and getting worse, the best brewery (Dwan) had closed and the recent imposition of a “sliding scale” for beer duty had done very little to kindle a blossoming of micros in the way it had done over in the UK. Consequently, the prospect of a trip to Cork wasn’t on my list of “things to do before you die”, although this jaunt had been chosen purely on the grounds of going somewhere neither of us knew (I’d been there once in 2004 for one evening) and to have a good old explore rather than a mammoth scooping session, although there was always the Franciscan Well brewpub to satiate our thirst for micro-brewed beer should we get thirsty…
However, as I began my usual exhaustive research on the city and it’s environs under the guise that there just might be something which had sneaked under the scooper’s radar and had been happily churning out beers for years, I made a couple of interesting discoveries; there was a new micro-brewery in the town of Kinsale, a short bus ride from Cork, and there was also a new micro in Galway on the site of the old Emerald brewery at Roscommon which sounded very interesting indeed… this trip might just be better than I’d hoped!
More research turned up one excellent-sounding pub in Cork plus a couple more that might be worth a quick peek and so, with the beer gen well on the way to completion, I turned my attention to the slightly less important issue of finding us a hotel. The Quality Hotel in Cork is situated just down the road from Murphy’s brewery and is ideally situated for the scooper being close to all the beery attractions in the city, although the price definitely wasn’t what I was after - €240 for two nights room-only! I suddenly noticed a “price match” option on the website and it was a simple matter to discover a hotel broker offering rooms for €104 a night… I’d absolutely no confidence that this guarantee of matching a price would be honoured and was gobsmacked when I was given the room for €162 for two nights - £110 – a saving of around £45 from a few minutes of research! That was it, the move was on!
Saturday 15th September 2007.
Bus ticket shambles…
A month later we were at Birmingham airport waiting for the 07:55 BMIBaby flight to Cork. The flight had cost us £52, slightly more than the £40-45 we usually like to pay, although the cost was mitigated by travelling Aer Lingus back which gave a pretty good possibility of a plane scoop seeing as I’d only had two of their Airbuses beforehand! The journey across gave excellent views over South Wales and then on the final approach into Cork over the rocky and very green coastline, but the real surprise was upon arrival where we found the procedure to be the most laid-back we’d experienced for years and we were out of the door within five minutes of disembarking with quite a lot of time before the bus into town was due; if only more airports were that relaxed and easy-going!
From a sky bereft of clouds the resplendent sun beat down with an unexpected ferociousness as we stood outside the terminal building and immediately I was regretting not bringing our suncream; this oversight had occurred owing to the poor weather forecast which had told me we’d be getting wet in Kinsale on the Sunday and maybe in Cork on Saturday, too! A choice of buses was available into town, the yellow Skylink ones (€5 single or €8 return, every half an hour) or the Bus Eireann regular service (€6.50 monthly return). The driver of the little yellow bus tried, in the laid-back Cork way, to get me to take his bus rather than the Bus Eireann but I politely declined and we joined the other prospective passengers milling around the forecourt in the glorious sunny morning.
The bus soon arrived and I requested two return tickets assuming, erroneously it turned out, that a “return” would be the “monthly return” specified on the board at the bus stop and so was a little surprised when the driver gave me almost €2 in change. We sat down and, luckily, I inspected the tickets – to find they were day returns! Nothing for it then but to wander back down to the front and argue the toss with the driver who, I’d naively assumed, would have asked which ticket I wanted…
At first he tried to fend me off with the predictable “you asked for a return, that’s what I gave you”, but I was having none of it and merely pointed at the sign conveniently visible through the door that showed the monthly return price and said I’d assumed he would have sold me one of those. He reluctantly agreed and then excessed our tickets to allow for the monthly return, but somehow this excess came to more than the €1.90 I’d had in change from him just a few minutes later; not once, not twice, but three times he requested random amounts of money from me and each time I refused, pointing at the sign, until in the end – conscious that I was making us late – and with an exasperated “Oh, just give me the feckin’ money!” he handed me the confetti-like wad of tickets and off we went!
The rebel city.
Back in my seat we eyed the streamers of tickets with apprehension; even though he’d written “monthly return” on the main ticket and we had a fair collection of excess tickets we still weren’t sure that we’d get the bus back to the airport without having to pay again… still, that was two days away and so we sat back and watched the scenery pass as we descended the long hill into Cork city; a tiny horse in a vegetable patch and a whole crowd of black rabbits in a field were the highlights of the spottings!
Fifteen minutes later we were at Parnell place bus station looking over the river Lee at the attractive buildings across the water. I vaguely remembered my first visit to Cork and how I’d not thought a great deal of the place but now, gazing over the waterfront, it was amazing how much had changed since 2004 no doubt aided by the European city of culture hosted there in 2005. We had no concrete plans for activities and so just wandered along the north channel of the Lee (the city centre is actually an island, bounded by the north and south channels of the river) until we came to Pope’s quay where we found the Bierhaus which – I hoped - would be providing me with my massive scoop that evening, Galway Hooker.
Past the Franciscan well brewpub we wandered, then down through the centre until we found ourselves at the Beamish brewery that presumably, before it’s redevelopment, would have been a nice old place alongside the southern channel of the Lee but is now a modern 1960’s concrete abomination with a very surreal mock-Tudor edifice! By way of a sign on the gatehouse we learned we’d missed the tours (May-September, Tuesday and Thursday 10:30 and 12:00, October-April Thursday only at 11:00, €7) and so meandered along the perimeter of the site looking at the amusing tank painted to look like a can of Beamish! The site wasn’t as big as I’d expected and presented the image of a regional brewer rather than a thrusting multinational, but maybe that’s why Beamish is the least common of the Irish stouts?
After ogling the gothic pointiness of St Finbarr’s cathedral (what a superb name!) it was time for a wander around the city centre and then the English Market, which wasn’t as big as we’d expected but certainly had more in common with food markets in places such as Barcelona and Jerez than anywhere in England with fish counters aplenty bursting with fresh fish rather than the pre-packed crap we accept back home! Some cheese and bread was purchased for the room that evening before we headed off to the hotel hoping we could check in early and sort our bags out – but not before we’d had a quick peek into a Tesco store (they get everywhere…) and buying an imperial pint bottle of Smithwicks to feed my new Irish scooping gene; I’d recently decided to move Eire from my UK list to the “Rest of the world” one and so, in accordance with the rules of that list, pasteurised beer could now be counted towards the total and I was determined to reach 100!
Drinking deep from the well.
After a breathless climb up a surprisingly steep hill to the hotel – situated almost under the famous Shandon church tower topped with it’s slightly surreal gold-plated fish – we were relieved to be allowed to check in early and were even more impressed to be allocated a superb room which was a complete semi-circle in shape and offered a panoramic view over the Murphy’s brewery and across the northern side of the city. Almost cackling at such an impressive room (plus we’d also saved £20 a night on the price by my canny booking) we disgorged the assorted detritus from our packs and assembled an “evening bag” to take around the bars which basically consisted of my camera, scooping book and various fleeces just in case it got chilly later!
Our first stop was Franciscan Well which wasn’t a winner for me as I’d scooped it during a cranking trip to Eire in 2004, although this time I was hoping for one of their seasonal beers to help boost my Irish tally. “Sorry” said the barmaid to my question about what beers were available, “There’s nothing interesting on in Summer!”; a pint of each it was, then! We settled into the balmy evening in the rear patio – complete with the brewery lurking in it’s shed – and made a start on the beers; Rebel Lager was a decent attempt for a brewery this far west in Europe with a reasonably malty flavour and a sociable dryness in the aftertaste although hop character was lacking. Blarney Blonde, billed as a Kölsch, was a lot sweeter in character with a smooth malt and slightly grassy hop taste; again, nothing world-changing, but I got the impression that was their aim and boat-rocking wasn’t their raison d’être.
Rebel Red came next and this was a caramelly, toffee-ish, smooth and fairly sweet brew with more of the same in the finish whilst the prospective star of the show, Shandon Stout, was a big let-down with a hint of phenol to it’s otherwise dry, roasted and bitterish flavour. With my new-found desperation for Irish brews I snuck in a swift half of Friar Weiss, a winner for me, but immediately wished I hadn’t as it possessed a hideously intense bubblegum and banana flavour which neither of us liked at all – well it does serve me right for drinking wheat beers, I suppose! I must admit to being mildly disappointed with the whole beer experience at Franciscan Well, but it seems as if they’re not into taking any flavour risks and are keeping it safe and – presumably, as they’re still around after ten years – pulling in the locals who don’t like anything too interesting!
An oasis in a hop-less sea.
With no more beers to try we wandered off into the glorious evening and back along the banks of the Lee towards the Bierhaus. I must admit to being slightly apprehensive as to whether my massive scoop of the trip would be on or not and whether the pub would have an atmosphere conducive to supping a few pints of the stuff, but I needn’t have worried; the Bierhaus would be notable even in a beer hotspot but in a relative beery backwater such as Cork it’s like a beacon calling to those who appreciate fine brews in a relaxed atmosphere. Okay, so it’s absolutely nothing like any traditional Irish pub, but there are enough of those in Cork to go around and this place deserves all the plaudits it gets.
We settled into some barstools, gazing along the closely packed fonts on the bar, where I saw – with great pleasure – the Galway Hooker font ready and willing to dispense my winner! As a bonus Carlow O’Hara’s stout was on draught although the beer of the month was the slightly less interesting Carlow Molings red where I’d been expecting something a little more interesting such as Kinsale or Celtic brewing… but that’s just being greedy, I suppose! We ordered a pint of the Carlow stout plus one of the Hooker and I prepared to see if all the hype about this new micro was justified.
Ten seconds later I was utterly convinced that it was! An aroma of flowery hops and Turkish delight leapt from the glass in a very American way and the flavour was nothing I’ve ever had from Ireland before; an excellent hop character, a resinous, piney overtone and lots of bitterness characterised this pale amber brew follwed by an aftertaste which combined the flowery, citrus, rose-petal, bitter and piney hop tastes with a gentle maltiness and some bitterness in the finish – an excellent hop-laden beast but, more importantly, a well-balanced one too with nothing too harsh in evidence. I sat and supped this nectar reverently, noticing that it had a very gentle carbonation which didn’t spoil the taste at all or fill me with CO2 – overall a marvellously put-together beer and one which I sincerely hoped wasn’t going to run out for the next two days!
In the middle of a scrum.
The Carlow stout was also as delicious as I remembered it albeit, in my opinion, it’s more of a porter than a stout with it’s creamy, caramelly dark chocolate deliciousness, but who cares when it tastes this good? So there we were, sat at the bar of the only specialist beer pub in Cork, drinking keg beer – I know quite a few UK-only scoopers will be horrified at that, but basically I just don’t give a toss any more if beer is cask or not; to me, the three biggest impacts on beer flavour are;
As without a good brewer beer is uniformly awful and even superb beer can be ruined by pasteurisation, whilst a beer made by someone with rancid turnips yet served unpasteurised from a wooden cask would be raved over by a lot of people who don’t look beyond the dispense and really should know a lot better. Sorry, rant over, but do you see my point?
The pub began to fill up and, as the huge TV above us crackled into life, we suddenly realised why – Ireland were playing rugby in the world cup and it was being shown on the telly where we were sat! Neither of us wanted to leave so soon with two such delicious brews on tap and so we stood our ground as more and more locals crowded in to watch the match… just imagine if we’d have been Irish in a pub in England, just think of the hilarity and general jolliness which would ensue… luckily, the Irish are a lot less fuckwitted about sport then the Ing-er-lish and so we sat at the bar, supping in turn Carlow stout and Galway Hooker, whilst all around us good-natured sporting banter occurred, mainly along the lines of “Come on, you big fecker” along with some agitation when the other side (Georgia) had the temerity to score!.
Ireland ran out 14-10 winners meaning everyone was happy (presumably there we no Georgians in the pub) so, having consumed a decent quantity of the two brews, we decided to head off back to the hotel for some doss. First, however, I thought I’d check if this excellent pub was open on Sunday evening and, to my delight, “We open at 16:00” confirmed the sociable landlord who seemed pleased with our consumption and positive comments with regards to the Galway Hooker. So, that was tomorrow’s drinking sorted, and off we went back up the excruciatingly steep hill back to the Quality hotel and our “orange segment” of a room – so named by us as it was semicircular and painted orange.
We only had two bottles to drink - courtesy of Tatscos - so with the aid of the delicious Irish sheep’s cheese and Swiss Emmenthal we soon drained the first bottle; Diageo Smithwick’s (3.8%) was a bland, cereally, reddy-amber fluid with little in the way of interest or character and tasted more of caramel than the usual toffee of Irish reds although there was a hint there in the background. This put us off drinking the Carlow O’Hara’s stout and so it was decided to keep that until the next evening as there was no guarantee we’d find any more bottles… (Had I done my research properly then we’d have known we would, but there you go…)
Sunday 16th September 2007.
Bus to the coast.
We’d decided to take a trip down to the coastal town of Kinsale for a couple of reasons; one, it seemed a nice place well worth a wander, but secondly – and obviously more importantly for a beer crank – it was home to a micro-brewery and it seemed churlish not to accept these scoops when they were being presented to me on a plate a mere 45-minute bus journey away down on Ireland’s very southern coast which we’d almost flown over on our final approach to Cork airport.
The weather forecast hadn’t been good and so it was with no real surprise that we awoke to see the city carpeted in low cloud with light drizzle wafting slowly earthwards. Not only that, but it was windy – cheers, just a bit different from the day before with it’s blazing sun and azure blue skies, although I know which weather I associate more with Ireland! We made our way to the 12:30 bus via the pedestrianised Oliver Plunkett Street where we narrowly avoided being caught in the day’s only “proper” rainstorm by consequence of us stuffing our faces with scones and espresso in the Butler’s coffee shop!
The return tickets were purchased from the amazingly efficient and easy-to-use machine in the bus station in good time – which was a good thing as the bus pulled into an already busy stand almost 15 minutes early! We boarded and quickly bagged our seats as the bus filled up around us, getting so full that the driver asked all those going to the airport to decamp to the dedicated airport bus that was leaving just before ours. Forty-five minutes later, after a scenic trundle along the estuary of the Lee, we arrived in the tourist honeypot of Kinsale that seemed to have attracted every visitor within miles to it’s cutesy harbour and brightly painted houses.
On arrival the weather was the same overcast, slightly drizzle stuff we’d had in Cork during the morning but, as we wandered around the admittedly attractive winding lanes of the town centre, the clouds retreated to leave the same blue skies and blazing sun we’d had the previous day just in time to illuminate the entrance to the brewery: closed, with a “To let” sign on it! Peering through the gates we could see brewing kit still there, but did this mean the brewery had shut? Surely not, as I’d emailed them prior to our visit and had gotten the impression that the brewery was still active although tours were no longer on offer…
No scoops in the brewery, then, so it was off next door to the White House pub to see if any beers were available there. Inside was a bustle of waitresses carrying plates and dishes loaded with delicious-looking comestibles which suddenly highlighted the rumblings in our stomachs – we’d had a scone and espresso for breakfast and some of the famous Kinsale seafood chowder (I can never see chowder without thinking of the French waiter in the Simpsons saying “chow-dairr”) all of a sudden seemed a very attractive proposition!
I cast an eye over the bar and was delighted to find two scoops; Kinsale lager and Guinness North Star were both duly purchased as were two bowls of chow-dairrr which arrived promptly, emitting enticing wisps of fishy-smelling steam, plus a plateful of gorgeous dark rye bread and butter – all for around €7 each! We munched our way through the superb soup, which was chock-full with chunks of various species of sea-dwelling critters, before starting on the beers; Kinsale lager was a big disappointment, being very average with some malt, a hint of bitterness, then a light grainy, nutty malt aftertaste with some grassy bitterness, but nowhere near as good as I hoped it would be, whilst Guinness’ current brewhouse reserve beer, North Star, was deep red dry and liquoricey with some harsh, chemically bitterness and a strange medicinal finish… not a patch on our evening in the Bierhaus, but fortunately we had another one of those to come!
Our work in Kinsale done we wandered back along the lanes, checking each pub we passed but finding only Kinsale lager, and then the quayside where we stopped to watch hundreds of fairly large fish spawning in the harbour plus some seagulls squabbling noisily over some discarded bread, before returning to the bus stop for the trip back to Cork. A bus arrived on-time and we deftly nipped in front of a gaggle of fossils who, predictably, took hours to totter up the stairs but as we pulled away from the quayside Sue noticed another bus behind us with the route code we’d been expecting ours to have… for a few seconds we wondered if we were on the wrong bus, although I concluded that the driver would have let us know as he examined the tickets… wouldn’t he?
Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t… but it was irrelevant as we pulled into Cork bus station 40 minutes later to continue our last evening a city which had impressed me far more than I’d thought it would after my first so-so encounter several years previous. After a quick visit to our hotel we were back out and heading for the pubs I’d located around Coburg street in the hope of getting some decent beers and, being in Cork, we’d decided to have a swift half of both the city’s stouts just because it felt as if we should, having seen both breweries – plus, with my new rules for Eire, I could count them too!
Our first call, the Abbott’s Alehouse on Devonshire Street, had sounded good from my research but I’d expected it to be a pub – so, when we walked in to find it was an off-license, I was moderately surprised! The range of beers was extensive including American brews (Rogue, Sierra Nevada, Goose Island), some random bottles from various other countries plus quite a few UK beers as well as a slightly disappointing range of Irish ales, although we did pick up the rare Porterhouse Celebration Stout (10%) and Maguires Porter (5%) for our post-pub pleasure. Overall I was reasonably impressed but, considering this was a shop in the relative beer desert of Cork, it’s worth is inflated far above what it would be otherwise and makes it a must-visit for any beer lover visiting Cork. (Apparently is IS a bar too, which is upstairs... next time we'll try it out!)
Over the road we went to Sin E, a pub which had been recommended by various websites I’d looked at, and I was secretly hoping I’d not messed up my research and found another off-license instead… no danger of that as Sin E is a cracking little pub, most definitely not your traditional “Oirish” bar, but more of an individual place with lots of musical detritus all over the ceiling (including a Dropkick Murphys poster!) with a very welcoming and relaxed feel. Despite Franciscan Well beers being on the bar (weiss, red and blonde) we went for halves of the two local multinationals just to see how much worse than superlative Carlow they were…
Well, I’ve had worse, but they weren’t particularly interesting and I was very disappointed in the Beamish which used to be a lovely bitter and roasty brew but was “dumbed down” in the mid-90’s as, apparently, research amongst prospective drinkers found it had too much bitterness and flavour – or something like that… I can’t remember all the details but basically this research was taken as a green light to re-engineer the beer into something far more acceptable for the “modern palate” (i.e. not tasting of much) and thus was Beamish ruined.
As I said, I was somewhat disappointed by Beamish with it’s dryish and slightly toasty taste with hints of liquorice and strange “burnt match” character, although if I’m being honest it didn’t taste too bad, but much better after the beer had been warmed above freezing at great risk of frostbite to my hands, although it was nowhere near as tasty and complex as I remember it from the mid-90’s. The Murphys was fuller and sweeter in character with a fairly distinctive chalky mouthfeel, an average roastiness in the flavour and some vague bitter hints. Overall, then, the two big brewers of the town’s offerings weren’t the worst beers I’ve ever had but they are definitely brewed for the modern palate, although things improve slightly when the freeze is taken off the beer… just watch your frostbitten fingers don’t weld themselves to the glass!
Back on the hooker.
Right then, time for more Galway hooker and Carlow stout! We made our way to the Bierhaus via the hotel where we dumped our two bottles, hopefully giving them enough time to settle for consumption later, and this time we took advantage of one of the very comfy couches along the wall there we lounged around supping pints of our chosen beers. Both were just as good as the previous evening and my belief that Galway Hooker is the best beer in Ireland was confirmed by the end of the first pint; it’s always good to like a beer as good on the second tasting and, believe me, I liked this beer a lot… which isn’t to say I disliked the Carlow O’Hara’s stout, far from it, I was just in the mood for some hops!
As a break from the lupulin onslaught I sampled a pint of a beer I’d not drunk for a good many years, Carlow Molings red, although this didn’t hit the spot as well as their stout having a relatively simple toffeeish flavour and not enough character for it’s sweetness, although the Irish red style is fairly bland as a rule and only Porterhouse red has really contained much interest for me of all those I’ve tried. Writing this avenue off I therefore went back to the hooker and we relaxed on the couch with our beers knowing that we’d found somewhere very good indeed – we’ve both said since returning how much we’d like to be back in the Bierhaus drinking Carlow stout and Galway Hooker; there’s not a lot of places that make such an immediate and lasting impact!
After a good few beers we decided it was time to get back for our bottled scoops and so I popped next door to the pizza takeaway to see what options existed for food; we like to eat local cooking wherever possible, but pub food in Cork hadn’t been the city’s strongpoint and so we were forced into this acceptable compromise! I ordered a huge cheese pizza plus some garlic bread, just to be really offensive on the plane the following day, and returned to the Bierhaus to finish my beer. Ten minutes later we picked up our food (the pizza was very big!) and stomped up the shortcut to the hotel we’d discovered during the afternoon, although there were far more steps than I remembered when we’d come down them and they also seemed a hell of a lot steeper…
Irish Imperial Stout.
After five minutes to recover our breath at the top of the mammoth flight of steps we plodded back to the hotel, entering via the back door past the spooky abandoned graveyard (I’m not making this up, honest, I half expected to see Scooby Doo legging it out pursued by a bloke dressed in a comical ghost costume mumbling about how he’d have “Gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky kids”) so as to smuggle our outsized pizza box through reception. Once back in our room we hungrily devoured the box’s contents which were, even allowing for our hunger, pretty good with the garlic bread being particularly soggy and oozing butter – ok, so it’s bad for me and all that, but it didn’t half taste nice…
We only had two beers to consume and so cracked on with them right away; Messrs Maguire Porter (5%) caused a bit of confusion as it was the same strength as their Extra Stout but, as far as I could remember, tasted quite a bit different. A deep reddy/black beer, smooth and roasty with a good dry toasty character then some bitterness and a caramelly, malty, toasted finish which was a bit underpowered for me but certainly not a bad beer although I’m sure, had I been a “style fascist”, it’d be under house arrest for being more of a stout than a porter…
Porterhouse Celebration stout (10%) was last up and I was looking forwards to this one a lot; I’d heard a lot about it on Ratebeer and, being a big fan of Porterhouse’s beers in general, I was sure I’d love this one… well, yes and no! Another off-black brew with an immediate alcohol, liquorice and roast aroma (which was a touch too spirity for my liking) followed by a strong, “in yer face” flavour of roast grain, liquorice, a good dab of bitterness with a sweetish malt body before a rather harshly bitter and overly strong aftertaste. We both reckoned that had this beer been around 7% they’d have made a stunner but, being 10%, it was just too strong to be an enjoyable brew although, in small doses, it was interesting enough.
With that, our Cork trip was over… well the beer side of it was, as we still had the following morning to explore. Monday dawned yet another lovely sunny day that enabled us to wander around the bits of Cork which had escaped us thus far and, I’m sure you’ll be happy to learn, our slightly dodgy-looking bus tickets were accepted without question by the affable driver and our flight back was on-time and a scoop… next stop Chile and Argentina!
Cork isn’t really a hot destination for the beer tourist – a comment which could equally be applied to anywhere in Ireland – although things are slowly getting better on the Emerald Isle with the recent opening of the superb Galway Hooker brewery and, with the new sliding scale of duty in force, hopefully this will be the first of many new producers. Beer isn’t the primary attraction of Ireland, however, as most visitors come for the peace and history which the west, in particular, has more than it’s fair share of and a trip around the beautiful countryside around Cork – Kinsale is an easy day trip, if a little tourist-infested – should ease you into the relaxed way of life.
Cork itself is an attractive city, fairly small in size, with plenty of interest to the non-beery (i.e. normal) tourist and perfect for a relaxing weekend away. The city is comprised of an island betwixt two channels of the river Lee where the famous English market is located plus Oliver Plunkett Street and the Beamish brewery. The areas to the north and south of the rivers aren’t as tourist oriented but offer a far more real sense of Cork life than the slightly sanitised central areas and are well worth a wander to see how the locals live.
Our trip was planned primarily as a weekend away with a difference (basically not chasing after beers every minute of the day!) so any scoops we picked up would be a huge bonus. Nevertheless, my research before we went located the Kinsale brewery (see entry below) and several likely looking bars plus, of course, the Franciscan Well brewpub, so I was sure we’d do okay as far as drinking went…which we did! Still, I’d once again labour the point that Cork isn’t really the place to go with your scooper’s hat on as you’ll most likely be disappointed in that respect (although the Bierhaus was one of our finds of the year) and so my advice is to go with the aim of enjoying an interesting city and have a relaxing few days away and take any beery finds as a bonus; in that respect, Cork is definitely worth a visit.
Getting there and getting around there.
It’s reasonably easy to fly to Cork these days; Ryanair go from Prestwick, East Midlands, Liverpool, Stansted and Gatwick, Jet2 go from Newcastle, BMIBaby take off from Birmingham and Manchester (as do Aer Lingus, with the addition of Heathrow, and they’re surprisingly cheap too) then we have Aer Arann flying from a multitude of airports such as Cardiff, Edinburgh, Bristol, Belfast City, Leeds and Southampton whilst Air Southwest go from Newquay – so, as you can see, quite a choice! From the airport into town you have a choice of the yellow Skylink buses (every half hour, €5 single €8 return) or by Bus Eireann which are quite random in their times but charge €3.90 single and €6.50 for a MONTHLY return; make sure you ask for the monthly return or you might get a day return as we did!
You also have the far more sociable yet time consuming option of taking a ferry to Ireland; Irish Ferries run from Holyhead to Dublin and Pembroke to Rosslare, Stena run Fishguard to Rosslare, Stranraer to Belfast, Fleetwood to Larne (in the North) and Holyhead to Dun Lagohaire and Dublin. P&O operate from Liverpool to Dublin (their service from Mostyn has now closed) and Troon or Cairnryan (wherever that is) to Larne, Swansea-Cork ferries’ route from Swansea is not running in 2007 (due to them not having a ship!) although it may run in 2008… or it may not, depending who you believe. Norfolkline do Liverpool – Dublin and Belfast. Quite a choice… the cheapest option may be to take advantage of “Sail Rail” which can be booked online (annoyingly, not via Holyhead) or via the phone and offers excellent deals on return trips to Dublin from stations in the UK which are arranged in concentric zones and priced accordingly.
Rail travel in Ireland is operated by the national rail company Irish Rail (Iarnród Éireann) and isn’t the cheapest method of getting around and the service they provide is rather poor compared to the UK (it’s not often you hear that…) but it’s a nice enough journey down from Dublin to Cork and the route is the most intensively utilised in the whole country (except Dublin-Belfast) so it’s fairly easy to get down to Cork if you arrive in Dublin. One thing to bear in mind is that if you do the boat to Rosslare there are very few trains across to Limerick where you can connect with the Cork trains and it’s probably quicker to go via Dublin!
With all this in mind, your cheapest way will probably be with Ryanair from EMA, the quickest may be Aer Lingus from Birmingham, the most relaxing (if it restarts) the boat from Swansea to Cork and the most expensive/longest the train/boat/train via Holyhead, Dublin and train down to Cork. If you have time to spare this is by far the most enjoyable way to Cork and, as a bonus, you can also have time in Dublin to enjoy the rip-off “Celtic tiger economy” prices and scoop some beers in Porterhouse and Maguires, but if you’re in a rush and want to pay as little as possible then flying is your only realistic option.
Cork has no trams, sadly, but does have an extensive bus system operated by Bus Éireann in addition to their long-distance coach services. The main bus station is on Parnell Street, not far from the Jury’s Inn, and reasonably handy for the train station and getting to the beery attractions of the city. As the centre isn’t that big, however, it’s not a big deal to simply wander around to wherever you want to go; Beamish to Franciscan Well can be done in 10 to 15 minutes easily and nowhere centrally is much further than that.
Cork has quite a few hotels yet many are rather high-class establishments which don’t offer cheap rates as a matter of course. The budget option I’d recommend is the Jury’s Inn (not the Jury’s hotel, this is a very different – and more expensive – thing!) that is situated at the arse-end of the central island in a less than salubrious part of town but it can be fairly cheap. There are other cheapish hotels around, mainly B&B’s around the Station along the Lower Glanmire Road, but this is a bit out of the action and I’d recommend the following instead as long as you can find a decent rate…
My personal choice is the Quality hotel on John Redmond Street on account of it’s proximity to all the city’s beery attractions (a five minute walk to Franciscan Well/Bierhaus/Abbott’s) plus it’s much nicer location up by Shandon church. Best of all, Quality hotels operate a “price beat” policy whereupon if you can find the room cheaper they’ll give you the same rate minus 10% extra! Their original quote was €133 a night, but I quickly found another site offering €102 a night so I booked the Quality and then submitted the online form, expecting to hear nothing, but within 15 minutes I was re-booked with a rate of €80! Result… it’s a nice hotel in a great location (although it’s up a very steep hill which resembles São Francisco in Lisbon) with views over Murphy’s chemical works lookalike “brewery” and/or the city.
Cork has a relatively poor beer scene if compared to most English cities (although it’s improving) but, within Eire, it’s something of a revelationary zone – well, compared to Limerick Bratislava would be superb! With it’s own brewpub and a few micro brewer’s beer now being sold it’s possible to drink some decent Irish beer here, although you’ll have to leave the “I don’t drink keg beer” head at home as everything is from keg taps – if you don’t like this then don’t go is my advice! Which beers are pasteurised and which aren’t could be argued at length, but it seems that the micro brews aren’t (although they may be filtered) and the big brewers – surprise, surprise – are. The best advice is to simply enjoy the beers and leave any preconceptions about “keg” or “fizzy” beer at home; Galway Hooker and Carlow O’Haras stout in the Bierhaus were as enjoyable as almost any cask ale I can name.
Franciscan Well, 14 North Mall. Seems to be open late afternoon onwards. ()
Located on the northern bank of the northern channel of the Lee (!) only a few minutes’ walk from the Bierhaus. Look for the sign as it’s not that obvious.
This riverside brewpub is set amongst a row of handsome houses on the leafy banks of the Lee although the interior isn’t as ancient as you’d believe, looking slightly contrived and modern. A decent beer garden at the back houses the brewery in it’s shed which turns out a core range of beers which aren’t that interesting and some specials which sound like they might be a touch more exciting if I were ever to stumble across them. All beers are served from keg taps but are unpasteurised with minimal gas added and they can be found as guest beers in a growing number of pubs across the city.
Bierhaus, Pope’s Quay. Open Evenings Mon-Sat (?) and Sun 16:00 – 23:00. ()
A short walk eastwards from the brewpub on the northern bank of the northern channel (again!), almost opposite the footbridge from Coal Quay.
Let’s get one thing straight before I launch into paroxysms of praise; this place is a classic little bar which I would be a huge fan of wherever it was in the world but, here in Cork, it’s an oasis in a sea of pasteurised mediocrity. Okay, that’s that cleared up, so now I can say how relaxed the atmosphere is, how comfy the couches are, how sociable the landlord is, how wide the beer range is and lots of other things… basically, we really enjoyed our time in the Bierhaus and it’s easy-going charm was impressive and if there’s a better beer bar in Cork then I’ll show my arse in Burton’s window.
Sin E, Coburg Street. Opening hours unknown although likely to be all day. ()
Very close to Abbott’s, this cosy little pub is easy to find.
Not your usual Irish pub but, as there are hundreds of those in Cork, maybe that’s not a bad thing. A touch of alternative culture permeates the place from the music to the decoration and, as a bonus, three Franciscan Well beers are available alongside the usual multinational stuff (they serve all 3 mainstream stouts). Not an obvious tourist destination but it’s a good little pub for a swift pint.
/ Abbott’s Alehouse, 17 Devonshire Street. ()
Hidden away down backstreets north of the northern channel, close to Sin E.
This excellent off-license (I saw reports it was a pub too but saw no evidence of this – is there a secret door somewhere? ** Apparently there is a bar here, upstairs, which we'll try if we get to Cork again! **) Sells a great range of beer from all over the world including Ireland, although that selection is slightly disappointing with few local micros, but makes up for this with a decent USA section and random bottles from around the world. Well worth a trip to stock up with “room beers”, an oasis in Cork and yet another reason to repeat my current favourite phrase “north bank of the north channel”!
Tescos, somewhere in a shopping centre!
Can’t remember where it was, apart from I think it was on the main island in the north…
Well, what can I say? They’re the same everywhere in the world…
White House, The Glen, Kinsale. Open 12:00 – 23:00 daily.
Right in the middle of Kinsale, this landmark old pub/restaurant is very obvious!
Catering for the “foodies” who flock to Kinsale in much the same way as other pretentious tossers of their ilk flock to Ludlow, this place is really a restaurant first and pub second although the bar food is far better than most you’ll find elsewhere; the seafood chow-dairrr (sorry, Simpsons again) is highly recommended! It’s the closest pub to the brewery – well, it was – and therefore sells a prospective three Kinsale beers. Almost every pub in the town sells Kinsale lager so it’s the others you’re after here…
A quick note about Kinsale brewery; before I went an email was sent asking about tours, to which they said none were being done at present. We only found the lager around town and there was a “to let” sign on the brewery building although brewing kit could clearly still be seen inside… the landlord of the Bierhaus in Cork told me that he thought “They’re winding down, I think it’s made at Beamish now” which was a bit of a shock, so I emailed them when we got back asking what the position was. They seemed very coy and didn’t answer my second email enquiring as to where the beer is now brewed, although they did admit that they were in the process of moving… so, decide what you think best, but going on the taste of the stuff we had I'd say it's brewed by a large brewery elsewhere!
Beers and bars of the weekend.
With relatively few beers drunk and bars visited over the trip – owing to it not really being a beer tour – this was easy this time! Saying that, I’d recommend Cork as a place to visit and, if you don’t go with this “little islander” mentality about keg beers, you’ll not go thirsty.
© Gazza 01/02/09, V1.1
Google map for Cork.
|Franciscan Well Cork||Beamish||Franciscan Well kit||Murphys||Ullage at Murphys|
|Kinsale brewery||Bierhaus||Galway Hooker in the Bierhaus||Arnotts sign|