Dublin is built on beer. The city’s history is intertwined with the stuff – making it, selling it and, of course, drinking it. Rascals, founded by Emma Devlin and her husband Cathal O’Donoghue, is the Irish capital’s newest brewery, and among its best.
Like all great ideas, Emma Devlin and Cathal O’Donoghue’s plan to start brewing professionally was born in a pub. But if they started out as mere fans of craft beer, it wasn’t long before the pair found themselves the proud owners of their very own purpose-built brewpub in the historic Dublin neighbourhood of Inchicore.
Given their credentials, who better to provide a guide to the city’s best craft-beer pubs? Culture Trip catches up with the super-knowledgeable and ever-enthusiastic Devlin, and asked her to pick a few of her favourites. Traditional pubs, underground bars and even a buzzy games arcade – here are her insider tips on the best places to enjoy craft beer in the Irish capital.
The Bernard Shaw
Bar, Pub, Craft Ale Bar, Beer, Wine, Cocktails, $$$
Perched just beyond the Grand Canal in the trendy neighbourhood of Portobello is The Bernard Shaw, a venerable watering hole named after one of Ireland’s most famous writers. Once a traditional pub, in recent years it has been given a new lease of life as a bar, market space and foodie destination. “It’s a hive of activity – famous for its outdoor area out the back,” Devlin says. “They always have something going on, be it music, games, food festivals, a market. They describe themselves as an entertainment business, and they really are. It’s always packed – they attract a huge crowd, both visitors and local people. They have their own beer, Brewtonic, that we make for them in Rascals, along with all the macro beers. They do cocktails deals, too, which are really unusual in Dublin. Another big draw is Eatyard, which is an open-air food-truck market right next door.”
Dublin is full of what the locals fondly dub ‘old-man pubs’ – traditional boozers where patrons of a certain generation like to sit quietly over a pint. The Glimmer Man in Stoneybatter is one such place. Well, sort of. “I love that it’s so unsuspecting,” Devlin explains. “There are two entrances: one entrance takes you straight into the traditional Irish pub, with carpets and a brass bar, with a lot of older customers enjoying their Guinness; you walk through there and it opens into a completely other space you would never expect. It’s covered in bric-a-brac, lots of old posters, with barely a single piece of bare wall. They have a lovely beer garden with a food truck that serves top-quality Vietnamese dishes. Beer-wise, they have a nice mix. They have a couple of craft beers along with all the macro beers, which means it attracts an eclectic mix of customers.”
Dublin may not be famed for its warm climate, but when the sun does appear you’ll want to hotfoot it to one of the city’s buzzy beer gardens. One of the newest additions to Dublin’s craft-beer scene, Bonobo boasts a beautiful outdoor terrace with plenty of seating. “It’s got a lovely atmosphere inside, and outdoors is even better, all old stone and bare brick walls, with a retractable canopy so you can sit outside even if it’s raining. They have a huge amount of beers on tap, which are mostly craft beers,” says Devlin. “It’s off the beaten track, so you wouldn’t really stumble upon it,” she adds. “The guys who have set it up have run a lot of pubs around the country, so they really know what they are doing.”
Dame Street runs through the middle of Dublin city, between the spectacular Christchurch Cathedral and Trinity College. In the middle of this busy boulevard is one of the city’s best craft-beer pubs, hidden in plain sight. “It’s an underground pub, which is unique in Dublin,” says Devlin. “I think it’s probably the best craft-beer bar in the city. It’s run by three friends who are very knowledgeable – they always get in what’s fresh, so you never get a stale craft beer there, and you are always guaranteed to have a good mix of Irish and international beers – a good mix of styles.” As well as an excellent array of craft beers, they also do an Irish meat-and-cheese board that is the perfect pairing for any of their beers. Every Friday is firkin Friday, Devlin explains. “A firkin is a 20-litre cask, and you get a €5 pint.” She singles this out as a personal favourite. “It’s a place that anyone who’s into beer will be – my go-to place to meet people.”
“It’s a nice bar to go to at the end of the day if you’re shopping on Henry Street,” Devlin says of The Black Sheep, a busy pub in the city centre. “It’s really cosy, with a random mix of furniture that is eclectic but still comfortable. It’s owned by Galway Bay Brewery, so there are about 10 of their own beers and then around another 10 rotating taps without any macro beers. They are one of the few city centre places that do cask beer – cask beer is how draft beer would have been served before the modern system came in,” she explains. “The beer would have been naturally carbonated in the cask, as opposed to a keg, so the beer would generally be smoother. It’s [usually] suited to darker beers, like stout or red ale.” The Black Sheep also does a crowd-pleasing pub grub menu, serving classics like fish and chips, and an excellent beef short-rib sandwich, the perfect fuel after a long day of retail therapy.
At the top of O’Connell Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Dublin city, sits a busy little strip known as Dublin’s Chinatown. Here, you’ll find an array of authentic Asian eateries, spanning Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean cuisine. Nestled among these restaurants is The Big Romance, a small bar that’s big on good food and drinks, but equally big on music. Devlin explains, “This bar is owned by a group who do a lot of music nights and festivals in Dublin, so music is hugely important to the venue.” Most weekends the bar hosts DJs, or else staff select from the massive vinyl collection they have on display throughout the bar. “These guys know their beers, so they will only have the best Irish and international beers on tap. They have rotating taps, along with Guinness and Hop House 13, a popular lager.” They also have a short but tempting menu of ‘beer buddies’, small bar bites such as padrón peppers, house hummus and paprika potatoes, as well as decadent cheese toasties.
Arcade meets ale in this video game-themed venue in Dublin’s Smithfield area. This retro bar is kitted out with all manner of old-school games, from pinball machines to Pac-Man, and the atmosphere is always buzzy. It’s located not far from the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery, making it the ideal spot for some downtime between sightseeing. After you’ve worked up a sweat playing Mario Kart, grab a table and try the diner-inspired food, which Devlin rates as some of the best in the city. “The food is unbelievable: they do amazing tacos, sliders, hotdogs, loaded fries and lots of vegan and vegetarian options. It’s delicious but very keenly priced.” As for the beer, “they have a mix of macro beers and craft beers on tap, which is a good mix”.
Location was key to Devlin and her husband when founding Rascals. “We always dreamed of having a city-accessible brewery that people could visit, and where we could offers tours. We have renovated the building, totally transforming it so it’s suitable for a brewery and restaurant,” Devlin says. Just a short tram ride from the city centre, it’s now somewhere you can happily lose a few hours. It’s not just the fascinating tours of the facility or the ever-changing selection of craft beers that are worth sticking around for, but the food, too. “We don’t have a food background, so after a lot of research we settled on pizza as a good pairing for our beer. Patch, our chef, is really passionate about his pizza. We started with around five or six pizzas, but it’s growing all the time, with a rotating special each month. We’ve just started doing a sourdough pizza, and we are always trying to add more Irish produce to the menu,” she says. And where does the name of the project come from? “We called ourselves Rascals because we wanted it to represent our style of beer – something bold, interesting, out there and fun,” she explains. “We launched with a ginger porter – over the years our core offering has changed as the market changes.” Ingredients such as raspberry and hibiscus, strawberry and vanilla, mint chocolate and even granola are not uncommon. Which means that while you’ll find many things on Rascals’s drinks menu, a boring beer is not one of them.