Updated On: December 11, 2023 by Ciaran Connolly
The Island of Ireland has a long history of brewing beer, and Northern Ireland Breweries are still going strong today. Read on to find out more about the origins of beer, craft breweries Northern Ireland, and the breweries that are reviving Northern Ireland’s brewing industry. If this article makes you crave a great craft pint we also have an article on the best places to get craft beer in Belfast.
Where did beer come from?
The drinking of beer is shown in carvings from civilizations as early as Mesopotamia (Around 6000 years ago). Historians still cannot be sure how the first beer was made as it is believed to pre-date written history. The leading theory is that pre-historic humans developed bread making first, and bread was fermented with water, probably accidentally at first, and developed ethanol.
Thus, bread became beer and most likely someone tried drinking it and found out about its intoxicating properties. Needless to say beer production boomed from then on and the development of distillation meant that alcoholic drinks such as beer gained a higher alcohol level. The history of beer brewing has come a long way since then. So how is it made?
How is beer made?
Beer brewing is the process of mixing cereals and grains with water and adding heat or time to create alcohol in the process of fermentation. Many different variations of this process are used to produce different types of beer from Lager to IPA.
Boundary Brewery in Belfast Northern Ireland have a great video on the process of making their beer shown below.
When did Northern Ireland breweries start?
The earliest breweries would often be found in monasteries, this is a trend that was consistent around the British isles. One example of alcohol created in monasteries you may recognise is the infamous tonic wine, Buckfast (still created in Buckfast Abbey today).
Irish beer traditionally was a darker drink as the climate is perfect for the growing of barley. One Roman Emperor described the beer made in Ireland as smelling like a goat. For centuries small producers all over the country were producing their own beers and ales created with roasted barley for a more complex flavour.
History of the Belfast Brewery
The history of brewing beer in Belfast highlights Belfast’s history as the busiest port on the island of Ireland, even bigger than Dublin or Cork. Belfast’s brewing industry played a key role in this industrial success. Most people know Belfast’s port for their history of linen production or ship building but distilling and brewing were hugely beneficial to the economy of Ireland.
Belfast’s brewery quarter was booming with several large producers of beer finding a home on what is now Lower Garfield Street. At the time Lower Garfield Street was named Bell’s Lane, after John Bell, the owner of Bell’s Brewery. Bell’s Brewery is the only brewer from the historic brewing quarter that is still in operation today. They are even still operating at their original location on Lower Garfield Street, in a bar called the Deer’s Head.
So what happened to the industry of brewing beer in Belfast and Northern Ireland?
The Decline of Brewing Beer in Northern Ireland
The decline of small scale breweries dotted around the country and the brewery quarter in Belfast can largely be attributed to one man, Arthur Guinness. In 1759 Arthur Guinness was aware of the booming brewery industry and its potential. He took out a 9000 year lease for St James Gate Brewery and slowly Guinness became the biggest brewery export from Ireland. Guinness also became the biggest brewer in the entire world.
This shift in brewery exports to Dublin crippled the brewing industry in Belfast. Guinness’s huge success was great for the Irish economy but was disastrous for small brewery producers. Reportedly in Ireland before 1759 there were over 100 independent breweries, in the following century that number dwindled to around 30.
Guinness continue to help the Irish economy today and The Guinness Storehouse is still a huge tourist attraction now:
The Revival of Brewing Beer in Northern Ireland
The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was started in 1971 in England, and showed the increased interest in craft beer in the UK. However, it wasn’t until ten years later in 1981 that Hilden Brewery opened its doors and started a trend of craft breweries in Northern Ireland. As of July 2022 there are 34 active breweries in Northern Ireland offering a whole range of interesting craft beer.
What are some of the best craft breweries in Northern Ireland? Read on to find out more about the breweries aiming to revive the history of beer brewing in Northern Ireland.
Breweries in Northern Ireland
- Ards Brewing Co.
- Beer Hut Brewing Company
- Bells Brewery in Belfast Northern Ireland
- Boundary Brewing Company
- Bullhouse Brew Company
- Farmageddon Brewing co-op
- Heaney Brewery
- Hercules Brewing Co.
- Hilden Brewing Co.
- Knockout Brewing Co.
- Lacada Brewery
- Modest Beer
- Mourne Mountains Brewery
- Northbound Brewery
- Walled City Brewery
- Whitewater Brewery Northern Ireland
Ards Brewing Co.
Started in 2011 and based in Newtownards, County Down the Ards Brewing Company is just one of the craft breweries Northern Ireland has to offer. They have a range of beers including Hip Hop Pale Ale, BallyBlack Stout, and Scrabo Gold. Their Golden Ale Scrabo Gold is named after Scrabo Tower argueably the most well known tourist attraction in Newtownards. Ards Brewing Co. have also become somewhat of a tourist attraction but you can also get their beers at bars such as Bittles in Belfast.
Beer Hut Brewing Company
Based in Kilkeel, Co. Down Beer Hut Brewing Company began as a hobby but now has 8 stockists around Northern Ireland. They have a core range of beers including an IPA, a Pale Ale, and a Session IPA, but also produce batches of interesting beers that are a bit different. Including ‘Fly Guy’ a double berry sour.
- Kilkeel Wine & Spirits – Kilkeel
- Kilmorey Arms Hotel – Kilkeel
- Great Jones Craft & Kitchen – Newcastle
- Donard Wines – Newcastle
- Anchor Bar – Newcastle
- The Drink Link – Newry
- The Vineyard – Ormaeu Rd
- Belfast DC Wines – Boucher Rd Belfast
Bells Brewery in Belfast Northern Ireland
Bell’s Brewery are passionate about restarting Belfast’s brewery quarter and opened Belfast’s first brew pub, The Deer’s Head. They have a history of beer and brewing and they have 21 beers on their list so far. They also produce seasonal beers such as Pumpkin Spice Ale for Halloween and Widow Partridges Winter Spiced Ale for Christmas. Their beers are stocked in bars around Northern Ireland and off-licences but the best place to try their range is at their own brewpub The Deer’s Head.
Boundary Brewing Company
Boundary Brewing Company are a craft brewery based in Belfast that feature beauty on the can as well as inside. Their range of craft beers is always changing and they offer mixed cases of beers on their website if you want to mix and match. They opened Northern Ireland’s first taproom where you can try their many amazing brews. You will notice their cans of craft beer not only have beautiful paintings on them but also often tongue-in-cheek titles. A personal favourite is their Imperial Brown Ale named “A Pracical Guide to the NI Protocol”.
Their tropical IPA called “Imbongo” will remind big kids who grew up in Northern Ireland of drinking Umbongo (You drink it in the Congo) and their “Screwball” raspberry and vanilla ice cream IPA will remind you of sunny days running for the poke man. Check out their online shop or taproom for all this and more.
Bullhouse Brew Company
Started by a Co. Down farmer inspired by a road-trip of the US, Bullhouse Brewing Company have gone from strength to strength even opening up their own taprooms. Their witty cans show titles such as “Dry Your Ryes” a rye pale ale, “Yer Da” a dank and bitter DIPA, and of course “Yer Ma” a fruity and sweet DIPA. They also care about the enviroment and use environmentally friendly methods for their beer production.
Farmageddon Brewing co-op
Aiming to reduce farm waste while making great beers to drink with friends are the roots of the Farmageddon Brewing Co-op. They are a micro-brewery that specialises in interesting small batches. They are available from their website, including variety boxes, and in bars such as Voodoo and The Errigle Inn, Belfast.
For generations the Heaney family has owned their farm at The Wood, Bellaghy. Seamus Heaney, famous Irish writer and nobel laureate was a part of that family and was inspired by their beautiful lands. The spring water from their well and the produce from their farm help to create their craft beers. You can purchase them online from their shop, or at the farm. You can also try some of their beers at The Sunflower Public House, Belfast.
Hercules Brewing Co. / Yardsman
The Hercules Brewing Company are passionate about developing craft breweries in Northern Ireland to revive that lost industry. They care greatly about the history of the city which is why they chose the name Yardsman for their larger. Naming it after the hard working ship yard workers that bolstered the economy of Belfast. Their beers are stocked by off-licences and bars such as Bittles and Yard Bird in Belfast.
Hilden Brewing Co.
The kickstarter for the development of craft breweries Northern Ireland, Hilden Brewery from Lisburn is a craft brewery offering beer and so much more. Their beers are easily available in Tescos around Northern Ireland including their “Belfast Blonde” pale beer, “Twisted Hop” pale ale, and “Bucks Head” double IPA.
- A facinating 40 year history of brewing beer.
- One of the best brewery tours Northern Ireland has to offer.
- A Brewery wedding venue Northern Ireland
- The Hilden Beer and Music Festival
- The Tap Room at Hilden Brewery Northern Ireland
Knockout Brewing Co.
Established in 2014 Knockout Brewing Co. is a newer addition to the Northern Ireland breweries scene. This company adding to the craft breweries Northern Ireland tapestry is always innovating with new ingredient sources, new formulas, and new flavours. If you want to try out some of their fantastic beers check out their social media or website to check out when they have Taprooms on.
This brewing co-operative in Portrush started as a father and son brewing team. They are passionate about producing great beer and their fantastic community beers are sold in over 50 stockists. Check out their website for their extensive list of craft beer stockists in Northern Ireland.
As one, anonymous, overheard, review listed on their website says Modest Beer is “Pretty Good”. This quirlky craft beer brewery is a cheerful and interesting company. They also have witty flavour names such as “Just like nana used to drink” their Oatmeal Stout. And their “Good enough to take home to yer ma”. This great craft brewery is owned by a former tax accountant who started his business in his parents garage. Two years later in a much bigger space they continue to make some of the best craft beer in Belfast.
Mourne Mountains Brewery
With one of the most interesting water sources on this list Mourne Mountains Brewery are making beer in Warrenpoint at the base of the Mourne Mountains. The softwater coming off of the Mournes is great for brewing and thats just where their craft beer begins. Their hands on brewing process makes sure that the quality of their beer is handled by their expert brewers. An added bonus is that all their beers are Vegan friendly! Their beers are served on tap at bars in Moira, Bangor, and Warrenpoint and sold in cans and bottles in over 30 stockists. Check out their website for more details.
Creating beers with water, hops, malt, yeast & knowledge, Northbound brewery are a business with family and heritage as well as great quality beer. The owners of Northbound wanted to create a legacy with their family business for their children to be a part of in the future. You can buy their beers online or in stockists around Northern Ireland. Their online store even offers 5L mini kegs, just incase you fall in love with one flavour in particular. Otherwise you can buy gift sets of different beers in their range with a glass.
Walled City Brewery
Housing Derry’s best gastropub is Walled City Brewery. Their owner, James spent 12 years brewing for Guinness before starting his own family brewery in 2015. Since their opening they have developed over 200 varieties of beer and are still continuing to develop new flavours. Can’t decde what to try? They offer beer flights at their pub! They also offer lessons on brewing beer at their Homebrew Academy.
Whitewater Brewery Northern Ireland
Creators of iconic Northern Irish craft beers such as “Maggies Leap” and “Belfast Lager” is Whitewater Brewing Company. Established in 1996 with a 20 year history of brewing beer. They are another of the craft breweries Northern Ireland has around the stunning Mourne Mountains. At their brewery they offer tours as well as taproom evenings.
From the very earliest days of settling on the island of Ireland people have been enjoying a beer. Northern Ireland breweries have shaped the economy and industry here for centuries and now with even more craft breweries Northern Ireland is gaining this history of brewing beer is going to continue to grow. If this article has made you think about going for a craft beer in Belfast check out our article to find out where the best places are for it.