Belfast Beer Guide – More than just Guinness and Harp
I realize that a beer guide to Belfast might sound a wee ridiculous. It’s Northern Ireland, after all. Doesn’t beer flow like the rain falls from the sky? Isn’t there a pub on every corner? All very true statements. But this isn’t a pub guide to Belfast. This is a Belfast beer guide intended to highlight the city’s growing craft beer scene by directing readers towards the best restaurants, pubs, and beer stores for craft beer.
The craft beer scene in Belfast is still very young. Corporate beer behemoths like Guinness and Harp have a stranglehold over Ireland’s beer industry worse than big beer in the US. In fact, most of the pubs are tied houses. The pub owner may own his business, but big breweries own the taps, forcing the owner’s hand on what beers they can offer.
Yet, a small but growing craft beer industry is beginning to take root in Belfast with Hercules Brewing opening in 2014 as the first brewery to open in Belfast in 160 years. Shortly after, several other breweries followed suit, opening their doors to an eager and thirsty crowd. Of course, like in the United States, big beer is trying to enter the market, sneaking in “crafty” beers like Guinness’s Hop House 12 double-hopped lager.
This Belfast beer guide will make sure you know how to spot posers and were to find real Northern Ireland craft beer.
Belfast’s Craft Breweries
With 27 craft breweries open in Northern Ireland (as of December 2016), there are plenty of offerings in Belfast, including the aforementioned Hercules Brewing Company, which opened in 2014 as the first new brewery in Belfast in 160 years. Here’s where it gets a bit confusing though. Hercules actually sells its beers under the Yardsman brand. You can find their beers at restaurants and bars throughout Belfast. I suggest looking for their Original Double Stout for your proper Irish Stout.
Knockout Brewing opened shortly after Hercules. Their name pays homage to both the boxing tradition in Belfast and the final step in the brewing process. Knockout’s beers follow closely to American craft with an IPA, APA, and Hefeweizen in their core lineup. Their real star might be the Irish Red Ale – what a real Irish red should taste like.
I covered Boundary Brewing previously on the blog already. They are brewing innovative hop forward and sour ales. The brewery is also known for pushing innovation beyond just brewing. The brewery itself is a cooperative. Read more in my Boundary Brewing Brewery Snapshot. Boundary Brewing is the only Belfast brewery that hosts tasting room hours. Check them out on Fridays and Saturdays from 4-11:00pm.
>>>Read more about my food and drink adventures in Northern Ireland<<<
Brewbot is a craft beer business that I’m not sure how to classify for this list. Are they a bar, a brewery, or a high-tech startup? The answer is all three. Brewbot builds app controlled electronic brewing systems that brew the equivalent of a homebrew system. Of course, the price point makes their system a little out of reach to the homebrewer. It is a cool system for a bar or beer shop to install and lay claim to offering in house brewed beer. Brewbot’s Belfast office has a bar downstairs where they showcase one of their machines and beer produced from the machine. When I stopped into Brewbot, however, they did not have any in house beers available but a nice array of craft beer from throughout the United Kingdom.
While not in Belfast, Hilden Brewery in Lisburn is worth your attention. Hilden Brewery has been brewing craft beer since before craft beer was cool. Opening in 1981, Hilden is the oldest independent brewery in Northern Ireland. Belfast Blonde is their most popular beer, but I recommend looking for Molly’s Chocolate Stout. It’s everything one looks for in chocolate stout, but sessionable in both flavor and alcohol.
Pubs Specializing in Craft Beer
While most of the pubs you stumble into in Belfast – including popular watering holes in the Cathedral Quarter – do offer a limited selection of craft beer, which does not mean the pub specializes in craft beer, or that they are properly caring for the beer. However, there are a few hidden gems that I found for my Belfast Beer Guide.
In the Cathedral Quarter is the true craft beer renegade pub in Belfast, Sunflower. Recently, bar owner Pedro Donald made the bold decision to remove Guinness and other big beer offerings, both from Ireland and beyond, in favor of local and craft beers. Guinness has been replaced with, you guessed it, Yardsman Double Stout.
Other great choice for craft beer in the Cathedral Quarter are Bootleggers and The Hudson Bar. Bootleggers offers a nice selection of Irish and American craft beers alongside a food menu heavy on taco and burger selections. For the teetotaler in your group, they also serve milkshakes. The Hudson Bar offers one of the city’s most comprehensive beer lists featuring ample craft beers on tap and a selection of over 40 bottles.
>>>Check out my other City Beer Guides<<<
The Woodworkers is located out near Queens University and is well worth the Uber ride. The bar’s seven taps rotate quite regularly with special releases from breweries like Kinnegar and Galway Bay. They are also quite liberal with samples to help you find a beer that fits your palate. Almost across the street from Brewbot is Errigle Inn, which is worth popping into while you’re on that side of town. The bar itself is a labyrinth of rooms. Seek out the Oak Room for its selection of Irish and UK craft beers in cask, keg, and bottle.
I also suggest checking out some of the more popular bars. They are a ton of fun regardless of the beer selection! I had a blast listening to live music and sipping on Guinness at the John Hewitt and Harp Bar.
While there are plenty of off-license shops in Belfast that have craft beer, The Vineyard is the only place you’ll want to go. I not only stocked up on plenty of rare Irish craft beers, but also a few whiskeys as well. It’s also conveniently located near Brewbot and Errigle Inn.
Belfast Beer Guide Map
Want to go on a similar trip?
Plan your Belfast Beercation around the annual Belfast Craft Beer festival, which takes place in April. I stayed at Malmaison in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, which is next door to the festival and convenient to the Cathedral Quarter. For other hotel options, check out the latest Belfast hotel reviews on Tripadvisor.
Belfast in 3 Days will help you find all the best spots in Belfast and beyond.
Thank you to the Discover Northern Ireland for hosting me on this press trip. As always, my opinions remain my own.