“You can’t choose your family but you can choose your beer,” joked Padraig Fox, Export Manager for Rye River Brewing Company, in conveying the tagline for McGargles Irish Family Brewing. The beers, deftly personified by caricatures of a dysfunctional family, range from the elder matron Granny Mary (Red Ale) to hipster Cousin Rosie (Pale Ale). A very modern advertising approach that stands out in a beer field traditionally branded with stereotypical harps and shamrocks.
Such wit is emblematic of the new wave of craft brewers making their way out from under the shadow of Guinness and the other Irish majors. The success of some has been quite notable. McGargles grew from five to fifty employees in about two years thanks in part to distribution that ranges from Israel (their beers are certified kosher) to the Raglan Road Irish Pub in Disney World. Here in Toronto one is lucky enough to find Granny Mary hanging out at the Overdraught and, for Ottawa folks, at the Byward Market staple Heart & Crown. Its compatriot Brú, sharing its age with McGargles, has likewise made inroads in Toronto with its Red Ale at Betty’s and Castro’s Lounge.
On their heels is White Hag, its numerous award-winning Imperial Oatmeal Stout a tremendous standout at the Toronto Festival of Beer last weekend (and, at 10.2% ABV, one of the highest alcohol beers in Ireland). Having achieved a beachhead in the Manhattan craft beer scene, White Hag is now looking at making its way north alongside the likes of O’Hara’s, a stout that earlier this month made its way into the Toronto scene.
“People are certainly very familiar with Guinness and Jameson and the more established brands coming from Ireland,” explained Dana Welch, Canadian Marketing Manager for Tourism Ireland. “But the craft beer scene is really developing in Ireland, I think there are about 50 craft breweries right now.” The Toronto Festival of Beer, with its ten craft brewers on site, offered just a sample of that revolution, but clearly garnered much interest amongst attendees.
When it comes to Irish beer, stout is by far the archetype, and taking on Guinness will be no easy feat. But, emboldened by an underdog desire to bring forth a craft alternative, the breweries are keen to expand Canadian beer palates. To that end, having a selection of craft Celtic ales and innovative stouts introduced alongside the established offerings might just be the key to success. The result, pint after pint, will be a tasty thing to watch.