In the midst of the pandemic, with plans for travel canceled, I started hunting online for a “dream pub” to visit whenever normalcy returned.
My investigation led me to the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland and to Tig Bhric Pub & West Kerry Brewing. What I found was a storied venue that seemed to check off everything I’d ever wanted to see, hear and experience in an Irish pub. The pub has been in operation for over a hundred years. And the beer brewed on premises has its own story.
This spring, with my wife and daughter, I stepped into Tig Bhric. And what I found there was a story that was heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once. And the story was accompanied by amazing beers unlike any I’ve ever experienced before.
The hearth is the symbolic heart of a home. In mythology it is the place where male and female powers are safely contained to warm a home, provide shelter, safety and promote love. Upon entering Tig Bhric, the wood burning fire in the brick hearth welcomed us with an immediate feeling of belonging and comfort. And, as did everyone and everything here, it came with a story.
Adrienne Heslin, owner and brewer, graciously spent the next two hours sharing the history of Tig Bhric, her story and her beer. The pub has been in operation for over a 100 years and in the family for four generations.
Heslin and her partner, Pádraig Bhric, took over operation of the pub in 1999 when Bhric inherited the pub. Tragically, Bhric passed away in 2001. Heslin decided to forge on with their dreams for the pub. Those plans included brewing their own beer. In 2006, Heslin became the first woman to found and manage a microbrewery in Ireland.
Which brings me back to the hearth. The beautiful mantle is made from a piece of wood found on a Cúl Dorcha (a local beach). The wood was excavated by Bhric and given to Heslin, an accomplished artist. In turn, Heslin carved and placed the stunning piece above the fireplace completing the hearth and transforming the center of the pub into not only a memorial to Bhric, but a heartwarming welcome to all who enter.
The first beer brewed, Cúl Dorcha, of course. A dark ale with deep maltiness and ever so slight dark chocolate notes. And like all the West Kerry beers, Cúl Dorcha is made with their own well water which adds a creamy, less carbonated mouthfeel. After a week of drinking Guinness all over Dublin, I thought I couldn’t find a creamier, more delightful texture in a beer. Every beer sampled at West Kerry–that is to say, all the beer at West Kerry–features this unique experience based on the one of a kind water profile.
Paul O Loingsigh, the barman, grew up in the pub. In fact, his father was born in the pub. So, when it comes to stories about Tig Bhric, O Loingsigh is the man. He is also a highly respected beer connoisseur who talked us through each tasting.
His favorite on this day was the English cask ale. A flavorful, malty beer that was surprisingly robust considering it was only 3.7% abv. O Loingsigh recalled the days when the pub also served as a grocery store and gas station. He returned from England to assist Heslin. When I asked him what brought him back, he simply said, “this pub.” As I said, truly a loving place–a home.
I was led through the brewhouse by headbrewer Daniel O’Connor, an Australian transplant. Arriving in Ireland to pursue a career in fashion, O’Connor took a job as an intern at the brewery 12 years ago. He has found his home here. While O’Connor has maintained the integrity of Heslin’s original recipes, he has found ways to engage his own creativity into the beers he makes. Our walk through the brewer’s garden included a review of every plant and how he’s figured out how to brew with it.
Heslin and I enjoyed a pint of Béal Bán, an award winning golden ale I was able to find at many local pubs. We discussed a range of topics from the complicated relationship with ubiquitous Guinness, crafting beer, family, her art and the community of West Kerry. She seemed reluctant at first to see herself as a leader for small, independent businesses, but it was readily apparent in her pioneering spirit, desire to support her community and pride in her team.
When I pointed out how important she was to her community, she thought for a second, sipped her Béal Bán, and eventually responded, “yes, I suppose I am.” The sparkle in her eye told me she already knew.