“First they ignore you,” said the American trade unionist Nicholas Klein in 1918. “Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.” He was probably not intending to refer directly to the evolution of beer in Ireland 100 years later, but was close to the mark nonetheless. After effectively enjoying a clear run for decades, the brewing oligopoly went through a brief period of taking marketing shots at the emerging craft brewers. Then they began to recognize a real competitive challenge. And now we find ourselves in the era of monuments and imitations: the language and identity of craft brewers are co-opted, independent brands are bought by the megacorps or astroturfed craft-like beers are brewed by them. Franciscan Well can spin you a lovely yarn about the Shandon Friary and the Earl of Cork, but it’s owned by Molson Coors. Five Lamps may have been raised on songs and stories, Dublin as can be, but its corporate parent also brews Tennents Lager. Where the typical lineup of tap handles in an Irish pub was once a single stout, a single ale, and a couple of lagers there is now a seeming wide variety of brands and styles – but the identity of the man behind the curtain hasn’t changed all that much.
So, when a genuine alternative presents itself, it’s well to take note. Now it may well be that today’s Scraggy Bay is tomorrow’s Rockshore – these businesses have their own trajectories, after all – but where independent Irish breweries are making good beer, let’s enjoy them.
That trajectory for Four Provinces has been an interesting one so far. The founders began the operation five years ago, using the Kildare facility of Trouble Brewing to produce their “copper ale”, The Hurler. Last year they had graduated to their own facility in Dublin with a fairly comprehensive range. And now they’ve very sensibly opened a pub next door to serve their beer in.
Ask a Dubliner what they know about Kimmage and most will be limited to the Monopoly board, where it and neighbouring Crumlin are the cheapest properties. The idea of any properties in Dublin being cheap is something of a hollow joke these days, but it’s certainly true that it’s far more feasible for an independent outfit to set up a small brewery and tied house here than anywhere within the canals. As of last year, the Four Province’s range (much of it available in smartly-designed cans) has proclaimed itself to be Deanta i gCamaigh, BÁC.
Ravensdale Lane is a strip of shops and businesses amidst the residential sprawl of the area. The Four Provinces occupies what was once the Black Horse Inn – not to be confused with the Hole In The Wall on Black Horse Avenue, which once held that name. The rebrand is still in early stages but so far has been done with a light touch. The old name is still seen in several details throughout, including on two magnificent advertising mirrors – ecumenically, one Powers and one Jameson – that dominate the main bar, an attractive, spacious, and beautifully kept room.
It’s a miserable day out and still early enough, so the place is quiet when I arrive. I am greeted as Gaeilge and the bartender and I converse in ár dteanga álainn bheo throughout. This makes the focus on Chelsea playing Manchester City on a TV screen seem a bit incongruous, but to each according to need and all that. Béarlóirí are also welcome and accommodation is made for them.
In addition to their own beers, on draught and in cans, there is a solid range of independent Irish offerings, spanning the country from Dungarvan in the sunny south-east to Kinnegar in Donegal. There’s also a single tap each of Guinness and Heineken in the ha’penny place, if you really must. I kick off with Poddle, a pale lager, fresh and yeasty and very quaffable. I don’t get an ABV statement, but certainly in the low 4s. I could drink this all day, and on a return visit here as a civilian I may well do so. Next up I try Válsa, a Vienna Lager (“válsa” means “waltz”, geddit?) that’s almost bock-like with its crystal-malt sweetness and 5.2% kick.
These are exciting times for beoir na nGael with Pop-up Gaeltachts popping up everywhere, and pubs like Piper’s Corner offering new departures in Irish music, language, and beer. The new Four Provinces fits right into this scene with an impressive location in a suburban outpost. Worth sharpening your modh coinníollach for and checking out even if you don’t find yourself on the brown Monopoly squares on the regular.
Words: Ben Walsh
Photo: Killian Broderick
The Four Provinces
25 Ravensdale Park