Kilkenny is a great old city with lots to offer the visitor including some new experiences in beer.
New discoveries in Kilkenny City including the Growler
Some motorcyclists wash their motorbikes and put them away for the “winter” months at the end of September. This time of year can be a really great time for day-trips and even longer rambles. This year the weather in October (and now in early November) in Ireland has been exceptional and there is no excuse for not kicking it into gear and twisting the throttle. A really great destination for a trip in Ireland is Kilkenny, a city in the south east of the country on the banks of the Nore River. Kilkenny is about an hour and a half from the ferry terminal in Rosslare Harbour, if you are coming from Uk or Europe, and about the same distance from Dublin. If you are planning on staying, there seems to be an endless supply of accommodation here.
Kilkenny Castle, ancestral home of the Butlers, is now a great place to visit. The grounds and ornamental gardens are fantastic and are particularly worth a visit at this time of the year when the trees are turning their beautiful golden autumnal colours. It’s a little bit late in the year to enjoy the full potential of the formal rose gardens with the fabulous fountain, but it’s still worth seeing. The inside of the castle is a great tour too, and among it’s treasures is the fantastic art gallery, part of the National Gallery of Ireland. Across the road from the castle is the Kilkenny Design Centre, in what was the coach and stable yard of the castle. It is now an internationally renowned centre of excellence for many craft workers and artisans.
Kilkenny seems to be a Mecca for tourists, which is not a big surprise when you see the number of great cafés, restaurants, bars, hotels and tea rooms as well as the large number of historic buildings and other attractions on the “medieval mile” which is a tour that includes the Castle, Rothe House, the Smithwicks Experience, Saint Canice’s Cathedral and many more interesting attractions. The town itself is a great shopping town and the old passageways such as the Butterslip, many still with the original flagstones still in existence from centuries ago, bring you through an archway, under the buildings and down to a lower street below. There are quite a few of these passageways that are reminiscent of the medieval city. It’s also famous for too many festivals to try to tell you about them all, but there are festivals celebrating food, arts, theatre, comedy and beer, and more.
A beer festival? Yes indeed. Kilkenny had a very famous beer festival and it drew large crowds a few decades ago but it was discontinued only to be recently revived as the Kilkenny Craft Beer Festival. In 2017 it will be held from the 5th to 10th July. I suggest you mark it in your calendar. If you are looking for a reason to visit Ireland or Kilkenny it will be worth your while mulling those dates to plan a visit, especially if you like your beer. If you’re a biker and you want to visit a biker friendly place in Ireland, this might be the trip for you, as there always seems to be lots of motorcyclists here. Kilkenny has always been famous for its brewing industry. The Monks of Saint Francis Abbey started brewing their own here around the 13th century and brewing caught on in in a big way in Kilkenny. Richard Cole and John Smithwick started a brewery in Kilkenny around 1705 and their Smithwicks ale was brewed there up until a few years ago. The Guinness Group purchased Smithwicks in the 60s but the brewery and the Smithwicks experience is still there, at least as a visitors centre.
There are some great eateries in Kilkenny but a recent discovery for food and beer needs to be shared here. First established in 1702, the Sullivan brewery was the biggest in Kilkenny, a city known for brewing and it has re-opened in recent times at John Street. The Tap-room opened in August this year and it is a worthy pilgrimage for beer drinkers. A couple of recent visits have convinced me that this is a destination with many added benefits when I swing the leg over the bike and try to figure out which direction to take. The Sullivan’s ale is a great drink and far superior in my humble opinion, to another well-known ale that was formerly brewed in Kilkenny. I was reliably informed by a pretty young lady behind the bar that the beer is so superior in taste because they use four different barleys which are there on display beside the Growler dispenser, more about which I will explain shortly. It seems that a number of varieties of hops are used too, to get the great taste that doesn’t have that crafty beer after-taste that many people profess not to like. The Sullivan’s Brewing Company has a lot of Smithwicks names associated with it. I met and briefly spoke with Paul Smithwick on my most recent visit. It would seem that Smithwicks and Sullivans, once great rivals in the brewing industry, may have thrown their lot in together to revive the famous tradition of beer crafting in Kilkenny and it seems likely to be a resounding success.
There were some added benefits to my visit to The Tap Room as well. An offer of a wood fired pizza, made right there, and a great pint of the brew, which is called Malting Red I believe, for a tenner is a great idea. Jalapeño peppers, pulled beef and other tasty bits on a thin crispy base along with the delicious beer was a great lunch and the pièce de résistance was the aforementioned Growler. Now, this is a new experience for me, and one that has already enticed me to revisit there. A Growler is a container for draught beer. In this case, it’s a seal-able litre bottle that the dispenser first removes the air from and replaces with CO2 (I think), and then fills it with the tasty draught brew. It meant that when I had finished my lunch I could fetch the Growler that I had brought back with me from my previous visit, from the top-box on the bike, and get a refill. This task was performed admirably by the helpful young lady behind the bar. I then had a litre of the delicious draught brew to bring home to enjoy in my own time. So guys, if you are looking for a place to head to when you are out for a blast, I recommend a spin to Kilkenny and if you fancy a bit of lunch, and if your taste in beer and pizza runs is a similar vein to mine, I suggest you stop in Sullivan’s Tap Room, on John Street, Kilkenny.