Culture

Crafting Communities 

Limerick Voice Managing Editor, Molly Cantwell, explores the craft beer community in Limerick, weighing up the factors at play in a new era of the traditional Irish pub.  

Ten years ago, we were laughing about the rise of craft beer in Ireland, only associating it with hipsters and pretentious dads. Now, craft beer is everywhere, and the friendships its building are fascinating.  

With just over 100,000 occupants, Limerick is a relatively small city, however, it’s home to two craft breweries and a vast number of pubs. Craft beer has been on the rise here since the 2014 opening of Treaty City, Limerick’s premiere craft brewery, with a pub in the medieval quarter since 2019. Mother Macs, dubbed “the mother of all pubs”, opened in 2015, curating their taps to include a plethora of craft beers.  

Most recently, Crew Brewing Company opened its doors on Thomas Street… in the middle of the pandemic. Only opening for customers mere weeks at a time, their start was more than a rough one.  

Crew Brewing Company located on Thomas Street, Limerick.

However, in between lockdowns, and when the restrictions eventually lifted, the people of Limerick rushed to support local – especially when it comes to socialising. 

“I wouldn’t go as far as saying the lockdown was helpful for us but there were some positive aspects for community building,” Jono Crute, head brewer at Crew Brewing Company said.  

“People supported us more than they might have if we had just opened at a normal time, because people were aware that they had to support us if they wanted us to stay around. Also, people just felt sorry for us. This lifelong dream had happened and then we had to close after 11 days. There were people buying merch that have never been in here. When we asked for helpers, people would turn up that had never been here and didn’t know us. The lockdowns got us a group of loyal supporters very quickly.” 

As a community building environment, Crew has only grown. Groups like ‘Pints & Purls’, ‘Craft Beer Women of Limerick’, ‘Drink’n’Draw’, and their infamous ‘Quiz Night’ bring groups of people who would absolutely never meet otherwise, together.  

Jono insists, however, that this didn’t come from the owners.  

“So much of what goes on here is shaped by the people in the community. We didn’t arrive having done this somewhere else and go: ‘Oh knitting, great, that’ll bring people together’ or whatever – those people came to us looking for a space. Crew couldn’t be the same anywhere else because you’re listening to the people that are coming in, and those people inevitably will be different in Galway, Cork, or anywhere else. There wouldn’t necessarily be more or less of a community or better or worse, but it certainly wouldn’t be the same. There’s a uniqueness to Limerick that feeds back in to how the place feels and how it operates.” 

Jono Crute – head brewer in Crew Brewing Company

Does the brewer think this community would remain the same if it wasn’t a craft beer establishment? 

“It’s hard for me to say for sure,” Jono ponders. “I think craft beer being at the centre of the community has been my experience of it. But I’m also aware that there have been big problems in the craft beer industry at various times. The industry hasn’t always done that well providing positive experiences for everyone. So, I wouldn’t want to be like, everyone, anywhere you are in the world, go to your local brewery, and they’re all going to be amazing…  

“Not every business that’s small is good. And not all the big ones are bad. There’s a lot more to it than that. There’s a great community between the small brewers. I think it starts at the top and then it just goes down from there.” 

Mother Macs Public House

On the other hand, Mother Macs’ co-owner, Michael McMahon, argues its less about the craft beer, and more about the environment created in these pubs – in particular, the absence of televisions. 

“I think it’s more about the traditional pub feeling, even though it’s in what we would consider a non-traditional setting,” Michael comments. “When you look at the community aspect, I think the pub community is all based around the counter and the conversations that happen. I think the lack of a TV, the lack of live music, puts the focus on having a conversation, meeting people around you and getting the day’s news. I definitely think ourselves, Crew, and Treaty have that lovely community aspect and elements to us – but I think there’s something more in-depth there than just craft beer.”  

The publican adds: “Bringing craft beer into the pub was definitely a conscious decision on our part. We looked even outside of the city and country – there was a whole beer movement going on. That beer movement is couple of years behind the food movement. That food movement in Limerick was moving on strongly very, very quickly and the prominence in food was the flavours, and freshness – people want that. I don’t want to say they’re not as price conscious, but people are willing to pay for something that is locally sourced, locally produced, artisanal, and that has more flavour. So, that’s one of the reasons we went after craft beer.  

Michael and James McMahon

“It’s kind of hard to split the hair and say if we hadn’t put the craft beer in would we be as successful as we are? I think the beer side of it is important, but if the environmental aspects aren’t right, I don’t think it matters what you pour.” 

That’s one statement Jono is definitely in agreement with. 

“The main thing for me is that we’re 7,000 years into people making alcohol from grain and sitting around together drinking it, singing songs, telling stories, confiding in each other and whatever else. So, we have to do everything we can to be a continuation of that tradition. That’s what good pubs are. There are lots of good pubs where the people that run them maybe don’t appreciate that aspect as much, but that’s the key to every good community space or pub or whatever it is – the opportunity for people to come together.”  

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