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'Monks are buried under the beer garden': The story of Franciscan Well Cork

How a monastic graveyard became one of Ireland’s first craft brewers.

Image: Franciscan Well

LONG BEFORE  YOUR local was stocking IPAs, Franciscan Well was opening its doors in Cork and helping kickstart a craft beer revolution.

“Our first batch was brewed in 1998, which means that this year is our twentieth anniversary,” explains Kate Clancy, marketing manager of Franciscan Well. “We are Ireland’s second oldest microbrewery. O’Hara’s would have been first, but we followed soon after.”

That year, Franciscan Well founder Shane Long launched Franciscan Well Brewery and Brew Pub on Cork’s North Mall. The pub-cum-brewery was built on the site of a Franciscan friary known as Shandon Friary, hence the name.

“We do actually have a well out the back as well,” adds Clancy. “It’s up against one of the stone walls.”

There would be a lot of stories around that well. People used to believe it had all these mystical powers. It used to get pilgrims down to the site. People used to believe it could cure ailments of the eyes and that’s why it used to get so many visitors.

The site is protected by Cork City Council meaning no modifications or changes can be made. As a result, there are ruins of the friary still visible. “There are stone walls in the beer garden and a lovely alleyway when you’re walking into the bar as well,” says Clancy.

And that’s not the only relic to be found in the beer garden.

“The monks are actually buried under the beer garden outside so we have a bit of a graveyard situation going on here,” laughs Clancy.

Franciscan Well was acquired by Molson Coors in 2013 and has ascended the ranks to become Ireland’s number one craft brewery. It has five beers in its portfolio including Chieftain IPA, Blarney Blonde, Rebel Red, Friar Weisse and Shandon Stout.

It continues to brew beer both on site at the original brew pub and at an additional facility located in Marina Commercial Park in Cork.

As craft beer has grown in popularity, Franciscan Well has become a tourist destination of sorts. Starting this month, the pub now conducts tasting tours three times per day.

Clancy attributes some of the tourist activity to a collaboration Franciscan Well did with Jameson back in 2014 entitled Jameson Caskmates.

The project saw Franciscan Well age stout in whiskey barrels while Jameson distilled whiskey in stout barrels. “Stout with a hint of whiskey and whiskey with a hint of stout.”

It was launched internationally and has proven enormously popular. Since then, many curious drinkers have poked their heads into Franciscan Well.

It’s two Cork brands working together. So you get a lot of the tourists going to Jameson and in return they’re coming here because they want to come to the source of where the stout produced.

 

Irlanda tiene rincones preciosos, y este además, cerveza artesana 🍻

A post shared by Eva Halley (@evitikis) on

 

Twenty years on and the pub is continuing to go from strength to strength. The woodfired pizza from Pompeii Pizza is a draw in and of itself, as is the beer garden. (“When people come to Franciscan Well, they come to sit in the beer garden.”)

Last Christmas, Franciscan Well decided to diversify and opened The Monk, an upstairs addition to the existing pub and brewery. It’s billed as the country’s first brewhouse cocktail bar.

The brewers and mixologists collaborated on a menu of unique beer-infused cocktails. But don’t worry, they’re not just putting beer into cocktails.

“They might get a Shandon Stout and make a reduction out of it and they might use it as a way of adding extra flavour into the cocktails,” Clancy explains. “Rebel Red, especially, if you reduce it down into a syrup, it’s lovely and sweet so it might be used instead of jam. It’s very different. There was a lot of experimentation.”

Clancy explains that it’s Franciscan Well’s way of remaining ahead of the curve in a landscape increasingly dominated by craft beer pubs.

“Shane could see that there was a gap in the market for this kind of brewhouse cocktail bar. Again it was just trying to stay ahead of the game as much as we can because craft beer is so popular now. We felt like we had to have an added element to stay ahead.”

That’s not to say it’s strayed from its roots, though.

Franciscan Well also regularly hosts craft beer events in which they invite independent craft breweries from around their country to showcase their wares.

A forthcoming event, Easter Beer and Spirit Festival, will see approximately twenty-five craft beer brands from around Ireland descend on the pub to man their own stalls and offer punters a chance to sample what’s on offer.

“But even at that, that’s us handpicking. There are about sixty or seventy breweries you could choose from.”

A far cry from when it all began in 1998.

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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