Tavern owner Peter Curtin is holding court in his natural habitat, the 155-year-old Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna, Ireland. Every inch of its worn walls is covered with memorabilia, and the mood here is decidedly mellow. Perhaps the vibe is down to the gruit-style Euphoria beer we’re sipping, in which a selection of wild medicinal herbs, not hops, supplies the brew’s aromatic flourish. It is fruity on the nose, herbaceous and fizzy – almost kombucha-like in its refreshing tartness. “When you drink it,” Curtin says, “it produces a hint of happiness, a ‘life is cool’ effect.”
Stories, song and drink flow freely here in northwest County Clare, which is dominated by the Burren, a 530-square-kilometre expanse of desolate glacial limestone, odd-shaped hills and caves – terrain that looks like it might shelter a hobbit or two. It’s no surprise to discover that J.R.R. Tolkien frequently sojourned at nearby Gregans Castle and, per local lore, injected a bit of the Burren into his novels. Even our beer shares in the mysticism: Curtin climbed the so-called Hill of the Fairies nearby one summer night in 2017 to collect the wild yeast that set it a-fermenting.