Picture this: it’s the fifth century. There’s roast mutton on the table, alongside some freshly caught salmon or trout. There isn’t any fresh fruit at this time of year, but there are still a few apples left from last season’s harvest (though they aren’t looking too great).
I’m no historian, but when I picture food and feasting in the time of St Patrick, I picture rustic wooden tables, meats roasted on the bone and fish from the rivers, lakes or seas.
While slightly more modern in approach, Neven’s menu for March contains many of the elements we can imagine have been enjoyed since the beginning of Irish history. Something else I expect St Patrick enjoyed a great deal of is small-batch, locally brewed beer and cider. Lucky for us, we have many small-batch brews available today, as well.
Westport Saison, Co Mayo
To pair with Neven’s smoked salmon and potato salad, you need something with just a bit of acidity to cut through the fatty richness of the salmon.
In Co Mayo, former veterinarians Bart Adons and Cillian Ó Móráin started selling their beer in 2013. They called themselves Mescan after one of the monks in St Patrick’s entourage (the one who could brew beer). With this in mind, it makes all the sense in the world to have a few Mescan brews in honour of St Patrick.
Their Westport Saison is a farmhouse-style ale. Originally, this beer would quench the thirst of busy farmworkers in its native Belgium. The Westport Saison is one of my favourites of the Mescan line - it has a bit of spice to it and as it’s a dry brew, it cuts through the fattiness of the salmon and creamy dressing perfectly.
Sitting at 5.8% alcohol, I picture myself drinking this outside with some cheese and crackers on a sunny afternoon. www.mescanbrewery.com
West Kerry Brewery, Co Kerry
I know, I know... when you eat an Irish stew you should really be drinking some stout. But here’s the thing about Neven’s Irish lamb hot pot: it’s got a beautifully delicate, balanced flavour with the addition of leek, barley and the lamb all working together. While maltiness is good, I don’t think you need to drink something as heavy as a stout with this dish. With this in mind, I am pairing the hotpot with a new favourite of mine: West Kerry Brewery’s (also known as Beoir Chorcha Dhuibhne) Cúl Dorcha dark ale.
While Cúl Dorcha is a great beer to enjoy for St Patrick’s Day, West Kerry is a great brewery to support in advance of International Women’s Day. It wasn’t just the first micro-brewery to be created in Co Kerry; it was the first micro-brewery in Ireland to be founded by a woman: Adrienne Heslin.
Cúl Dorcha has a slight sweetness from the malt and still has enough body to enjoy with a hearty meal. It is well-balanced, with just a hint of spice from the hops. At 5% alcohol, it ticks all of my boxes. www.westkerrybrewery.ie
The Apple Farm, Co Tipperary
There are numerous drinks you can enjoy with a slice of apple tart. French Calvados is one of the more famous apple-focused liqueurs, and is really tasty. A local option could be Killahora Apple Ice Wine, which is absolutely delicious and unique. However, since this tart contains as much frangipane (almond filling) as it does apple, I would opt for something a bit on the drier side to balance out all of that sweetness.
A classic Irish cider will fit the bill here, and there are some really excellent small batch Irish ciders out there. Con Traas has been brewing his cider for years, using a mix of Karmijn de Sonnaville, Dabinett, Bramley and Elstar apples - all of which are grown on his apple and fruit farm in Cahir, Co Tipperary.
Con’s Irish Cider is full of fresh apple flavour but is more of a medium-dry drink, meaning there is enough acidity in it to balance out the sweeter elements of Neven’s apple tart. Especially if you plan to take Neven’s advice and serve the tart with both whipped cream and ice cream! At 5.5% alcohol content, you won’t need an entire bottle per person. With this dessert, I would serve the cider well-chilled in a champagne flute, or in a wine glass over ice. www.theapplefarm.com