The first in our series of city guides, we’re starting with Belfast because it’s our hometown. It’s where we’re based and the city we know best. You can consider this as the definitive guide to craft beer in Belfast from a native who’s drank hundreds (thousands?!) of beers in or from the places listed below.
Belfast has some catching up to do in terms of craft beer, especially compared to some of the bigger cities in the UK. If you’re from Manchester, for example, and you come to Belfast for the weekend, you might be a little underwhelmed. But it’s getting better! In the last couple of years, we’ve made big strides – craft beer bars opening, non-craft bars expanding their selections and many hipster eateries stocking craft beer options.
There’s also an ever-increasing range of local breweries starting to knock it out of the park including Boundary Brewing, Farmageddon, Yardsman, Heaney Farmhouse and Bullhouse to name a few. We’ll talk more about them at a later date but for now, let’s get stuck in to the best craft beer bars, taprooms and bottle shops in Belfast…
The Sunflower Bar (65 Union St, BT1 2JG)
The Sunflower is the best bar in Belfast. Although a little off the beaten path, it’s very much in the city centre, only a few minutes walk away from the CastleCourt shopping centre on the corner of Kent Street and Union Street – right behind Belfast Central Library and the former Belfast Telegraph building. You’ll know it when you see it because it still has the security cage at the front door – a relic from 1980s Belfast when it was a pub you probably wouldn’t have wanted to visit – the cage isn’t needed anymore but it’s part of their heritage and has been preserved as such. It also looks really cool.
Opened in 2012, The Sunflower has already won multiple awards, been threatened with demolition and the potential removal of the cage but it’s still standing, the cage is still there and the bar is thriving. In 2016, The Sunflower decided to ditch big name beers such as Guinness altogether, to focus on local, independent craft brews. Their stout of choice is Belfast’s own Yardsman Double Stout and it’s one of the finest, creamiest beers you’ll find anywhere.
In terms of the craft beer selection, they have a couple of rotating taps, and an ever-changing selection of bottles and cans featuring some of the best beers from the UK and Ireland. We’ve recently had beers from Northern Monk, Signature Brew, Yellow Belly and Beavertown here, to give you some idea of the type of beer they stock.
The Sunflower has live music 7 nights a week (usually folk/trad), a massive beer garden out the back which is home to Boxing Hare Pizzeria – who also make some of the finest pizza in Belfast – and an upstairs venue which hosts a wide range of events. Fun fact: some scenes from Good Vibrations were filmed upstairs here.
The Sunflower hosts a number of events including ukelele jams, film nights, poetry readings, live music and Blues dance classes; it’s become a hub for independent artists, folk musicians and has a real community spirit. It’s also dog-friendly and there’s even an old barber’s chair in the bar – sometimes they’ll have a barber in to cut your hair while you’re having a pint!
Northern Lights (451 Ormeau Rd, BT7 3GQ)
Formerly the site of BrewBot but now run by the wonderful Galway Bay folks since the tail-end of 2017, Northern Lights is the bar in Belfast with the widest selection of craft beers available. It’s a little bit out of the city centre, at the top end of the Ormeau Road, but it’s only a fiver in a taxi and it’s worth it.
Galway Bay operate 10 bars in Galway, Dublin and Limerick, but this was their first in Northern Ireland. Since they took over an existing craft beer bar, they pretty much hit the ground-running, but they made some key changes – most importantly, they doubled the number of taps to 20. They usually feature 8 of Galway Bay’s beers, a couple of regular lagers and 10 rotating taps featuring top beers from across the UK, Ireland and beyond. They also added an extensive food menu, opened the upstairs area to the public and added a pool table, and they have regular offers on such as ‘Wingsday’ every Wednesday when it’s BOGOF.
Northern Lights holds regular events including Meet the Brewer & Tap Takeovers, pub quizzes and has a large selection of board games available to play while you drink. They’ve managed to retain BrewBot’s stellar beer choice and minimalist, industrial chic vibe but have made the place more inviting and inclusive. It’s a very close second, for us.
The Woodworkers (20-22 Bradbury Pl, BT7 1RS)
The Woodworkers is part of the Lavery’s Complex, and as such, makes it the perfect choice for a night out. Especially if you’re with people who aren’t bothered about craft beer – you can nip into the Woodworkers, grab a beer, and nip back in next door to Lavery’s again via the connecting beer gardens.
They recently expanded, having claimed the space that used to be the off-license between it and the main Lavery’s bar. They’ve currently got 14 rotating taps, a significant increase from their initial six (which it still says on their website). The selection changes all the time but some regularly featured breweries include BrewDog, Lost & Grounded, Rascals, Partizan and Buxton.
The can and bottle selection in the Woodworkers rarely changes but it’s a solid line-up of core range beers from the likes of BrewDog and Beavertown. Realistically, if you’re a hardcore craft beer fan, you’re coming here to check out what they’ve got on tap.
They’ve also hosted a number of Meet The Brewer events over the last couple of years and the food is great. We firmly recommend the chicken goujons, although the sharing platters are epic too.
It can get pretty busy in here on Friday and Saturday nights because it’s part of Lavery’s – so bear that in mind when planning your visit.
The Woodworkers was the first Belfast venue to be Verified on Untappd – so you can check our their current beer line-up there.
Green Room @ The Black Box (18-22 Hill St, BT1 2LA)
One of the less obvious places in Belfast to find a quality craft beer selection, The Black Box’s Green Room is one of our favourites. The Black Box itself is one of the best venues in Belfast in terms of live music, theatre, comedy and performing arts – hosting a variety of acts from all over the world in every genre imaginable. It’s an integral part of the arts scene in Belfast and sits bang in the centre of Belfast’s bustling Cathedral Quarter – the best part of town to visit for a night out with an array of bars and eateries all within walking distance.
The Green Room sits at the front of the venue, and is a popular spot for pre-drinks before an event in the main room of the Black Box. It also hosts smaller events of its own from time to time, including live music, DJs, talks and so on.
Last time we were there, they had 13 different beers on tap – as well as an extensive bottle and can list. They tend to have a vast selection of local beers including Yardsman, Bullhouse and Boundary. They also usually have some Galway Bay, Magic Rock, Kinnegar and Fallen Brewing, amongst others.
The Green Room serves great pizza too, which is always welcome to us! It’s a relaxed atmosphere, in what is essentially an arts space, so the clientele is always super-friendly and chilled out.
Pro-tip: before you go, check it’s open. It’s usually only open Wed-Sun evenings or before an event in the Black Box, and get there early because you’re unlikely to get in after 11pm.
The Garrick (29 Chichester St, BT1 4JB)
We really like the Garrick. In terms of modern, seasonal craft beer, it’s not your best bet. Try one of the above instead. The Garrick is on the list because it has the most impressive selection of world beers in Belfast, sprawling across several chalk-boards above the bar.
They also have an impressive array of local craft beers, including Farmageddon, McGraths, Whitewater and Cloughmore. The selection in the Garrick is much more traditional than the bars above but it matches the feel of the bar. It was founded in 1870, and features panelled and tiled Victorian hostelry.
There’s two rooms – a front bar and a back bar, and you can take your pick. We usually head for the back bar as it’s sometimes a little bit quieter and there’s the chance of getting a seat in front of a roaring open fire.
The Garrick is a sports bar so if you want to watch the football or the rugby with a decent beer, this is the place. The food on offer is also top notch, pub grub. Go for the buffalo chicken wings, thank us later.
The John Hewitt (51 Donegall St, BT1 2FH)
The John Hewitt is another bar situated in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, just around the corner from St. Anne’s Square. It’s a real old-world pub, with an open fire, a selection of real ales, gastro-food and regular live traditional Irish music. It feels like the type of place a playwright would’ve gone to sit in the corner, working on his latest story over a pint and some Irish stew.
In terms of craft beer, they have a number of rotating taps but always have a selection of local beers from Farmageddon, Yardsman and the like. Fun fact #2: you’ve most likely heard of Jawbox Gin – Gerry White, the founder of Jawbox, was the general manager of the John Hewitt for 12 years before conquering the gin world.
While the John Hewitt has a definite old man pub feel to it, we’re particularly fond of it because it’s owned by the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre. The Resource Centre’s managers had always relied on various grants to fund its work, until they came up with a way to generate their own income – a pub!
John Hewitt, the late poet, socialist and Freeman of Belfast officially opened the Resource Centre in 1983, hence the name of the bar. The bar itself opened its doors in 1999 and has been a source of funding for the Centre ever since. So go have a pint here, it’s basically charity work.
The Errigle Inn (312-320 Ormeau Rd, BT7 2GE)
The Errigle Inn has made a concerted effort over the last couple of years to re-position itself as a destination for craft beer lovers. It used to be a more traditional pub, but they’ve been bringing in an increasing number of experimental, seasonal, craft beers.
In recent times, they’ve had beers from Magic Rock, Marble, Thornbridge and Lervig. They also offer a takeaway option if you want to grab some beers to go – and they provide a Canister service where they’ll happily can up one of their draught beers for you! We’ve never seen this anywhere else – it’s pretty neat.
The Errigle is another bar at the top end of the Ormeau Road. It’s more or less opposite Northern Lights, so these two are worth hitting up at the same time. It can sometimes be quite full with regulars, especially on weekends – and the decor is a little bit-dated – but it’s definitely worth visiting if you’re nearby to see what they’ve got on.
The Errigle is the only other Verified Untappd venue in Belfast.
The Bear and The Doll (10-30 Library St, BT1 2JD
A new addition to Belfast’s craft beer scene, The Bear and the Doll opened in June 2017 on the corner of Little Donegall Street, where the old Titanic Bar used to be. Having visited for the first time recently, we were pleasantly surprised – it’s a large, eclectic venue with graffiti style artwork on the walls and a quirky, vintage retro-chic vibe.
The most surprising thing, however, was the beer selection; BrewDog’s Punk IPA and Elvis Juice, Founders All Day IPA and YellowBelly’s Citra Pale Ale all on tap. The bottle and can selection is also solid with a range of local beers from Hilden, Yardsman and Hillstown sitting alongside the big boys, BrewDog and Stone.
We’d say this place gets pretty lively on weekends with regular DJs and live music so if you’re looking for somewhere to party and drink great beer, this might be your best option in Belfast. It’s also great for a quiet Saturday afternoon beer and they recently announced they’re dog-friendly, too.
The Vineyard (375-377 Ormeau Rd, BT7 3GP)
The Vineyard is the best off-license, or bottle shop, or whatever you want to call it, in Belfast by a country mile. In terms of craft beer, there is nowhere else that comes close. Sure, there’s a few places you can get core range beers but if you’re looking for the latest one-off, small batch, seasonal release, this is the ONLY place you’re likely to find it in Belfast.
It’s also situated on the Ormeau Road not too far from Northern Lights and the Errigle Inn – so why not check out the bars, then grab some beers here afterwards?
Although a significant portion of the shop is dedicated to their extensive wine selection (hence the name), the array of beers is stunning. They have everything from the latest small batch release from local micro-breweries to the most-sought after, fussed over releases from the UK’s elite such as Cloudwater, Buxton, Magic Rock, Siren and Northern Monk. They’ve also got a huge range of Belgian beers, American craft (Founders, Modern Times, Belching Beaver), and beers from everywhere else (Mikkeller, Evil Twin, To Øl). You name it, they’ve probably stocked it.
Boundary’s Taproom (Portview Trade Centre, Newtownards Rd, BT4 1HE)
Usually open one weekend per month, from 4pm-11pm, it’s the place to try their newest beers first and fresh from the source. Eight different Boundary beers are available on tap – served in half-pints only – all priced between £2.50-£3.50. If they don’t have it on tap, it’s most likely available from their bottle selection.
Merchandise is also available, including t-shirts, glassware and prints. If you spend £30, you get a free tote bag!
They also invite along a local food vendor to make some great food to accompany the beers. Most recently, they had Little Pink Kitchen making Ultimate Grilled Cheese on Sourdough with house made pickles. Sunday has recently become Movie & Board Games Day – last time they showed the Steve Martin classic, The Jerk.
Sounds alright, doesn’t it? Again, it’s a little bit out of the city centre but it’s a short taxi journey, and well worth it.
There are a number of other bars we’d recommend visiting including the Crown (especially if you’re looking for cask beer), Duke Of York, Bittles, Katy’s, Voodoo and Bootleggers, but if craft beer is your priority, then the list above features the best places to start.
Is there anywhere we’ve missed? Let us know your favourite craft beer places in Belfast in the comments below.