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Irish Beer: The Bull & Castle, Christchurch, Dublin

April 10, 2011 8 comments

Beyond The Porterhouse, I had very little idea of where to find craft beer in Dublin. Fortunately Irish beer blogger laureate The Beer Nut was a great help, suggesting over Twitter that I try The Bull & Castle, Against The Grain and L. Mulligan Grocer. Although unfortunately we didn’t make it to the last one, we did visit the first two.

The Bull & Castle is by Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, a short walk from Temple Bar. It has a beer hall upstairs and a restaurant downstairs, both with a comprehensive selection of Irish craft beer. The furniture upstairs has something of a gothic arch theme running through it, reflecting the cathedral over the road.

We sat at the bar upstairs and tried a few of the different beers. Castle Red was an “Irish Red” in the vein of Smithwicks. As such it was relatively sweet and malty and had next to no hoppiness. Franciscan Well Rebel Lager was good enough for a pilsner but that was about all there was to it.

Metalman Pale Ale was more interesting. A new beer from a new brewing company (although actually made at the White Gypsy brewery) it had a fresh citrus bitterness that to me seemed to include a bit of Burton sulphur.

The Bull & Castle is owned by FXB, a chain of steakhouse restaurants around Dublin that use meat from their own farm in County Offally. Kate and I took a table downstairs and both enjoyed really excellent medium rare ribeye steaks with champ and a delicious surf-and-turf side of prawns.

With dinner I had a bottle of O’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale by the Carlow Brewing Company, who do a lot of bottled beers and produce the Irish Stout for Marks & Spencer. Their IPA had a nice light flavour and a subtle, slightly floral, oily bitterness.

I’ve made myself incredibly hungry and thirsty just writing this. Many thanks to The Beer Nut for the tip-off. Based on our experience, I’d definitely recommend the Bull & Castle to anyone visiting Dublin for a winning combination of craft Irish beer and good eats.

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Irish Beer: The Porterhouse, Temple Bar, Dublin

April 8, 2011 4 comments

I mentioned in a recent post about this visit to Ireland that Irish craft beer had seen something of a renaissance in recent years, but that it appeared to me that the character of that resurgence, in terms of style (emphasis on stouts and “red” ales) and method of dispense (primarily keg and bottle), appeared to be strongly influenced by the unique conditions of Irish beer culture.

It further occurs to me that if Irish craft brewers want to export to consumers in the United States, they might consider it best to concentrate on those methods of dispense (with keg dominating US craft beer to a much greater degree than in the UK) and to focus on styles associated with Irish “tradition”.

The Irish Times article I mentioned in that post gives a good precis of The Porterhouse, which has grown since 1989 to comprise a chain of four pubs in Ireland (three in Dublin; one in Bray) and international outlets including Covent Garden, London; a temporary one at the Shanghai Expo in 2010; and soon a new pub in the financial district of New York.

Their brewing operation started on the premises in Temple Bar and now claims to be the largest Irish-owned brewery in Ireland (Guinness now being owned by Diageo). In fact, their expansion and influence is such that Irish Times article attributes the resurgence of Irish craft breweries to former finance minister (and recently departed Taoiseach) Brian Cowen introducing “a lower rate of duty for small breweries, largely due to pressure from the Porterhouse“.

The Porterhouse on Temple Bar has a nice interior with lots of natural light and exposed wood. Most of the seating are high stools and benches and old bottles are displayed behind glass. It’s welcoming and combines the modern with the traditional well, and doesn’t try to compete for the “Irish theme pub” crown, which seems to dominate most of Temple Bar.

We were lucky enough to visit during a festival of Irish craft beers, so there was a good range of craft beers from other breweries in the Republic and the North on keg and bottle. These included Messrs Maguire (a brewpub on the Liffey next to O’Connell Bridge); Trouble Brewing; Franciscan Well; Galway Hooker; and bottles from Northern breweries including Clanconnel and Inishmacsaint. Incidentally, without having looked terribly hard, I’ve yet to find Clanconnel or Inishmacsaint beers for sale in Northern Ireland.

I therefore was interested to try a bottle of Inishmacsaint White Island Wheat Beer. It had a lovely label and seemed to be a perfectly nice example of a style that I tend to find a bit dull. However I would note that wheat beer seems, in the form of Erdinger and others, to be reasonably widely available in the North at least, and I speculate that it might a growing style for Irish consumers.

The Messrs Maguire beer I had (which I think was their brown ale), was a deep dark ruby, with a pleasant, dry, liquorice bitterness.  Franciscan Well Purgatory Pale Ale on keg had a nice crystal malt taste and a satisfying hoppy bitterness. However for me Porterhouse’s own beers were the stars of the show.

Porterhouse Plain Porter had a nice creamy head, light smell and a good roasted to chocolate taste. Certainly it was enough to entertain and enlighten a confused Guinness drinker who’d wandered in off the street. The Porterhouse Oyster Stout was really superb. Made with actual Carlingford Lough oysters shucked into the brew, it had a bracing sea air smell and a wonderful mellow, salty, soy-like sweetness that I’d love to try with some fresh oysters to accompany it.

However, for both Kate and me the favourite was the Porterhouse Wrasslers XXXX Stout. Allegedly based on a recipe used by Deasy’s of West Cork in the early part of the last century (“Clonakilty Wrastler”) which was supposedly Michael Collins’ favourite, it even features a picture of Collins on the label. It is apparently made with Galena, Nugget and East Kent Goldings hops, but given that Galena and Nugget hops are US varieties that didn’t exist before 1968 and 1983 respectively, I would query the claim.

Regardless of the authenticity of the recipe, on keg Wrasslers is surprisingly and exhilaratingly bitter, but with a very nice balance. What’s even more surprising is that it’s only 5%, although the complex bitterness is really too pronounced to gulp this down as a session beer, and you wouldn’t do it justice anyway.

Black IPAs are very trendy these days, but this well-hopped stout may well become one of my favourite beers, if ever I’m able to find any in England. Perhaps a trip to Covent Garden is in order?

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