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Irish Beer: The Church, The Long Hall, & McDaid’s, Dublin

As my last few posts demonstrate, I was pretty impressed with the state of the Irish craft beer scene.  There are some interesting beers and great bars to be found if you know where to go.  In that respect, you could do worse than checking out the directories on Beoir.

However, it’s probably fair to say that Irish craft beer is still something that is either fortuitously stumbled upon or actively sought out.  You could easily visit the Republic of Ireland and have no inkling of the existence of native craft beer, and most visitors almost certainly just sink a few pints of Guinness and come away with a view of Irish beer with is positive but monolithic.  More specifically, an immovable black monolith with a shiny gold harp in the middle, three quarters of the way up.

Which brings us on to the subject of this post, which is basically that there are some very nice bars in Dublin which haven’t yet bought in to craft beer, even if they are part of the tourist trail.  The first one we visited was The Church, an interesting large bar and restaurant in what used to be St Mary’s Church Of Ireland on Mary Street, close to the busy shopping area around Henry Street.

The Church has a considerable history, including being the place where Wolfe Tone (a Protestant and a rebel) was baptised and Arthur Guinness (a Protestant and a Unionist) was married.  A bust of Arthur Guinness sits at the end of the bar, one of a number of interesting features including the organ pipes on the wall and a pleasant stained glass window.  A bright, spacious and bustling venue, I can see that The Church would be an interesting and unusual place to come for lunch, Guinness or a cocktail.

A more traditional pub, but one that is no less spectacular, is The Long Hall.  It has a wonderfully preserved interior, with a lot of decorative dark wood, elaborate light fittings and mirrors.  On the afternoon we visited they were polishing the fittings with Brasso and the air was quite potent with the fumes.  At the end of the bar a wooden archway suspends a clock above your head as you walk into the back room.  I suppose it would have separated the equivalent of the public bar and the lounge bar or dining room back in the day.  We stopped at the bar briefly for a Beamish and quietly enjoyed the surroundings.

McDaid’s is another traditional Victorian pub.  Just off Grafton Street, I remembered the distinctive and colourful frontage from when I visited Dublin as a child.  Nowadays a statue of Phil Lynott stands opposite it, a man who (with Whiskey In The Jar) did a fine job of exploiting Irish tradition and at the same time reinventing it.

Inside, McDaid’s conforms to all my own prejudices about what a Dublin pub should look like, with more dark wood, wooden floors, decorative tiles, mirrors and leather benches, and an incredibly high ceiling for who knows what reason.  Perhaps a lower ceiling would have turned the place into a box of smoke.  The natural light from the huge windows falls attractively into this setting.

Although it would appear almost every Dublin pub of any age purports to have some literary connection or other, McDaids claims an exceptionally illustrious heritage, with a clientele which included Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien and J.P. Donleavy, amongst others. 

You probably won’t find a pint of Galway Hooker in any of these pubs.  You certainly won’t find a working handpump.  I didn’t even notice any Irish craft beer in bottles, although I might just have missed them.  However, they’re definitely all worth a visit nonetheless, for a pint of Guinness or a glass of John Powers, whilst you let yourself forget how much is history rather than nostalgia, marketing or myth.

Irish Beer: Galway Hooker at Moran’s Oyster Cottage

April 5, 2011 3 comments

The simple joy of meeting up in the pub to relax and celebrate at the completion of an arduous task was illustrated perfectly last weekend. Kate, her sisters and I flew to Ireland to meet their parents at the end of a remarkable walk from coast to coast for the cancer prevention charity, Genesis. They had arranged to finish their walk by the seaside in Moran’s Oyster Cottage in County Galway. Kate’s mother didn’t know we were coming to meet them.

An early morning Ryanair flight and a few hours in a rental car along a great new road later, we had a very pleasant wait in the older front bar of Moran’s. It’s expanded out the back into a fairly large pub restaurant. However the staff were very friendly and happy for us and the others to sit and drink for most of the afternoon before ordering some really delicious food: grilled oysters and huge portions of baked salmon.

As you might expect, the most popular drink in a thatched pub serving shellfish in the West of Ireland is Guinness. Of course the pints were just as good as you’d expect, with the traditional surroundings and the wheaten bread, smoked salmon, prawns and crab (and a couple of glasses of bubbly) we had with them all contributing to a great afternoon. What I hadn’t really expected to find in Moran’s was craft beer.

I know there’s been a renaissance of craft brewing in recent years (see this excellent Irish Times Article of last Saturday), but I expected to find them in craft beer bars in Dublin, not a seafood pub in rural Galway. That said, Galway Hooker is a local beer.

The Irish craft beer movement is primarily keg and bottle-driven, rather than cask. This is a reflection of the history of Irish beer, where one or two large breweries drove out competition and their chosen methods of dispense dominated. The styles of beer favoured by these new breweries tend towards stouts and “Irish reds”, as you might also expect, given the lack of variation available to Irish drinkers until more recently.

However, Galway Hooker, along with a number of other beers I was to try later in Dublin, has recaptured the hop for Ireland. It’s a lovely refreshing pale to amber ale with a nice floral but biting hoppiness, all of which is complemented by being served cold and from keg, like it might be in a US craft beer bar. 

It was great to have it in this setting, a quiet recognition that craft beer is as Irish a product as the thick-shelled native oysters I had for dinner and indeed arguably more Irish these days than the Diageo-owned Guinness.  Galway Hooker is soon to be available in bottles, so maybe we might see some of it in the UK.

Dave and Rosie have so far raised over £4,300 to help research and prevention of genetic breast cancer, which Dave himself has survived.  Please consider making a small donation to this very worthy cause here.  If you do, tell me next time you meet me and I promise to buy you a pint.

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