Guinness has worked very hard over the decades to associate itself intimately with a romantic notion of the Irish drinking culture and their most recent campaign is an especially literal reflection of that. Every Friday and Saturday night over a 9 week period, Guinness reps will go into pubs in British cities between 6pm and 8pm, giving those drinking Guinness a chance to win a private jet flight to Dublin for the night, departing right there and then.
Through entering a competition on Peer Index, a social networking marketing site, Kate and I won the same prize along with two other couples, from London and Glasgow (none of whom were beer bloggers/tweeters). We were given tickets to Birmingham Airport, checked into an airport hotel and at 8.15pm flew on a Cessna Citation to Dublin.
We had a fantastic night: the trip in the jet was fast, comfortable and relaxed. We were taken to O’Donoghue’s for Guinness and music, The Elephant and Castle for dinner (including some incredible chicken wings), the Oliver St. John Gogarty for more beer and music, the Temple Bar and finally the Mercantile Hotel. We also met up with that evening’s pub competition winners, who had been picked up from Luton and flown out after us.
We were then flown back to Birmingham at two in the morning, with more Guinness (and Guinness chocolate and Guinness nuts) on the plane. We’d had a great, and slightly surreal time, joining in with the many tourists (particularly German football fans and English Rugby Union fans) enjoying a night out in Temple Bar. I obviously know that there’s much more to Dublin than Temple Bar (see here) and much more to Irish beer than Guinness (see here) , but it was a really special evening.
As a point of order, I am aware that I wouldn’t have had the chance to win this trip if I hadn’t been regarded an “influencer” by PeerIndex. It’s probably the most impressive “freebie” I’ve ever heard of, and all of us know that word of mouth marketing, such as this post, is the intended result. But I can tell you that we had a lot of fun and met some nice people. Even as a BrewDog shareholder, I wasn’t about to turn down such an opportunity, especially given the amount of money I’ve spent on Guinness over the years.
Belfast seems a much-changed place from when I was 18, but then so are most places since 1998. When I’m back, roughly twice a year, I still get the impression that there’s a long way to go in terms of beer in most of the pubs. Cask ale is still rarer than hen’s teeth and I’ve yet to see a Trappist in town.
But I need to explore much of the new Belfast more. Although many of the entries in the Good Beer Guide for Northern Ireland seem to be JD Wetherspoons (which indicates the work JDW does to promote and supply cask even where it isn’t commonly accepted) there are a few – The John Hewitt; Molly’s Yard – that I always mean to explore but never get to.
However, over Christmas I did get to Bittle’s Bar, a wedge shaped corner pub in an older building on the edge of the new Victoria Centre. It’s a pleasant little bar with walls covered in slightly absurd paintings of Northern Irish faces: one depicts Ian Paisley with his arm around Gerry Adams whilst Van Morrison, George Best and Alex Higgins look on.
No cask on the bar, but there was keg Whitewater Copperhead, a nice refreshing pale ale I’ve enjoyed from the bottle. I had a bottle of Pig Island Pale by Ards Brewing Co, a new brewery I recognised from a Beers I’ve Known post of a few months before.
The 4.2% beer was bottle conditioned and had a nice fresh hop aroma, which I really didn’t expect from a Northern Irish beer. It was a satisfyingly bitter pale ale with a slightly orangey aftertaste; very drinkable and probably excellent with seafood. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Ards next time I’m back.
I tend to get a reasonable amount of site traffic every time I mention Guinness, but I was surprised to see that someone found my blog the other day with the search terms, “Does the beer Guinness give you a hard erection?“
The simple answer to the question is of course, “Woah there, settle down fella! We all like our beer but that’s taking it a bit too far.”
It’s a fairly interesting point though, as myths about the miraculous qualities of Guinness persist despite all evidence to the contrary. It seems that some pregnant women still take to drinking Guinness (and some mid-wives even continue to recommend it) as it’s supposedly high in iron. In fact it only contains 1.1mg of iron per pint, so even a non-pregnant woman would need to drink 14 pints to get her RDA of iron, which would also give her 2,786 calories. No need to eat at all, eh?
Guinness is a pretty filling beer but not unusually high in calories… for beer. In fact if you go to the Guinness website you can find the table below, which in an attempt to refute this perception puts it at 199 calories a pint, which is at least considerably less than Stella at 245 calories a pint. But then Stella has a higher ABV and if you’re counting calories when you drink beer, you may as well give up and go on to the gin and slimline tonics, because you’ll be depressed anyway.
Apparently Guinness is regarded as an aphrodisiac in some parts of Africa, the Far East and the Carribean, sometimes with a raw egg in it. However one site that suggests stout with raw eggs as a way that a “50 year old man can make love like a 20 year old” also suggests that the unfortunate gentleman tape a magnet to his “sacred chakra”. It goes on:
I hadn’t actually intended to bring any beer back from Dublin, not least because we were flying with frigging Ryanair and had observed their avaricious attitude to baggage allowances before the flight over. However I did end up with one bottle of beer, a Porterhouse Hop Head.
The bottle is very nice: a ringpull bottle cap and a metallic label design, although with what might be regarded as slightly BrewDog-esque design and a similar slightly confrontational first sentence to the blurb. However, instead of launching into postmodernist nonsense, I found it refreshing that the ingredients list told you specifics about the hops (Pilgrim, Nuggett, Cascade, Centennial) and the malt. I recall that the summaries on the beer list in Porterhouse Bars were similarly informative. Given that The Porterhouse is and has been at the forefront of expanding Irish consumers’ beer horizons, this would seem to be a useful and admirable way to do so.
Opening the ringpull cap, the beer poured on the orangey side of pale with a decent amount of carbonation and a thin head. It had a nice piney malty smell like you might expect of an American pale ale. Kate noted strawberry on the nose before me, which then gave way to a slight alcohol smell.
The taste had a definite malty raspberry hint to it. It was really quite fizzy on the tongue, but had some oilyness. In the aftertaste the raspberry flavour gave way to an ultimate bitterness, but always with a slightly alkaline taste.
A few of the ratings on Ratebeer reckon the beer overplays its hand with the name “Hop Head”, and it’s fair to say that whilst it’s quite bitter, it pales (no pun intended) in comparison to some of the more extreme American examples. Nonetheless it seems to be quite well liked and deservedly so. This is a very enjoyable American-style pale ale that I would definitely have again.
It also demonstrated to me that The Porterhouse is able to produce some great beers outside the stouts and porters I’d already been impressed with, particularly their Oyster Stout and Wrassler.
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.
After The Bull & Castle, the second pub we visited on the recommendation of The Beer Nut was Against The Grain. We’d been out to the seaside at Dun Laioghaire on a cool, sunny spring weekday afternoon and on our return to Dublin were in the mood for a pint. From Pearse Station we walked West, stopping briefly to admire the selection in the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street, before crossing St Stephen’s Green and ending up on Wexford Street.
Against The Grain is a relatively new pub which is part of the same chain as The Oslo, The Cottage and The Salt House in Galway. The Oslo is also a brewpub and produces two “Galway Bay” beers, a lager and an ale.
The pub itself has a pleasant frontage and an uncluttered interior. When we went in there was no-one but the barman about, so we sat at the bar and he was happy to chat about beer, on which subject he clearly knew his stuff. The selection of keg and bottled beers was excellent, with quite a few imported craft beers. After a good bit of umming and ahhing I decided on a bottle of O’Hara’s Leann Folláin, a nice full-bodied 6% stout from Carlow Brewing Company. It was a good muscular stout, with a lovely coffee-coloured head and a roasted dark chocolate bitterness.
Kate tried their own Galway Bay Ale, which had a bit of a bready smell and a fairly uninteresting brown beer taste. She also tried the Trouble Brewing Ór, a golden ale. This had an unusual, rich, very sweet orange/mandarin smell. There was definitely a lot of orange in the taste as well, which reminded me of sticky orange Calippo lollipops.
Unfortunately we had to head on and meet someone before the pub presumably started to get livelier with the after-work crowd, but I was again impressed to see such a good representation of both Irish and imported craft beer in a nice welcoming setting. Again, thanks to The Beer Nut for the recommendation, which I’m happy to pass on to you lot.