Archive

Posts Tagged ‘ireland’

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?

Advertisements

Irish Beer: Guinness Gives You Mid-Strength; Mulligans Of Poolbeg Street

April 6, 2011 1 comment

On our last day in Ireland, Kate and I went to see the Book Of Kells (the main problem with which, as an exhibit, is that it’s a book, and it’s therefore only open at one place at any one time), following which we fancied a final pint in a traditional Dublin pub before catching the bus to the airport.

We decided on Mulligan’s on Poolbeg Street, a dark, slightly bare looking pub with horse racing on the TV above the bar.  The Dorling Kindersley Guide To Ireland made the bold assertion that it was generally regarded amongst locals as pouring the best pint of Guinness in the city.

Now, given Guinness’ method of dispense, I am aware that there is actually likely to be bugger all difference from pub to pub.  It’s not hard to keep and in my experience is actually pretty consistent even in England, if you ignore all that “Guinness doesn’t travel” business.

Over the course of four days in Ireland I had naturally consumed Guinness in a number of different pubs: Moran’s Oyster Cottage in Kilcolgan; O’Riardins in Oranmore; McDaid’s off Grafton Street.  Each of them were good and, for the avoidance of doubt, none had a frigging shamrock drawn on the head.

However I had noticed one variation: in around half of the places I had it, the Guinness had a slightly alcoholic kick in the back end of the aftertaste.  I hadn’t noticed this before but Kate recognised it as well.  I’m not sure why it would be present in some places but not others, and thought it might be related to different batches, different ages of beer or perhaps a slightly quicker turnover.  In any case, I quite enjoyed the slightly boozier hit.

The Guinness we had in Mulligan’s didn’t have the alcohol aftertaste, and went perfectly well with a packet of cheese and onion crisps.  However they also had a variation on Guinness that I hadn’t tried before: Guinness Mid-Strength, a 2.8% version of draft Guinness, which is normally 4.2%.

When we ordered a half for a side-by-side comparison, the barman said that he didn’t think it tasted any different.  He wasn’t far off.  Guinness doesn’t smell or taste of very much relative to bolder stouts and porters, so there wasn’t much of a loss in the taste department.  However, there was very slightly more watery mouthfeel.  All-in-all though, I think that any normal drinker, including myself, probably wouldn’t notice it was a different drink to normal Guinness if handed a cold pint in the pub.  Erm, unless it said “Guinness Mid-Strength” on the glass.

It seems to me that a lot of thought has gone into making a beer that tastes as near as possible to normal Guinness but 1.3% less.  It does beg the question as to why they bothered: were people really clamouring for a weaker Guinness?  I know in some quarters it has a reputation for being a stronger beer than it actually is, but at around 4.1% it’s within most people’s definition of a session beer.

It seems that Diageo have been trialling Guinness Mid-Strength for five years now, and It’s being aimed at a market that want to drink during the week, for instance watching the football, but without suffering the “consequences”.  I’m not convinced that further tinkering so close to a core brand that makes much of its long history, tradition and authenticity is the most sensible thing to do, nomatter how much that beer has actually been tweaked, altered and the method of dispense completely overhauled over the years.

With beer duty being halved in the UK for drinks of 2.8% or less produced by large brewers (small brewers don’t get any additional benefit), there’s more incentive than ever for Diageo to attempt to launch Guinness Mid-Strength in the UK.  However, if the experience in Ireland is anything to go by, the saving on duty will go straight into Diageo’s profits and won’t be reflected in the price.

See this post for my reviews of a couple of more muscular versions of Guinness, which I hope survive the rise in beer duty for “superstrength” beers.

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.

%d bloggers like this: