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Irish Beer: Porterhouse Hop Head

April 19, 2011 2 comments

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. 

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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