Last Updated : 08/07/06
ere's Dave Unpronounceable Irish article (at last!!!) which promises to explain all about the last ten years of brewpubs and micro-breweries in the country.
Got any Guinness mate? - by Herbal.
Way back in 1996 (yes, I was underage!), I was still a student, and a long way from being able to afford my now-frequent trips in pursuit of what Pogo would refer to as ‘Foreign Muck’. I therefore made sure of my freedom from the flat-earth society through frequent trips to Ireland, primarily in search of super-charged GMs, but with beers coming a close second.
When I made my first trip, although the then-unpasteurised Guinness was vastly superior to today’s bland product, finding anything else was far from easy. Around Cork there was the option of Beamish or Murphy’s as well, but that was it unless you could be bothered to take the twice-daily bus to from Ennis to Inagh to visit the Biddy Early brewery.
I have now tried well over 100 Irish beers. Most of these were sampled in Ireland, but credit must also go to Malcolm Shipp of Shipping beer. Shortly after taking over the Swan With Two Necks in Bristol from Geoff ‘Crooked Bastard’ (not even allegedly, three month sentence for VAT evasion!) Smith, Malcolm held an Irish festival for Paddy’s Day. I passed him all the contacts I had, and he proceeded to put on a festival representing almost every Irish brewery. This also provided the springboard for the launch of Shipping Beer, which over a couple of years supplied loads of pubs and festivals with Irish beer.
Two months after my first trip, in May 1996, things really started to look up, with the opening of the first brewing Porter House (the original Porter House remains open in Bray, but does not brew). Located on Parliament St (see Gazza’s article for the location of the others, and some other Dublin bars, as I can’t be arsed to repeat it here!), I paid my first visit in October 1996, finding the full range of beers on offer, plus a special for Halloween named Witches’ Brew at 6.66%. At that time some of the beers were available through a handpump, with the remainder being served by air pressure, filtered but not pasteurised.
The pub was converted from Rumpolds, a standard Dublin Guinness bar, at a cost of several million punts (yes Gazza, I’m old enough to remember pre-Disneydollar Dublin!). Brewer Peter Moseley brewed daily on the cramped 10-barrel plant, part of which is visible from the stairs down to the toilets. This plant is no longer in use as to meet demand for their now-expanded empire PH have had to move brewing operations to the Dublin Brewing Co (see below) plant.
Brewing awards were quickly forthcoming, as was some more unofficial praise in the form of some graffiti in the gents’ which read ‘Porter House – only two years old and already three stouts better than Dublin’s oldest brewery’.
As well as its own beers, the pub sells over a hundred different bottled beers (a tiny number compared to the 6,500 different bottles that line the walls!). Despite this, on every one of my many visits, there was always one misguided soul who came in and asked for Guinness (hence the title of this gibber). Most were easily persuaded to try the PH beers, but some actually walked out in disgust! Probably Yankee cretins afraid of actually tasting something!
The pub also hosts the annual All-Ireland Beer Festival, featuring every Irish brewery. This was the scene for one of my most drunken sessions ever: one lunchtime (fresh off an overnight boat too!) I dropped in with two hours to spare prior to catching the 071-hauled 1600 FO Dublin-Cork, and found eight winners. However, Irish maths does not stretch to the correct halving of prices, so a half (or ‘glass’) typically costs two-thirds as much as a pint. Being an accountant, and a belligerent one at that, I naturally thought ‘Fuck that! Pints it is then!’. Eight pints and two hours later (and not aided by the gas in the beers), I staggered onto Heuston station, having trouble telling the barrier gripper that I wanted to go to Cork. I remember very little of the journey to Cork (or the return, or the first half of the tour the next day…)!
The regular beers:
Porterhouse Red 4.4% - a traditional, malty, Red Ale (does what it says on the tin (or pumpclip at least));
Plain Porter 4.3% - a dry porter, well balanced and easy to drink (more so than most Irish beers, as the gas in many makes them hard to bosh regardless of the taste)
Oyster Stout 4.8% - somewhat sweeter, brewed with real oysters, so no tick here for the veggies!
Wrasslers XXXX Stout – a stronger, more bitter version of the porter, how a proper Irish Stout should be.
Chiller 5% - a genuine American style lager, nothing like most ‘American’ lagers seen suing Czech producers for using their own name…
Templebrau 4.3% - a Pilsner style , which seems to be aiming at the Budvar taste, though possibly not matching it with the reduced alcohol content.
Hersbrucker 5.0% - a European style lager, quite difficult to drink due to the gas, though still refreshing.
An Brainblasta 7.0% - A strong, malty red ale, and Ireland’s strongest regular beer (Porter House, Dwan, and Messrs Maguire have all brewed stronger specials)
Specials have included Weiss 5.5%, Ginger Weiss (vile!) 5.5%, Rebellion Stout 4.3%, Hemp 5.0%, Kolsch 4.4%, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (brewed to an American recipe), TSB (originally brewed for the first UK Porter House in Covent Garden), Tom’s Tincture 6.7%, Vienna 5.0%.
Across the river, hidden among the market areas, is Dublin Brewing Company, a 50 barrel plant in a warehouse type building. Unlike Porter House, this is not a brewpub, though there is a small brewery tap at the front. As well as allowing Porter House to brew there, DBC also had a good trade in bottled beers, including export to the UK. They had a regular range of four beers, all 4.7%: Beckett’s Gold, Beckett’s Red, Revolution Ale, and D’Arcy’s Irish Stout. They also produced Maeve’s Crystal Wheat as on occasional beer.
There was not much opening activity for a couple of years, but in 1998 things started to happen much quicker. While visiting the Porter House in December 1998, I was told by the manager of not one, but three new breweries to try.
The easiest to cover was Messrs Maguire, which had opened the previous week on the corner of Burgh Quay and O’Connell St, five minutes downstream (or upstream depending on the tides!) from Porter House. A similar multi-floor building to the Porter House, the brewery itself being located behind glass at the front. Brewing was initially carried out by Chris, formerly of various Firkins, who has now moved on.
The five regular beers are:
Yankee 4.2% - American style lager
Haus 4.3% - A Pilsner style using imported Czech and Bavarian hops
Rusty 4.3% - traditional red ale
Plain 4.3% - a smooth porter
Extra 5.0% - a proper Irish stout.
Chris, and later Cuillan (formerly of Dwan), brewed regular specials, which have included:
Abbey 7.4%, Black Queen Honey Stout 4.3%, Blonde 5.0%, Bock 8.0%, Brown Ale 4.4%, Buzz 4.4%, Dark Rider 4.2%, Dublin Pilsner 5.6%, Golden Gate 4.8%, IPA 5.8%, Kolsch 5.0%, LA Stout 3.7%, Liquorice Stout 4.3%, Mild 3.5% Munich Dunkel 5.0%, Northern Brewer Dark Ale 4.6%, Pale Ale 4.6%, Pils 5.0%, Port Stout 5.1% (hellfire!), Raspberry Yankee 4.2%, Rotes Weiss 5.2%, Smokey 7.0%, Super Saaz 4.3%, SW2N Liberty Red 4.6% (dry hop for Swan With Two Necks), Weiss 5.2%.
Next up was Carlow, no prizes for guessing where they’re based. They are in fact in the station goods shed, and although there is no brewery tap, when they are brewing there is no trouble turning up for a visit, and of course some sampling. Their range consists of Curim 4.3%, Molings Red Ale 4.3%, and O’Hara’s Stout 4.3%. There was also a wheat beer lately, but I managed to miss it. The beers are currently imported to the UK by Moor Beer Co, and are also fairly widely available in bottles.
My next port of call was Franciscan Well (on North Mall) in Cork. Situated on the riverbank a ten minute walk west of the station, this brewpub supplies a regular range of beers, which occasionally find their way to the UK. Lager drinkers are catered for by Rebel County Lager 4.3%, while more traditional beers are represented by Round Tower Red Ale 5.0%, Rebel Red 4.3%, and Shandon Stout 4.3%. There is also Blarney Blonde 4.3%, a wheat beer tending towards the Belgian style. Also appearing at least once was Purgatory, though I cheated and scored this at Bolton beerex!
Later that week I managed to visit the Dwan brewpub in Thurles. Sadly now defunct (the pub is still there, the brewery is not. The beers sometimes appear from Messrs Maguire, and beers of the same names are brewed by Milestone in the UK), Dwan sold good food and a wide range of whiskeys as well as a range of five permanent beers. The latter consisted of Silver Frost 4.1%, and American style lager so pale as to be almost transparent. The tettnang and cascade hops gave the beer a refreshing flavour, though it was quite thin. More full-bodied, Cool Amber 4.3% (later 5.7%) was sweeter, with Hallertau Perle hops. Rich Ruby 4.6% was smooth and fruity, made with chocolate and crystal malts. Black Pearl 4.3% was a smooth, easy-drinking stout, while An Dubhain (literally ‘The Black One’) 5.0% has more flavour with plenty of roasted barley. The specials included All Rye Now 5.0%, Carden’s Choc Stout 4.8%, Carden’s IPA 6.5%, Carden’s Ould Porter 5.0%, Carden’s Sweet Stout 3.5%, Carden’s Vienna 5.2%, Carden’s Wild Ale 5.1%, Christmas Ale 6.3%, Cuillan’s Special Bitter 4.2%, Euro Paddy 6.0%, Festive Paddy 6.0% Frosty's Tipple 6.0%, Harvest Gold 5.5%, Honey Gold 4.5%, Imperial Gold 7.0%, Paddy's Oats 4.5%, Paddy's Pale Ale 6.5%, Paddy's Porter 5.0%, Senseless Paddy 7.0%, Summer Breeze 4.0%, Tiger's Eye5.0%, Tokyo Paddy 4.0% (world cup beer), and Turn Hemp Lager 4.3%. There was also a cherry beer that I managed to miss early on.
Opening in 1999, Balbriggan (guess where) produced only two beers that I know of, namely Black Raven Stout 4.0%, and before that Ballymaguire 4.8%, a lager-type beer so redolent of apples that in a blind tasting I’d swear it was a cider (certainly more appley than anything sold as cider in Ireland!).
The Irish Brewing Co at Newbridge produce just one beer, Brew No 1 4.3%, a lager which is to be found as a permanent guest in the main Porter House.
Emerald of County Galway are near impossible to track down (if they’re even still going), the only beer I ever scored was the 5% Emerald Gold Lager.
Heading back east, Celtic Brewing Co at Enfield, Co Meath produces a range of beers more commonly seen in bottles, but also regularly appearing in the Porter House. Beers include Finian’s Gold 4.8%, and Finian’s Red, Finian’s Lager and Finian’s Pale all at 4.3%.
Most recently, O’Malley’s of Kilkenny have entered the scene, producing Irish Porter 5.2%, Lager 4.0% and Traditional Ale 4.2%, plus specials including Tullaroan Supreme 4.3%, Old Town Ale 4.5%, and Last Orders 4.4%.
And of course, where it all started, Biddy Early. While I have never visited the brewpub (too hard to get to, especially if you’re desperate for the 121 mileage like I was!). They produced the first real ale in Ireland since Guinness went keg-only decades ago, namely Real Biddy 4.6%, a cask version of their Red Biddy. Also available are Blonde Biddy and Black Biddy.
Meanwhile, in the Northern Counties, Hilden, Whitewater, and now College Green keep the real beer flag flying in the sea of mass-produced black water.
Overall then, Ireland experienced quick growth of micro-brewing around the turn of the century, but lately this has slowed and even declined slightly with the loss of at least Dwan. However, the scene is clearly a lot better than ten years ago, with some real choice on offer in most cities at least. Because of the tourist demand for Guinness, it is unlikely that Ireland will witness the exponential growth seen here, as there is no guest beer market despite the fact that most pubs are free houses.
Unfortunately, Dublin in particular has seen prices rise exponentially since the introduction of the euro. Whereas before a pint would cost around IR£2.40 in Dublin i.e. under £2 sterling, now you will receive little change from €5, so working out at over £3 sterling. Train fares in Ireland are relatively expensive, but if one wanted to visit a few places around the country then a euro-domino is the best bet, though these are due to be withdrawn from April 2007. Transport in Dublin is not too bad, with a relatively inexpensive bus and tram day ticket available.
Dave Unpronounceable, July 2006.