Sunday, 16 September 2012

#82: Dublin - Round 1

The Irish Craft Beer Festival took place last weekend in Dublin, and I sadly couldn't make it. However, I had planned to go to the capital in the days after anyway, so I tried my best to get some nice beers in to nurse the disappointment. Here they are. Oh, and you can read a nice account of the actual festival here.

Staying near Temple Bar, we decided to keep it local. We only had two days and a lot of time and walking was to be spent on non-beer related tourism. Luckily, with a hotel on Dame Street we were right in the middle of two great craft beer pubs, each a 3-minute walk from our lodgings.

On the Temple Bar side is the Porterhouse, the place I was most determined to see of the many good craft beer joints in Dublin. The have all their own on tap, with one on cask (on this occasion Hop Head), and around three or four guest taps. One of those was housing Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and for me there was only one choice to make.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
This Sierra Nevada Pale Ale pours clear amber with a tiny white head and slow carbonation. The nose doesn't surprise, but it delivers lovely fruity hops, the piney bitterness you'd expect from Sierra Nevada and a slight hint of caramel malt underneath. The taste is nothing short of excellent. It's got loads of citrus, grapefruit and bubblegum, as does the bottled version, but with a surprisingly more pronounced woody malt character. The beer signs off with a nutty finish.

To compare it more to the bottled version, I'd say it's got a bit more balance, but that doesn't take anything from the hops in this beer - you still get the gorgeous sunny refreshment from the fruit and floral notes. Lovely stuff, and one I'm coming to appreciate more and more as my standard Pale Ale. I wish I could get this on tap regularly.

The next day, we had just over an hour to spare before we made our way to the train station, so it was back to the Porterhouse to say goodbye. Really, I love pretty much everything about this place, what I would give to have one in Cork!

Galway Hooker
My first was a pint of Galway Hooker, something I should have tried a long time ago. Hooker pours a nice bronze colour, with a small film of a head. The aroma is amazing. Bubblegum and candy sweetness scream from this one, with hops lending the appropriate fruit high notes and big slabs of toffee underneath. Really, gorgeous stuff. The taste took me by surprise, with loads of chopped hazelnuts and peanuts interspersed with malty toffee, grapefruit and bitter apple.

It's a delicious beer, and more malt driven than I'd expected, with a lovely aftertaste that lingers for ages. Another good choice.

My last in the Porterhouse was a treat I decided to award myself. I usually never buy bottles in a bar because of the huge mark-up, but seeing as I was having trouble finding this one in my local off-licences, I decided to take the plunge.


Paulaner Salvator is supposedly the original Doppelbock, a style I've fallen in love with. Keep your hop bombs, I'll take an atomic malt assault any day. Salvator pours a dark copper colour with a very small head. I'm not sure how people are 'supposed' to serve doppelbocks, and each to their own and all that, but I definitely prefer mine off the shelf, if you will. This was right from the fridge, and the aroma was fairly subdued. I did pick up the massive sweetness, offered by brown sugar and dark oily malts. The taste follows suit, with loads of brown sugar, golden syrup, marzipan, toffee and a hint of alcohol to finish. This is my kind of beer, but not in my kind of way. These are flavours that need to be enjoyed at room temperature (or just below), and the ice cold serving only adds to the harshness of the drink that in the end, I couldn't finish.

The higher alcohol content didn't seem to be the problem here, rather it was the way the stuff sat on my already iffy stomach, and the way you can almost feel scratchy grains of sugar siding down your throat. It's all just perceived, I know, but really the best word to describe the beer is harsh. I still loved the taste, so I expect to someday try this again on my own terms, and not immediately after a pint, which may have compounded the problem.

In between those two visits to the Porterhouse, we managed to do a couple in the Bull and Castle, also extremely close to the hotel, but in the other direction. I love the look of the place, and it offers a very nice craft beer selection, so I was happy as soon as I took my seat.

Helvick Gold
 They had Dungarvan's Helvick Gold on cask, so I went for the half pint. What a disappointment. I know I make such a fuss about cold serving temperatures, and now I feel like Goldilocks, but really this was just too warm. It pours golden-copper hue, and offers very little on the aroma. The taste is woody, grainy and malty, and with a horrible and potent soapy finish, where it gets it's bitterness. Lemon might be hidden in there too, but really, it's the chemical taste that dominates the whole mess. Warm, flat and tasting like washing-up liquid, a massive disappointment.

They have lots of good stuff on offer in the Bull and Castle, including four Irish taps for €4 a pint. Metalman Pale Ale and Galway Hooker were among them, but I opted instead for something I knew I wouldn't be able to get back home.

Buckley's Golden Ale

Buckley's Golden Ale is contract brewed by the Carlow Brewing Company for the F.X Buckley bar/restaurant collection. It pours a pale golden into the lovely Bull and Castle glass. The aroma doesn't give off too much, with sweet lager-like malts enticing the drinker. The taste is where things start to go downhill. It's tangy. Really tangy like the terribly off Paulaner Hefeweissbier I once had in the Crane Lane. Maybe the tap here was having the same problems, and I hope so, because otherwise this is just a very bad beer. It's lightly hopped and once again imitates a lager with a nice grainy finish, but nothing can cover up the tangy bite that all but ruins the beer. It's quite gassy too, and I ended up leaving half the pint behind.

It's a shame my only two drinks in the Bull and Castle were duds, as the selection was fantastic and the setting perfect. I can't help but feel I just go t a bit unlucky.

Nevertheless, there's plenty to encourage me to return to both of these bars, as well as to explore more of Dublin's craft beer credentials. Perhaps when I have more time.


  1. Aww, bummer about the Helvick: when it's on form it's nearly unbeatable. The Bull & Castle uses an immersion chiller in its cask. That tends to produce beer which is more likely to be too cold than too warm: you may have hit a malfunction.

    And I'd have gone with the Hop Head :) I reckon any hop-forward beer crossing the continental US and Atlantic Ocean cannot compete with one that merely has to cross the M50.

    And thanks for the linkage!

    1. It was my first cask beer, so I had no frame of reference, but I did feel there was something up. I'll have to try the bottle and see how the stuff actually tastes.

      And yeah, in hindsight I reckon I'd change most my choices! I love the Sierra Nevada so no regrets there, but I do regret passing up Hop Head on cask. Also, there's such a nice selection in the Bull and Castle that I feel I spent my ducats rather unwisely.

      Oh well, I'll be looking to go back up soon anyway, just for the day and just to drink some more beer. Such a great scene up there. Cheers.

  2. Real shame about the Helvick, it's a beautiful beer. All Dungarvan beers are cask or bottle conditioned.