Way way back in the now dust-covered month of July I had the chance to nip to the capital on the train for a day, to meet and return with the Sober Destrier. If seven hours in Dublin means anything, it's pints.
It was daunting stuff getting up at around 6am for said train, and with a bit of a delay near Portlaoise it was well after 10 by the time I walked onto the platform in Heuston. My handwritten 'Dublin Pubs Opening Times™' guide told me that the earliest opener for a discerning drinker was also one of the spots I've missed a number of times on previous trips.
J.W. Sweetman's was really the perfect first stop; sure, it was awkward being that guy, walking in the door at 10.30 looking for a vegetarian breakfast while the staff was still setting up tables and mopping the walkways, but they were friendly, accommodating, and, above all, they didn't blink when I asked for a tasting platter of their house beers with my breakfast.
Said breakfast was delicious, filling, and kept me occupied until 11, when the beers were deemed fit for drinking. Whether this is by law or by policy I do not know. The Blonde was the most sensible place to start; light and lemony, with a tingling of citrusy hop but really a liquid biscuit that serves as a pretty good breakfast beer, being fresh, bright and light but crucially not watery. That said, I'm not sure it would hold my attention for a whole pint.
Red was next and it's a fairly bland affair. Again it's light with a vague woody caramel thing going on but ultimately it's just so bland. I noted at the time that this might scratch a normo's 'ale itch' but it lacks anything exciting enough to keep a beer hunter interested.
The Pale Ale is more an English than an American example, gives a big juicy orange character upfront and favours a respectful and respectable lingering bitterness over a lupuline assault. The body is a bit light here too, like the others, but no harm, no foul. Orange chocolate toffee is the impression it leaves on the palate, and so far it is the most enjoyable of the bunch.
Porter for breakfast is an exceptional idea, especially when your porter smells like coffee and woodsmoke, like this one does. Immediately it wins the platter, with a medium to full body delivering loads of meaty, milky chocolate and cold coffee. It's not a smoked porter, but one could easily be fooled. The lack of a nitro serving wins it yet more points, as does its background tobacco leaf complexity. At this point, I was considering the pint.
The last beer was unknown to me; marked only as the brewery's seasonal, I opted to try it blind to see if I could guess the style. Dark malts abound here, with toffee and raisin opening for something a bit tangy. Exceptionally clear though it was, I couldn't help but think it might be a Dunkelweiss, with its sour fruit and toffee chocolate palate play. Either way, it wasn't nearly as good as the porter - none of them were.
With the belly full it was time for a few non-beery engagements before I found myself wandering into Porterhouse Central for a tap scan. This yielded what I think is Trouble Brewing's Equinox S.M.A.S.H, labelled in the Porterhouse simply as Marris Otter, a beer I can't find mention of elsewhere. Like the Vic Secret S.M.A.S.H. (notes to come), this had an unpleasantly coarse, husky grain thing going on that put me in mind of scorched barley or the like, with bitter lemon skins following up to give you some idea of what should have been happening. At only 4.8% it's incredibly in-your-face, and I just can't get on board with the offensive graininess. Trouble are brewing amazing beer at the moment, this is not one of them.
Onwards to the Porterhouse in Temple Bar where a can of Firestone Walker Easy Jack caught my eye. Like The Beer Nut, I'm surprised such a highly regarded U.S. craft brewery has managed to sidle quietly onto Irish import shelves without much fuss, but there you go. Perhaps all observers to the import market had already tried Easy Jack, and learned that it is an underwhelming, unfussworthy beer and are simply tired of being let down by U.S. IPAs. It's clear gold and my first impression is of the oddly full texture to the beer. Mango and grapefruit are there, but before you go thinking this is some sort of hop-bomb it all gets grounded by an old-world vegetal green-ness and graininess, with some lemon cheesecake making a final guest appearance. It's not a bad beer by any means, but as I say above, it is categorically unworthy of fuss.
By now I'd had some nice beer, some OK beer and even some bad beer. To remedy this I went to the nearest Galway Bay joint which was The Black Sheep. Only a schooner was had here, and that was Goodbye Blue Monday. I'd had this way back in January but neglected to feature it on the Destrier, so this schooner was to refresh my memory as well as interject some ridiculously great beer into proceedings. Juicy, bittersweet tangerine or mandarin (who cares which?) opens up. There's orange marmalade and tropical fruit too. The nose gets a proper burst of U.S. hops, peel more than pine, and the creamy texture and perceivably hefty grain bill on the palate is way more drinkable than it should be. A tad unusual and different from other beers of its type, it is essentially a very good IPA. Boom.
So I've had one of my favourite types of beer - the hoppy, bright, fruity kind. What about the other types? Not only that, but after a spicy snack on the way back down Capel Street my palate needed cleansing, so it was time for the day's first and only lager. For this I went to the Czech Inn, superior proponents of Czech macro beer and odd, empty daytime atmospheres with ancient pop music playing quietly and Wimbledon broadcast via Czech TV. Curious. The service and reception here is always good and if you grab yourself a seat by the window there's some great people-watching to be done. For accompaniment I went for Pivovar Herold's dark lager, which Ratebeer tells me is Herold Černý Ležák, a 5.2%-er of the Tmavý clan. It pours darker than the dark woodwork of the Czech Inn and sports a fetching off-white head. Biscuity, lagery grain is the dominant characteristic on the nose, even suggesting a slight tang that furrowed my brow. There's no such complications to taste though, just a smooth and creamy showing of chewy toffee and raisiny dark malts. It's no Altbairisch Dunkel but it's very good nonetheless. It also makes for good practice for next week's Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Munich round trip, which will no doubt be full of lager, many of them dark.
By now it was finally opening time for the new main attraction for beery trips to Dublin; the Beer Market, and I just about had time for a quick visit. This Galway Bay establishment boasts 20 rotating taps with a focus on imported things you won't find elsewhere. Despite this, my first pick was Galway Bay's own In Bloom, a gorse flower wit. And frack me was it a good choice. An uncharacteristically thick and full and, dare I say yet again, creamy body does this beer no harm. Sure, it's not the light refreshing quaffer you might expect from a wit but the texture only enhances the white pepper and herbal, spicy fruit interplay. There's not even a lot of the typical coriander note here, just a vague green herbal off-bitterness that bigs up the citrus side of the beer wonderfully. A purist might want to strip this down and knock it back, but I loved it.
There's a serious choice to be made looking up at the tap list and the barman wasn't holding back on the samples; he offered so many I had to turn most of them down out of guilt. I did accept a taste of Mikkeller's Juicebag, feeling in the mood for a sour. A 7.7% Oud Bruin, it really is sour. Too sour, in fact, forcing me to call it imbalanced. I'm sure this would scratch an itch for many people in the mood for some palate punishment but for me it took a step too far into the vinegar side.
Much more drinkable and enjoyable was the last beer of the day, Loverbeer's Madamin. This is another Oud Bruin/Flemish Red pretender, though a good deal paler than I'd expect from such a style. Before it destroys your face Madamin thoughtfully delivers a fair whack of chewy malts followed by a tangy, woody, wheaty sourness, crushed cherries and tonnes of sherbert. It's puckering and you find yourself chewing it over for ages afterwards, but it's good drinking, and a much more complex offering than the Mikkeller effort, and a whole 0.1% lower ABV!
And so ends the trip.
Next up, Bierhaus Miscellany.