Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

I’m going to Prague next month. Oh, you’ll sure say. You mean going back to Prague? As a beer hound you must have been there before?

Yes, I’ve been there, but that was way back. 1988. I won’t bore you with the endless hours of haggling with our totalitarian hosts, nor with the long discussion we had with a chain smoking playwright just out of prison, as I try to stay clear of this type of discussions on the blog. But I exchanged a few dollars for local currency in a bar, and enjoyed a fair number of good beers in bars like U Fleku and the Golden Tiger.

I have enjoyed some of the Czech beers entering the European market in more recent years, too, but not in a systematic way. I am really looking forward to trying some of the unpasteurized beers on their home turf, and I have already enlisted the help of Evan  to advise me on how to go straight for the best pubs and avoid the tourist traps.

It was therefore quite convenient for me to have a look inside the Czech Inn in Dublin the other week, as The Beer Nut had mentioned that they had several interesting beers on tap.

This is a pub that seems to cater for a mixed crowd, offering an alternative to the endless pints of stout. There is probably a market of Central European expats making a core market, as the buzz of conversation I picked up during my afternoon visit seemed to confirm. (Hardly statistical evidence, but what do you expect from a blog?)

I did not see any food menus inside, but out front there were signs promising sturdy Austro-Hungarian fare like dumplings and goulash. I went for the beer list instead, which celebrates their two year anniversary by extra beers on tap in addition to the regular list of Czech and Slovak beers.

The Konrad Premium beer is a bit stronger than the ordinary Bohemian pilsner at 5.4%. It is biscuity, with lots of cereal flavour. Rather sweet, but there are enough hops to make a well composed beer.

Kvasar from the Cerna Hora brewery is brewed with honey. This has a very full flavour, with the honey clearly evident, giving an extra dimension to the beer without making it cloyingly sweet. It is similar to some of the best beers I tried in Latvia earlier this year. This beer would be wonderful for cooking, I would love to poach some salmon in this brew and make a sauce of it afterwards.

A medium body, a very quaffable beer. There are even hops in the background making sure the honey does not steal the show totally.

The scene? Rather 1980s retro, lists of cocktails at 8 Euro a glass, very quiet and civilized in the afternoon. But, this being Temple Bar, I imagine it is more suited to a younger crowd around midnight. By then I was safely tucked up.

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Busy, busy

I’m terribly sorry, but there is a life outside the blogsphere intruding on my time and priorities. In the meantime, I would like to proclaim the first floor beer hall of the Bull and Castle, Christ Church, Dublin, as the most photo-friendly pub on the planet.

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By Herschell Hershey. From the Londonist.

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I learned a new word when in Dublin. Well, two if you count the fact that a hooker is a fishing vessel.

The word is shebeen. There was media coverage about a splendid excample, and it was easy to understand what it was all about. I looked it up in wikipedia anyway:

Chiefly in Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and Zimbabwe, a shebeen (Irish: sibín) is an illicit bar or clubwhere excisable alcoholic beverages are sold without a licence. In Namibia, such an establishment is known as a Cuca Shop.

The shebeen in question is established by a 33 year old man from Limerick, who tells the Irish Independent that he has been barred from every pub in town, so he decided to invite people to his home instead. Economy is also a factor, with supermarket beer being a lot cheaper than in pubs. Since this is not a licenced place, they don’t feel any obligation to follow the smoking ban, either.

The host claims that he just opens his home to friends, and that they bring their own beer.

The presence of a pool table, satellite TV with a ll channels and a poker machine sound to me a bit more like a public place.

He had beer raided by the Garda (that’s the police) twice in a week before he became a celebrity, I don’t know how he has fared since. 

All types of licensing, regulations and bans on booze has triggered the inventiveness of the public. This has given a platform for organized crime in some countries, in other places there have been thriving cottage industries.

Here in Norway, there has not been any network of illegal or semi-legal drinking clubs. Rather, there have been supposedly dry events, like weekend dances around the countryside, where alcohol was either drunk outside, the bottles being hidden in car trunks or in the bushes, or there was a more or less open consumption of home distilled 90% alcohol, usually being mixed with strong coffee. Beer is not as convenient for getting past the guards in your inner pocket, so the moonshine usually dominated.

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It had to happen sooner or later. I travel a lot, and while I do not actively seek out the seedy parts of town, I sometimes stumble across them. I booked a Brussels hotel on the web focusing on the rate and proximity to the centre. It was only when I returned there in the evening I saw what kind of neighbourhood I was in, with ladies winking at me from every window.

I navigated through the streets of the Hague looking for a brewpub last year, and encountered a very non-inviting street that made me speed up a bit and find another route back later.

But, generally, I am not even approached by ladies offering their services. More often, in any city, people walk up to me and ask directions. In Finnish, Italian or Greek. I suppose with my glasses, my hair a bit long and a slightly bewildered look on my face I look like a graying teacher, someone it is safe to approach and ask for the fastest route to the railway station.

I was, therefore, anticipating a new experience when my fellow beer blogger the Beer Nut offered to introduce me to a Galway hooker. I have chatted with the Beer Nut quite frequently over the last year or two, but we have actually met in person only once, on neutral territory. I do not know the customs of the Emerald Isle too well, and I would certainly not want to offend the natives.

It turned out the Galway Hooker is a beer. And it is named after a boat. (I don’t know where the boat got its name!) And, while beers with slightly risque references often turn out to be boring, this turned out to be the best beer I have had on tap in Ireland. It is a lovely IPA, refreshing with lots of hops, grass, flowers and bitterness. A long lingering finish.

The place where they serve this beer, alongside a good range of imports and a number of Irish micro brews is the Bull and Castle. This is a two story pub, with the upstairs function room transferred into a mock German beer hall, complete with tables and benches.

Apart from the Beer Nut, I had the chance to meet up with some other members of the Irish Craft Brewer group, but I’m afraid I had to make my excuses fairly early in the afternoon. I managed to sample the Galway Hooker Coffee Porter as well as two beers from Franciscan Well, too. And even the Brooklyn/Schneider Hopfen Weisse, who the landlord kindly let us taste. Too little time, good company, hope I have some more time on my next visit! One thing is for sure, this pub should be the first watering hole to aim for when arriving in Dublin.

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When I was told I had a business meeting in Dublin, I was not hard to convince. There are direct flights, the taxi drivers are friendly, there are good beers to be had if you know where to find them.

Since my last visit two years ago, it seems the micro movement has evolved further, and I happily boarded my flight, which took off right on schedule in contrast to the Zürich plane the week before that stayed on the tarmac for hours. The plane was full, mostly of men my age with classy leisure wear. I discover by the baggage belt on the other end that they all had checked in golf clubs – luckily they did not smash any of the beers I had brought along for the Beer Nut.

Being a fair bit longer than average, I always go for an aisle seat, but there was only one row in flexible economy, so I had a window seat for a change. Lovely weather gave first a view of the Norwegian mountains, still with meters of snow for those who want to prolong the winter. Onwards towards the coast near Stavanger and across the North Sea. There were only a few fluffy clouds, which mean you could see both ships and oil rigs down below.

We landed in Dublin ahead of schedule, and the coach for the hotel left as soon as I hand entered.

I checked in and found the station for the Dart train just behind my hotel. The trains are not too frequent, but it is a comfortable means of mass transit, especially outside rush hours.

I was meeting up with John and a few others from the Irish Craft Brewer community in a few hours, so I had a sweep through the two brewpubs in central Dublin, Messrrs Maguire and the Porterhouse.

Messrrs Maguire plays it very safe, with a standard range of ales and lagers that are rather boring. They had a special beer on, however, what they called an Imperial Stout. This was a seriously good smoked stout, but probably not strong enough to call it imperial. Lovely smokiness in an easy-drinking stout body. Beige head over a very dark ruby beer. My only objection is that they could have brewed this a bit stronger – but I would not mind drinking my way through a few more of this.

Their best bitter was a disappointment. I was told later that a cask version of this had appeared at beer festival. This was, however, a keg version, subjected to a heavy-handed nitrogen treatment. If you want a reference, some of the more bland British canned bitters with a nitro widget, like Boddington, comes close.  I did not finish my half.

I was sorely tempted to renew my acquaintance with the range of stouts at the Porterhouse, but instead I focused at their occasional Chocolate Truffle Stout.

The taste was very much chocolate truffle and very little stout. Somehow they have managed to blend the chocolate seamlessly with the stout base, but it erases any trace of the character of the beer itself. I suppose they have gone for a rather bland flavour in the stout before adding the flavour.

How is it? Like O’boy, but slightly less sweet and milky. It is better than it sounds – but a half pint was enough!

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More travel..

Off to Dublin in the morning, but only for a very short visit. I promise to report next week…


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