Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rising Tides

It's been a great few weeks on the Irish craft beer front. It started with the first Irish stout to be pulled from a cask in an Irish pub for over 50 years during the St Patrick's Day celebrations, and this week we have the 6th Independent Irish Beer and Whiskey Festival being held at the Porterhouse. I chanced an invite to the press launch and must confess to thinking this was the first festival of this kind, being unaware of the previous ones. During conversation with Oliver, one of the Porterhouse founders, and the head brewer Peter, I witnessed Oliver turning to Peter and state that they should never have stopped holding these festivals. There appears to have been a hiatus between the last festival and this one, but Oliver's earnest tone clearly displays his love of the craft brewing in Ireland. He is firm believer of the rising tide lifting all boats and as a result, despite the Porterhouse's huge success, they refuse to be complacent and actively seek to help other craft brewers who do not have the luxury of a brew pub to sell their beer, relying upon the caprice and greed of the average Irish publican who for the most part is not the micro brewer's friend.

On the whole, the Irish craft brewing scene is an open collection of people, almost all of them will allow you to root around their breweries and offer you a glass of the very freshest craft beer from a conditioning tank. Yet the Porterhouse lads have come across some very strange attitudes over the years in their attempt to share some of the vast experience they have at producing and marketing craft beer. One brewery (now defunct) reluctantly dealt with them, guarding their 'trade secrets', and was generally very secretive about their operation, yet they still expected the Porterhouse to sell their beer. This is the antithesis of the current craft brewing scene in Ireland and might go some way to explaining why that brewery has been dispatched to the annals of Irish craft brewing history.

It's not very often you get the chance to talk at length with a master brewer so I, along with a few other keenly interested individuals, grabbed the opportunity to get some technical information out of Peter the Porterhouse head brewer. Snippets about recipe formulation, dispense systems and general problems with getting keg carbonation just right were touched upon and eagerly devoured. Interestingly Peter appeared to hint at a small degree of envy towards the length of time the head stays on a pint of Guinness. I was quick to reassure him that while a Guinness head might stay around longer, the head on a pint of any of the Porterhouse stouts looks far more appetising than other stouts, having a more luscious appearance and richer colour. It's interesting to note that even the most successful micro brewers might cast an envious eye towards St. James's Gate once in a while.

The beer available consisted of the best that Irish micro breweries have to offer. It was wonderful to have them all in the same place it is inevitable that much good will come from the attention drawn to this small niche in Ireland's multi billion Euro beer market. The beer that interested me most came from the boys at Galway Hooker, who kick started the Irish craft beer scene again with the introduction of their iconoclastic hop driven pale ale a few years ago. Dunkel weisse is their latest venture which fills a gap in the Irish Craft beer scene in that no other brewer has made this style of beer before. It fills the need quite well with a refreshing spiciness mingling with a light roast character. The biggest surprise of the night was Clotworthy Dobbin from the Whitewater Brewing Co. This beer had received extensive hype last year when it was given very high praise from an international voting panel. I tried it in the bottle shortly afterward and wondered what all the fuss was about, but it has become clear to me why this beer was so well received having had a pint of it from keg; it is full of wonderful hops backed up superbly with rich chewy malt. Clearly this beer doesn't do too well in the bottle. Another very satisfying beer came from Messrs Maguire who offered a malty bock from keg. At only 4.7% abv it wasn't exactly in bock territory but didn't suffer at all as a result. The last time this beer turned up it was 6%, but apparently caused problems in the bar it was served in with punters getting smashed on it rather too quickly.

There were many other beers available but I couldn't hope to get to them all on a work night, but I plan to drop in tomorrow and have a few more. The official judging for the beer of the festival was carried out today. I don't know who won, but keep an eye on Aran Brew where Laura (that's her looking coy on the left) will no doubt announce the winners because she was part of the judging panel. Everyone who can should make an effort to get to a Porterhouse and sample some of the wonderful beer on offer. I speak especially to those in and around London who might be able to get to the Covent Garden branch because this is a golden opportunity to try some quality Irish craft ale. I'm not sure how much of it will arrive in London, but at the very least you might get to try some Galway Hooker Pale Ale and that alone will make it worth the effort.


The Beer Nut said...

I really must have a go at the reformulated Bock. I've never liked it in the past, and now that it won the Michael Jackson Award I have to go see what all the fuss is about.

I think your history is a bit askew though: the Porterhouse used to do cask stouts back in their early days.

Thom said...

I recall know you mentioning the cask stout in The PH now. Oliver said it went down like a lead Zeppelin, didn't he?

The MM Bock was very pleasant I thought. I preferered Clotworthy Dobbin, but the Bock was a worthy winner.

David Curran said...

Must try the MM Bock again. The beer seems to have passed me by completely. Hopefully this might stop Messers treating their "home brew" like a ginger stepchild in their pub.

Would recommend the Hooker to anyone in London. I'm told it was a very close second in the best Irish ale category.

Bionic Laura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bionic Laura said...

All the judges really rate the MM Bock. Galway Hooker was a very very close second in the ales category though. They're all great beers and people really should get out to try them while this festival is on.