Monday, July 14, 2014

An Irish Year in Beer

We are beer lovers, through and through. No doubt about that. We enjoy all kinds of beer, and it has recently become the running theme of our European travels. We visit places famous for beer... and try to do some sightseeing before and after beer time.

Not surprisingly, our beer tastes have changed and evolved over the years. From the cheap-as-you-can-find American lagers to the maltiest, hoppiest, spiciest ales around; we can find something to like in just about any beer.

When we first arrived in Dublin, we had to try the beer that made Ireland famous, the tall dark pint with the creamy top, Guinness. And when we first arrived in Dublin, we weren't disappointed.

Let's back up in our stout history. When we first tried Guinness, it was served in a can with a little plastic mixing ball- just like those found in spray paint. Whatever was in these cans was not what is served on draught (draft) here in Dublin. Depending on the style (Extra Stout, Draught, Foreign Extra), these Guinness beers can be brewed in Dublin with a different export recipe or in Canada! That's right, Labatt brews a great deal of Guinness over d'ere in Canada for North American distribution.

I don't mean to slam the business (not to mention environmental) benefits of brewing beer on the same continent on which it will be distributed. Beer is mostly made of water, so shipping kegs and cans of beer overseas is like shipping kegs of drinking water and unnecessarily expensive.

Fast forward to one year ago. I had been homebrewing for about a year and had tried my hand at some brown ales and stouts with some success. We were enjoying the roasty, toasty, malty taste of stouts and were ready to try the famous pint of Guinness (brewed and served with the Irish less-alcohol-than-American-standard) draught.

Two pints of Guinness
The Famous Pint
And try it we did. We ordered almost nothing else for the first few months of our stay in Ireland. This isn't to say that we are pub rats buying round after round every night, but whenever we stopped for a breather, this was the go-to.

...For a while. We eventually began to explore the wider world of beers available in Ireland. Many larger pubs have long rows of tap handles, offering a diverse selection of Irish, British, and Continental favorites.

We have officially decided that our favorites do not include the discount lagers available here. As much as the wide world teases Americans for our Busch, Bud, Hamm's, Coors, Miller, and other cheap lagers, there is certainly no shortage of them available and popular here. A number of people here do drink American Budweiser and Coors Light on tap, but many more order pint after pint of mostly flavorless (in our opinion) Carlsberg, Heineken, Tuborg, and Tennents. These are all distinct brews with no small fan followings, but when compared to some of our other favorite (and admittedly more expensive) lagers, they simply can't compete.

Today, Guinness has taken a backseat in our beer ordering. We will still order (and enjoy!) Guinness, but only when in one of the many pubs with only Guinness, Smithwick's, and discount lagers on draught.

With that in mind, we have selected our favorite non-Guinness beers in the categories of lager, ale, and stout to share. These are all Irish craft ales, two of which are made right here in Dublin. Most Dublin pubs don't have impressive draught beer selections, so these can require some seeking out. In our opinion, they are worth the effort to find and worth the extra money (gasp!) to enjoy.

Five Lamps Dublin Lager

Our top lager choice goes to The Five Lamps team working hard over in The Liberties neighborhood of Dublin. This gets the nod not just because I was able to pay them a visit, but because this is a lager with serious taste. Coors Light drinkers would barely recognize the flavors in this full-bodied-yet-refreshing lager.

Two glasses of Five Lamps Dublin Lager
Five Lamps Lager
Our chosen pub in which to enjoy Five Lamps Lager is The Duke located (unsurprisingly) on Duke Street just off of Grafton Street in Dublin's City Centre.

Porterhouse Plain Porter

The name isn't as awkward as it looks. The Porterhouse is a well-known brewpub on the very edge of the Temple Bar neighborhood in Dublin. Luckily, it is a few blocks away from the drunken melee that is Temple Bar Square on nights and weekends. The Porterhouse brews a full lineup of lagers, ales, and stouts. Their selection ranges from lightest American lager to mega-hopped pale ale to big, thick, stouts. 

All of their beers (just like all beers in the world) are worth a taste, but Plain Porter is their flagship award-winning recipe. It is smooth, slightly sweet, and approachable. Best of all, it is cheaper and tastier than Guinness anywhere in Temple Bar!

Porterhouse Flight
Porterhouse Flight

Our chosen pub in which to enjoy Porterhouse Plain is, of course, The Porterhouse. It is located conveniently on Parliament Street right at the River Liffey on the western side of Temple Bar.

O'Hara's Pale Ale

A bit more widely available than the other two Dublin-specific beers, O'Hara's is a larger success story of Irish craft brewing. Thier lineup of traditional brews with a modern twist is varied and tasty. We have yet to try the full O'Hara's selection, as different pubs and stores carry different choices.

One that we tried and enjoyed with my mom and sister was the hoppy-but-not-too-bitter O'Hara's Pale Ale. It is a nice full-bodied pale ale, without the thin taste present in many other pales. O'Hara's must not skimp on the malt to make these beauties, and they are delicious enjoyed on draught or in a bottle.

O'Hara's and McGargles Ales
O'Hara's and McGargles

O'Hara's, having a wider distribution than the Dublin brews, is available at many more pubs and restaurants. A recent favorite of ours in which to enjoy O'Hara's might be Mulligan's on Poolbeg Street near Trinity College in Dublin. Our first sample was at The Dark Horse Inn, one block north of Poolbeg on the riverside.

Who knows how our tastes will change and grow in the year to come? We've already sampled and loved so many great Irish, Belgian, German, English, and Czech beers. Who knows what other hidden gems are to be found out there in the wide world? We here at Narc Ex HQ are very excited to find out.

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