Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ireland Round Up

A pint of the Haus lager and the cleverly named "plain" stout at Messrs Maguire.
I have returned from my trip to Ireland. It was nothing short of amazing. I've been struggling to write about the beer I had in Ireland having only just gotten a taste of it. As I get older, traveling becomes more of a chore. It's been almost a decade since I was off the North American continent, so I was also ill-prepared for the effects of jet lag. This is all preamble to say: I didn't drink as much beer as I had intended or hoped, but I still enjoyed myself immensely. Ireland is such a beautiful country, and the weather is in such stark contrast to Minnesota right now, that at times it almost seemed a shame to be inside a dark pub. I suppose I'm not a very good beer tourist. Now that I'm back, I'm kicking myself for practically walking past several great pubs without realizing what they were. The beer I did have a chance to try was great, though. Even Guinness didn't disappoint, not that I had terribly high expectations of it. Irish Guinness truly did seem superior to my memory of it. Smithwick's did disappoint even with my memory if it being bland.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Galway. The Salt House. Maybe my favorite pub ever. This is where I had my real epiphanic moment: Dungvaren Helvick Gold on cask. I was so distracted by the beer menu and the awkwardness of walking into a new pub for the first time that initially I didn't even notice the Angram beer engine that was smack in front of me. I did not expect to find any cask beer in Ireland, and based on several conversations I over heard the bartender having, I gather it's something new for other people as well. I was pleased enough to see that they also had Galway Hooker and O'Hara's stout on tap. After well over a week of not having any beer, Dungvaren cask was perfect. Drinkable, complex, delightful. Blonde Ale sometimes means "bland, ale-version of lager" but Helvick Gold could not be farther from that notion in every way possible. The nuanced malt flavors and slightly grassy hops come together in a surprisingly flavorful beer. would it be pretentious to describe it as "harmonious"? Probably, but this was one of those angelic drinking moments where everything is just right, so I'll allow it. Galway Hooker was served to me from the tap in a weizen glass. It calls itself an Irish Pale Ale and that description seemed perfect. It's softer than American Pale Ale, gentler around the edges, and generally has more going on. Hops are present, but instead of being the focus, hop bitterness compliments the nutty, biscuit-like quality of the malt. It's conversational beer. Something you can sip and enjoy, but don't have to be afraid of. Complex enough to hold your attention, palatable enough to drink all night. These are true comfort beers. After only one or two pints of each, I won't try to describe them any more in depth, but suffice it to say, there are some pints that etch themselves in your memory, like my first-ever pint in a pub in Cork 10 years ago, and these fall into that category. The setting inside the Salt House is a very small and cozy pub with a small bar and several tables with short stools lining the walls. I get the impression it would be easy to fill this place so it feels crowded, but this was a Monday in January, so no worries there. Most of the clientele are people playing games, and for some reason other tourists. The Salt House was filthy with American tourists. Regardless, this is my idea of an ideal pub: cozy, welcoming, and an excellent beer selection.

Dublin is a large European city. I know this because I've now been there once* and because it's in Europe. It's also fairly fast paced, taxis abound, and I feel under dressed even on public transportation. Sure signs, all three. I like Dublin. I feel like I could live in Dublin. There are many cities that are nice to visit, but are terrible to live in. Dublin did not strike me as one of those. The pints pictured above were enjoyed at Messrs Maguire, a brewpub right in the heart of Dublin on the south bank of the Liffey. Messrs Maguire is expansive and massive. Easily the largest brewpub I have ever been inside. I didn't even explore half of it. There are apparently 4 levels all with their own bars and slightly different moods. On this level, dark wood and comfortable leather furniture tuck inside various nooks and corners to create semi-private seating areas. There is also a long bar with tables facing a screen that displays a soccer match. From my seat I can see Daniel O'Connell across the river, past the ornate street lamps and the double decker buses zipping around. It's a much needed change of pace from the scene outside. Why in fuck's sake did I pick a Saturday to come to O'Connell Street? Beers will help. Service here is good. The bartender explains to me which beers are available and which are not (despite what the sign says) and offers a sample without acting put-off. A pint of the stout and the Haus lager. The stout is nice. Lots of chocolate and not much else. I feel as if something in the finish (roast, hops?) might do this beer well, but it's enjoyable enough as is. The next round is their brown ale and "Rusty" which is a red ale. The red ale is served on nitro like the stout and, similarly, is nice, drinkable, and not too complex. The brown ale is great. I have a great love for brown ales. This one shows off some of the gentle roastiness and caramel in balance that I love about them. I wouldn't mind coming back here to see if subsequent visits were as nice. People are starting to collect in various areas, now, and for some inexplicable reason, Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair" followed by several dance-club type songs come on, which makes me wonder. All in all, great beers in a supremely enjoyable atmosphere. I hope to have a chance to visit them again.

By now, I have a long list of other places to visit and ones not to miss next time. I hope it's not long before I have the chance again.

*maybe twice, if you count multiple visits on the same vacation

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