Funny story. On my way to the airport on Tuesday I stopped off at the Bull & Castle for a Galway Hooker. Geoff, the manager, was behind the bar and ushered me upstairs to the glass-fronted cold room for a surprise. It was a surprise all right: it turns out that a craft brewer in Tipperary has been quietly making an Irish stout for export, to Russia mostly, according to a recipe from Dwan's, one of the many independent breweries in Ireland killed off by the multinationals. The result is Black Pearl, in full pint bottles, bearing the original Dwan labels and cap.
So it happened that I began my trip by exporting Irish craft beer to Belgium. Later, ensconced in a Ghent hotel room I opened the bottle. Black Pearl fizzes out, forming a short-lived dark tan head. The mouthfeel is far from fizzy, but marvellously silky. Like the classic Irish stout it is, the taste is dry, offering roasted grains and a pronounced hoppy finish. But there's more: a rich chocolate flavour which, coupled with the silky texture, all adds up to a sublime stout experience.
Brewers tell me that stout is one of the easiest styles to make. So why don't they all taste like this?
Commercial Irish stouts are an occasional topic of conversation on the Irish Craft Brewer forum. The consensus seems to be that bottled Guinness, at room temperature, is the best
And so to the airport. Dublin airport has the only bar I know whose supply is entirely controlled by Ireland's third biggest brewer: Scottish & Newcastle-owned Beamish & Crawford. So instead of Guinness/Murphy's and Bud/Heineken, it offers Beamish stout and Kronenbourg 1664 lager. Ack.
I've long had an aversion to Beamish, but I'm not the sort to hold a grudge. So, since it had also been spoken of favourably on the ICB forum, I felt it was time to check again. Beamish is certainly more flavoursome than draught Guinness. It is much much sweeter, but to me it tastes watery. On balance, I think I'd rather have a pint of Guinness draught done well, bland and all that it is.
I can't leave the topic with introducing at least one token Belgian element, so here it is: Leroy Stout. This is a thick black stout with an overwhelming saccharine sweetness. It is quite smooth, but it lacks any roasted or burnt flavours, nor is there chocolate, nor even much by way of hops. A miss, then.
Right, that's the Irish stuff out of the way for a bit. Next up, following a side-trip yesterday, it's The Lagers of Luxembourg.