12 June 2008

Playing with the big boys

As I mentioned the other day, the Porterhouse invited a bunch of interested parties out to their brewery last night for the launch of their new summer seasonal. Along with a dozen or so other members of Irish Craft Brewer I trekked out to the grim industrial estate on the edge of Dublin where the largest Irish-owned brewery has been operating since it moved out of Temple Bar in 2001.

We had an introductory talk from one of the Porterhouse's founders, Oliver Hughes (pictured right demonstrating the deference and respect he believes is due to Arthur Guinness & Son Co. Ltd.) followed by some words on the new summer seasonal, Hop Head, from Peter the chief brewer.

The new beer (in Oliver's right hand) was served from the keg at the brewery's tasting bar (demonstrated by the lovely Paul, left), and a cask version was waiting inside on the brewing floor. It was interesting to compare the two versions. Kegged Hop Head is an uncompromisingly bitter beer. It doesn't really have the zesty citrusy flavours I would have expected from the Cascade hops, but has a much rougher, harder edge. This sits on a big heavy body and the whole thing adds up to a no-nonsense powerhouse of a pale ale that demands the drinker's full attention. Comparisons with Galway Hooker are inevitable, but I can safely say that they are two remarkably different beers. Hop Head lacks the biscuity crystal malt notes of Hooker and its weight makes it much less sessionable. However, if you're having just one, and you want it bitter, Hop Head is the beer to go for.

The cask version was somewhat less demanding. Natural carbonation knocks a few of the edges off, and you get a relatively easy-going sipping ale. The bitterness creeps up on you gradually instead of serving an immediate smack in the face. Sadly, as is the way of these things, cask Hop Head is for export only and will be found gracing the bar of the London Porterhouse alone. It's good, but not good enough to send me into that place on a summer's evening.

My duties to the new arrival thus performed, I started noticing my fellow visitors with glasses of black beer. "Plain Porter," I was gleefully told, "from the conditioning tank". I had already bent the ear of the brewery's other head honcho, Liam, about the evils of nitro stout so was desperately keen to try this one. Porterhouse Plain Porter is a pretty good, understated, sort of beer. Free of nitrogenation, even at low brewery temperatures, it is amazing. I have never before encountered a beer that smells almost too good to drink, but this one manages it. The coffee and chocolate wafts coming from the foamy head are overwhelming. Add that to the strong, sweet roasted flavours and the silky texture and you have something very like the perfect session stout. My feedback to the Porterhouse management was fairly explicit. It included the word "crime".

The Porterhouse remains convinced that nitro is the only way to go in the Irish stout market. But if I've managed to sow even the beginnings of a seed of doubt about this, I'll be very happy indeed.

Finally, a big thank you to all the Porterhouse staff who arranged the visit and welcomed the thirsty swarm of beerites. We may not agree with everything the company does, but the Irish craft beer scene would be much worse without it.


  1. Great Night. Annoyed I did not try the plain though. I thought the Hop head was lovely, kegged I found it slightly too cold. It is comparable to Galway Hooker but I agree with you that there are different enough that they are for different types of drinking.

  2. High quality Plain Porter?


    I devoted much of my life in the 80s trying to produce such a thing, with mixed results.

  3. You know BN, I don't mind nitrogentated stouts too much at all, provided they are NOT pasteurised. Porterhouse fits that bill and their stouts are not disappointing.

    An excellent cask stout is just fine too, but to me it needs Northern style dispense. In other words a tight sparkler.

    Take your pick.

  4. When nitro is used on good beer it breaks my heart, cask stout with a sparkler is less of an evil.

  5. The Plain from the conditioning tanks was a bit special alright. And it is awful to think that the chances of the Porterhouse boys serving it without nitro in the Irish market are about nil. Still, I think we let them know how we feel about nitrogenation and the lack of cask beer. Perhaps we made some small difference.

  6. I'm still on the fence as regards sparklers. The only sparklered stout I've had was Druid's from Carlow last Easter. I can't help thinking that it would be better without the sparkler, but that's quite possibly because it looks nitrogenated to my untrained eye.

  7. Cask stout in my experience (the London and Dublin Stout I had brewed for my wedding to the lovely Emer by the Pitfield brewery) does NOT need a sparkler to get a good head. A plain handpump does fine.

  8. A fair measure of flaked barley will produce a decent head regardless of how the beer is dispensed. I add it to all my stouts with excellent results from a pressure barrel dispense. A sparkler will help get the atmospheric nitrogen into the beer, but the extra protein from flaked barley makes it damn near impossible to not get decent foam.

  9. I'd really love to try Plain from the cask - I'd pay a considerable premium to do so. Anything that can be done to get them to come up with the goods? BTW, super blog, your commitment to this is great and I really enjoy reading. Let's get Plain on cask!!!!

  10. My suggestion, Peter, was selling the cask contents in advance by subscription.

    Polite smile, nod, and get-this-loony-out-of-my-brewery.