When it comes to beer, Ireland is pretty much synonymous with stout. As far as I can tell, this is largely down to Diageo's marketing power rather than what anybody actually drinks. The latest figures , from 2006 (p.12 here), say that 63% of all the beer sold in Ireland is lager (stout is most of the rest, with ale a mere 5%). The typical Irish pub certainly offers a dizzying array of locally brewed lagers. You'll find Bud, Carlsberg, Heineken, Miller and Coors Light side-by-side on almost every bar. More upmarket places will also have draught imports like Stella Artois and Beck's Vier, and bottles of Sol, Corona and Tiger as well, while pubs serving a less affluent clientele will have local Amstel and Fosters bringing up the rear.
When Ireland's first lager brewery closed up shop in the summer of 1893 after a meagre 19 months in business, I'm sure Mr Stoer who owned it never dreamed that the daring new style he found in Bavaria and the US would one day rule supreme in Irish beer. Yet when the latter-day beer pioneers Oliver and Liam set up The Porter House in the 1990s, it was inevitable that lager would be a key component in their success. The first brews were called Probably Lager and WeiserBuddy, each with its own distinct and individual branding.
Of course, the multinational which holds the licence to brew Carlsberg and Bud in Ireland threw a fit, and the beers were hastily renamed. I've already covered the Porterhouse's Bud clone back here and today I'm looking at the other two lagers they make and sell: Temple Bräu and Hersbrucker. And yes, I'm well aware that by writing about fancy-pants microbrewed beer I'm breaking my own Session rule on plain everyday lager. Sue me.
I got my first sip of Temple Bräu in just before the rain started and we had to leave the beer garden of Porterhouse North. I hadn't tasted it in a long long time so had basically no expectations, other than what you see here: a fizzy yellow lager aimed at the mass market. I was still surprised, however. It's nice. The body is quite full and comes close to the creaminess you get in the best German pilsners. The aroma indicates a definite hop character and it tastes pleasantly bitter with a long aftertaste. All is not completely rosy in the beer garden, however: there's a bit of a metallic tang as well, right in the middle of the whole thing, though not enough to spoil the enjoyment. Despite its flaw, Temple Bräu remain a tasty quaffer for sunny afternoons.
Inside, I moved on to Hersbrucker. Once upon a time, this was Mrs Beer Nut's regular tipple but she quit a couple of years ago, citing an unpleasant change in the beer. I had never been a fan so was very much on the alert as I took my pint back to the table. Rightly so, as it happened. Hersbrucker, slightly darker than Temple Bräu, is damn near undrinkable. The only thing that saves it is its watery hollowness. The flavour starts with nothing but is followed by a massive disinfectant flavour: pure essence of hospital. Sharp, tangy and unpleasant. I did, in its defence, finish the pint, but I couldn't help thinking that I might have been better off with a pint of Carlsberg, sadly.
I was going to leave this post here, but the guilt about drinking microbrewed lager got the better of me. I had to go back to my roots.
It's very hard to find a pint of Harp in Dublin. It was still relatively common in the mid-1990s but pretty much disappeared soon after. Diageo brew it in Dundalk and just about all of it heads north across the border. Fortunately (or not), there are a couple of hold-outs around town, one being O'Neill's of Suffolk Street, a vast pub that seems possessed of the desire to stock every draught beer that exists anywhere on the Irish market. They have a Harp tap. Since it's the beer I drank most when I started drinking beer, I felt I owed you all a pint.
And it's not awful. I was astounded at how unawful it is. It's not in the least watery and has quite a sweet foretaste with a bit, but not much, of a bitter kick at the end. To be completely frank I doubt I could tell this blind from your typical pale Czech lager. In fairness that's probably more a damning indictment of what the multinationals have done to the established lagers of Prague and Plzeň than any kind of kudos for Diageo, but still: I could actually drink Harp without complaining. That's an eye-opener for me.
And that's all I've got to say on the yellow fizz of Ireland. Post your linkages somewhere on here, or e-mail me or whatever. A round-up will be forthcoming some time in the next week. In the meantime, I'm off to Belgium for the weekend where I won't be so much as tempted by a Jupiler. I'll likely be Twittering my way through Cantillon's public brewday tomorrow, but unfortunately won't be able to read your jealous howls until I return.