26 March 2009

To the barricades!

Oliver Hughes was in campaign mode on Monday night, telling war stories of his time as a start-up brewer in Blessington in the 1980s and how difficult -- impossible, in fact, as it turned out -- it was to break into a beer market dominated by massive foreign-owned, brand-driven macrobreweries.

He noted that things have changed a bit since then, with Ireland now home to a number of small independent breweries, including his own Porterhouse. Yet even from his established position of owning the largest independent brewery in the country, with a tied estate of five pubs in two countries, Oliver sees that there is still a battle against blandness to be fought. And with the recession making itself felt in every sector of the economy it has never been more important to ensure that our beer money ends up in the hands of Irish brewers rather than the shareholders of British and Dutch multinational corporations.

To these ends, today marks the beginning of the Porterhouse's Independent Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival (a slight misnomer on the whiskey side since there is only one Irish-owned distillery in operation, and the Irish brands owned by Diageo and Pernod Ricard are also represented here -- booo!). Almost all of Ireland's craft brewers, from both sides of the border, will have a range of their beers available at Porterhouse outlets in some form or other over the next eleven days. Among them is the new one from Galway Hooker.

Galway Hooker Dark Wheat Beer is in something approaching the German dunkelweiss mould, though with a very Irish plain flattop, rather than a big fluffy Bavarian foam dome. Underneath it's an opaque dark brown and the aromas are definitely banana-esque, but not overwhelmingly so. Weizen fruitiness is not top of the flavour agenda. Instead there's a crisp spiciness -- more the kind of thing you might find in an altbier -- mellowed by a smooth caramel toffee sweetness. I had been sorely disappointed by the absence of this character in the last dunkelweiss I had, Paulaner's Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel, so I really welcomed it here.

There's a lot to like here, and much for the Erdinger/Paulaner drinker to enjoy. If it became a permanent part of their line-up and gets a fair crack at the market (never a guarantee) it should do very well. Another daring-yet-accessible beer from Aidan and Ronan at Hooker.

The Independent Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival continues at all Porterhouse branches until 5th April. Other highlights include Clotworthy Dobbin -- a kegged dark ale with an amazing hoppy nose followed by the usual fruit-and-nut chocolate flavours. There are also new editions of Franciscan Well's Purgatory (very orangey and English this year) and Porterhouse Chocolate Truffle Stout (darker, bitterer, stoutier than last year), plus yet another new cask for Ireland, albeit temporary, in the form of the decent, solid, Hilden Ale.

You'd want a really good excuse for continuing to drink Heineken and Diageo's vapid offerings.

23 comments:

  1. The picture of the different beers certainly gladdens my heart, but what would the average Irish drinker make of it should he walk into a generic pub and find that was "all" there was?

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  2. I dunno. Probably something like the average English drinker would make of a pub with no keg beers: they'd go somewhere else.

    I dream of the day when good beer and macrocrap sit side-by-side on Irish bars the way they do in Britain.

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  3. Is it a problem that the macro beers being bought are not Irish owned? I agree it is a problem that they are crap.

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  4. It's certainly a much lesser problem than the crapness. But when you see mutually supportive events like this festival, it shows that there's something to be said for local breweries where the people running the company get to keep the money it makes instead of sending it to London and Amsterdam. They're the ones who will bring us more varied and better beer if we buy what they make.

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  5. Porterhouse pubs are surely not generic pubs. The one I went to in Covent Garden isn't.

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  6. Yes I think that's Tandleman's point. Quality handmade beer is all well and good, but it's not for some people and never will be.

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  7. nice review. The GH Dark Wheat looks interesting, particularly the flat head you mention rather then the more usual big foam. Was the head creamy?

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  8. Not especially. Definitely more CO2 than nitro, if that's what you mean. There was an actual aroma.

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  9. Was wondering if the head is from wheat only or do you think there my be some flaked barley or flaked oats there too.

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  10. I'll probably see Aidan this afternoon. I'll try and remember to ask.

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  11. Excellent, a trip to Covent Garden might be in order! The Dark Wheat looks good even if it has a creamy topping.

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  12. Fatman12:54 pm

    "British Multinational"?

    I 'Johnny Foreigner' had bought them all?

    You're absolutely right about keeping the money in Ireland.

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  13. Any word on when the Porterhouse bottling line will be up and running? The thought of being able to persuade friends to ship me bottles of Wrasslers is exciting!

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  14. Well Johnny Bull Foreigner owns Diageo. It's just not as much of a pernicious influence on your beer scene as Heineken, Coors, A-B InBev and Carlsberg, I guess. Plus, for some unfathomable reason, lots of fussy UK beer drinkers make an exception for Guinness, as though it were somehow better than the other smoothflows available.

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  15. Al, Porterhouse bottling: summer, maybe, if we're lucky. The machine is due to arrive from your (current) neck of the woods next week.

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  16. I think it's great that the Porterhouse is helping provide a united front. It wasn't always so in the Irish Craft Beer World. Long may it continue, as they all need all the help they can get.

    The Dark Wheat sounds interesting. I seldom get pronounced caramel sweetness from a Dunkel Weizen, but I do sometimes get a spiciness. It used to be my favourite type of beer (long ago now it seems). Can't wait till they bottle it using th PH bottling line ;o) Now there's the kind if united front the industry and, more importantly, the customer needs.

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  17. Not 100% united: you'll notice a major absence.

    Turns out the Galway Hooker Dark Wheat is just a festival special :( and there's no flaked anything in there.

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  18. Oh. I see. There's a bit of a gap on the map all right. Maybe an arbitrator is needed.

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  19. It was very exciting to see so much good beer in the one place. It seems to me that Oliver and Co. are determined to raise the whole craft beer scene by doing everything they can to help those without a tied outlet for their own beer, especially the smaller operators.

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  20. I'm really looking forward to visiting the Porterhouse when I'm there in early August. I don't think it existed the last time I was in Dublin.

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  21. Anonymous10:46 pm

    i thought the hilden ale was really nice (maybe helped by the spicy zaytoon kebab i had just beforehand), reminded me a bit of harviestoun's bitter and twisted. not too gone on the scullion ale or the purgatory pale ale, the clotworthy dobbin was very nice too. forgot to get a gh dark wheat, damn, i'll have to pop in again!
    dereko1969

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  22. I liked the Hooker Dunkel myself myself. Very easy to drink a lot of them I would say.

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