I'm a bit conflicted when it comes to Sin É on Dublin's north quays. Like many of Dublin's trendier hang-outs it has a dark, shabby kind of air, which is probably not so noticeable when in its natural state of being packed to the rafters with sweaty youngsters under the nonchalant gaze of the DJ. I'm guessing here, though, as I've never been in after dark. During the day, it's a lovely little shelter from the bustle of the city and sitting at the bar reading a book or the paper is an experience which I'd always found greatly enhanced by the presence of Galway Hooker among the beer taps.
Alas, the Hooker is no more, so something else has to be selected from the small-but-eclectic range of draughts. The management have recently taken it upon themselves to begin importing kegs from the Van Steenberge brewery in Belgium under their own Big Hand Brewery label. I mentioned the lager, Sparta Pils, back here, and in a suspicious parallel to A-B InBev's core Belgian range, there's also a wit and an abbey blonde.
Pierre Celis was midwife to the rebirth of Hoegaarden. Celis White, we're told, is what he got up to in Texas after the big mean conglomerate muscled him out, recreated now in Belgium by Van Steenberge. The aroma is superb: full of spicy coriander. After that initial herbal kick it settles into a long dryness, refreshing and with just enough sparkle to set the gums tingling. Is it better than evil factory-brewed Hoegaarden? Probably not, actually, but it's an interesting step sideways.
The abbey beer is called Augustijn and weighs in at 6.5% ABV. It has a very similar honeyish nose to the Leffe Blonde it's clearly running after. Like Celis White, however, it quickly becomes dry and that doesn't work so well in this kind of beer. Fortunately, the textbook malty sweetness stays in place all the way through so that even though the hops leave it a little bit harsh on the end it's still a pleasantly civilised sipper.
Neither beer is especially earth-shattering, but variety in Dublin pub taps is always worth cheering on. Given the careful targetting of the styles, I doubt we'll see any great expansion in the range from Big Hand, bit I'd certainly welcome it if we did.