A sizeable contingent of beer fans had assembled in Deveney's on Friday evening for the Californian beer tasting, among them ICBers Kieron, Brian and Kev, and The Dubliner's beer correspondent Richard. Having enjoyed the freebies and made our purchases, we headed off down the street to Tramco.
Tramco has been around since the late '90s, when Rathmines was still very student-oriented. It had always been a straight-from-the-box superpub, designed to be packed to the rafters with boisterous young'uns chasing cheap alcopops and each other. And then, a couple of months ago, it closed for refurbishment. It first appeared on the beer radar when a sign proclaiming it to be "Tramco Brewery" went up over the front window. The doors opened in late July, and last Friday was my second visit.
It's still absolutely huge, set over two floors with a massive beer garden. Barrels are the main decorative theme, though a twisty chrome staircase makes it look like there's a rollercoaster running through the place. The huge scale of the pub is heightened by the fact that it's always been pretty much empty when I've been in there. Peak time on a Friday evening, even in August, I'd have thought there'd be a few more punters around, but our lot were more or less the sum total of customers, aside from some friends of the band that was playing. Not even the stilt walkers and fire-jugglers stationed outside managed to lure any more prospective drinkers in.
Aside from the emptiness, the other feature which sets Tramco apart is the beer. They have most of the usual crap, but the main downstairs bar is dedicated to a range of four house beers. It's not completely clear where they come from -- different people have been given different answers by the friendly staff -- but I was told Tipperary so I'm fairly confident that they're contract brewed by Cuilan at White Gypsy. The fact that Tramco is owned by the same company as Messrs Maguire, where Cuilan is the brewer, suggests this even more [edit: in fact, they're brewed at MM, but by Barrelhead -- a fake brewery making beer for another fake brewery].
The range is typically unimaginative: stout, lager, red and wheat, and though the accompanying leaflet talks a good game (but can't spell "lager"), none of these are about to set the beer world alight. Sugar seems to be a common characteristic in them, and there's more than a hint of residual sweetness in the Killary Lager. However, it's still quite pleasantly bitter with an interesting fruitiness to it which I know isn't supposed to be found in lager but I rather liked. The wheat beer is badged as Cashel Lager, possibly because of a fear punters might be startled by the exotic stylings of weizen, or possibly because the people who commissioned it -- like most publicans -- know bugger-all about beer. On my first visit I got a super-sweet sugary pale beer with an almost saccharine metallic edge to it. Second time round, however, it was much improved: still sweet, but in the soft bubblegum way much more appropriate to the style.
Dearg is the nitro red, strongest of the lot at 4.6% ABV, and is monumentally bland. Sweetness again, a touch of creaminess because of the gas arrangements, but really a very easy to drink dull, smooth ale. Best of the lot is Mizen Stout. First time I got it, it tasted quite similar to Murphy's, with the big sweet chocolate malt flavours shining through the nitro and a hint of toastiness at the end. I liked it, so was straight back there second time around. Except it was a different stout: this was a lot dryer and with an almost smoky character. Still pleasant, if undemanding, drinking and I'm interested in tasting what happens to the recipe next.
Maybe it's just because it's early days, but I suspect that consistency is not going to be a big feature of the Tramco house beer range. On balance, that's probably not a bad thing -- as long as the beer tastes OK, leave homogeneity to the big boys.
I'm not going to whine about the ordinariness of the Tramco beers. I think it's a brave step to have commissioned them, and placed them prominently at the bar. If it does anything to make beer drinkers pause before automatically ordering their usual, then that's to the good. The revolution rolls on.
Tramco has a website here and can also be followed on Twitter.