Dublin's cask beer arms race took a step up recently with The Black Sheep's paltry four pumps being trumped by WJ Kavanagh's bank of five. While it would be technically possible, these days, to fill all of these spots with local beer, both pubs rely on imports from the UK to pick up the slack.
Spire's Sgt Pepper drew me across town a few weeks ago to give it a whirl one quiet Saturday evening. It arrived a little on the flat side and didn't hold its head very long. Black pepper is the key ingredient here and it had an effect I wasn't expecting at all. While there's a vague sort of spice buzz somewhere in the background, it seems that the husks of the peppercorns are more of an influence. It tastes slightly musty to me, that slight tang of dusty attics and old dry sackcloth. While not actively unpleasant -- I had a second pint to get the measure of it fully -- I don't think I'll be crossing the city for it again.
Some time later, the pub staged an event to officially inaugurate the pumps (well, four of them) wheeling out their tame cellarman Declan to tell us a bit about what was on offer. Three more new ones from England, and first up was Gorgon by Derventio, a zesty golden ale with some lovely lemon and peach notes. That's about all there is to it and I could see myself getting a bored of it after one, but it's perfect as a hot day refresher.
Deuce from the Derby Brewing Company was next, presumably a summer seasonal what with the tennis theme. It presents as a mahogany-brown bitter and I confess I wasn't expecting much from it. But far from being a stodgy butterbomb it's really quite astringent, in a good way, providing a full-on beeswax bitterness followed by brief hits of orange sherbet. It gets even better as it warms, as the astringency mellows into a refreshing tannic quality. Brown bitter the way it should be.
Finally, we had Dark Drake from the Dancing Duck Brewery, an oatmeal stout. There's a lovely aroma here: full of raisins and roast. It's 4.5% ABV but is incredibly heavy, full of greasy esters which also add a banana-like fruitiness to it. Only a sharp hit of dry espresso on the tail stops it from becoming difficult. I definitely couldn't drink a lot of this but it's quite an experience in small doses.
Those more familiar with English beer than me may have noticed that all four breweries are based in Derbyshire. A turnover of Derbyshire beer that doesn't include Thornbridge may seem a bit always-winter-but-never-Christmas, but hopefully the Kavanagh's team will be seeking to recify that in due course. Thanks to Colin, Seaneen and Declan for the event and the samples, and for creating this little tickers' paradise in the north inner city.