Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Trip After Next...

Well, somebody at Delta Airlines made a mistake today and I (and a thousand other people,  I'm sure) capitalized on it.

I bought a ticket from LA to Copenhagen for $320 round trip, including taxes. From the East Coast fares were under $200. The fare was also good to Stockholm, Madrid, Venice and Helsinki, among others.

If I wasn't already going to Switzerland and Bamberg next month I could have snuck in a couple more trips. But I'll be happy with my four days (April 8-12) in Copenhagen, checking out the beer scene.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Next Trip

Business will take me to Switzerland (St Gallen Kanton) in March.  German speaking Switzerland was a bit of a beer wasteland as most of the smaller breweries were bought and closed by Heineken and Carlsberg. But there are some good new breweries popping up and I hope to try some new beers.

But the good news is I have a nearly a week between the two times I need to be in Switzerland, so I get to spend 6 days in Bamberg. Oh, what to do?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Thoughts on Dublin...

As I sit in the Dublin airport waiting for my flight, I thought I'd jot down some thoughts on my trip. I should say off the top I had a great time and plan to come back as soon as I can swing it.

First off, Dublin is expensive. In the States we have Dollar Stores (and 99cent Stores in LA) and elsewhere in Europe I've seen Euro Stores. In Dublin they have 2 Euro stores. Most of the beer I had where between €4 and €5.50 -- which is as expensive as LA (which is quite a bit larger). Meals in non-fancy restaurants seem to start at €12 and go up from there. Not earth shattering but higher than Munich and way higher than Bamberg (which is not a fair standard). Public transportation seems cheap.  My hotel was cheap but it is February -- not the best time weather wise for Dublin.

The beer I had was on average very good. There were a few great beers and only a couple bad ones and they were probably the pub's fault not the brewer. But you do have to work a bit to find something other than the standard international brews.

People have told me the Irish are friendly. That doesn't describe it -- it is not just the "lets be nice to the tourists" sort of friendly but a real interest in how you came to Ireland and what you thought. I was walking down a street one morning when I passed a parking lot with a security guard. He bid me a good morning and asked how I was doing,  I'm sure he was just bored but still it was a (pleasant) shock.

That being said, nobody said "Top of the mornin' to ya" -- I was given on good authority that there is a special re-education camp for anybody who says that to a tourist.

I don't know when I'll be back, but it will be on my list -- especially if I find another good airfare. And if you are visiting England it might be worthwhile to take a couple extra days to pop over for some good stout. Of course, the summer is probably way different being packed with tourist.

Oh, and one more thing -- I had read of this but did actually see it on a couple of occasions -- a man walks into a pub and orders a "pint of porter."  This first time this happened I kind of perked up -- was there a beer I missed? He received an ordinary pint of Guinness. So the distinction between porter and stout is not all the clear here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dublin - The Last Day

This will be a real short post, as I spent most of the day drinking at the Porterhouse and watching 6 Nations Rugby. Not much for pictures.

I started off walking over to Parnell Square. On the way in to town from the airport, the bus passed this pub.

Joxer Day's Dublin

Not far from the homebrew shop in LA where our club is based is a pub of the same name.  It is the local for some "mates" so I thought I owed it to them to check it out.

It was just after noon when I walked in. The bar was filled with people who looked like they may have been merged into their stools. Heads swiveled and all had the look of "what is this damn tourist doing my boozer." I've seen that look in many pubs in many countries.

The inside wasn't fancy but comfortable feeling of a old favorite sweater or pair of shoes. In the back room that had a fire going, so I ordered a Beamish went to the back room. (It was cool out but not so cold I wanted to sit next to the fire)

Beamish Stout
Beamish is now owned by Heinekin and is now brewed at the Murphy's brewery. It hasn't been available in the US for a while, so I thought it worth a try. It was an OK stout but won't be anywhere near the top of my favorite stout list. Not quite as roasty as Guinness. But I wasn't really here for the beer.

After finishing my Beamish I wandered over to (you guessed it) the Porterhouse for lunch and a beer. Or two. Or three. After I couple of Oyster Stouts I realized there was one Porterhouse stout I hadn't tried: The Celebration Stout. This is their "Imperial Stout" -- at 7% it is strong for an Irish Stout but most American Imperial Stouts are quite a bit stronger. The Celebration only comes in bottles and I asked if they had any. They did.

Porterhouse Celebration Stout

The alcohol was noticeable and it had a much stronger roast/burt flavor than the other stouts. I liked it, but one was enough. So I went back to the Oyster Stout. By this time the rugby match (Ireland vs Italy) had started. Ireland one 13-11 in a fairly exciting finish (we would say a field goal in the last 3 minutes but I'm not up on all the rugby terminology).

One of the guest taps there has the green Sierra Nevada logo. I was talking with the manager Kenn (who has treated my very well this week) and he asked if I had tried the Sierra Nevada? I said I drink the draught ale often at home and it is one of my favorite beers. "Oh no, this isn't the draught ale, it's the Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale."  I couldn't resist that, so I had one:

After a week of fairly mildly hopped beers (by West Coast US standards) the hops here really hit me in the face. It actually took me quite a while to finish,  as it took me a while to re-aclimatize my palatte to such a massively hoppy beer. But finish I did and then it was back to the hotel to pack to get up early (you can't "crack of dawn" as dawn is about 8am this time of year!) for my flight home.

Dublin Day Five -- Even More Beer

After doing my morning chores (updating the blog and doing actual, real work) I decided to check out a brewpub names TramCo. It closed a while back but was reported as having re-opened.  After successfully  negotiating the Dublin bus system (the bus system is great but finding the right bus stop can be a challenge of you're unfamiliar with the area) I arrived on site. Not only was it closed it had that deserted sort of look that said it hadn't been open in a while. Oh well, on to other places...

Site of TramCo Brewery

Having an afternoon to kill, I defaulted to the Porterhouse in Temple Bar (the original).  I was hoping they had a new guest cask on but it was still the Kelvick Gold. So I had a pint of their cask ale, TSB (Turner Sticklebract Bitter) brewed with New Zealand Sticklebract hops.

Porterhouse TSB
 It was a nice English style cask bitter, and just the right temperature. As the first beer of the day it went down way to fast.

Next up I decided to try the Plain Porter near the start of the day to give it a fairer test.

Porterhouse Plain Porter
While it was much better than my quick pint the night before, it still comes in third place of the three porters and stouts they brew. Don't get me wrong, it is a fine beer and anyplace else it would be a winner, but I wanted to slap my forehead and shout "I could have had an Oyster!"

I apologize for the following picture but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. WeiserBuddy is the original name of the light lager now called Chiller. After about literally 10 pounds of paper sent by lawyers in St. Louis, this is just about all that remains of the name,

The former name of Chiller

I did hang around for a couple of Oyster Stouts, but I won't bore you with pictures.
I decide to pay a return visit to the Bull and Castle to see if they had a new cask on.  They call themselves a "Gastropub" which means they picture themselves as a fancy restaurant first. This time when I went in there was somebody guarding the portal.  I noticed all the tables had reserved signs on them. When I told her I was going to have a couple of pints and maybe a bowl of soup she said I'd have to sit at the bar. Now the bar there has this rickety, uncomfortable stools and I said I'd really rather sit at a table. "They are all reserved," she sniffed. Now it was a Friday so I can understand tables being reseved but it was 3:00 in the afternoon! So I sat at the bar and ordered my pint of Buckley's Golden Ale (them being between casks). 

This is a very interesting beer. It is only 3.9% alcohol but is very tasty with a nice hop finish. Not too much malt in there but that is to be expected. I read later that this is their most popular beer during the day. I can see that -- a pint with lunch and you wouldn't need a nap when you went back to work. They have a nice bottle selection as well and I was all set to try some after the Buckleys, but a couple

of different couples came in in the meantime and they were seated at "reserved" tables with no problem. I was sort of in a pissy mood from the rickety stool, so I decided if I wasn't good enough for their business, I'd go elsewhere. That is why in general, I hate "gastropubs."

I wandered over to the Cobblestone pub in the Smithfields district. I had been by on Tuesday but they didn't open until 4pm.  By the time I got there it was just past 4pm and I think I was the first customer.

It turns out they used to be the unofficial taproom the for now departed Dublin Brewing Company, which was located nearby.  I noticed they had three tap handles with names of former DBC beers but with the label "Big Hand Brewery." The one I wanted, D'Arcy Stout had the handle covered so I had the Revolution Red.

Revolution Red
The beer looked nice but either the keg or the tap was bad -- it was very sour. When I next had internet access I did some research (if it it's on the internet it must be true, right?) and found out they don't actually brew but just import beers and relabel them, The Revolution is supposedly Bombardier and the D'Arcy Stout is really Young's Double Chocolate Stout. Oh well.

So I headed over to L. Mulligan Grocer. When I was there on Tuesday night it was fairly quiet. Being Friday at about 5:30pm it was now packed. Turns out they also have a very interesting menu with lots of beer cuisine -- but they are definitely not a "gastropub."

Dinner Menu at L. Mulligan Grocer

The cask beer had changed, it was now Dunvargan Brewing Block Rock Stout, which I had not yet tried. So I did. And was glad I did.

Dungarvan Black Rock Stout
I guess you don't stay in business long if you don't brew a decent stout.  This one was excellent with a nice hop balance. After that it was another repeat -- Trouble Brewing Dark Arts Porter. Actually I think I had two of those. By then the weather was starting to turn (wind and rain) so I headed back to the hotel. 

I think I will come back for dinner on Saturday, my last night. This place ties with the Porterhouse as my Dublin favorite. The Porterhouse has a sentimental advantage but L. Mulligan Grocer is up there as one of my favorite all time places to drink beer.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dublin Day Four -- More beer

While walking down a street a came upon this: The Dublin branch of the LA Burger chain "The Counter."

 On the same street was a truck delivering kegs. For some reason I got a kick out the sign on the front of the truck.

First stop was O'Neills. They open a 10:30am so it a good place to start if you want to get early start to the drinking day. I was told some pubs over by the produce market have "Early Hours" and are open a 7:30am, similar to the Market Porter in London.

They have a nice selection of taps. The usual Macros, some German and Belgian and quite a few Irish craft beers.

I started with the Blarney Blond from Franciscan Well. It was a good first beer -- nothing to challenge you but tasty and refreshing. Sadly, it was in a Guinness glass.

Next up was the Rebel Red from the same brewery. A nice roast finish. There definitely is a house character to the Franciscan Well's beers.

I decided to stick with reds and had the highly recommend O'Hara's red. Sadly, I think the keg (or batch) was a bit off. It had a quite distinctive sour note. Maybe that is planned but nobody who recommended it mentioned it to me. It's had to tell with these pictures, but it was an intense, dark red -- almost black.

There was stout I hadn't yet had: College Green (Belfast) Molly's Chocolate Stout. So I rectified the deficiency. It was very drinkable but no real chocolate character. It will place farther down on my stout list.

It was time to move along, so I headed up towards a fairly new place, Against the Grain on Wexford St. It is a "gastropub" in that there is a good restaurant as well. 

They are owned by the same group that owns the Bay Brewery in County Galway and a number of recommend pubs in County Galway. This is their first Dublin venture. They have a decent number of taps, mostly craft beers.

I started off with the Bay Lager. Well made, drinkable but not terribly interesting. I am sure I am not the target market for this beer.

The Bay Ale was much more to my liking. I nice bit of hops and caramel and a little butterscotch as it warmed up.

There was one beer I hadn't yet had called Phuca from Franciscan Well. It is their Christmas/Winter beer and it is fairly heavily spice with clove and nutmeg. I had just half a pint because the spices were pretty intense. This is a love it or hate it sort of beer.

I wasn't quite ready to move along, so for a change a pace I had a whiskey. I asked if they had any peated Irish Whiskeys and the barman recommended Connemara. It was very nice -- a different kind of smokiness from a Scotch.

A couple of gentleman sat down next to me at the bar and one of them was in the beer business and had worked for the Porterhouse their first 10 years. He gave me some funny stores to relate when you have me in a bar sometime. I had an O'hara's stout with them but didn't photograph it because I have already.

I had signed up for a "Literary Pub Crawl" and I was running a bit late. I just had time to pop in to the 2nd Porterhouse venue in London -- Porterhouse Central. This is right across from Trinity College and has quite a different atmosphere than the original pub.

I realized that I hadn't had the Plain Porter yet, so I had one.

Not really the best time for this beer -- it should be early in a session. Not much was left of my taste buds at this point. I also realized I didn't have time for an Oyster Stout, so for the first time in my life I left a Porterhouse pub without drinking an Oyster. Oh noes!

The pub crawl was very interesting and entertaining.  We went back to O'Neills, which was the only pub with any interesting beer. So I took the chance to have the bottled version of the O'hara's Red and it didn't have any sour notes and was quite a good beer.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dublin Day Three -- a Non-beer trip to County Wicklow

First some pictures of the village of Avoca -- known to many as Ballykissangel from the BBC TV series of the same name . The show was filmed here.

Next some pictures of the monastic ruins at Glendalough and its famous round tower -- it was raining so I didn't take many and I those I took do have rain on the lens. Oh well.

Next a waterfall with a long Gaelic name I didn't catch.

And finally some pictures above Lough Tay -- which is part of an estate owned by a branch of the Guinness family. Guinness may be good for you, but it is definately Good To Be A Guinness if this is any guide.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Rest of Day Two in Dublin (Updated)

After leaving the Guinness Storehouse it was time to visit some pubs. I walked over to the Luas (Dublin Tram) stop nearest the brewery and caught a tram for the city center. It's not that it is that far, but I paid for a tram/bus pass so I might as well use it. I got off at Smithfields and walked toward Stonybatter St where you'll find L. Mullegan Grocer.

Well, it was closed and no opening times posted, so I headed over to the second pub on my list, The Cobblestone pub. It too was closed but a sign implied they opened at 4pm. They had a big banner from  Dublin Brewing Company, a microbrewery that closed down a while ago. But I took that as a good sign that they might still have decent beer.

Number 3 on the list was O'Byrnes Beverage House. As I walked by it, I could see in and it look closed as well. My luck was not very good today. But it turns out that was just the back room and when I got to the front it was open for business.

Inside they had a sign stating "College Green Belfast Blonde" on draught, but sadly it wasn't on. Their "House Beer" was a Lithuanian Brewery, Svyturys. They had three on draft and I chose the "Dark Red." It wasn't all that dark but it was a pretty nice lager. Nice malt flavor and a bit of caramel.

I asked about bottles and he said they had a good selection of American beers but that he guessed I didn't come to Dublin for that. Since I asked about a College Green beer he asked me if I had tried the Headless Dog. I had seen that sign on the Porterhouse and had thought it was a brewery, but it turns out it was a beer. So I had one:

College Green brewery is in Belfast, so technically this is an imported beer (I'll stay away from the politics). There where some American hops in there giving it a nice citrus-y bite.  Hopefully I can find it in draught or cask while I am here.

I decided to head over to the other brewpub in Dublin, Messer's Maguire. It is on the other side of the Liffey at the foot of one of the bridges. I headed in what I thought was the right direction but ended up a bridge to soon. No worries, except that is where the Porterhouse is. I couldn't pass that by. So in I went had had their seasonal beer, a Vienna Lager:

The beer was fine but I would have liked it with a little more Vienna Malt character. There was a slight burnt note that was just not quite right, as if they had used a little roasted barley for the color. Not bad at all, but not their best beer. So in that case, I had a pint of their best beer, the Oyster Stout. Didn't take a picture as you've seen it already.

Messers Maguire is just a couple blocks down and I was soon there.

They had five of their beers on draft and did a sampler, so I had one. With that I ordered a sampler of Irish Cheese.

The beers were a Lager, Weizen, Bock, Red Ale and Plain Stout. The Lager was a typical light lager, nothing exceptional but drinkable. I thought the Weizen had a little too much hop bitterness,  the Bock was OK but could use a little more malt. The Red Ale was tasty and the Plain Stout was delightful. No bonus points for guessing which I had.

I asked the bartender if he had any other Irish beers on draft (they had about 20 other taps) and he looked a bit sheepish and said "Just Guinness."  So I decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel. There was a bus stop right across the street, so I thought I'd see if a bus heading toward the hotel came by. The second bus had on its list of stops "Stoneybatter"  -it's not that long a street so I hopped the bus and got off right across the street from L. Mulligan Grocer.

I noticed they had the Belfast Blonde on draught so I tried one. It was almost a golden color and while tasty, I think I like the Headless Dog better.

I could see a beer engine down the bar so I asked what they had on cask. It was the Trouble Brewing Dark Arts Porter. So I had one:

It was dark black but there was a portion of chocolate malt in there -- I combination I like. And there was some nice hop bitterness in there to balance it out. My number two beer of the trip so far (after the Oyster Stout).

I was talking with the bartender and one of the locals and somehow the cost of beer came up. The bartender said if I had €100 burning a hole in my pocket he had a beer for me and put a bottle of Brewdog Tactical Nuclear Penguin on the bar in front of me.

I am not a fan of Brewdog beers and a €100 will keep me in beer for a few days at least, so I politely declined.

For my night cap I had an O'Hara's Stout. This has shown up in LA at a few places and I had liked it there. It was better here and while good, it only made it to #4 on my list of stouts and porters that day:

I was going to leave but gentleman sitting next to me at the bar wanted me to try a beer he liked, the Innis & Gunn Oak Aged beer from Scotland.

It had a nice oak flavor but it was clearly light struck (clear bottle) it was not undrinkable but you had to remember not to breathe in when drinking.

So just as a recap, my favorite Stouts (and Porters) of the day:

  1. Porterhouse Oyster Stout
  2. Trouble Brewing Dark Arts
  3. Messers Maguire Plain Stout
  4. O'Hara's Stout
  5. Guinness Extra Foreign Stout (bottle)
  6. Guinness Draught
  7. Guinness Extra Stout (bottle)
Tomorrow is an off day, beer wise. I am taking a bus tour thru County Wicklow, just to see some countryside.