"Where do I start?" was exactly the question I put to my old friend, Kieron, after walking into 57 The Headline, early last September. It was my first time in a Dublin pub in three years, and there was no better place to head in order to get a decent cross section of the veritable explosion of new beers since my last visit to my home town. To be honest, I've lost count of how many breweries have opened since my last trip to Ireland, but there must be over 50 new breweries since I left for Germany almost 8 years ago, so one can imagine the mountain of new beers to try.
57 The Headline is run by Geoff Carty, who was formerly bar manager at my old haunt, the Bull and Castle, and in the three years since he took it over, I reckon they can be proud. It was midweek, fairly well crowded with a mix of all ages and types, and scanning the 20 taps on the bar, quite remarkable in that they had no Guinness, no Heineken, well, basically none of the big name brands. Instead, there was a hefty selection of beers from local (meaning Irish) micro breweries, the majority of which I had never tried. So, indeed, where should I start?
Something low ABV, perhaps. There seems to be a few session pale ales/IPAs on the market at the moment, so I thought I'd dip into a pint of Trouble Brewing's Graffiti, at 3.6%. A fresh lemon and grass aroma (as distinct from lemongrass). Light on the body, it's certainly hop-focussed, with plenty of lemony, pithy flavours, on a biscuity base, but also with a slight metallic bite. A long-lasting, dry bitterness, reminiscent of quinoa/tonic water, I have to admit I found it refreshing, though a tad thin.
I left the choice for the next round up to Kieron, and he returned from the bar with The Hurler, brewed at Trouble for Four Provinces, a 4.2% copper ale. Quite a detour after the previous hop-forward beer, The Hurler is packed with juicy malts, with a solid backbone of caramel, dried fruits, raisins, with a lick of hops to perk it up a tad. Despite all that fruitiness, it finishes dry, with a rather nice zesty, almost cola-like flavour, lingering. Moreish.
At this point, Geoff had spotted, via Twitter, that I was in the house, so he came out for a chat, and a break from the kitchen. Being the consummate host that he is, he kindly offered us a sampler rack with six random beers.
Although my goal this trip was to drink nothing but Irish beers, an English one slipped into the tasters in the form of Liquid Mistress from Siren. A big, fruity aroma, full of cherry. Chewy mouthfeel. Chocolate-flavoured caramel, dates and dark cherry. Finishes sweet and fudgy with a slight fruity bitterness. A lovely, comforting ale that would be a nice winter warmer.
Back to Ireland, and Blond, a German-style wheat beer from White Gypsy. If you don't notice the small print describing it as a Weissbier, you'd be quickly put straight by the massive banana aroma. And I really mean massive, like ripe, mashed bananas, with plenty of clovey spiciness. It ticks all the classic boxes, and these come though in the flavour too. Creamy banana weizen, with a shot of cardamom to spice it up. A decent effort, but a slight washing-up liquid, soapy aftertaste somewhat spoiled it for me
Trouble Graffiti got another showing in the sampler, alongside its (slightly) bigger brother, Sabotage IPA. I found it had quite a rich hop aroma, with plenty of tropical fruit and citrus, and altogether juicier and chewier, with a slightly sweet, caramel backbone, topped by a decent and lasting classic pithy, grapefruit bitterness.
There seems to have been a rise in Irish contract brewers in recent years, and one company that provides the capacities and skills to such new beer brands, Craftworks, have their own label: Postcard Brewery. The Spire India Pale Lager from Postcard was on the taster. Certainly lagery, with a spicy, fresh hay character, evoking Germany's noble hops. Compared to the big brand pils that I'm forced to drink at my village local, this is one I could sink several of quite easily.
I have to admit, the craic was taking over at this stage, so I wasn't so inclined to be taking notes while being regaled with storied from Geoff. If you go in, ask him why they finally decided not to have any of the big brands, it's worth hearing from the horses mouth!
As I digested the very tasty lamb kofta burger (and kept nibbling on the house-made pork scratchings), a few more proper pints were had. Black Donkey RyePA (decent!) and 5 Lamps Lager (ok), and I think there was another Trouble beer as a nightcap.
First night out in Dublin in three years, and only a fraction of a dent made on the list of beers to try. Luckily, there was another couple of nights out planned, with serious beer aficionados, to help reduce that list.