Saturday, 5 July 2014

First Night in Dublin

Beer selection at Sweetman's
I arrived in Dublin shortly before 5pm on the day before the start of the European Beer Bloggers Conference, having caught the 3pm flight out of Gatwick. Although the flight was full and our departure delayed by about half an hour, it didn’t take long to go through border control and, as I was only carrying hand baggage, I was straight out of the terminal and on to the comfortable air coach, which dropped me right in the centre of Dublin.

It took me significantly longer to find my hotel. They were digging Parnell Street up, to make way for a new tram system I believe, and because of the fenced off sections of roadway I didn’t spot the name Gate Hotel on the facia of the black-painted pub which I walked past several times! A phone call to reception soon put me on track, but I had lost precious time. There was an introductory crawl of some of the city’s best craft beer pubs setting off from the conference centre at 6.45pm, but by the time I’d checked in, dumped my bag and freshened up there was no way I was going to make that deadline.

A further delay to find a cash-point and withdraw some Euros and it was way past 7pm when I arrived at The Church, the superbly resorted 18th Century former church which was the venue for the European Beer Bloggers Conference.

As I feared the pub-crawl participants had already departed, but fortunately I had printed off a copy of the itinerary. The Church’s friendly and helpful manager pointed me in the direction of The Brew Dock; the first pub on the list, but said it was quite a walk. I decided to head the group off at the pass, so to speak, by making for the second pub on the crawl which, as the manager explained, was closer to the city centre and the rest of the pubs on the route.
J.W. Sweetman - overlooking the River Liffey

I therefore made my way to Sweetman’s, a famous and historic, multi-floored pub, just across the River Liffey and waited there for the rest of the group. They must have been having a good time at Brew Dock as it seemed an age before they turned up. In the meantime I sampled a couple of Sweetman’s five house-brewed beers, produced in a micro-plant recently installed at the front of the pub. The pub brews a Pale and a Red Ale, a Porter, a Kölsch plus a Weiss Bier. I enjoyed the well-hopped pale, plus the smooth, chocolate-tasting porter.

I asked the barman whether the pub was expecting a group in later, which would be led by Reuben Gray; the Dublin-based blogger who writes The Tale of The Ale blog. Reuben was also the person responsible for securing The Church as the conference venue, thereby bringing the event to Dublin. The barman replied that they were expecting the group in soon and he would let me know when they arrived.
As it happened the barman didn’t need to point the group out, as a party of beer enthusiasts look virtually the same the world over. What’s more I recognised one of their number in Pencil & Spoon blogger, Mark Dredge. After introductions were effected, we moved up two flights of stairs to the bar on the second floor, where some “finger food” had been laid on for us.

Sweetman’s was my first introduction to Dublin pubs and Irish Craft Beer, and I liked what I saw, but as there were several more pubs to get round, it was soon time to move on. Next on the list was the Norseman, situated in Dublin’s legendary party area of Temple Bar. The Norseman has recently reverted to its original name, following a spell of being called Farrington’s, and is one of  a growing number of  Dublin’pubs offering a wide range of beer. Like most of these new breed of beerhouses, the choice is mainly craft keg, but none the worse for that. The notes I took at the time indicate I sampled the IPA and the Stout from O’Hara’s, plus the Hornet 8’s Nest, an extremely well-hopped “White IPA”, brewed as collaboration between Eight Degrees Brewing and By the Horns. Many of the group decamped to an upstairs area, so I joined them and as the atmosphere was slightly less hectic, and certainly more relaxed than at Sweetman’s. I was introduced to several more Bloggers, including Steve Lamond, writer of the Beers I've Known blog, Bryan Betts, who blogs under the name of the Beer Viking, and the already mentioned tour leader, Reuben Gray.
The Norseman - Temple Bar

The Norseman   in the city. After yet more “finger food” we set off through the by now pouring rain, passing the original Porterhouse en route due to time constraints, (I visited it a couple of days later), and ended up in the Bull & Castle. Again it was upstairs here, something which seems a real feature of Dublin pubs and bars, but something which would probably cause Fire Safety Officers back home to have fits of apoplexy! The bar we were in is known as the Butcher's Bar and, as its name suggests specialises in steaks and various other meats.

My sampling was slightly more restrained at the Bull & Castle, as I was mindful of not wanting to wake with a sore head the following morning. The Windjammer, a 4.8% Amber Ale from Metalman Brewery was rather nice though.

Final port of call - the Black Sheep
We finished the crawl at the Black Sheep, a contemporary-themed pub just a short hop from the conference centre. The pub is one of  several pubs owned by the Galway Bay Brewery; not to be confused with the separate Galway Hooker Brewery. The numbers on the crawl seemed to have thinned out slightly, and the pub wasn’t quite as busy as the ones we’d visited earlier. I sampled Galway Bay’s Buried at Sea, a 4.5% Chocolate Milk Stout, plus the aptly named Of Foam and Fury, an 8.5% Imperial Double IPA.

The latter was bought for me, plus those remaining on the crawl, by Niall Walsh, one of the two partners behind Galway Bay. We stayed quite late at the Black Sheep, chatting to Niall and others still present, then I vaguely remember walking back to the hotel in the company of Bryan, who was also staying at the Gate. At least the rain had eased off, but my shoes were soaked through, so much so that I had to try drying them with the hairdryer the following morning.

It had been a good night out, and an excellent introduction to Dublin, so special thanks to Reuben for putting the tour together, and to the management of the various pubs and bars for their hospitality.

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