It seems that every few months there's news of a new Dublin pub stocking Irish craft beer, either as a specialist or alongside the mainstream offerings. Trying to keep up with them all, especially the suburban outliers, is an impossible task. However, a couple were on my must-visit list and I set aside a Saturday to travel out to them. While looking at the DART map it occurred to me that several of the stations on the southern stretch in particular had pubs with good beer nearby. Perhaps it could be expanded into a full-on rail-based crawl. There was enough interest on the forum and so the South Dublin DART Pub Crawl was born, assembling in Bray at 12pm on Saturday April 20th 2013.
The BeerNut first described Galway Hooker with "The makers claim 'Irish Pale Ale' is a new genre, which I was a bit sceptical about but now I can see where they're coming from. This has a touch of the caramel of the classic Irish red, but also a whole lot of the green, vegetal hops of the textbook IPA."
This distinct vegetal hops and hint of caramel I claim marks out many of the new Irish ales. Other wiser heads from Beoir disagreed but, showing an impressive resolve to both prove me wrong and to drink beer, they agreed to come along for a blind test.
It's a style that is quintessentially ours, yet is recently evolved from a foreign progenitor. It has been a mainstay of dumbed-down Irish macrobeer for decades, yet has seen a revival at the hands of newer craft breweries. Just what is the story with Irish Red Ale?
Late last year, a small group of us gathered in the Dublin pub with the best selection of reds, plus one British keg bitter, to find out via blind tasting if the microbreweries really are doing a better job, and if the Irish Sea really does mark the boundary of the style.
The post-mortem of the first Kit/Extract/All-Grain blind comparison decided that the brewer's proficiency with the various methods was affecting the outcome. It was therefore decided that for round 2 there would be three different brewers working to roughly the same recipe, each with a track record of successfully producing good beer via a particular brewing method. The result would be three beers in the same style made under optimum conditions with only the respective merits of their method of production to set them apart, thereby allowing the method itself to be judged, not merely the beer.
Since there was an old Brupaks Black Moor Stout kit to hand, stout was the chosen style for the test. The presumed poor condition of the unmade kit would serve to highlight one of the issues faced by kit beers: low turnover of stock and resulting oxidised off-flavours. As the kit expert, IrishPartyAle agreed to make this up, to an OG of 1.043. I made a similarly simple dry stout using dry malt extract, OG 1.043, and sbillings produced an all-grain version at 1.041.
The names IV, V and VI were assigned at random, and the tasting panel assembled on 28th July to try the beers blind.
But, as I said, all did not go according to plan.