Someone asked me recently which locally brewed beers I’d recommend to a complete beer novice – someone who has (through inertia or whatever) never tried anything more adventurous than a pint of Heineken or a half of Guinness.
Lots of posts on this blog deal with beers that some folks would think are pretty ‘out there’ and some that the palates of many beer novices would find down right offensive. Getting into beer isn’t an overnight thing – you don’t go from one day slurping down Coors Light shandies to the next day necking Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stouts by the pint-load.
So, given that it’s Irish Craft Beer Week and the opening day of the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival, this article will give you a whistle-stop tour of five of the best ‘starter’ beers brewed on this fair island – ones that aren’t going to rock the boat too much, but are brews of undisputed quality which, in my experience, can be enjoyed by both beer newbies and aficionados in equal measure.
Beer 1: Dungarvan Copper Coast
You’ll like this if you’re a fan of: caramel
Irish Red Ales have been given a pretty boring rep by Smithwick’s. No one, but no one, can get excited by Smithwick’s. Dungarvan’s Copper Coast ramps up the flavour profile somewhat (i.e. you can actually taste something); it’s probably the best Irish red ale on the market – there’s lots of deep semi-sweet caramel and red fruit flavours going on, as well as a bit of an earthy hop note towards the finish. It’s easy-drinking, well-rounded, and goes brilliantly as an accompaniment to red meat dishes. Don’t be scared of the sediment in the bottle or the cloudiness of the beer – Dungarvan bottle-condition their beers, so there’s a bit of yeast residue in there fermenting away.
Beer 2: Metalman Pale Ale
You’ll like this if you’re a fan of: citrus
Waterford’s Metalman Brewing Co. brew some seriously accessible ales for the uninitiated drinker. Their pale ale is a fantastic first step into decent beer – there’s plenty of tasty citrus character (nice lime and light grapefruit) and a lovely creamy biscuit maltiness. There’s a touch of bitterness in the aftertaste, but not to obtrusive extents. Overall, MPA is clean, crisp, and perfectly sessionable at just over 4% ABV. Summer, Winter, Morning, Night, Funerals, Weddings – there’s always time for a Metalman Pale Ale.
(N.B. Metalman don’t bottle their beers, so you’ll only find this on tap)
Beer 3: Porterhouse Plain Porter
You’ll like this if you’re a fan of: Guinness(!)
The Porterhouse is certainly the elder statesman of the Irish craft brewing scene – they’ve been producing a wide range of decent beer since 1996 and have got some seriously high-profile bars around Dublin, as well as in Cork, London, and New York (yeah, they’re doing alright!). Plain Porter is their multi-award-winning take on a style that’s been given global fame and exposure by Guinness: Irish Dry Stout. If you like your black stuff, but fancy a bit more depth of flavour, then this could well be the beer for you. There’s lovely roasted malt and dark chocolate notes in both aroma and taste, with some added coffee and spice bitterness to finish. It’s a beautifully well rounded and easy drinking piece of work…Put it this way, I’ve yet to meet a career Guinness drinker who I’ve given a pint of Plain to who hasn’t admitted they prefer it. That’s scientific proof that it’s better right there.
Beer 4: Carlow O’Hara’s Leann Follain
You’ll like this if you’re a fan of: chocolate
Carlow Brewing Company and their O’Hara’s range are certainly up there with The Porterhouse in terms of being landmark producers of good quality local beer in the country. They’ve grown year on year and now export their brews to plenty of countries (the Americans lap it up especially) – this is great news for us at home too, as the range is pretty easy to get hold of (even Tesco stocks it!). Leann Follain is their big, rich, dessert style stout – it’s ideal for anyone with a sweet tooth. At 6% ABV you won’t be going to town on this one – it’s one to savour for sure. Loads of dark chocolate, light treacle, chocolate fondant, and dark roast coffee notes are what you’ll find in your glass here – a really luxurious dessert style experience. Fewer calories than a slice of cake too, so you can drink this guilt-free after your dinners.
Beer 5: Eight Degrees Howling Gale Ale
You’ll like this if you’re a fan of: grapefruit (or pine air fresheners!)
County Cork’s Eight Degrees Brewing Company make some great stuff – they’re not shy about bucking the trend and ramping up the flavour stakes. Howling Gale is their flagship pale ale – it’s a lovely mix of punchy grapefruit, pine needles (very air freshener-y), and a light dose of slightly sweet caramel and digestive biscuit. There’s a little whack of bitterness to keep the palate interested, but it’s by no means overpowering. At 5% ABV it’s a bit less sessionable than Metalman’s pale offering, but it packs a bit more of a flavour punch. Goes great with spicy food too – perfect with a nice hot curry.
All of the above (and many more besides) are available at this week’s beer festival in Dublin’s RDS. I’ve also picked them as they’re amongst the easier to find of the country’s crop of decent local brews; you’ll be able to sniff them out somewhere, and once you do, that fiver you’re used to handing over in exchange for a sub-zero pint of Bud will start to look like less and less of a decent value proposition.