“The final realisations of the passions, everything pursued to the end – of the bottle, the music, the story.”
Sean O’Faolain – The Celts
Dublin is renowned for a good craic. It’s safe to say the home city of Guinness and the Temple Bar district isn’t short of lively atmosphere. Guinness we all know, of course, but I must confess I was ignorant of the Temple Bar before I arrived in Dublin in June.
Natives and history buffs are welcome to correct me here – all I know is the ready meal version of Dublin’s history quickly served up by a tour guide (a lovely chap with a cheeky sense of humour, so I’m prepared to forgive his inaccuracies and hope you forgive mine). The Temple Bar area of Dublin was due for demolition and redevelopment around the 1980s, which attracted artists and bohemian types who were drawn in by the low rents/leases, and in turn the tourists followed to see the bohemian Dublin scene. The area became such an icon for the city that the council decided not to send in the wrecking balls, allowing people to keep on getting wrecked themselves. It’s now a somewhat pricey tourist trap crammed with bars, pubs and nightclubs, but these things have to be done at least once if the opportunity comes up. Indeed, one of the defining slices of my entire trip to Dublin was listening to a two-man acoustic band play Daft Punk at 2am in a packed out Temple Bar pub.
Of course, we were there to get crafty. Outside of Temple Bar there are plenty of decent pubs (I’m not sure craft beer bar is the right term for Dublin; the pubs felt too honest and woody for that kind of nomenclature) that served up the Good Stuff we beer bloggers needed to calm our craft DTs. A good number of these were shown to us by Reuben Gray during the pub crawl on the Thursday night. There was an order to the crawl but I’m not sure it was relevant, so I’ve jotted down my few surviving thoughts on the pubs we visited.
(Note: A river runs through Dublin, separating many of the pubs from each other; unlike Cardiff, which has quite a snug, centralised ‘Craft Beer District’, Dublin suffers/benefits from casting a wider net across the entirety of the city centre. Whether good bars should be located close together or far apart is a different topic – there are merits to both. All I know is that Dublin provided one of the healthiest weekends of my adult life as I walked up and down the city from pub to pub.)
The Black Sheep
Just around the corner from The Church, our conference venue, the Black Sheep proved to be the darling of the beer blogger scene. We ‘effin loved that place. Part of the Galway Bay Brewery chain, it was a small, comfortable pub with a sort of London feel to it, for me at any rate. Whether right or wrong, the impression it left was one of bare wooden floorboards, pastel blue walls and gleaming brass keg fonts. Neutral yet homely, earthy and woody. Woody.
Plenty of Galway Bay Brewery’s own beers were on tap, along with a few choice British favourites (BrewDog 5am Saint and a Thornbridge – I forget which). Meanwhile, the bottle fridge is stuffed with choice and if you can’t decide they have a helpful spinning wheel on the wall to choose for you.
The Brew Dock
“BrewDog? You have a BrewDog in Dublin?”
“No, Brew Dock. Dock!”
“Is that like the fake BrewDog in China?”
Stage direction: Irishman strangles daft Welshman.
The Brew Dock is the ‘sister’ pub to the Black Sheep, also owned by the Galway Bay brewery. Galway Bay brewery is apparently more of a brewpub itself, supplying a small pub chain in Ireland, but with future plans for expansion – thank God. It’s safe to say they impressed the “Craft Wanker” contingent, especially with their Of Foam and Fury – a truly furious beast of Super IPA proportions that still managed to make itself heard after a long day of listening to many, many beers. We’ll be lapping that up by the crate-load if it ever hits British shores.
I digress. The Brew Dock is over two floors, displays plenty of wood and subdued lighting. The lighting issue is important, according to Richard Lubell (or possibly Alex “Beermack“). British pubs apparently suffer from being too bright, whereas Irish pubs are more comfortably lit and therefore welcoming/inviting – it’s not something I’ve had much time to put thought into, but all I can say is on that Thursday night, and every other night we were in Dublin, all of the pubs were packed, so perhaps there’s something to it.
The BrewDock had a small bar crammed with keg fonts and the food looked magnificent; it wasn’t too dissimilar from the Black Sheep, but both occupy different ends of the city centre.
Perhaps one of my personal favourites, and a shame I only went there once. Sweetmans has its own small brew plant on site and turns out some excellent porter – on both keg or cask. I often take cask for granted and it’s always a sudden jolt when I go abroad and realise how unique cask is to Britain. Few of the Dublin pubs had cask beer, though the imminent arrival of a Wetherspoon’s will radically shift this position.
Sweetmans had three or four floors, each of them packed with nooks, crannies, snugs and side-rooms. The end result was a gin palace affair, draped in lusty curtains and decadent, dark wood. On the ground floor the patrons listened to loud rock music. On the top floor, I leant against a fireplace supping porter and bemoaned the lack of a good cigar to go with the scene. Within the walls of Sweetmans you felt that people had the opportunity to enjoy a pub in their own way – dining in a quiet side room, chatting on the top floor, or listening to loud music downstairs.
This pub involved an Irish whiskey called Writer’s Tears. The rest is a blur.
Located in the Temple Bar, the Norseman was a curious creature. On one side, we craft wankers were drinking N17 Rye Ale drawn through a beer Randall-and-Hopkirk-thingy (see below, it involves drawing the beer through hops and craft ice or something); on the other side, some of the likely lads were necking alcopops. I wonder how bars like the Norseman and the Bull & Castle might have looked a few years back, before Ireland’s own beer surge, because the bars are currently crammed from end to end with fonts – have these suddenly sprouted up overnight, or were they always there, as if in anticipation of beery days to come?
Upstairs the Norseman had hop-cone chandeliers covering the light fixtures. A very nice touch.
The final word goes to our gracious host during the conference. The Church, unsurprisingly, is built inside an old church, complete with a massive pipe organ occupying one end of the main room. The food provided there is excellent and, I suspect, a significant contributor to my oncoming gout. The oval shaped bar in the centre of the room offers several Irish beers on keg, included Five Lamps, O’Hara’s, and Galway Hooker, and, amusingly, bottles of Shepherd Neame in the beer fridge. Ever keen that I am to spot the occasional pub garden in a city centre, the Church enjoys a decent patio area shaded by hedges and parasols.