There are many epithets that one can attach to Mr Mick Wallace, though one of the ones he made his name on was "Italophile". Enamoured of the Italian way of life on returning from the 1990 World Cup, the construction magnate used his later prosperity to bring a little of it to Dublin. The city's "Italian quarter" is of his making and La Taverna on its southern edge is still his personal property, recent financial and legal woes notwithstanding. It's a centrepiece of the Italian quarter vision and in the boom years Mick would often have lunch here. I know this because I often had lunch here too, and still do. The food is of excellent quality and very reasonably priced, while the wine and olive oil are (I think) imported especially, with an emphasis on the Piedmont region for the former. The beer was... Peroni. As the Italian beer renaissance took wings, I would fume over my Modenese salad that none of the good stuff was coming on the containers from Piedmont, stacked next to the Barbera.
I've no idea what prompted the change earlier this year, but it finally happened: a handful of beers from Birrificio Montegioco in the east of the province, north of Genoa.
Demon Hunter is a dark amber ale of 8% ABV with definite Belgian characteristics, in that it's rather hot and has a good deal of banana ester about it. The aroma has hints of acetone and the finish is acridly bitter. All of these factors made it just too hard going to be enjoyable, for me at least.
The lighter Rurale was much better. It's a little bit pale and a more accessible 5.1% ABV. There's a lovely spicy, perfumed hop nose with some marzipan sweetness. The malt looms large in the flavour, showing masses of caramel and golden syrup. The perfume hops make a comeback next: assertively floral, if that's a thing. A decent bitter smack finishes an end-to-end quality beer experience.
I had no idea what to expect from Bran, only that it's 9% ABV and only comes in a 75cl bottle. That said bottle arrives wrapped in paper doesn't help either. And after drinking it, I'm still not sure what style best fits it. It's jet black and pours out gloopily, with little by way of head. The aroma is a hot and sour combination of alcohol and plums, placing it somewhere on the dark Belgian-style spectrum, but the flavour is all about the chocolate: sweet to begin with, and finishing dryer, with more marzipan in the middle for complexity. That makes it more of a porter to my palate, and a very good one at that. However you want to slice it, this is a very well done beer and exactly the sort of wine substitute that I'd been longing to see at La Taverna.
I have rarely ventured into any of the other members of the Wallace group, but the promise of Montegioco on draught was enough to get me through the doors of Enoteca delle Langhe, situated just behind La Taverna. Rurale was an option but I went for Runa, 4.8% and arriving the colour of spun gold with just a slight haze. There was something off about the aroma, a sort of stale-weissbier rancid banana smell, but it's much better to the taste. First impressions were of a simple witbier, softly wheaty and with a gentle spice. As I got further in, the hops started to come through clearer with a lemongrass and beeswax bite, reminiscent more of an assertive German pils than a Belgian-style wheat beer, with just some background fruit esters suggesting to me that it's warm fermented. A best-of-both-worlds sessionable quencher or complex continental sipper here. The first appearance of a teku glass in the wild in Dublin, too. They're really not very nice to drink from.
And the news is just in that the group's beer offering is due for further expansion very soon, including the arrival of products from one of my top Italian breweries, the sour specialists LoverBeer. That could well move the Wallace group from fun novelty beer stockists to unmissable Dublin icons.