14 September 2007

Coals to Newcastle

Here I am in Brussels, beer capital of the world and my first post is about... Irish stout.

Funny story. On my way to the airport on Tuesday I stopped off at the Bull & Castle for a Galway Hooker. Geoff, the manager, was behind the bar and ushered me upstairs to the glass-fronted cold room for a surprise. It was a surprise all right: it turns out that a craft brewer in Tipperary has been quietly making an Irish stout for export, to Russia mostly, according to a recipe from Dwan's, one of the many independent breweries in Ireland killed off by the multinationals. The result is Black Pearl, in full pint bottles, bearing the original Dwan labels and cap.

So it happened that I began my trip by exporting Irish craft beer to Belgium. Later, ensconced in a Ghent hotel room I opened the bottle. Black Pearl fizzes out, forming a short-lived dark tan head. The mouthfeel is far from fizzy, but marvellously silky. Like the classic Irish stout it is, the taste is dry, offering roasted grains and a pronounced hoppy finish. But there's more: a rich chocolate flavour which, coupled with the silky texture, all adds up to a sublime stout experience.

Brewers tell me that stout is one of the easiest styles to make. So why don't they all taste like this?

Commercial Irish stouts are an occasional topic of conversation on the Irish Craft Brewer forum. The consensus seems to be that bottled Guinness, at room temperature, is the best commercial macrobrewed [see comments] session stout in Ireland. Bottled Guinness is something of a rarity in Dublin pubs, but I was fortunate enough to be able to find one on Tuesday before heading to the airport. Believe the hype: bottled Guinness is lovely. Dry, of course. The taste is fairly mild, but the roasted barley is present in a way you don't find with Guinness draught. It's filling as well: you know you've had a pint at the end of this. But the best bit is the texture, to feel the carbonated prickle of real beer instead of the soulless blandness of nitrogenation.

And so to the airport. Dublin airport has the only bar I know whose supply is entirely controlled by Ireland's third biggest brewer: Scottish & Newcastle-owned Beamish & Crawford. So instead of Guinness/Murphy's and Bud/Heineken, it offers Beamish stout and Kronenbourg 1664 lager. Ack.

I've long had an aversion to Beamish, but I'm not the sort to hold a grudge. So, since it had also been spoken of favourably on the ICB forum, I felt it was time to check again. Beamish is certainly more flavoursome than draught Guinness. It is much much sweeter, but to me it tastes watery. On balance, I think I'd rather have a pint of Guinness draught done well, bland and all that it is.

I can't leave the topic with introducing at least one token Belgian element, so here it is: Leroy Stout. This is a thick black stout with an overwhelming saccharine sweetness. It is quite smooth, but it lacks any roasted or burnt flavours, nor is there chocolate, nor even much by way of hops. A miss, then.

Right, that's the Irish stuff out of the way for a bit. Next up, following a side-trip yesterday, it's The Lagers of Luxembourg.


  1. The former manager of my London local, the Jerusalem Tavern, told me that a few years ago he used to serve Black Pearl on tap (presumably in nitrokeg form) until one day the brewery just stopped answering the phone. He assumed they'd gone out of business. It seems not.

    Now when some benighted fool comes in and ask for a Guinness, they get sold a bottle of St Peter's Cream Stout as being the nearest thing. That'll put a few hairs on a few pigeon chests.

  2. By the way, I totally disagree that bottled Guinness Original is the best bottled session stout in Ireland!

    Just to pick one random example, Marks & Spencer in England sell an own-brand stout produced by a micro in Ireland. Assuming that's available locally under the name of the brewer, I can attest that it's far better than Guinness!

  3. The brewer is definitely out of business: the Black Pearl I reviewed is a revived recipe by a different brewer.

    And thanks for pointing out my mistake. Bottled Guinness is of course not the best bottled session stout in Ireland. Where I wrote "commercial" I actually meant "macrobrewed".

    The M&S stuff, which I'm pleased to have learned recently is available here, is made by the Carlow Brewing Company, a micro as you say.

    Good job someone reads the rubbish I write...

  4. Séan Billings4:43 pm

    Its actually Messrs McGuire's brewing Black pearl these days. It's brewed to the original Dwans Recipe.

  5. If it's Messrs Maguire, how come it says "Shelta Beer Co., Templemore, Co. Tipperary" on the label?

  6. Anonymous5:12 pm

    Because the common element is Cuilin Loughnane. He worked for Dwans; he now does the brewing for Messrs Maguires but is able to use the equipment for his own brewing. He lives in Templemore Co Tipperary and Shelta Beer Company is his own company.

    At least, I think that's what he told me in Tara's in Ballina/Killaloe.


  7. Yes, I was aware of that, though I wasn't sure, and still amn't, if he's doing any actual brewing in Templemore. I have heard he bought some kit.

    I would definitely draw a distinction between the MM beers which have always been made and served at Burgh Quay, and Cuilan's own recipes. Which is why I would not regard Black Pearl as an MM beer.

    I notice he now appears to be trading on the festival circuit as "White Gypsy". Rebranding already?