10 November 2008

My NoCal life

Thom has beaten me to the punch on this one, with his account of how we spent Friday night in Lilac Wines on Dublin's northside. I introduced him to Jonathan, the American I met a couple of weeks ago who is bringing the Gordon Biersch and Speakeasy beers into Ireland, and taking a very hands-on approach to promoting his business. Along with a couple of other members of the already-converted, Thom and I stood about drinking free beer and trying not to distract Jonathan too much as he attempted to convince innocent Heineken-buyers that they could be doing so much better.

I'd never before spent three hours in a Dublin off licence on a Friday night, despite what my wife might tell you. It was fascinating to watch how the post-work crowd between six and seven were amenable to trying something new, and even buying a six-pack of it in some cases, but as 10pm last orders approached, the customers were much more focussed on grabbing cans of rubbish and legging it out again, paying scant heed to the chirpy yank offering them a sip of nectar (I'm still very much in love with Speakeasy Prohibition, incidentally).

Aside from the seven beers I've already reviewed, Jonathan had sample bottles of a couple of other Californians he's thinking Ireland might be interested in. Well I certainly was. Two were from the Blue Frog brewery in Fairfield, both served from 75cl bottles. Blue Frog IPA is rather thinner than one would expect from a 7% ABV American IPA. It puts all its resources into the hopping, going for a tangy, almost astringent, character. Bizarrely, the double version -- The Big DIPA -- cranks up the malt levels, and although it claims a big 83 IBUs against the single's 60, the end result provides a much fuller, rounder and better balanced experience. Big DIPA is the one I'll really be looking out for if and when it hits the open market.

Continuing in Opposite Land, the bitterness of Blue Frog's single IPA was topped yet further by Butte Creek Pale Ale (that first word is pronounced "beaut", by the way, which means it's not as much of a companion to Knob Creek bourbon as I'd hoped, in my own puerile little way). This stuff tastes green: an intense earthy vegetal hoppiness which reminded me of nothing so much as Timothy Taylor Landlord. A little bit of firm malty body peeps in behind, but mostly this is a beer that assaults the side of the tongue and pierces the sides of the jaw. I doubt I could drink a lot of it.

Jonathan wasn't happy with the few bottles of E.J. Phair Pale Ale he'd brought over, and with good cause: the one we shared was intensely vinegary and undrinkable. I trust he'll be getting a refund on that. Or preferably another batch of samples. For the last beer of the evening we returned to Speakeasy for a go of their White Lightning wheat beer, remarking on the unfortunate decision to go for a name already used by a legendary tramps' cider. Frisco's White Lightning is better but I couldn't recommend spending actual money on it: the wheat is really, well, wheaty, with none of the fruit or spice one expects from European wheat beers. It's a fairly typical US-style wheat beer, in fact, and as such best avoided.

After paying my respects to the house (and its frankly excellent beer selection, half of which is displayed left) I hopped on mo rothar for the 40 minute cycle south to Beer Nut Towers. Cheers to Ronnie and the rest of the Lilac Wines crew for letting us get in the way of your Friday business, and of course to Jonathan for the... well, for the free beer.

Who'd have thought handing out free beer in Dublin off licences would prove so popular?


  1. Sorry to beat you to the punch. I had a rare moment of clarity and actually got my act together for a change. Twas a fun evening and perhaps some punters were put on the road to beer righteousness.

    I thought it strange the young lads who grabbed a few bottles of Pilsner Urquell didn't want to try any of the free beer. I mean, they're well on the way if that is their regular Friday night tipple.

  2. I suspect they were rushing to a prior engagement. Apparently, some people have other things to do on Friday nights than hang around in offies.

  3. I always hate to be negative but I probably wouldn't order any of those beers here in California. To use a football analogy, they are bringing over the reserve team.

    oh... and it is 'NorCal'

  4. How gauche of me. My apologies.

    Would I be right in thinking that this reserve team is decidedly cheaper than the first-string alternative? The punitive tax and excise regime in Ireland means that the beer has to be bought very cheaply from the producer to make it marketable across the Atlantic.

  5. I don't think so... all those beers are in the same general craft beer price range as the 'A' team here in CA.

  6. Interesting.

    Sounds like we need another importer to set up in competition. You know the market's good for it, Chris, and you're over here half the time anyway...

  7. Oh... no... not the sales guy type.

    My only interest is to protect the reputation of California beer.

  8. Anonymous6:17 pm

    what would be in your 'A' team?

  9. My 'A' team would be Bear Republic, Firestone-Walker, Russian River, Green Flash, Port Brewing, Alesmith... to name a few.

  10. Maybe Jonathan would be open to suggestion of other beers he can bring in. Like the A-Team.

    Hit it BA! I mean BN.

  11. Yeah, it's hella NorCal...

    Too bad you got the White Lightning, it's by far Speakeasy's weakest offering. There best being the Big Daddy and Double Daddy IPAs. Mmmmm. Used to get them all the time at the Speasy's Friday Happy Hour.

    California's best beers, imo, are the ones that use lots of westcoast hops, which are in shorter supply for the last year plus so the brewers are kind of pushing their less hoppy varieties.

    I like Chris's list of Cali brews.
    My top 5 Cali Brewers (that bottle) are:
    1) Bear Republic
    2) Port Brewing
    3) Speakeasy
    4) AleSmith
    5) Lost Coast

    I just started beer blogging myself @ ciceronito.wordpress.com

    I can't wait to read more from all the hop heads around the world.