03 December 2010

Subterranean homesick booze

A brewpub? Really? That's the place you made an unexpected beer discovery? Well, sort of.

Messrs Maguire has been coasting for some years now. Launched in a blaze of glory in the late 1990s, the multistorey superpub on O'Connell Bridge boasted a lending library and a cask bitter at the beginning. Sadly, it wasn't long before the management sidelined the more high-concept aspects and it gradually reverted into just another brash city centre booze warehouse. It's perhaps suprising that the brewery and its beers survived at all, discounted in both price and brand by the owners. As brewer, Cuilán Loughnane kept the wheels on and the beer flowing, sticking to a punishing routine of commuting from Tipperary up to Dublin and back each brewday. When he finally got his own White Gypsy brewery up and running closer to home it's not surprising that Messrs Maguire production moved there and the pub kit fell into disuse.

A little over a year ago, word had it that the owners had finally twigged that a microbrewery can be more of an asset than a liability and moves were made to revitalise the pub, the brewery and the beer. A new Dublin-based brewer, Melissa Camire, was installed to blow the cobwebs off the kettle and get everything running once more. While the three above-ground storeys of the pub were given little more than a lick of paint, a whole new bar has been opened in the basement. The Brewery, as they're calling it, caters much more to the needs of the beer enthusiast with a fascinating range of continental imports plus specials from both the brewery and its Tipperary cousin. I went along recently with a few of the Beoir guys for the opening night.

Nothing from the in-house brewery was available yet (a brown ale will be first out of the tanks in the next week or two), but there was Melissa's first Irish-brewed beer: Messrs Maguire Pale Ale brewed at White Gypsy though -- Cuilán insists -- without any input from him. It's no hoppy quaffer, this one: heavy and almost English-tasting in its no-nonsense marmalade bitterness on a smooth caramel base. It may lack the zingy high notes of fresh C-hops but it's a lovely one to take a bit of time to sip.

The handpump was serving the latest edition of White Gypsy Emerald blonde ale, this one made with a twist. It's the first beer brewed from totally home-grown ingredients in over a decade thanks to White Gypsy's new plantation of First Gold hops. It's a full 5% ABV though doesn't feel it at all. Light of texture and low on bitterness it's very easy drinking with a beautiful mineral softness underlying the slightly lagery pale malts and gentle green bitterness.

Under the new arrangements, Messrs Maguire will still be an outlet for White Gypsy beer, and Cuilán will continue to brew the core house beers for the upstairs bars. And hopefully that in turn means that we the Dublin drinkers will still have the opportunity to buy his specials and seasonals as well as Melissa's. The coming of winter means the arrival of a beer that's much less unexpected than the above but no less delightful: Messrs Maguire Jul-Ól. Resolutely brewed without spices or adjunct flavourings, this 6%-er has different emphases from year to year. In 2010 we're leaning more towards malt for a very sticky and warming ruby ale. The hops sit in the background and add a bitter complexity to the whole: toffee and jam with a liquorice bite.

I will be back over the coming weeks and months to further explore the new-look Messrs Maguire -- Melissa's beers, the bottle fridge and of course the new food menu. Hopefully it'll all seem like less of a surprise with each visit.