Dublin city centre is hardly saturated with good drinking opportunities though you don't need to look as hard as you once did for something decent on draught. We're not quite at the stage where you can walk in anywhere and find a good beer, but I also don't think we're far off it. Meanwhile, the hoppy fingers of independent brewing are reaching into the suburbs and providing more options to the thirsty people there.
The newest addition to the craft beer scene beyond the canals is The 108 in leafy Rathgar. Once a pleasantly shabby corner bar, this was demolished some years back and rebuilt with apartments on top. The pub returned as The Rathgar and retained its shape though I can't say if the atmosphere came back too as I never visited it in this incarnation. As of the beginning of this month it has been re-re-branded and is called The 108 once more, this time as part of the Galway Bay Brewery chain, the tenth in its estate and the sixth in Dublin.
As it happens the brewery had a brand new beer ready on opening night, an amber lager called Steam Boat. I confess I wasn't expecting a whole lot from it but brewer Chris has definitely worked his magic on it. His magic and a whole heap of Galena, Columbus and Citra. It's a murky red-brown colour showing the rawness that Galway Bay likes to present in its beers: no filter, no fining, no mucking about. The aroma is sharp yet fruity, all peach skins and grapefruit. While properly bitter to taste there's a lovely hop complexity, with mango flesh and a touch of the medicine cabinet -- eucalyptus in particular -- too. Best of all the lager yeast gives it a lovely clean finish, making way for the next mouthful. My only real beef with this beer is that the strength is a little high at 5.4% ABV. I'd prefer something I could tear through at a percentage point or so lower, and Galway Bay lacks anything hoppy in this area. That said it's nice to have something with all the character of the house IPA Full Sail with just a little less alcohol.
Meanwhile on the northside the former Red Windmill pub on Phibsborough Road has been acquired by the Bodytonic group, best known for the likes of The Twisted Pepper and Bernard Shaw. The new sign over the door proclaims it to be The Back Page and it is that rarity: a craft beer sports pub. The refurbishment has been done sympathetically and the front bar retains its cosy pubby feel while the bright back room is where the big screen action takes place. There's even a games room upstairs for those more interested in participating than spectating.
Bodytonic's brewing arm has a new beer out to mark the opening, created at Rascal's Brewery with recipe design by homebrew virtuoso Rossa O'Neill. It's badged as a dark mild, is 4.5% ABV and goes by the name Whopper. It's a simple but high quality beer with lots of silky milk chocolate at the centre of the flavour and some chalky mineral dryness around the edges. Maybe it's just because they've decided to call it a mild instead of a brown ale but I couldn't help wondering if there might be more complexity in a cask version of it. Certainly the coldness and fizzyness of keg dispense did it few favours on a rainy November evening.
It's great to see both the Galway Bay and Bodytonic empires expanding, and bringing damn good beer with them as they do. The revolution will not be centralised.