Yes, Wetherspoon has certainly been something of a curiosity since it came to Dublin last year, hence the smiley greeter at the door of The Forty Foot on its first morning of business. I was here, since she asked, for beer.
Chances are you'll have seen the shock news as it happened: the pub chain choosing not to stock Heineken-brewed beers. A bevy of substitute bevvies was shipped in to replace them, and that's what drew me.
The stout line-up included Bath Ales Dark Side, and I kicked off with that to get it out of the way. While it's nitro-dispensed there's a pleasant tongue-tingling sparkle to this, though the texture is also plenty creamy. As expected, the trademark Bath Ales butterscotch is present in a big way but it's disguised somewhat by the sweet chocolate. It's a passable pint but you won't catch me drinking another.
Keeping it company at the black end of the taps is Marstons Revisionist Stout, a tiny bit stronger at 4.1% ABV with the informative tap badge helpfully offering black malt and roast barley, so I was hoping for a drier experience to cleanse all that diacetyl off my palate. The head on this one was promisingly darker: a healthy shade of nicotine, but of flavour there was none. Even after letting it warm up a ways there was a vague putty sort of tang but nothing that tasted like beer, never mind stout. My palate was cleansed but so was my optimism that the Marstons Revisionist project can deliver anything worthwhile.
Chances are I wouldn't have opted for Murphy's or Beamish on a visit to The Forty Foot anyway, though I have no objection to either. But these two stouts don't even reach Heineken's low bar.
My hopes were higher when I turned to lager. As titles go, Adnams Dry Hopped Lager really sounds like a winning formula. They certainly got their money's worth out of the Galaxy hops: this is a total mandarin bomb, to the point of being almost too sweet and juicy. There's a little bit of resinous incense spice and some heavier herbal dank, all of it given total free rein by the pristine lager cleanness. With no major bitter element, this is the beer to turn the local collars-up lagerboys into IPA fanatics.
On the journey home, since I was in the South County anyway, I dropped in to the other Wetherspoon: Blackrock's Three Tun Tavern. Mostly I wanted to grab a pint of Devils Backbone Pale Ale, the US-style offering brewed by Banks's for the chain and not yet in stock at The Forty Foot. Here is the bitterness missing from the Adnams lager: sharp and waxy; invigorating and refreshing. The flavour is rich and pithy, all ripe jaffa oranges, and the aroma adds to the waxy bitter effect. I liked it. It functions equally well as a cold, cheapy thirst-quencher and a more considered sipping ale. Would I be shot for suggesting there's a hint of Timothy Taylor Landlord about this?
And ugh, because I have to: Innis & Gunn Lager. My half arrived an innocent pale yellow colour smelling of nothing and tasting of little more. There's a bit of lagery grain husk and just a trace of the standard I&G toffee yuck. But it benefited hugely from the super-low serving temperature and was actually quite refreshingly bland, something I never thought I'd say about an Innis & Gunn beer. Still, I wasn't tempted to let it warm to further explore its charms. Down the hatch and one more for the road.
While waiting to be served that (sadly, second-rate English-style bar service comes with the package) I spotted another Adnams beer in the bottle fridge: Crystal Rye IPA. I guess there's a reason "Crystal" is writ large on the label, because it's writ large on the flavour too: a stiff, chewy toffee character, barely troubled by the hopping which I'm sure is generous but just gets drowned in caramelised sugar. There may be a grassy rye bite in the finish but it's entirely possible the power of label suggestion is putting that in there for me. I'm glad it was cold and I'm glad it's only 5% ABV: it could pass for stronger.
A couple of cans of Sweet Action for the long trek home on the number 17, and my day of 'Spooning was over. Once again the beer quality and price wasn't enough to drag me away from my more regular haunts, but roll on retirement, eh?