When I first visited The Open Gate Brewery, Diageo's Dublin brewpub, I expressed some concern about its lack of, well, openness: that you need to plan forward and book in advance to visit, and how this is likely to keep the masses away from what is intended as a reaching-out gesture. I've been back in a few times over the intervening months, though always as part of invitation-only events and I was very curious to see what The Open Gate is like on a typical Friday evening. So, having waited for the brewing roster to turn out some new stuff, I made arrangements a few weeks ago and headed in.
Pleasingly, the system does seem to be working. It was a mixed crowd, including the inevitable tourists, though very much of the prior beer-enthusiast persuasion. And then groups of locals: either workplace groups or friends using it as somewhere to congregate before moving on to the rest of the evening. And the spirit of the venue was also being observed: folk leaned in as the bar staff explained the beers, others wandered from table to table, inspecting and sniffing the jars of assorted hop pellets. It was a bar themed around beer the way almost no Dublin bar is. Score one for the geeks.
But I wasn't there just to look round me. There was beer to be evaluated. The headline draw was 1516 Anniversary Pilsner, created by ex-Alpirsbacher brewer Jasmin Winterer as the Guinness tribute to 500 years of Reinheitsgebot. The sample I got in my introductory flight looked a bit sad: the perfect clear shade of spun gold, but lacking any sort of head. I traded up to a pint before leaving and that's really how this beer needs to be enjoyed. And enjoy you will: a classically grassy noble hop aroma starts it off, as well as a soft rub of light diacetyl. On taste it's perfectly crisp with a light green Saaz bite, gentle white pepper and a mild baked-cookie malt note. The only fly in this ointment is a tiny one: a finish that's just too abrupt, leaving this drinker hankering for more of a bitter smack on the end, where there's only mineral water fizz. But otherwise it's an extremely well executed pils and a beer I would happily drain many pints of were it more widely available.
A tough act to follow, and next along was Offset Rye IPA, launched in association with the Offset design festival a few months back and causing a storm of controversy after the organisers cancelled a previous sponsorship arrangement they'd had with Kinnegar Brewing. Well, as far as the liquid is concerned, the brewers of Rustbucket have no cause for concern. While Offset does contain enough rye and hops for both to be tastable, it's dominated by a sweet toffee flavour which belongs in a red ale, not here. There's a mild rasping rye grassiness and a token tang of generic citrus but not enough of either to make the beer worthwhile. If you came to Open Gate to learn about IPA, this will leave you with a false impression, even if you enjoy the beer, as some people apparently do.
Last of the new ones is a Chocolate & Vanilla Stout, bearing some resemblance to the Milk Stout they were serving at the opening, in strength at least, at 6.3% ABV. I wasn't quite sure what it was trying to achieve. Yes, there is both chocolate and vanilla in the flavour, and it is predominantly sweet, but I think there's been an effort made to avoid cloying sickliness and this has toned things down to the point where the beer lacks distinguishing features. It's quite bland, in other words, and I ended up hankering after the mild sour twang that defines Guinness stout. The body is lacking as well, and the sweetness grows while it warms. Brewing a beer that's both overly sweet and overly thin is definitely a mortaller.
Antwerpen, the microbrewed version of Special Export Stout, was still on tap and I filled out my flight with one of those: and there's that sour twang. I got it to compare with some that they've been ageing in a rum barrel for a few weeks. It's made a huge difference as well: the sap and sawdust of the wood is very apparent, and there's a little of the sugary spirit as well, but what really interested me is how much has been lost: all the lactic elements, and the smooth creaminess is stripped out. The end result is still weighty and warming but the flavour just isn't as complex. It has been dumbed down. I've occasionally suspected that barrel ageing isn't always in the beer's best interests and this is very much an example of when it's not.
So, pilsner aside, I'm coming out of The Open Gate yet again rather disappointed by the quality of the beers. But chalked up on the blackboard was a forthcoming "Tropical IPA". Nothing can possibly go wrong with that, right?
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