01 July 2016

Sunday mass

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Go to the Inn on any Friday night
And listen to them while they're getting tight
At the expense of him who stands them drinks,
The Mass-Observer with the Hillman Minx.
-- John Betjeman, The Dear Old Village (1954)
I don't have a Hillman Minx, or money to buy pints for the locals. Just a notepad and a set of instructions from this month's Session taskmasters Boak and Bailey. And I figured Friday night would be a terrible time to do this anywhere but a brightly-lit suburban pub where there's probably nothing I want to drink. Hell with that.

Early doors on a Sunday is the best time to be in the pub, for any number of reasons. On this particular Sunday I crossed town to visit WJ Kavanagh's, partly out of guilt because I hadn't been to this fine establishment in far too long, and it was also promising some new beers.

It was around 1pm when I walked in and my first shout was Summer Days, a new Session IPA from Eight Degrees and one which immediately invites parallels with their excellent Grand Stretch from last year. This one is paler, for one thing, hazy too and with a certain amount of yeast fluff in the taste, I thought. Otherwise, however, there's a big tangerine centre, edged with biting grapefruit. After a longish cycle on a warm day it was fantastically refreshing when cold but does take a turn for the watery as it warms. I don't think it's as good as Grand Stretch and it's mainly the big bitterness that wasn't to my taste. Though the €6 price tag also went a long way to reduce its sessionability.

With that done, it was down to work.

  • How many people are drinking?
A rough count of the chairs suggested that Kavanagh's seats about 150: it's not a small place and, as is often the case with Dublin pubs, is made up of several premises knocked together over the years -- an inevitable side-effect of the fixed number of pub licences. For a publican in search of more trade, expanding your bar is much more cost effective than opening a new one.

However, all the tables were empty when I arrived and there was just one other punter at the bar -- hi Deb! In total, 15 souls were present during the course of the study. A group of three mature visitors to Dublin had a rendez-vous with a local friend who was their guide for the day. They were in for food and a couple of drinks before going off to do some tourism.

Next in were a young couple and their baby in a pram, meeting up with two childless friends of the same age. The atmosphere at their table had the feel of a regular Sunday catch-up. 

Shortly after they settled in, two well-to-do early-middle-age Dubs sauntered in in fancy hiking gear, designer sunglasses perched on their crowns. They had plainly never been here before and needed to know if food was available before they took to a table to peruse the menus over pints of water.

Of the same age and social class were an American couple who came in next and sat along the bar from me, but only after himself had given the taps a thorough inspection. "Oh wow! Cask!" It was almost time for them to go home to San Francisco and this was the first cask beer they'd seen in Ireland. He was definitely staying for some of that. 

Last of my subjects was an elderly gentleman wrapped up in a raincoat and walking with a stick. He seemed to be known to the staff and I wouldn't have been at all surprised if he had been drinking there since before it was a specialist beer pub.

And there was also your correspondent, representing the lone ticker demographic. Speaking of which, time for another pint.

Alligator IPA is new from Trouble Brewing. Appropriately for the name it's swampy in appearance -- a dark amber -- and with a heavy 5.7% ABV that is definitely borne out in the taste. There's a dense and warming caramel followed by a harshly bitter spiciness, but in front of all of this is that yeast: this alligator has a seriously unpleasant bite which makes it very difficult to concentrate on anything else. Cleaned up you'd have a good robust amber ale; as-is it just doesn't hold up well.

To answer the second part of the first question, ten of the fifteen people in the pub are actually drinking, though disappointingly little of it was beer.

  • Which beers are on tap, and which are people actually drinking?
Positioned at the bar I was able to conduct a full census of the 23 working taps (one was out of action):
17 were from independent Irish breweries, 5 quality imports, plus Guinness.
21 of the taps were hooked up to kegs and then t