08 September 2017

New in town

The arrival of a new showpiece brewpub to Dublin ought really to be headline news on this blog. Brewpubs are my thang, and for the previous 17 years my hometown city centre has had just the one. I've been to the newcomer, Urban Brewing, twice now, at launch events, but even now I'm not sure if I should be writing about it yet.

There's no doubt that Urban Brewing is spectacular. It occupies a portion of the CHQ Building, originally a wine and tobacco warehouse in the docklands. It was meticulously restored during the boom years but never really took off as a shopping centre as intended. In 2013 the Docklands Development Authority sold the building to businessman Neville Isdell and it now hosts an exhibition, event space and a tech start-up facility. Isdell co-owns Urban Brewing with Ireland's largest microbrewer Carlow Brewing, and though it's not explicitly Carlow-branded, the mother brewery is very definitely present: most of the guest taps pour O'Hara's beer and the head brewer, Mickey Lynch, was seconded from Carlow.

At ground level it's a glass-fronted café bar with a generous west-facing terrace for catching the evening sun. On a gantry above the counter sits the brewhouse and the serving vessels, making it the only brewpub in Ireland where beer is served directly from the tanks rather than kegged. Stairs lead down to the vaults beneath, atmospherically lit and mostly dedicated to dining space, with room for a fully stocked basement bar and the fermenting tanks. The menu is all very high-end and cheffy, with tapas being the centrepiece of the offer.

But what about the beer? Well. That's where the reluctance comes in. I don't think the beer is quite ready. I'm not even sure any of it is fully sale-grade. But the place is open, pints are a reasonable €5.50-€6 and I think I'm within my rights to review them, even though -- disclosure -- I didn't pay for any of these as they were at events.

Back in the middle of August there was a Raspberry Wheat Beer. Its hazy greenish-yellow colour was entirely within the spec of a witbier, and the raspberry aroma was clear, clean and fun. And while it didn't look pink it definitely tasted pink, with lots of sweet raspberry. Except possibly too much: there wasn't a lot going on past the fruit, the base beer seeming very plain and watery. Still, not a bad start.

The other launch beer was an elderflower saison, later titled Forager's Wife. Originally this was a dense eggy yellow (pictured), the image of one of those fancy opaque New England IPAs. Banana esters featured big in the aroma, while the flavour began crisply but quickly turned overly sweet. The elderflower makes it taste of concentrated cordial, and then there's a nasty, but predictable, yeast bite on the finish. "Needs time" say my notes. Two weeks later I was back and it was still on. It had brightened a little, looking less outrageously soupy now, but it still tasted far more like a weissbier than a saison, all butane and bananas. Curiously, what little elderflower flavour there was previously had vanished completely. Maybe more time still is required, but I'm not so sure now. It could be just that the whole brewing system is not yet bedded in.

And that seems to be borne out by the other beers that were pouring at the grand opening last week. One was Urban Wit, a light and clovey offering once again full of esters, this time tasting specifically of green banana. It was perfectly drinkable but I missed the herbal flavours and dryness that witbier ought to have.

The other two were IPAs. Deanli IPA, presumably made wth the titular hop, did have a fun spicy green taste but it was buried under a snow-capped mountain of yeast and fruity esters. The flavour careens through weissbier, witbier and saison without coming anywhere close to American IPA. It was drinkable, but what bugged me about it wasn't the flavour but the wasted potential: I really wanted to taste the IPA underneath, but couldn't because of all that interfering goop in the way.

Its companion was an orange fellow called Paradisi. Cloudy again, but happily this time without the plague of bananas. Instead it's weirdly tangy, with almost a sour tint. There are sparks of orange and grapefruit citrus, but not up to the recommended level for a decent new world IPA. With these two they have attempted beer styles that require a clean flavour profile but have turned out results that very definitely don't have it.

I sincerely hope that there isn't a systemic flaw in the way beer is produced at Urban Brewing, and that once the rush of launch events goes away Mickey can get everything running the way it ought to, turning out beers with somewhat more polish to them. There will most definitely be more to come from Urban Brewing here, but maybe not immediately.