Sunday, May 20, 2012

the Perfect Pint-by-Number

We are celebrating! My parents have traveled all the way to Ireland from the arid biome of southern New Mexico. This marks their first visit to the Emerald Isle and their first time in Europe! As such, we are celebrating. We are also restricted to a very brief beer-post because we are busily chasing those desert-dwellers from glen to glade! Though we do try to give them head starts.

However, a beer-post there must be because what better way to welcome my folks than with a fine pint from a local brewer? "With sunshine might be nice," the folks murmur in opposition.

We looked for just the right snug around 7 p.m. knowing the Irish summer sun would continue its dozy gazing until well after 9. "Sure bet those clouds enjoy getting a tan," bemoan the less-pale desert dwellers. Plenty of time to enjoy a round or two! Our dogs were barking after hiking Dublin city's hinterlands. (Actually, the dogs here are remarkably silent; maybe our foxes were keening?) We had traveled out to see the splendors of St. Patrick's Cathedral only to step into a choral rehearsal, courtesy of the Indiana University Chamber Choir. It was a dazzling experience to hear the voices soaring into the stone-carved vaulted rafters, where they mixed with the rainbow-splicing light of the stained glass windows. After that we ascended to the summit of the Guinness Storehouse where my parents pulled their own pints. We enjoyed views of the city and its surrounding hillsides from the 360-degree bar before making our way to the Temple Bar district.

Knowing Dublin as we do, Zach and I decided not to settle down in any pub in Temple Bar. No offense to the district, which is lovely and always so full of life, but it is touristy and consequently plays host to the usual big-brand taps that tourists expect. So, we navigated over to the Liffey and made ourselves at home among the cushy nooks of Messrs Maguire, craft brewers since at least the 1830s. On their regular rosters, they list a Haus Lager, a Rusty Red Ale, and a Bock.

I ordered the Haus. Zach got the new Golden Ale (celebrating the Olympics). And my Mom joined in the fun and ordered a half-pint of the Rusty. I guess we all balked at the Bock. Knowing Zach will jump in anywhere he likes to talk about the Golden Ale, I'll just start Mom's Rusty--respect fer'yer elders and all that fal-dee-rall.

Messrs say of the Rusty that it is a fruity auburn red ale, mixing malty caramel with citrus. And their assessment is not wrong. To Mom, it tasted "warm" even though the beer and its vessel were chilled. When I sipped the Rusty, I knew what she meant. It was not so much "warm" as "warming." My tongue warmed in response to the spice. It's like breathing in the aroma of cloves or eucalyptus. Sometimes, there's a physiological response to certain scents and flavors. Cells expand. Capillaries fill up. Who knows? Regardless of chemistry, this beer is a warming beer.

As Mom enjoyed her Rusty half-pint, I turned to my own Haus, which was in perfect order. This pilsner-style beer tasted...well, like a pilsner-style beer ought to taste. Nothing exotic. Nothing shocking. Nothing out of place. It was no less delicious or refreshing; no less crisp or subtly nutty. It was a paint-by-the-number pint, but I can hardly fault it for that. How many times have I tried a lurid, experimental brew only to be disappointed? Some brewers get bedazzled by the limitless combinations of hops, malts, roasts, quick or slow fermentation. They play with flavors and splice styles until their beers are like Sid's toys in Toy Story. (Misunderstood, yet willing to help a fellow misfit escape certain exploding doom? Oh, right...)

That said, my Golden Ale might not have been a mutant toy, but it kicked like a Mutant Ninja Turtle. It was darn good; I feared that the Golden, like so many beers of the name, would be too honey-sweet and lacking in the more bitter and bready tastes that I prefer to sweetness in a brew. My fears were far from realized. In fact, the beer was complex, and as diverse as the Olympic opening ceremonies. I honestly could never put my finger on the flavors: they were spicy, but not autumnal; they were full without being overly hoppy; they were tingly without being fizzy. The opening salvo was different than the rich finish, and the relationship between the two was one of the more balanced I can recall tasting in Ireland. Too bad this is a seasonal (and perhaps only a quadrennial!) offering.

Now, back to how Maguire avoids beers-like-mutant-toys brewing fiascos:

Messrs just don't mess with beer that way. If you order their pilsner, it will taste like a pilsner. Order a bock and it will not mock. You, dear thirsty wander, can drink easy here. Order what tickles your taste-buds because the beers will be guaranteed not to sneak up on you like some eyeless-baby-doll-head-with-Erector-set-crab-body. Though that would make for a pretty bitchin' beer bottle label.


  1. Yay yay for family visits, especially when they include beer. <3

    1. And especially when the family with beer is YOUR family!

  2. I wonder, you mentioned beers have a slightly nutty taste, is that a by product from something else or are there beers that are actually made with or from nuts somewhere down the line?

    And every misfit toy (or beer) is beautiful in its own way, especially to the someone that loves them.

    1. INCONCLUSIVE ANSWER ALERT: It depends. Some beers will include "additives," which are ingredients in addition to the basic water, barley malt, hops, yeast, and sometimes wheat (wheat:beer :: y:vowels). These can be almost anything -- fruit, coffee, chocolate, green chile, and, yes, nuts.

      Other beers are more purist, and they develop their adjectival tastes through crafty interplay of different ingredients, most typically the malt and the hops. Most beers with a nuttiness fall in this category, and typically, I believe the nuttiness comes from the grains. (Though hops are magical buds, and I wouldn't put it past them.)