WE IRISH are astonishingly, notoriously brand loyal.
Proffer a beer that isn’t already a heavily-advertised household name and we’ll peer sceptically at it like something the cat’s dragged in.
Happily though, we have been waking up to a world of fab beers, and the parties that’ll accompany the Irish matches in the Euro 2012 from Sunday week provide a great opportunity to go explore. While I’d happily tuck into well-made beers from the UK or China or wherever — or even one of the big brands — I’ve put together two team sheets for a tasty friendly match, Ireland v Poland.
Just to be clear: this Polish line-up isn’t some sort of novelty selection. Along with Germany and the Czech Republic, Poland is at the heart of Europe’s great brewing tradition. The beers here are all top-class, and some were well-established when little Arthur was only a twinkle in Mr and Mrs Guinness’ eyes. Warka is distributed by Heineken: well, you might reflect that it’s only due to the intervention of the Iron Curtain that Warka Ireland isn’t distributing some obscure Dutch lager called Heineken.
Of course, you can’t float a party on beer alone. On page 27, as well as a sidelong glance at some non-alcoholic options, I’m looking at some party wines. In terms of value and popular styles that are widely available, Portugal, Spain and France are my top tips for Euro 2012. Wine is made in Poland but only fans who actually visit the country will get to try it.
Many excellent Irish-made international style beers — lagers mainly — make it on to our national team. But really it’s time we gave a proper run out to the League Of Ireland styles that are particular to these islands: lovely ales, stouts and porters that our craft brewers have been busily reviving for the last 20 years. So barring one pils style beer, my Irish side is made up of indigenous types.
May the best team win! In the meantime here are a couple of vital tips to cheer on the boys in green.
If you feel like putting ice in your beer, go right ahead. But really a good beer is a balance of flavours, and rapidly-thawing ice isn’t part of that recipe. So you’re much better off not putting ice in your beer, but to put your beer on ice. The biggest mistake we amateur barbecue barmen make is underestimating the task of cooling beers (and indeed the white and rosé wines). Picture these three scenarios: You, haring around urgently trying to keep the fridge filled with supplies of warm beer from the garage. Your glum-looking guests clutching tepid beers. And, in the morning, discovering what happens when you freeze beer (it’s not good). You’ll experience all three if you don’t allow time and space for chilling the drinks.
Whether for a small handful of people or a big crowd, the aim should be to get every beer in the house cooling now. Forget the fridge, which should be stuffed with grub or cooler boxes that will only hold about a dozen half litre bottles or cans. Get a large container like a clean, new dustbin, line it with two bin bags . Buy a few bags of ice from the supermarket (about €2.50 each), tip them into your bin, pop in the beers and cover them with cold water.
Don’t obsess about the ice. Water with plenty of ice floating in it is actually better and faster at cooling your beers down to around zero than a container packed with unmelted ice alone. This, by the way, is where cans come into their own: By 8pm, the labels will have slid off the bottles so you’ll end up with a beery lucky dip. But sure what of it? Tell your posh friends it’s a blind tasting and they’ll be delighted with you.
Battle of the beer: Poland v Ireland, Zubr Original 500ml 6% €2
The handsome deep gold colour of this hints at both its hoppiness and its prodigious strength. A great compromise between regular lagers and the forbiddingly strong ‘mocne’ styles, it ought to appeal to seasoned beer aficionados.
Zywiec Original 500ml, 5.6% bottle €2.20
An entirely different prospect to the Zubr is this, my joint favourite of today’s Polish selection. What’s so remarkable about it you might ask? Not a lot really — it’s just a delicious fresh poised beer.
Warka Beer 5.7% 500ml, Can — 500ml 5.7% — €2.60
Pretty damn delicious mildly hoppy lager with quite a creamy consistency. You wouldn’t guess from the taste how strong it is so easy does it.
Tyskie Grand Prix 500ml, 5.6% abv €1.80
Now this is class. A more pronounced piquant spicy nose than international styles above, but just as crisp, clean and unchallenging.
Beamish Draught. Irish Stout 500ml, €1.90
We should be proud of all three big brands of stout. From the ceremony of letting it settle through its refreshing darkness and hints of more exotic scents as the pint goes down, they’re a pure pleasure and distinctly Irish. I prefer the bite of Beamish. Plus it’s significantly cheaper.
O’Shea’s Traditional Irish Stout 4.5% ABV 500ml, Aldi €1.79
O’Haras in Carlow is the most widely-distributed of the independent Irish breweries, with a healthy export market and also making own-label beers for M&S and, in this instance, Aldi. I might be mistaken but this doesn’t seem to be identical to the stout bottled under their own name — either way, it’s a cracking stout.
Eight Degrees Barefoot Bohemian Pils 4% ABV 330ml, €2
One of the latest of Ireland’s small independent brewers is Eight Degrees in Mitchelstown. They is also one of its brightest stars. This is their first summer offering, a delicious pils style with a food-friendly tangy finish.
Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne Carraig Dubh Porter 500ml, 6% abv €4.29 for 500ml or €6.99 for 750ml
You’ll only find this to buy to take home in two places: its ‘home’ pub, Tig Bhric in Ballyferriter, and amid the astonishingly wide selection of international and Irish beers at Bradley’s on North Main Street in Cork. One to be savoured.
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