The Porterhouse Michael Jackson Award for Best Irish Beer

On Thursday the 26th of March I set out to The Porterhouse on Parliament Street in Temple Bar to judge the Michael Jackson award for Irish Beer. This a long article so sit down ideally with a glass of some Irish craft beer as an accompaniment.

For all those who are wondering what the one time prince of pop has to do with beer I better explain who this Michael Jackson was. Famously he was known as the beer hunter and one of the greatest beer writers in the world. He was a pioneer in raising the profile and popularity of beer. He's known for great books such as Great Beers Of Belgium and Ultimate Beer. He died in 2007 and every year beer lovers will raise a glass to toast his memory. Every beer enthusiast has at least one of his books on their shelves. A long time fan of the Porterhouse beers he used to judge the independent Irish beer of the year award. So this year when the competition started again owners of the Porterhouse and friends of Michael Jackson, Oliver Hughes and Liam LaHarte, dedicated the independent Irish beer award to his memory.

Through my involvement with Irish Craft Brewer and writing this blog I was asked to be one of the judges for this years Michael Jackson award. My fellow judges were Tom Doorley, renowned food and wine critic who doesn't discriminate against beer. Tony Brookes manager of The Head Of Steam, a series of five real ale pubs in the UK and importer of Irish craft beer. Séan Billings, home brewer extraordinaire and founder of Irish Craft Brewer. Good company to be in.

At the press launch for the festival I went incognito and read up on and sampled a few of the beers that I would be judging.

There were twenty three beers to be judged in total so we settled down for a nice afternoons work up on the bright third floor of the porterhouse sitting round the old copper kettle. The beers were tasted blind so we had no idea which was which. Rachael and a bar man whose name I don't recall had the job of climbing all the stairs to bring the beers up, thanks for that guys. A representative from each brewery was present to check the quality of their beer before it was sent up. There were four lagers, twelve ales, four stouts and three speciality beers.

I'll try to give a flavour of what's involved in judging a beer and how I tried to mark each beer. We marked the beer under five categories, appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel and drinkability.

Appearance: This is simply what does the beer look like. Is it nice and clear? Does it have a good colour? Does it look appealing/make you want to drink it?

Smell: Give the beer a good sniff. What can you smell? Anything at all? Malt, hops? Floral? Sweet? Spicy?

Taste: Finally take a sip of the beer. Swallow it slowly. What can you taste at the start of the sip, in the middle and at the end on the back of your tongue? Does the taste linger afterwards? There are loads of flavour descriptors for beer as seen in the beer flavour wheel at the right, can you taste any of them?

Mouthfeel: On the next sip let the beer stay in your mouth for a while. What's it's consistency? Is it light, heavy, watery, chewy, thin, too fizzy, not fizzy enough?

Drinkability: After the first sip do you want another one? If not that's not so good. After a few sips are you left wanting more? If so good.

All these things combine to make a great tasting beer. So we started into our onerous task tasting each beer and evaluating them all carefully and fairly. We had bread and water in between each. Of course when tasting this many beers you can only have a few sips of each. Getting drunk will ruin your tastebuds and you won't be able to evaluate them fairly. When I told people I would be judging a beer competition they all thought it sounded great as I'd be drinking many many pints of beer. I think over the whole afternoon we didn't drink more than two and a half pints in total. It was also spread over a few hours and with plenty water too. Not quite the drinking session people think judging beer would be.

The first lager proved to be the best. Everyone admired it's appealing yellow gold colour. It had a lovely floral nose and a great bitter taste. It was the sort of beer you could imagine yourself having a few of outside in the summer.

Best Lager:
Gold – Hersbrucker brewed by Peter Mosley of the Porterhouse
Silver – Belfast Lager brewed by Bernard Sloan of Whitewater Brewery

This was the biggest category and the most difficult to judge as we tasted many fine ales. There were around five beers here that I thought were fantastic. There were about two ales that I wasn't so keen on but other judges liked them so it was just a matter of personal taste.
Ale number five was delivered up to the judges and we all remarked on it's perfect appearance. A beautiful dark ruby colour with a lovely natural white head. It had a lovely sweet rich spicy smell. The taste, beautiful caramel toast and bitter playing off each other to make a complex tasty ale. Fantastic mouthfeel and great drinkability. We all wanted more and all were agreed that this was a top scoring ale that would be very hard to beat.
Until ale number nine arrived nothing impressed us as much as five. But now there was another contender for the top spot. It had the looks and a great floral, grapefruit smell but would it be able to measure up in the taste stakes? Yes it would, a fantastic bitter citrus beer balanced wonderfully by a complex biscuity malt taste. Great mouthfeel and in drinkability stakes we could only say it tasted of more please.
After much discussion we decided that on the day ale number five had the edge.

Best Ale:
Gold – Bock brewed by Cuilan Loughnane of White Gypsy Brewery
Silver – Galway Hooker brewed by Ronan Brennan and Aidan Murphy of Galway Hooker

There were four stouts and each of them scored very highly with not much to choose between three of them. The fourth stout delivered up though was clearly a case of saving the best until last.

Stout four looked the perfect picture of a stout with a lovely head that wasn't too white, it looked a bit creamy which I like, inky black too. The smell and taste were exceptional. We had our winner.

Best Stout:
Gold – Wrasslers 4X brewed by Peter Mosley of the Porterhouse
Silver – Plain brewed by Cuilan Loughnane of White Gypsy Brewery

Speciality Beers:
Speciality number two was certainly special. It looked like a great stout and it smelled wonderfully of chocolate. It's taste was fantastic and all the judges liked it. In terms of drinkability, well the sampler glass was finished by one of the judges who said he wanted more to check it actually was that nice.
Speciality number three was another weiss beer which looked great and tasted of bubblegum, lemon and spices. It wasn't too sweet which was surprising. One of the judges made this their favourite of the three.

Best Speciality Beer:
Gold – Chocolate Truffle Stout brewed by Peter Mosley of the Porterhouse
Silver – Friar Weisse brewed by Russell Garret of Franciscan Well Brewery

A debate followed to decide which of the beers should be crowned overall winner. It was a really difficult decision after all the fantastic beer we'd had. There was great quality and taste on show overall. The Bock brewed by Cuilan Loughnane of White Gypsy and Messers Maguire is a great beer, complex and full of flavour. It deserves a much wider audience and hopefully winning this competition will bring it that since it will be stocked in all the Porterhouse bars for a year.

Michael Jackson Award:
Gold – Bock brewed by Cuilan Loughnane of White Gypsy Brewery
Silver - Wrasslers 4X brewed by Peter Mosley of the Porterhouse

With the hard work over we posed for some photos then the certificates for the awards were presented. Peter Mosley from the Porterhouse had a lot of certificates at the end. Cuilan Loughnane from White Gypsy/Messers Maguire looked genuinely surprised when his Bock was declared the winner of the Michael Jackson award for best Irish beer.

After this we adjourned to the bar for some pints with no pressure. It's much more tiring than you think to judge a beer. You have to concentrate on it and try not to get tipsy. Of course we had a pint of the winning beer and a great chat to all the brewers involved. But that's another story. It was great to meet Tom Doorley and Tony Brookes who were enthusiastic and knowledge judges. Thanks a million to everyone at the Porterhouse for asking me to be involved with this great award. This will be the beginning of great things for the Irish craft brewing scene. Brewers Unite, indeed!

5 Responses to "The Porterhouse Michael Jackson Award for Best Irish Beer" (Leave A Comment)

Thomas says
March 28, 2009 at 4:06 PM

Great post. You got across the complexities of beer judging very well.It sounds like you had a great time but I know from my own experience that blind tasting is very trying.

MM Bock was very tasty but at the launch night I preferred Clotworthy Dobbin. How it would have worked in a blind tasting I have no idea.

Reuben Gray - TaleOfAle says
March 29, 2009 at 3:19 AM

Excellent post Laura. That sounds like it was a lot of fun.

I was there yesterday and did not try the bock. I'm kicking myself now after reading your report.

Then again, there was only so much beer I could drink yesterday and I drank a little too much as you will see from my blog.

Bionic Laura says
March 29, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Saruman, there's far too many tasty beers to try there alright! Good you made it up to try them.

Thom, Clotworthy Dobbin was third in the ale category. It was in the running for the top spot too as it was very well liked. I didn't put it in the article as it was getting a bit long.

Barry M says
March 29, 2009 at 5:22 AM

Sounds like a hard nights work :) Wish I could hae been there to provide moral support!

Boak says
March 29, 2009 at 6:26 AM

Had that chocolate truffle stout at the Porterhouse (London) last night. It was fabulous.

Was looking for Galway Hooker - the barman said they didn't have any. There was no further explanation - had it run out, had it not arrived, was it just on the other side of the pub and he couldn't be arsed to go and get it?

The Porterhouse always manages to give me equal reasons to love them and hate them in the same visit.