EBBC14 - Day 1, warm up...

... or how I first came across the Irish Charm

7 AM. I wake up in a strange bed, after a night in which my body rested, but my mind wouldn't stop spinning. It had been a hard week, indeed, but 5 hours seemed more than enough, specially since I wanted to make my trip to Dublin worth it. I got out of bed, showered and put some clothes on according to the dress code reported at the pre-con packet that I had received from the European Beer Bloggers Conference organisation 2 weeks before.

I went to the hostel's Café to have my breakfast, consisting of toasts, jam, muesli and tea. In line with what I generally eat when travelling. When my belly was satisfied, I got my laptop and structured my first day in Dublin: some wandering around the southern part of the Liffey River and early registration at The Church, HQ of this 2014 EBBC. I then took a last glimpse at the day's agenda, chatted briefly with Mrs. Birraire, checked the social networks and wrote a couple of emails.

In the meantime, an unmistakably British, blond and strongly-built guy had seated in the same table I was in and had his breakfast too. His face looked familiar, but I was too slow realising that he was wearing a black t-shirt with beery motifs. Unluckily, the unmistakably British, blond and strongly-built guy vanished without my having the chance to ask him if he was there for the EBBC too. "I guess I'll have my answer in a couple of hours", I thought.

I went out quickly and strolled the surroundings of the hostel, going up north to follow the route I'd take later to attend the conference. Before crossing the river, I turned left to go and visit the Dublin Castle, as well a the two medieval cathedrals of the city: Christ Church Cathedral and Saint Patrick's Cathedral. But when I reached the castle and found the Dublin Gardens I realised that idling around there seemed like the perfect thing to do. And so I did.

At the gardens there still seemed to be more locals than tourists. I took a brief text I had brought and began reading about the history of Ireland and Dublin. The context seemed ideal to minimally understand and learn about the significance of what had happened years and even centuries ago on those same latitudes. Stories that may have happened just in front of where I was quietly sitting. Meanwhile, some bumblebees were permanently buzzing behind me, fixing themselves a good share of pollen. Similarly to what I'd do in a while with Irish beer.

After reflecting on what I read about the city, I realised that I had forgot to take my hoodie (I didn't know at that time that it would be warm and sunny the whole weekend). Hence, I went back to the hotel, having a quick glance at the cathedrals on my way. This gave me the chance to check my Twitter account and see that it registered more activity than it normally does. I tweeted twice back, enough to learn that my suspicions were sound and that I had unknowingly been having breakfast cheek by jowl with Steve Lamond, from Beers I've Known. We arranged to meet for a pregame at one of the most celebrated pubs of the city, Against The Grain, which was dangerously close to the hostel.

"Real food, global beers", read the sign of that bar, located at the corner of Wexford Street and Protestant Row. There were some tables outside and the façade was of that classic kind that draw my attention with more ease than the average guy. This Dublin pub is part of the chain of bars from the Galway Bay Brewery, one of the 60 Irish craft breweries. It is one of its most famous too, and I'd be able to see the reason why in no time.

Inside the premises I found an empty (it was before noon) medium-sized pub, with a mixture between classic and modern design. There were some wooden tables at the entrance and the back, and a long counter with bar stools. There was also an informative and colourful blackboard behind it, as well as a fine selection of whiskys with the price of a serving just below the bottle. Hadn't it been for the fact that the aim of my trip was downright related to beer, I would have spent a good share of the weekend sampling some of those good-looking and unknown (to me) bottles. Besides, prices looked like a bargain compared to what I get at home. But self-control was not required with such an awesome beer selection.

Steve was standing at the counter, enthusiastically talking to Dave, the bartender, while constantly sneaking looks at the beer selection on tap.   I introduced myself, shook hands with them and happily joined the conversation while also sneaking looks at the taps. The range was far from boring for a complete ignorant of Irish beer like me. We didn't have much time if we wanted to be on time at the conference, so I ordered my first half pint and some grub: some crisps and an Against the Grain Traditional Sausage, from O'Flynn's, served in Ciabatta bread, with sautéed onions and mustard mayo. Simply delicious.

On the boozy side of things, I started with one of the house brews. My choice was a special edition named Pilot 009 Mare Incognita US, a light Hoppy Saison (lately it seems that you're nobody until you brew one) with Belma hops and a dry hop of Mosaic. An easy opening, with some spicy and bretty hints, but also citrus fruits and some light pineapple. Not the most representative way to start according to the brewing tradition of the country, but nevertheless a very solid sample of the recent trends. In any case, it was a great companion for those first moments.

When the beer was past its halfway, the AGT sausage came along with the crisps. To go with it I ordered an almost imperative suggestion from both Steve and Dave: also from the house, their famous DIPA Of Foam and Fury. I've never been much into DIPAs, and one of the reasons could easily be that I've tasted few like this one. If I were to put it in a word, I'd choose "balance": in ABV, body, flavours... A very fruity one, with fresh hops that suggested not only the classic American pine and citrusy hints, but also light minty touches. Malts were playing a noticeable role too, giving a nice and complex caramelly backbone to the brew. I would have effortlessly downed some more pints of it.

Apart from the Galway Bay beers, I could have a sip or two of an impressive Galway Hooker Irish Stout as well as a gulp of an Amber Ale that definitely asks for more in its casked version: Thornbridge Sequoia. However, my biggest surprise came when we were leaving, as Dave insisted that the whole round was on him. To me it seemed as if he was buying us lots more than what we actually had taken, for I had had a lovely time and the snack was fabulous. I couldn't do anything else than sincerely thank him for this grand first experience in Ireland.

We left knowing that we'd be a little late for the reception, but with enough leeway for introductions, first tastings and the actual start of the conference. After 15 minutes of swift walking, we reached The Church, the impressive and curious pub that formerly used to hold religious services. Then we went down the spiral staircase to the Tower Bar, registered for the conference and left our things in the adjacent room, the Cellar Bar, where most of the lectures and activities would take place.

24 hours before I was wearing an elegant tie around my neck. From the moment that my European Beer Bloggers Conference credentials were hanging exactly in that same spot I felt that the whole experience was beginning. I was visiting the land of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Sinéad O'Connor. The country of the extremely well-known Guinness and Beamish, but with great younger players like O'Hara's, Galway Hooker and Galway Bay kicking in, among many other new and charming Irish beers that were waiting for me. I was in to discover the beer scene in Ireland, which I can say in advance that surprised me in many aspects.

Salut i birra!


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