Monday, October 21, 2013

McLadden's Irish Publick House (Northampton, MA)

I first went to McLadden's Irish Publick House's Northampton location after a wedding at the nearby Hotel Northampton, already a bit tipsy from my part of a bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon, and a shot of tequila was involved, so my opinion was not reliable that night.  The second time I went was a much more memorable event, having a late dinner there with my cousin and her boyfriend a couple weeks back when they visited from New York City.  My cousin's boyfriend is an up and coming beer fan, and I have enjoyed taking him to a few other local beer hotspots and trying some great beers with him over the last few years, so when my cousin said Rick wanted to go somewhere with good beer again, McLadden's came immediately to mind.  With over 100 taps and nearly as many bottled varieties, not to mention a very solid list of Irish, Scotch, and American whisk(e)ys, I figured the food did not need to be that good to still be a good choice.  Thankfully, the food held up well, and I suspect that this will be among my go-to options in Northampton in the near future.

McLadden's is a very small local chain, with just three locations (the others being in Hamden, MA and West Hartford, CT), Northampton being the newest.  When they opened there was a decent amount of buzz about them, but I heard very mixed, at best, reviews about the food, and with The Dirty Truth a tenth of a mile away, I honestly did not see much need to go there.  Following my post-wedding trip, which gave me a view of their thoroughly impressive array of taps, I figured it was worth a shot.  They advertise having 105 taps, but not all of them are active at any given moment.  When I went with my cousin and her boyfriend, they had 102 running, and because they change options so often they do not have a printed menu; rather, there is a display that rotates through the options, or you can use your smartphone to scan a UPC or to go to a website that provides a full list of the available beers on tap, bottle or can.  You can select the beer and it will give you some information about the beer and brewery, as well as where it is available near you.

We arrived around 9pm and still had to wait about ten minutes or so to be seated at one of about ten booths; the place was packed, especially around the bar, but the wait was not a major issue as it allowed us to browse the beer list online and pick out what we each wanted.  I went with Founders Brewing Company's Imperial Stout, a specialty beer available as a "winter warmer," while Rick had a Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits Sculpin IPA at my recommendation; I do not remember my cousin Hana's beer selection, but I believe it was a pretty solid choice.  Mine was spectacular, similar to the Lagunitas Brewing Company Imperial Stout I had at the 2013 American Craft Beer Fest, but not quite as sour.  It was sharp, heavy and deeply flavored, malty as can be, and very much an alcohol-heavy beer but without feeling like it was overpowering the hops and malt that make it such a tremendous beer.  It is a 10.5% ABV beer, though, so they served a smaller (I believe 10oz) portion in a goblet, and that was just right to go with my food.  The Sculpin was as good as ever, one of my top three IPAs, and really deserves its own review, which I will take care of in the near future.

Guinness Lamb Stew, with Rick's and Hana's dishes in the background
The food did not quite live up to the beer, but that is by no means a negative; it is very difficult to match an insanely impressive beer list.  We all went fairly simple, which the menu seems to do best, mixing some classically Irish dishes and some pretty standard American pub food.  Hana had a Turkey Panini, which was delicious, with a small amount of spice, and a ton of flavor from both the bacon and the kale, which for once was not an unnecessary fad ingredient.  Rick had the Shepherd's Pie, a childhood favorite of mine (though technically I always had Cottage Pie, I suppose, since it was made with beef), and he enjoyed it a great deal.  I went with the Guinness Lamb Stew, served with two pieces of grilled bread, which is perfect for dipping in the gravy.  The lamb was tender and delicious, the vegetables soft but not mushy, and the whole thing was just really delicious.  My only complaint was that, unlike Hana's giant sandwich and Rick's generously sized dish, there did not seem to be a great deal of food in my bowl.  Maybe that was because I had not eaten all day, but an order of truffle oil french fries at The Dirty Truth followed to ensure that I was full.

Prices were properly in line for the beer, nothing out of the ordinary, while the food was a little overpriced for such an establishment.  That said, it was not so overpriced as to make me not go there again, I just may not pick it as my primary beer establishment.  The service was fine, except that while we were waiting the waitress who said she would be back to get our beer orders never rematerialized, but since we were not waiting an insanely long time that is not much of a problem.  All in all, I would highly recommend at least checking the place out, for the beer if nothing else, but the food is a good option as well.


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