Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Ireland: How To Eat Guinness on a Shoestring Budget
Having survived my puketacular flight and mind-numbing trip through customs (see last month's episode) I arrived in Ireland: a land of captivating castles, amazing abbeys, majestic monasteries, terrific towers, and fantastic forts. The island nation , which is similar in size to South Carolina, is known for more than its crumbling bits of rock formerly owned by famous dead people (whose homes were shown by a direct antecedent of Robin Leach in the medieval version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous , known as Step On the Groveling Serf On the Way Into The Castle If Need Be, Sire). Kind of a long title, but at least the peasants were made acutely aware of their social standing.
I just recently completed a week-long journey to the Emerald Island, as the nation is called, in part because of the rolling verdant hills and also because the citizenry were all born in May (obscure birthstone joke no one will get). Don't interrupt or stare at the copulating locals during the July breeding season.
Much of my week was spent amongst the ruins of places like Trim Castle, Aughnanure Castle, and Corcomroe Abbey. We also saw Dun Aengus, an ancient rock fort perched on the cliffs of the island of Inishm0re. My cousin threw her father over the precipice and into the water below during our visit. Well, his ashes anyway. The toss was carefully planned to avoid any "Big Lebowski"-like entanglements.
There were also natural wonders like the Cliffs of Mohr, a stunning scene where the land meets the ocean, with an eight hundred foot drop in between. We viewed the landscape of Connemara as well, a stretch of Western Ireland where melting glaciers created a picturesque combination of lakes and mountains that would have given even Ansel Adams a bit of a stiffy. The beauty of the barren was in evidence when our route took us through The Burren, an area which British conqueror of Ireland #75, an underling of famed Ireland raper and pillager Oliver Cromwell named Ludlow, complained, "It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him." There was just no pleasing that fellow.
I won't bore you too much with this portion of my trip, which as a former history major as well as a nature addict, I found fascinating. In a nutshell, Irish history is pretty similar to the plight of the Chicago Cubs in North American baseball. Eight hundred years spent trying to free themselves of the British yoke in a series of failed rebellions finally resulting in victory and independence. As a result, most traditional Irish music involves losing battles, family members dying, and getting drunk as a coping mechanism for the sad reality that everything seriously sucks.
Then, if you are lucky, a famine strikes, killing half your family and forcing you to move to America (Fun fact: Today there are more people of Irish decent in New York, Chicago, and Boston than in Dublin). Makes being a Cubs fan sound much less depressing. The lovable losers couldn't possible continue to fail for seven hundred more years, could they?
Anyhow I imagine the interest factor amongst the readers here at The Industry would probably run a little higher if I moved on to a more thirst-quenching topic. The aspect of Irish culture we are glad to celebrate each and every time March 17 comes around. No, I have to admit, I did not go to Ireland solely for the beer, but the black liquidation with the froth on the top certainly was a nice perk. Delicious Irish beverages of this sort include Beamish, Murphy's, Smithwick's, and Harp.
Then there is Guinness, which is seemingly everywhere - a pub without a tap of the stuff is harder to find than a bar without Budweiser or Miller Light in the States. I believe my big word dictionary says that makes it ubiquitous, but I'll have to ask a professional journalist for confirmation.
Anyhow the Guinness in Ireland must be consumed by all who have only had the North American version. After cavorting with leprechauns on two separate occasions as an adult, I have come to the realization that Guinness brewed in Ireland just tastes better. Whereas those birthed in Canada (home of the North American Guinness brewery) affect the stomach in a way not dissimilar from eating a loaf of bread, the ones originating within the St. James Gate in Dublin are easy drinking and quite poundable. I can't tell you why, maybe something to do with the water, but argue all you want, I have seen the mountain and all I can say is that it was well worth the hike.
Finally, a couple of quick tips for anyone planning on imbibing in Ireland in the near future. First, one for those who do not enjoy the local beer and would prefer another. I learned from the locals that Stella Artois is considered the beer of choice for the lower classes of Europe, the kind of folks we would consider "rednecks"/most of the people we know in our part of the world. Since I enjoy a Stella from time to time, this discovery made me feel a lot less classy, but I can't say I aimed all that high on the social strata anyhow.
Secondly, Budweiser and Coors products are imports over there and as a result, more expensive. At last some justice in the world! Despite that fact I saw some patrons at the pub on New Year's Eve choosing to have that dross instead of a pint of Irish stout. There truly is no accounting for taste.
If your personal flavor sensors vary so much that you would prefer another type of alcoholic beverage, you are still in luck. Ireland is the home of a vast array of wickedly wonderful whiskeys, including Jameson's and Bushmill's. If you fancy a trip to drink directly from the spigot, Jameson's is distilled in downtown Dublin, while Bushmill's is made just north of Belfast on the scenic Antrim coast.
Last of all, why does Guinness have such a dark tint? Rumors that the adult beverage had been engaging in adult acts with Sally Hemmings turned out to be false, beer color is actually a function of malt. The malt is roasted in a kiln, and the darker you roast the malt, the darker the beer. Clearly the brew masters in Dublin were under the impression that black is beautiful and chose to go with the soul glow.
I will part from you all for another month now, but before I depart, let's have a little Irish language lesson. Most inhabitants of the isle speak English, but the Irish language (or Gaelic to the locals) has made a huge comeback over the last century and is a point of national pride. Although for the most part 'tis an indecipherable bit of gobbledygook to me, I did manage to learn one phrase, which I will share with you now. Slainte (pronounced slan che, it means cheers). Have a great St. Patrick's Day and save a frothy pint or two at the bar for me, I'll be there as soon as I escape the filthy clutches of work!