Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Stout of Bounds

Day Thirty-one: July 3rd

Guinness gracious

A reader of this blog might think that our trip to Ireland had the two principal themes of celtic music and ancestral roots.  We have not yet mentioned the third important quest of our travels—the earnest search through all of Ireland for a pint of stout that it is NOT a Guinness. Steve had noted prior to leaving home that the anecdotal lore of the Americas holds that Ireland is a great place to find a good beer.  There is the general consensus that a dark, warm pint of expertly pulled Guinness stout is the pinnacle of this experience.

Steve quickly found out that the beer selection in any pub anywhere in the country was quite limited.  There is a paucity of beerversity.  You can find one stout (Guinness), one red ale (Smithwick’s— pronounced Smitticks), Heineken, and Carlsberg.  I theorize that the reason everyone gets so breathless about Guinness—its temperature, how it is pulled properly, how long you let it settle, and the like—is because everyone likes to feel the joy of being the connoisseur with only one beer to discuss endlessly.

In Kinvara Steve asked a barmaid why there was only one stout on tap and that that stout was always Guinness.  She answered that she would lose the right of sale and delivery of Guinness to her bar if she carried any other stout on tap.  She said that there was a Cork regional stout named Murphy’s—which we did find on the southern coast in Kinsale.  In an almost blasphemous admission Steve prefers it to the big G.  In Carrigaholt many pubs still sported advertisements for a stout called Beamish.  When we inquired at the Long Dock about ordering a Beamish instead of a Guinness the bartender reported that Beamish was no longer in existence.  At a pub in Doolin a knowledgeable drinker said it still existed but was never seen in the West.  So we began to get the idea that there was a Stout powerhouse in the country, one with saturation, slick advertising, and a distribution monopoly. 

Dusty competition forgotten on the wall of a pub in Carrigaholt.

Dublin is the seat of Guinness’ kingdom.  Noel is a big fan of Guinness and on occasion takes to breathless descriptions of the stuff.  (In all fairness Noel is a cosmopolitan beer drinker with far-ranging and seeking taste buds in this area).  We decided to tour the Guinness brewery mere blocks away from our StayCity apartment.

Whenever we have traveled any distance small or large with Noel and Amanda—by foot, by bus, or by car—there is always a portion of the trip spent in dead standstill or circling around and around roundabouts as the proper direction to proceed is discussed at length.  This happened again of course, on our short walk to the brewery.  I guess they knew we were prone to this difficulty as the Guinness people had nicely provided ENORMOUS signs gathering all tourists into the weir of this well-oiled tour machine. 

“Noel which way do we go, do you think?”

Storehouses at ground level stretch for blocks.

Buses gather.

Unfortunate city horses gather.

After finding the entrance—YOU CAN”T MISS IT!—we went into the lowest level of the seven-story temple dedicated to the God of Stout.  This is such a popular exhibit that you are in a Disneyesque meander line of ropes for quite a while before plunking down your eighteen euros.  Windowless like a casino, the ticket sales room once held the filled wooden beer barrels to be placed on a company train to go out to the Dublin quays for shipping around the world.  The next floor was the commercial gift shop of enormous proportions.  The next level discussed the three ingredients  of Guinness: hops, barley and water.  The barley exhibit was like a child’s enormous sand play box, only made of immense heaps of barley in a huge projector room that showed vintage beermaking techniques and modern ones. They had hop vines stretching to the ceiling in the next room, and then a vast blue lit waterfall to showcase that important ingredient.  

Water is a heady component of beer.

The next four floors used equally hi-tech-produced displays for highlighting advertising campaigns of the past and present;  how to make a wooden keg —cooperage— which is quaint now that there is no longer a need, what with steel kegs now the norm; tutorials on how to pull a pint; and an appointment-only beer tasting demonstration, as if some one needed that esoteric skill.

Old tech on display.

Effective advertising—as in hypnotic.

The room that made me absolutely queasy was a huge cavern with about twenty enormous screens all playing in-sync the extremely slick mini-movie commercial about how cool beer drinking is in, for example, Botswana, or Sri Lanka.  This was a company determined to win over the entire world. The pumped up music in the place began to unnerve me and I had to sit down and have a meal, long overdue, before I passed out. 

We could then continue to escalate up the other floors, with better and better views of the whole enormous campus.

Beer’s eye view of the plant works as you go up and up.

There are three opportunities on different floors of the building to have your own "free" Guinness pulled and consumed— free with the price of admission.  We chose the circular Gravity Bar, on the top story, for its views.  Any other level chosen would be like refusing to top the pyramid after two thirds of an arduous climb.  The bar had great views.  Both Amanda and I donated our free ticket to the boys so they got to hang out here for quite a while.  (I am allergic to beer, and Amanda simply doesn't like it.)

 The windows scripted a bit of history of highlighted features seen in the distance.

The view.

Boys with beers in the bar.

The explanatory writings on one window pane pointed out Croke Park and its current use as as a sports arena.  What it didn't mention is this was also the site where the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1920 carried out the reprisal killings of thirteen spectators and the Captain of the Tipperary team of a Dublin/Tipperary gaelic football match in revenge for the execution of fifteen British intelligence officers carried out by Michael Collins and his operatives the day before.  But why stir the foam of mostly tourists with that sad bit of old news? The event became known as Bloody Sunday locally and was considered so heinous as to unify the independence effort.

We guiltily took a horse carriage back to the apartments.  We did NOT go to a bar this night, but had a very nice Brazilian meal instead and once again, in a nod to right living, went to bed at the decent hour of midnight.