A smooth texture, a creamy head that is often etched with a four-leaf clover - Guinness is the drink of Ireland. It is available at every pub worth their salt. It is as ubiquitous as U2 music. For the traveler, it provides refreshment, nutrients, and a social environment.
These three things can be tough to find when on the road. Traveling - though exciting and one of life's greatest pleasures -- can tucker a person out. Driving all day, no place to rest your head, no place refresh your body, no people to talk to except cashiers, eating out of a cardboard box in your backseat - over time, these conditions can start to do you in.
Guinness is salvation. Stop at any pub along the road, and you will find it. Each time, it offers some renewal.
When the summer days are long, the sun rising around 6AM and setting around 10:30PM, there is lots of time in between to fill. We sit for a pint each day and hope we do not become alcoholics by the end of the trip. But Guinness is not the type of beer to get drunk to. It's the rich, mellow kind, calling for slow sips over savory conversation.
In Ballyvaughan, my travel companion and I come up with an idea. It occurs to us, sitting on the waterfront, two cold pints of Guinness in hand. We decide to have one pint of Guinness every day on our travels. According to my calculations, that calls for just under seventy pints each.
After that, I pay more attention to my Guinness. I observe things about it. Sometimes, the beer lacks flavor, or tastes rather flat and disappointing. I start to learn more about why.
Guinness is a dry stout, originating in Dublin at Arthur Guinness's St. James's Gate Brewery. It is based on a porter style beer coming from London in the early 1700s. The distinctive flavor is from the roasted barley that is unfermented. It is Ireland's most popular alcoholic beverage, bringing the Guinness & Co. a whopping annual income of two billion euro.
A glass of Guinness contains 198 calories per pint, fewer calories than many light beers. Guinness can be beneficial to the heart, studies show. Antioxidants in the beer, similar to those in some fruits and vegetables, retard the deposits of cholesterol on the artery walls. Raise your glass to that !
There are several steps to achieving the perfect pour. Guinness should be served with the beer line running through a cooler to chill the liquid. It requires a "double pour," due to the foaming action of the nitrogen - the pint is filled ¾, allowed to settle, and then filled to the top of the glass. After the initial pour, a good bartender will finish the remainder of the glass with a forward push of the tap - which releases the beer more slower, allowing for a longer lasting head - rather than the standard, downward pull. This explains Guinness' campaign of "good things come to those who wait."
Although the beer appears to be black, it is actually a dark shade of ruby.
Mixed drinks containing Guinness include: Black and Tan or Half and Half, a combination of pale or amber ale and Guinness and Bass. Guinness and Black is a pint of Guinness with a dash of blackcurrant cordial, turning the head purple. A Black Velvet is half Guinness and half champagne. Poor Man's Black Velvet is equal parts Guinness and cider. And, ever popular in America, the Irish Car Bomb -- a shot of half Irish Cream and half Irish Whiskey that is dropped into a half pint of Guinness.
One day later, we fall behind on our pact. We don't have another pint ‘til the following week. We start to calculate the actual cost. Yikes! It is expensive. A pint averages 3.50 euro to 5 euro - equally $4.90 to $7.00 each - at the current exchange rate.
Irish people spend a lot on their booze, and, though I love the custom, I don't really want to adopt the habit. A report funded by the European Commission and produced by the UK Institute of Alcohol Studies found that a higher proportion of income in Ireland is spent on alcohol than any other country in the EU. Household alcohol spending was three times more than any other European household - the average was 1,675 euro in Ireland, followed by Denmark, which spends 531 euro. This means that Irish households are drinking, on average, one pint per day - I hope it's Guinness.
Since we are unable to drink every day, we go for quality over quantity. I pay attention to the standout pints. The best pint of Guinness I had in Ireland was in Dingle, at Curran's Pub. The taste was frosty, the beer colder than naturally possible, the flavor rich and smooth and full-bodied. That one was worth it.
Written by Liz O'Malley - Summer of Travel 2007