A good day for a… Guinness?! – Pub culture and beer-drinking the Irish way

“Dirty old tooown, dirty old tooown” resounds through the Irish pub in the heart of Dublin. It’s full to bursting. An Irishman is singing with a smoky voice, accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar. We’re surrounded by locals, who are standing together in groups from the pub’s door all the way to the bar. They’re deep in conversation, include us as a matter of course, they’re humming along with the tune, some of them are dancing – and incessantly they turn to look in the same direction: the TV screen hanging on the wall. Today, it’s Bayern Munich against Manchester United. It’s April 2014 – and the quarter-final of the Champions League, second leg. Then it happens: there’s a deafening noise. Goal for Manchester United! Almost all the Irish cheer. We suppress our curses – after all, you don’t want to stand out as a non-local straight away.

IrelandThe more time I spent in Ireland, the more I came to love not only the green meadows, the craggy landscapes, the picturesque little towns, the warm-hearted people – but also the Irish pub culture. The Irish way of life includes meeting up in the evening (or even in the afternoon) in pubs with a cosy living-room atmosphere. “What are you having?” – This question is inevitably going to come up sooner or later when you visit an Irish pub. In Ireland, by the way, you go to the bar and fetch your drink yourself. Tap water is free. Otherwise the choice is easy, isn’t it?!

Guinness, the same as usual? What in fact are the alternatives, what other kinds of Irish beer are there? Even though the Irish love their Guinness, when it comes to beer, the breweries and the pubs of the Emerald Isle have quite a lot more to offer. So I shall postpone till later on my remarks on Guinness, the quintessential Irish Goodness, when it comes to discussing the nation’s beer.

Irish beer is not synonymous with Guinness: craft beers and regional beers

Beamish Murphys BierSo anyone who thinks Irish beer is synonymous with Guinness has got things quite wrong. For example, the stout from Dublin has a competitor from the south: from Cork, home to the Guinness-like stouts made by Murphy’s and Beamish. Murphy’s malty-smoky Irish Stout is said to be lighter and less bitter than Guinness. This creamy beer is characterised by chocolaty, toffee-ish aromas and a magnificent head. The Irish Stout produced by the Beamish and Crawford Brewery tastes even stronger than Guinness and is malty-astringent, with some bitter hints of coffee.

Irish craft beerDublin also offers some craft beers outside the Guinness mainstream: not far from the banks of the River Liffey, for instance, we discovered a cosily rustic-style pub called J. W. Sweetman, which has its own brewery. This microbrewery makes a “Bavarian-style” wheat beer, for example: it has a fruity, bittery, slightly lemony taste, coupled with aromas of banana. Sweetman also produces an Irish Red Ale, a Golden Ale and a Pale Ale.

When you’re talking about Irish beer, we mustn’t forget the Red Ale from Smithwicks either. This has a reddish-coppery coloration, a very astringent, sweet-and-malty taste, and a visually appealing head. By the way: outside Ireland, Smithwicks is sold under the name of Kilkenny – it’s rumoured this is because the name is too difficult to pronounce for non-native-speakers (come on, you Continentals, who’s going to try the tongue-twister?).

And far away from the capital, too, we have discovered some really good local beers. On an outing to Galway, we discovered not only the snug little villages and the magnificent scenery (you should definitely make time for a hike over the Aran Islands!), but also the microbrewery Galway Hooker in Oranmore in County Galway, which brews a variety of craft beers. One of them is an Irish Pale Ale with a slightly caramelised aroma. The perfect place, by the way, to enjoy it to the accompaniment of traditional Irish music is the Tig Cóilí pub in Galway.


My Goodness, my Guinness

After this brief excursion through Ireland’s beer scene, let’s return to the bar – where actually we were just about to order. So what are we going to drink? As I’ve endeavoured to demonstrate, there is plenty to choose from.

Guinness StorehouseNevertheless: a conspicuously large number of glasses with a small golden-harp logo are passing over the counter. The black-brown stout with its chocolaty-bitter, malty taste and its creamy head is unequivocally in first place when it comes to orders – and that goes for the ladies in the pubs as well. Closely followed, by the way, by fruity (Bulmers) cider. I too, on my third visit to Ireland, had already been acclimatised both literally and figuratively – learning to appreciate and love not only the constant drizzle, but also the country’s national drink.

By the way: if you don’t want to be outed immediately as an ignorant tourist you should definitely familiarise yourself with the specialised art of tapping a Guinness, something that everyone in Ireland has mastered … This means you shouldn’t be surprised when the bartender at first doesn’t put a brim-full glass of Guinness on the counter – and above all the typical pint glass should most definitely be left there for the time being! This is because Guinness is usually tapped in two stages. First, the glass is held at an angle of 45 degrees, until the level reaches about two centimetres below the brim. After that, the pint needs to be rested for two minutes on the counter, so that the dark beer can settle. As the nitrogen is released, it helps to form the typical creamy head. The glass is then carefully topped up – and may now be taken off the counter. In this spirit: sláinte – and keep the Ireland (beer) tips coming!