Ireland Beer Scene is Great, but Not For The Reasons You Thought
Sooo I dunno if I mentioned this yet, but I just got back from vacation in Europe. Iceland and Norway were trash beer-wise, but Ireland was as great as I could have imagined. I had high hopes for the country, and let's just say the Irish really came through for me. There are many great beer countries in the world: Germany, Belgium, Czechia (or whatever this country is going by these days, please forgive me), and England. Ireland is quite possibly among them and is remarkably underrated.
You already have heard of their mainstay: Guinness, and I'll tell you it is as great or greater than you thought, and there might be a lot you don't know about it. It's the beer of Ireland. It is served in every bar. The national game of Ireland is trying to find the pub where the best pint of Guinness is poured. As Tim says, there are some pubs that serve it wrong. You can taste the distinct metallic aftertaste of a Guinness behind an old tap line or one that has been sitting in a barrel too long. I can't tell you exactly why (and a cursory search of the internet hasn’t helped either), but you really can tell when a pub nails the perfect pint of Guinness because it lacks a distinct metallic aftertaste and, of course, aces the perfect pour which Guinness will "certify" you to perform. Every Guinness I had on this trip was a league above the ones I have here in the states. I can't speak truly as to why, since, as with all beer in all places, your own personal psychology plays a roll too large. The flavor of the beer plays second fiddle to how much you wanted that beer to be good. Guinness are better in Ireland because they are supposed to be, and your mind makes it so… maybe. For what it is worth, I think they are actually better here, and I hope that is true. In any case, it doesn’t matter; Guinness is freakin' neat.
The Guinness Storehouse tour is the coolest brewery tour you will ever go on. I have to say right off the bat that it's touristy. Between paying for tickets to get in and the gift shop on the way out, this tour is out to get your Euros, but you can't possibly deny the history stored in the place and the effort gone in to preserve and present it. Half a dozen floors full of beer, food, and what basically amounts to the Guinness museum of advertising. Learn to pour the perfect pint, a 90 second ordeal that involves pouring into the slanted cup, watching the cascading nitrogen bubbles settle, then topping up, and then take it and your printed "certification" around with you for the rest of the self-guided tour. On the second to last floor are three massive restaurants that serve Guinness and Irish pairings and Guinness's other beer offerings that are only available in Ireland. By the time you are done with the tour you are tipsy and so enamored by the brand and its history that the gift shop is going to have you by the balls. I couldn’t resist picking up a pair of socks featuring that damned beer stealing toucan. Don't get too carried away here though, because Guinness merchandise is in every knick-knack store in every city, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to pick something up later. As much as I'd love to gush on and on about this place, it's time to move on.
One of the other most popular beers in Ireland happens to be owned be Guinness as of 1965 - Smithwick's. Which you will pronounce "Smit-iks" or else look like a goon to all nearby lasses. According to some beer nerds over there, you can actually get it here in the states canned with the name "Guinness Blonde". Poured with a float of standard Guinness on top, it makes a Special or a Half and Half. You might call it a Black and Tan here in The States, but Irish folk don't really like that name (see also: Irish Car Bomb). With Smithwick's filling out their lager needs, Guinness has a pretty large array of other beers you probably haven't heard of. The Nitro IPA you might have seen here wasn't available over there since it was made primarily for hop addicted Seattleites. Hop House 13 is a hopped lager that I couldn’t get enough of, especially when I'd had a bit too much standard draught the night before. I'll likely never get enough of it too, because it isn't sold anywhere in the US. It was easy to find Guinness's Dublin and West Indies Porters, as well as their Milk Stout, which are all beers that are allegedly available here, but I had never seen. I know it's kinda rough looking for craft beer from such a large brewery, but keep your eye out for them, 'cus they are great.
It certainly is weird advocating so strongly for such a corporate beer. I have a tendency to immediately discount any beer with that much distribution power as simply being too similar to Budweiser. Guinness does occupy much of the same headspace as Coors and Miller do. Perhaps it's just a different color of the same ol' swill those guys peddle. Some folks would agree with that. In fact, in Ireland, Guinness has the same potential to induce eye rolls in the heads of craft beer drinkers as a person ordering a Bud Light enthusiastically, non-ironically, and anywhere but a baseball game. That's because Ireland, perhaps like you didn't expect, has a rapidly growing craft beer scene. Some of the best beer I drank on this trip came out of Galway Bay Brewing, not Guinness. Unfortunately I've prattled on for some time about big beer again and have run out of word count. Next week I'll fill you in on the details of Ireland's real beer scene.
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