During my undergraduate days, I had a slightly unfortunate experience at a party involving too many pints of Guinness, the legacy of which meant I avoided the ominous-looking liquid for the rest of my 20s.
But after moving to Austin, I befriended a Boston-Irish transplant who liked nothing better than a pint of Guinness. He told me he knew a place that poured a fine pint and to trust him and that all would be well.
Since that pint, the first in over a decade, courtesy of B.D. Riley’s on Sixth Street, I’ve not looked back, turning from a Guinness-phobe into a Guinness-phile. Now I can’t get enough of its rich taste and striking aesthetic, those effervescent bubbles swirling ferociously as the crisp, white top settles, hypnotizing me as I half sense some mystery related to the soul and human condition being enacted with each pour.
So when an old friend suggested a trip to James Joyce’s dear, dirty Dublin at the start of 2013, I jumped at the chance (as I was already heading back home to England for the holidays).
No sooner had we dropped our bags in our Dublin hotel room, we went and found a cozy little pub nearby where, after having two pints, I realized how a pint of Guinness in Dublin was a different beast to what I’d had before. My friend, made of stronger stuff, guided me back to the hotel — the generously poured Jameson whiskey chaser probably hadn’t helped.
Recovered and refreshed by a new Dublin morn, we visited the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’s Gate, which from 1904 to 1988 was a fermentation plant but now serves as a seven-story visitor center dedicated to the history and making of this world famous beer.
On the ground floor was a copy of the famous lease that Arthur Guinness signed on December 31, 1759, leading to the legend that’s based on four natural ingredients: barley, hops, yeast and water.
On the first floor we practiced how to properly taste a Guinness: fully exhale, drink and hold in your mouth, swallow and inhale deeply (leading to intriguing tingles in various parts of the mouth). We also learned that it isn’t black in color, rather ruby-red — trust me, hold it up to the light next time.
Guinness advertising dominated the second floor. The first official Guinness advertisement appeared in February 1929 with the slogan “Guinness is good for you” (when my mother was pregnant with me, nurses advised her to drink Guinness as a fortifying agent). Guinness’ “Surfer” advertisement was voted the greatest TV ad ever by UK viewers.
We made short work of the other floors on our way to the seventh floor to find the Gravity Bar, which provided a 360-degree view out across Dublin and of its landmarks as we savored our complimentary pints of Guinness.
During the trip, we also spent a day paying our respects to Irish whiskey making at the Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street. There we learned how every day at the current Jameson distillery the equivalent of 6,000 bottles evaporates through the casks and is referred to as the Angels’ Share (no wonder they’re happy up there).
So this Saint Patrick’s Day, raise a glass — Guinness or Jameson, the choice is yours. Here’s to you, Ahab.