I wander into my NYC local and sidle up to the bar. I check the chalkboard for the specials as I do but know Jason will likely know better what I will like. I look down the line and see a few familiar faces and then one that surprises me.
Usually my fave Irish bartender is adeptly pouring and telling tales up the street at a sister bar. With a smile, I walk over, squeeze into the space next to him and say hello. I am in for another shock as I see what he is drinking.
“Bud light?!” I somewhat sputter. “Shouldn’t you be having a Guinness or something?”
“Nah. It tastes horrible over here. This is at least fresh… and cheap.”
“Ah. Fair enough, but… I don’t know…”
We trade good natured jokes about taste and preferences and then fall into conversation about beer and his homeland while Jason pours me a local(ish) black IPA.
Schooled as I was, I didn’t really understand what he meant until I had a Guinness at the source in January. It was the same beer but vastly different taste.
I’m afraid it ruined me forever.
Now, I’m sitting in the Dublin airport sipping what will be my last Guinness for quite a while. Jen and I have completed our latest Ireland tour, full of good times and good beers yet again. We are already scheming about how to get back here soon and for a longer duration.
As always, we tried to stay small and local — for accommodation, food and beer. This is pretty easy to do as, despite what you might have heard, the food is really quite good in Ireland and they certainly believe in sourcing close.
On many menus you will see listed where they source their beef, lamb, cheese, and even veggies. “Local” was common for the marketplace here before it was marketed everywhere else — bars and restaurants are just are capitalizing on what they have always done.
After the Half Marathon on Monday we have freely indulged our every whim for food and beer. Embracing our muffin-tops, tossing rules out the window, we ate and drank well all week. It is so easy to do here. While I don’t think I will be drinking Bud Light when I return to the States, I am reminded of my lesson from Dave. I submit the Being Unbound corollary: if you are going to consume the calories, make them really count.
Or: Life is too short to drink crap.
Once you have had the real thing– the local, fresh, excellent thing — it is supremely difficult to go back.
And really you shouldn’t.
Sure, it might be easier to fall back upon what you know, going for that brand that has always served you in the past, but being brave and trying what is local to where you are often has better rewards. You can always go back to your standby brand when you return home.
You cannot always have that brew only served at the one restaurant for which it is specially made. Oh ‘allo there Elbow Lane Stout.
From my first pint at Against the Grain to this last Guinness at the airport, I have enjoyed my Irish indulgences. There were some slight disappointments, there are always apt to be, yet I never regret trying the local variation of the flavors I most enjoy. And the misses only make the home-runs that much more sweet.
Yes, there is the cache of having 2 of the 13 check-ins to a brew. More importantly, nothing compares to the taste of the delicious and fresh in a one-of-a-kind moment.
Moments of Beer Bliss
Somewhat surprisingly the best Guinness I have had was not at the factory but a few days ago in the Aran Islands. We took a boat out to Inishmor, rented bikes and not a half mile into our tour around the island stopped for a noon pint at Ti Joe Watty’s. After ordering at the bar the young, friendly bartender brought us our pints at the picnic table outside.
We prepared to toast the beautiful day and I noticed that he had artistically created a shamrock with the pour — a flair that is not as common as I thought it would be here. I took a sip and the “ahhhh” afterwards was unconscious. I sipped again and set down the pint, looked at Jen.
She said what I was thinking: “I think this is the best Guinness I have had.”
I completely agreed. When the artist-tender returned with waters and directions to his favorite island spot, we complimented him on the pints. He said dismissively, “it’s just regular old Guinness… maybe it’s the salt water…”
Maybe. Or maybe it is just the moment that can’t be repeated adds to the flavor and taste of a good brew, taking it from a local standard, to excellence.
Choose your beers wisely — fresh, local and to your desires — and drink well.
Have a best pint story? Let us know about it in the comments!