It's hard to pinpoint exactly when I had my first Guinness Stout; I'd have to say it was somewhere around the age of five or six, when Grandma Donovan (a stout woman in every sense of the word) told me the head tasted just like milk. At the time I was pretty serious about milk, and it took me a while to believe anything she said after that. By age ten, though, the cousins and I figured out that beer was a cool thing, and the annual family reunion became a contest to see who could steal the most mouthfuls of Guinness before Uncle Paul, keeper of the keg, caught us.
Years later, I savored my first Guinness on Irish soil. I shared the brew with my husband (of one week) and three other guys (two of them named Paddy) in a pub in Dublin. The third guy, Edward, ate from a sandwich of thick bread and roast beef--which at one point he set down in an ashtray, then picked up and resumed eating--and sang Al Jolson tunes and listed all of the great Irish-Americans who'd ever lived. One Paddy wanted to do nothing but rail about Ronald Reagan; the other asked my husband for some American expressions that were synonymous with "drunk." My husband told him that a popular one was "shit-faced," which Paddy #2 found hilarious. He promptly announced "I'm shit-faced," then proved it an hour later when he fell off his barstool, bounced back up and kept on going. It was the best pint (okay, six) I've ever had.
When we came back to the States, we searched in vain for Guinness on tap that matched the intense flavor and foamy head we'd relished in Ireland. (In Irish pubs there's an area where Guinness drinkers stand, sometimes for twenty minutes, waiting for the proper pouring of the brew.) Late last month Guinness/Irish pub expert Peter Walsh, in Denver for the Great Guinness Toast, finally informed me that Guinness has made the same type of draft that Ireland drinks available to this country only since 1988. And even so, not all bars here purchase that particular type, called "pub draft" Guinness.
"Traditionally, Guinness has made seven types of stout for export to different countries," says Walsh, the historian archivist for the Great Guinness Brewing Company. "We've been distributing Guinness to America since before the Civil War, but only in the past few years have we found that people here want the same full-flavored draft as in Ireland. Before that, the palate here demanded a softer, lighter Guinness, and that's what we were making." Sorry, but I think Walsh has been having intimate relations with the Blarney Stone. His claim that the real Guinness is available at McCormick's didn't pan out: The creamy head is one of the best around, but the body lacks the oomph of Guinness poured on its home turf.
If you'd like to have your own pub in Ireland, Guinness happens to be sponsoring a contest with that very grand prize. Call (800) 223-6537 for an entry form.
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If I win, I know the first thing I'll do: Call Paddy, Paddy and Edward.