March 17 & The Guinness Thing

guinnessIt’s the ‘oil of the nation’ is how an Irish farmer once described Guinness to me.

A beautiful summary of how a drink binds a country’s culture and economy. And imagination. Guinness is ‘terroir’ to Ireland. Every place, moment and person in the country appears more Irish when you’re drinking Guinness. The feeling of the country comes through in the drink. I’ve seen many a non-drinking visitor  converted to Guinness just as people get smitten with wine on their travels in France.

Guinness is a rare breed in this era of ‘light ‘n easy’ drinks. It’s dark, earthy and challenging. But once you cross the threshold, Guinness will forever be part of your drinking repertoire. I hope.

A beginner’s guide to drinking Guinness

* Think of it as a ‘contemplative’ drink rather than a guzzler. In the old pubs of Ireland men used to ‘nurse’ their Guinness with the reverence of a fine wine. Often with a Buddha-like silence and smile. * Take large mouthfuls so you experience both the dark, bitter stuff and the creamy, soft stuff. * Look for bars that serve Guinness cool, but not cold. Cold kills the lovely malty, nourishing flavours.  Ditto when drinking cans of draft Guinness – allow ten minutes out of the fridge before opening. * Each pint of Guinness is different. The skill and emotions of the bar person come through in each glass. Espresso coffee and Guinness are the only two drinks that share this feature. Seeking the perfect edition of either is a part of their appeal. * It’s not as heavy or serious as it looks. And it’s a great partner with a cheddar cheese sandwich.

P.S. One of my favourite Toronto bars for Guinness is Sweaty Betty’s at the bottom of Ossington Ave. A tiny, place that’s not unlike a village pub in Ireland – plain, a little worn and frequented by serious drinkers.  Betty’s fridge also contains many good bottled beers.

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