Irish Pubs and Drink
"The Centre can't hold..." William Butler Yeats
To say that the Pub is the center of Irish social life is merely stating the
obvious. When its good, the craic is only mighty. Craic (pronounced crack)
is that wonderful mix of drink, talk, good spirits, and exuberance that suits
ceol so well. Ceol? Song.
Liberalised pub hours and licenses came into effect in the summer of 2000. Instead of closing times of 11:00 in the winter, these now have risen to 11:30 during the week and 12:30 on the weekends. The formerly ignored law that demanded pubs close between 2 and 4 on a Sunday afternoon has been scrapped.
In 2004 smoking was banned in all workplaces throughout the country. Pubs, for those who have serve us convivial patrons, are a workplace. Ergo - no more smoking inside the pubs. This means you have to wade through a haze of smoke as the desperate tobacco users congregate around the pub entrances. Once inside, though, you can enjoy your pint in smokeless comfort.
Reportedly, pub prices fell steeply at the beginning of 2005 as smokers and the price conscious stayed home. Off licence sales, that is the sale of alcohol from supermarkets and shops, rose dramatically. Feeling the pinch, some pubs took the unprecedented step of actually - gasp! - reducing the price of a pint. But, by the end of 2005, pub numbers were back to normal. 80pc of smokers report that they prefer the smokeless pubs - and the rest of us can only gasp with relief.
I'm a sucker for statistics and the Competition
report produced this great one: In Dublin, there is one pub for every 1119
adults, while in County Leitrim the ratio is one pub per 148 adults. Yet alcohol
consumption per capita is roughly the same. The conclusion is inescapable
- Leitrim folks are lonely drinkers, while Dubliners schmooze when they booze.
County Waterford, where I live, is average at 1 pub per 316 people.
The Great Recession has affected pub visits. It used to be that the pubs filled up at 9:30pm and folks cleared out by midnight. Now, with less money in their pockets, the clientele arrives at 10pm. There's an Irish solution.
I'm not much of a drinker. Hell, two pints
and you can roll me out the door. So, I will acknowledge my shortcomings upfront
and suggest a few sites below better suited to the discerning clientele.
Nonetheless, here's my two cents schpritz:
All beers in Ireland are bitter. I mean really
bitter! Even when they import American beers and such over here, they change
the formula to make it bitter. Budweiser, which is as mild a beer as can be
found in its native America, or Coors, which always tasted like sparkling
water to me, over here were transmuted into skunk piss. Supposedly the natives
won't buy them otherwise. Though, whenever the natives go on vacation, they
always comment how much they enjoyed the beer. Along comes the beer they enjoyed
so much on vacation and, voila, the manufacturers insist on bittering it up
"for the market." It goes to show why I'm not in marketing.
Eventually, someone woke up to the fact that
there are people like me and the formulas reverted to a more American taste.
Heinekin, the Dutch beer, is currently the number one selling Lager in Ireland.
It's a half way brew - not as mild as the typical Australian, Japanese and
American beers. But, not as bitter as the typical Irish and British brew.
is the Irish national drink, the lubricant which smooths the Irish economy,
and the cure for Irish weather. What is Stout? A black beer, smooth as velvet,
thickly topped by a creamy head of suds. There's a ritual to properly pulling
a pint of stout. It's best done slow, with the glass tilted to maximize air
contact. Fill two thirds full, pour off some of the head, and let the glass
sit for five minutes till it settles. Then pull again, slosh off the excess.
Only after all these preliminaries is the stuff suitable to taste.
Want more info? Try the Beamish
Stout site. Guinness or Murphy's stout
are preferred by the majority of Irish drinkers, but I put my money on Beamish.
It's smoother, more velvety, less raw than the others. But, more than half
the fun is trying them all out while engaged in a pub crawl.
I've found that Stout is a remarkable drink. The effect on your head is quite unlike a beer. A glass gives me no hangover, no tiredness, or any of the other effects that even a small glass of beer leaves with this poor unbesotten head. But, stout in small quantities, whether Guiness, Beamish, or Murphy's, just calms the nerves and leaves the head clear, and stomach relaxed. Hmmmm. Maybe the Irish are on to something.
The Perfect Pint
Katie shared the following:
Firstly let me say I am Irish, I live in Ireland and I think you ought to know I'm studying a bar course in college. I think you should know your piece on stout is completely wrong.
You must first tilt the glass to a 45 degree angle and fill it till its roughly 10-15mm below the rim of the glass. Leave the pint till it settles then press back on the tap and top up till just proud of the rim of the glass. There should be no pouring off or sloshing off of any kind. What goes into the glass stays in the glass. The pint should not touch the outside of the tap or anything besides your lips.
I'm sorry to have to tell you this but you've been drinking ruined pints and your barman should be shot.
Irish whisky, for those who have never tried,
is similar to a fine Scotch without the smoky flavor. It's also the only triple
distilled whiskey in the world. Scotch is only distilled twice but goes down
smoother. The very popular Irish Cream uses Irish whisky as its base. Another
lovely liqueur is Irish Mist. For gutless wonders like me, a dram of Irish
Mist captures the full flavor of Irish whiskey, and then gentles it exactly
the right amount to make it a fabulous after dinner companion.
Katie's Hot Whiskey
"Actually it consists of 1 measure of whiskey, 2 tsp of brown sugar, 2 slices of lemon studded with cloves (Jif will not do I'm afraid) and boiling water to top up."
There's no culture of fancy cocktails in Ireland. No Manhattans, Rum and Cokes, Singapore Slings or even Vodka and orange juice. What's a kid to do when they're desperate to get drunk, but can't stand the taste of beer? The answer has been pre-bottled, colourful and sugary concoctions with a stiff dose of vodka or gin. The kids guzzle this swill like it was soda. The most popular drink among the young for a while was a mix of three different alcopops called a Fat Frog. I recommend it to those of you who like drinking poisonously green sugar water with flat rum and vodka overtones.
Sold over the counter in supermarkets as well as pubs, these little addict-makers are constantly threatened with stricter regulation by crusading politicians. Result - some oft ignored restrictions.
The most popular cocktails for the younger yet legal set mostly involve Red Bull, the popular caffeine injection system, and some straightforward drink like vodka. No cocktail umbrellas or nuthin!
For their manufacturers, these booze babies have been a winner. In the decade from 2000 through 2009, alcohol consumption rose 40pc in Ireland.
When I came to Ireland in 1975, wine was simply unheard of. I remember the suspicion which a bottle of Mateus Rose produced among my flatmates, though I don't recall anyone declining a glass.
These days, even teensy mom and pop corner store have a few bottles of wine for sale. French wines, Chilean, South African, Californian, Australian, Italian, Spanish, German - you can find them all. From 3 Euro specials to those rarer 40 euro bottles, there's guaranteed to be a large selection in even the most benighted little town.
It's all a result of increased travel. Most everyone has visited a Mediterranean country by this stage and most found they liked the local plonk.
Drinking and Driving
In 1994 a Drink Driving law was passed with
extremely stiff penalties for drinking and driving. More than 2 pints of beer,
two glasses of wine, or 1 and 1/2 whiskies put you over the limit. Six month
suspensions of licenses became common.
At first there was a tremendous outcry from
publicans and rural consituents worried that the traditional evening pint
at the "local" was about to pass away. Didn't happen. It is now
much more common to hail a taxi or designate a non-drinking driver.
there are still far too many auto accidents caused by murderous drunks. Attitudes are changing, but slowly. Alcohol is implicated in roughly 50pc of all Irish road accidents.
On most Monday mornings, the nation wakes up to news of the latest victims. A hugely disproportionate number of these deaths involve single cars going out of control at 3am. Alcohol.
One twist was the large number of deaths attributed to East European young males. Not only is there the alcohol problem, but these lads have learned to drive on the other side of the road. They're not so good at sorting it out when stuporous during a late night storm. Anyone with sense stays off the roads after 2am.
I've come to understand
that Ireland has two huge problems: alcoholism and cronyism. The problems
brought on by alcoholism are obvious; those of cronyism lead to the cozy cartels,
golden circles and cynicism about democracy that define much of Ireland's
political and business culture.
But, both these ills are
natural progressions of conviviality. Ireland is a neighbourly place, a society
that elevates celebration and song. Carry friendship and festival just a squinch
beyond where they should end and you get Ireland's twin problems.