Guinness at St. James Gate

It seemed so cliché… that the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin would be the first stop on our 9-day visit to Ireland, especially because I consider myself to be “traveler”, not a “tourist”.  The former loosely defined by the search for authenticity, someplace out of the way, not a tourist attraction.  So it was a bit to my chagrin that this would be the first stop.  But my JD really wanted to go, and I figured even though I don’t like Guinness, there would have to be something cool there, good merchandise if anything.

Because we had taken the overnight flight, we thought some fresh air would do us good, so we decided to walk.  Our sister-in-law told us it was a 40-minute walk.  That didn’t seem so bad, especially because we had been sitting for so long.  This must have been why we agreed to her suggestion so readily.  We don’t typically walk to museums, only to walk around some more when we get there.  Almost an hour later, when we were too far into the walk to get a cab, yet too close not to keep going, I was suddenly exhausted and my feet were killing me, but we trudged on, me becoming increasingly irritated with each step.  I could’ve easily skipped Guinness!

The tour at Guinness is self-guided, so we were able to walk, sit, and stand at our leisure.  Our admission included one free pint.  The place was packed with tourists from all over the world, but the first accents we heard were American.  So much for “travelling”.  At the beginning of the tour, there was a huge waterfall like display that imparted the secret to Guinness… local Irish water.  I couldn’t help but think of the time I toured the Brooklyn Brewery in NYC, which shared this same secret as the key to their delicious beer.  I had heard that this was also the secret to NYC bagels and pizza.

barrellsWhile I’m somewhat familiar with the brewing process (my JD has dabbled in home brewing), some parts of it are more interesting to me than others.  One of the highlights of this visit was the exhibit on the Storehouse cooperage, the art of barrel making.  It was fascinating to learn that men apprenticed for years to become coopers, and to see in the archival footage that they assembled barrels seemingly by instinct.  They seemed to know exactly how to cut, fit and assemble to wood to make a watertight barrel with minimal tools.  The exhibit really highlighted my appreciation for lost arts.

My feet were still hurting by the time we got to the advertising exhibit, which contained incredible memorabilia – signs, postcards, even a lamp – from past campaigns.  The toucan was the most prominently featured, but there was also a seal, a fish, and a turtle.

Next was the tasting room, which is specially designed to get the maximum and most pure flavor of Guinness. Because Guinness isn’t my favorite, I wasn’t even going to take advantage of the free pint or the tasting.  But something happened when I tasted Guinness in Ireland.  I discovered that it isn’t the motor oil that I had previously thought.  THIS Guinness was light, almost refreshing.  The foam danced in my mouth, and then cascaded delicately down my throat, followed by the taste of malt, and the slightest hint of chocolate.

The penultimate stop on the tour was the optional “Learn to Pour” Guinness station.  In spite of my recent revelation in the tasting room, swollen feet overrode the desire to learn a new skill.  So, I headed up to the bar to redeem my ticket for the free pint.  It turns out that the key to good Guinness isn’t just in the water; it’s also in the pouring, and the keg rotation.  Kegs are rotated so frequently in Ireland, that there isn’t a chance for it to sit around and alter the flavor.  As I sat in the bar of the top floor of the Storehouse, I realized that I like Guinness in Ireland.  Even though our first stop in Ireland was a major tourist attraction, I learned something about myself.  This still surprises me.  Typically we think of travel epiphanies as something learned on remote beaches in Thailand, or in the rain forest of Costa Rica, where there aren’t any distractions, not in a major tourist attraction surrounded by people, in a major city in Europe.

It is refreshing to know that those realizations are possible, just as refreshing as a pint of Guinness.

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