| Treasures of Ireland:
A Pint of the Black Stuff
Story and photos by Tom Weber
always sad to say goodbye, especially when the handshakes are exchanged
with the warm and friendly staff at Ashford
Castle, including its two most popular employees: Cronan and
Garvan. They're a pair of well-behaved Irish wolfhounds who greet guests
every morning down in the lobby of the castle following their walk with
James, their handler, who admits, "Those two actually take ME for
But, part we must, as Big Mike, our self-proclaimed
Liam Neeson look-alike tour director, taps his wristwatch and informs
the "band of merry media" 18 travel writers and photographers
invited by Insight
Vacations (Insight) to experience its Treasures of Ireland
journey that, "We've got a schedule to keep, so kindly put
away your toys [cameras] and hop aboard the motor coach."
The beauty of the Treasures of Ireland
journey, as well as some of the other Insight itineraries, is its "relaxed
starts" no daily departures before 9:00 a.m. Add to that, our
colorful tour director, Big Mike, who is really more of a storyteller.
From Cong to Dublin, a 240 km (144 mi)
stretch along the M6, Big Mike keeps us entertained as he weaves one
tall tale after another.
Before we know it, with tears still streaming
down our faces from all the craic (fun), our man Eugene, aka
The Quiet Man, brings the coach to a full stop just outside the
epicenter of Irish barley, hops, yeast and water: Guinness's St. James
Quicker than you can say, "I'll have
a pint of 'the black stuff,'" the "band of merry media"
hustles inside the Guinness
Storehouse a seven-story structure in the shape of a
14-million pint glass of Guinness topped by the Gravity Bar and its
nearly 360-degree view of Dublin for a VIP tour of Europe's top
tourist attraction to learn firsthand how they put all of that goodness
into kegs, bottles and pints emblazoned with the trademark harp.
Kevin, our knowledgeable and humorous tour
guide Hey, he's Irish conducts a Guinness 101 primer that
covers the nearly 260-year history of the brewery, its antique equipment,
the stout ingredients, the brewing techniques, the advertising campaigns
and, the best part of all, learning how to perfectly pour our very own
Arthur Guinness, the founding father of
this dry stout, started brewing the "blond in the black dress"
way back in 1759, when he was just 34, right here on these premises
in downtown Dublin.
As Kevin explains, "A cunning businessman,
Mr. Guinness convinced the owners of the land where the brewery now
stands to sign a 9,000-year lease at £45 per annum." And,
that's how the Guinness legend began fermenting.
Young Arthur set his sights well
beyond the Emerald Isle when he exported his dark stout to Great
Britain in 1769 with a "test run" of just 6.5 barrels.
Today, more than 10 million glasses of Guinness are enjoyed daily
around the world; over 1.8 billion pints are sold annually; the
"good stuff" is brewed in nearly 50 countries; and,
Guinness' top five consumer markets are Great Britain, Nigeria,
Ireland, Cameroon and the United States, in that order.
Can I have a pint of "the black
"Pouring a pint of Guinness
takes real skill," intones our man Kevin, as we gather around
the dual spigots inside the Guinness Academy room. "The 'perfect
pour', which is actually a double pour," he points out, "takes
exactly 119.5 seconds. Not a second more, not a second less."
Holding one of the monogrammed glasses
at a 45-degree angle, Kevin gently engages the handle and the beauty
of the Guinness starts coming alive. "Critical to the process,"
Kevin mentions, "is a short rest period following the initial pour."
As our collective tongues dangle in front
of the glass of Guinness as it slowly changes color from a medium brown
to a dark black (it's actually a deep red), Kevin gives a final pull
to put the froth on top. "This is absolutely crucial," he
states, "as most Irish people would cringe if they saw it poured
any other way."
What's finally handed across the bar, when
poured correctly, is a dark, rich pint of Guinness, capped off with
its signature, bright-white foam, that's served at exactly 42.8 F.
Uh, I'll have another pint of "the
black stuff" if you don't mind. Sláinte!
For complete information on Insight's 100+
premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, including the Treasures
of Ireland itinerary where you, too, will learn how to pour the
perfect pint, just click HERE,
or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you in just a couple of hours when
this edition of the intrepid "band of merry media" breaks
bread for the very last time at FortyOne,
an award-winning kitchen in the heart of Dublin.
Fun and Falconry at Ashford Castle; The
Quiet Man; Piped
Inside Ashford Castle; Galway
Cliffs of Moher; Remembering
the Great Famine