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Treasures of Ireland:
A Pint of the Black Stuff
(Dispatch #19)

Story and photos by Tom Weber

t's 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 a walk."

Insight Vacations Ireland tour director Big Mike

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."

Big Mike

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.

Guinness's St. James Gate Brewery

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 Gate Brewery.

Dublin skyline viewed from the Gravity Bar at the Guinness

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.

inside the Guinness with tour guide Kevin

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 pint.

portrait of founder Arthur Guinness

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 stuff," PUH-LEESE?

"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."

Kevin demonstrating how to pour a pint of Guinness

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."

glasses of Guinness

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!

Insight Vacations brochure

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.

a dish at FortyOne, Dublin

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.

Related Articles:
Food, Fun and Falconry at Ashford Castle; The Quiet Man; Piped Inside Ashford Castle; Galway Bay; The Burren; The Cliffs of Moher; Remembering the Great Famine

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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