Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In Honour of Arthur

If you really want a legacy that lasts…put your name on a bottle and sell it to about 10 million people a day.

Tomorrow (Thursday, September 22) at exactly 8:59pm EST (where I live) Guinness fans from around the world are going to raise a glass of Guinness (in unison, mind you) to toast Mr. Arthur Guinness…...founder of the aforementioned brew.

Arthur Guinness
 As if Guinness fans needed a reason to tip a pint.

I’ve no idea how many Guinness fans will be participating in this event, but if cyber chatter is any indication, you may feel the world beneath your feet shift just a tad as all the glasses are lifted at once.

I thought, in honor of this auspicious and world-tipping occasion, I would talk a bit about Guinness.

*Disclaimer: I am not a beer drinker.
*Follow up Disclaimer: However, I love Guinness. Odd, I know. I've been told a million times.

My current love affair with Guinness (the drink, not Arthur or any of his kin) started with my recent trip to Ireland. Everyone kept saying that Guinness tastes different in Ireland (where it originated) so of course I set myself on a path of discovery. I started drinking Guinness at our local pub…at first with my fingers pinching my nose, then graduating to making “eeewww” faces…and finally drinking so easily I forgot to hesitate the glass at my mouth.

So does Guinness taste different in Ireland? I’ll talk about that in a minute. In the meantime, I went on a quest for useless facts about Guinness in honor of Arthur’s day tomorrow. So here is everything and more than you ever wanted to know about Guinness:
  • Arthur Guinness was born over in Celbridge, County Kildare,Ireland in 1725.
  • Look closely. Guinness beer is not actually black but rather dark ruby red because of the way the ingredients are prepared. Some malted barley is roasted, in a similar way to coffee beans, which is what gives Guinness its distinctive color.
  • In the pub or bar the perfect pint of Guinness Draught is served using their famous 'two-part' pour. First, start with a clean, dry glass. Pour the GUINNESS® Draught into a glass tilted at 45 degrees, until it is three-quarters full. Allow the surge to settle before filling the glass completely to the top. Your perfect pint, complete with its creamy white head, is then ready to drink. 
*Note – they are seriously serious about this pouring system. Pouring contests are held all over the world…and competitors practice year round to get the nod of approval from the Guinness folks. Our local pub owner, Dale competes each year. He does pretty well...he says the secret is to drink about 8 pints prior to the competition.

  • Water used in the brewing process comes from the Wicklow mountains, a little way to the south of Dublin, where the Guinness factory stands. (not in the river Liffy as most people tend to think) And speaking of that factory….
  • In 1759 Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease on an unused brewery at St. James’s Gate, Dublin. It costs him an initial £100 (about $147 US dollars) with an annual rent of £45 (about $66 US dollars) - this includes crucial water rights. The brewery covers four acres and consists of a copper, a kieve, a mill, two malthouses, stabling for 12 horses and a loft to hold 200 tons of hay. 

St. James Gate Brewery, Dublin

The famous 9,000 year least on the Brewery

  • In 1775 a Dublin Corporation committee & sheriff were sent to cut off and fill in the channel from which the Brewery draws its water. Arthur Guinness is forced to brandish a pickaxe to protect his supply. The dispute is finally settled in 1784 when water rights are granted for 8,975 years.

The pick axe Mr. Guinness used MAY have looked like this one
  •  Over 10 million glasses of Guinness stout are enjoyed every single day around the world, and 1,883,200,000 pints are sold every year - that's 1.8 billion, to put it another way. (kudos here to Jerry and Andrew for making this possible)
  • In 1840 Guinness finally made it to the United States by way of NY. Just in time for the 2 million thirsty Irish emigrants that would follow a few years later
  • By 1870 10% of Guinness sales are overseas…yes, now I see a connection to the last point.
  • Skipping ahead a few years, in 1939 Guinness sent all British troops in the British Expeditionary Force in France a bottle of GUINNESS “ stout, beer, or draught to enjoy with their Christmas dinner.”
  • Skip ahead again to 1954….The first "Bottle Drop" promotion. 50,000 numbered and sealed bottles are dropped overboard from ships in various oceans of the world. Finders send the enclosed slip back to Guinness Exports to receive a reply and a memento. Bottles are returned from locations across the world, including Liverpool Docks, the Bahamas, Tahiti, the Azores and Mexico.

Tomorrow night’s event is going to be a moment to remember. Like a New Year's celebration except in a pub with strangers and no Dick Clark. But we will have a countdown. 

If you aren’t able to roll on down to your local pub, no worries. Facebook actually has a page that will take you to a LIVE video stream in Dublin. So you’ve no excuse.

Whether you are Irish or just Irish at heart, or just a lush looking for any excuse to drink, we hope you will all join in the revelry. As we say in Ireland, Cead Mile Failte - or 100,000 welcomes.

Oh..and in case you were curious, I must say that to my unseasoned palatte that yes, Guinness did taste better in Ireland. Creamier. 



Friday, September 9, 2011

Kickin' up your heels at a Ceili

If you had trouble with the word "ceili" in the title of this blog entry, then odds are you've never been to one. You have no idea what you've missed.

A Ceili, (prounounced cay-lee) or cĂ©ilidh (Scottish Gaelic) or ceilidh (Irish Gaelic) is a traditional Gaelic social gathering which usually involves playing Gaelic music and dancing. According to wikipedia, Ceili's originated in Ireland but they are now common across the UK, and I would venture to communities across the US of A.

As best I can tell, the origination of the traditional Ceili's in Ireland served many purposes.
Typically they were held in a home as a social gathering. Leaving the isolation of their farms, Irish farmers and their broods would trek for miles for the chance to socialize. And of course the inevitable happened. Young Irish men and young Irish women would find romance under the spell of music, whiskey and the pull of the Irish moon. Ceili's soon became the event where girls were courted and marriage prospects considered. Who can resist a man in a kilt with a bodhran and a dirk? I know that's a tough one for me.

If you have no idea what I just said...stick with me. I'll explain.

I was pleasantly surprised to find during my trip to Ireland that Ceili's do in fact still exist in the old country.

To some extent, with the growth and inevitable migration to urban areas and the pubs that they bring...ceili's have become more rare. After all, why have a party in your house when you can just skip down to the local public house? In most pubs in Ireland I found traditional Irish music with dancing and boys and girls scoping each other out ...a ceili by any definition.

If you weren't sure what a ceili was, then you most certainly won't recognize the names of the traditional irish musical instruments that will be included at a ceili. The fiddle you will know. Also the flute. But the tin whistle (small flute) and bodhran (celtic drum) may make you scratch your head. Trust me when I say that all of these instruments, when combined, make a cheerful, lively tune - they don't even have to be played well...just loudly. Somehow it all works. Helped along by a good pint of course.

Speaking of not having to play well....some ceili's may include instruction on any of the above instruments. Recently I attended a ceili at Mac and Faye Perry's house in St. Petersburg Florida. Faye and Mac are legends in the Celtic community and know how to do it right. An invitation to the Perry Ceili is coveted and so when I received my Facebook invite from Mac I was thrilled. Both Faye and Mac are skilled musicians but it was Mac who offered bodhran lessons. And so I carted my newly-purchased bodhran from Ireland to Mac's to learn the basics of how to play this unique instrument.

Mac was sitting in front of a group of about 25 people who held either their own drum or a man-made board meant to replicate a bodhran. I had planned to quietly take my place amongst them, as the lesson had already begun. Mac wasn't having any of that..."oh hello Joyce'...(of course he was on a microphone so the entire group turned heads in unison to look at me)..."I see you have a bodhran. lovely....can someone get Joyce an instruction sheet? And we'll go back and start at the beginning for her."

Oh great. I was late AND I was causing the entire class to backtrack. Not a good way to endear yourself. 

As the lesson progressed, I found myself having a good time in my own little drum world. Looking around at the others, smiling, thinking "Hey, I'm pretty good at this." Then I hear Mac stop the lesson. "Joyce, WHAT are you doing?"....

I thought I was playing the bodhran. Apparently not.

After a few attempts to give me individual instruction in front of the entire class, he finally shook his head and said "I'll help you later."  Oh well. Everyone has their talents and apparently the bohdran is not mine. Still, the ceili was a blast and I can't remember a time when I had more fun.

In addition to music, a ceili can almost always include story telling. The Irish are well known for their spinning of yarns - so this is inevitable. It's true what they say about the Irish...they do have the gift of blarney and gab. It's charming. 

If you feel you've missed out by never having attended a ceili...the easiest way to rectify that is to find your way to a good Irish pub and belly up to the bar. I will tapping your feet in no time...and you will make a few new pals. And if you are looking for romance and the moon is full, well who knows what can happen?  

Oh....and I haven't given up on my bodhran. It hangs in a place of honor on my porch wall, patiently waiting for the next chance to humiliate myself in front of a group.