Monday, April 13, 2009

Drinking out West

Life moves slowly out West. It is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Dublin that I have become so accustomed to. I always look forward to a stay in the West of Ireland with my in laws; it is a welcome break from city life. There is nothing in the way of decent beer out there except for the nearest Tesco which stocks some English ale along with a more recent addition of Brooklyn Lager, but I purposefully steer clear of this fancy stuff and stick to more mundane beverages. Usually I resent not having a good choice of beer, especially if I am in Dublin where I pay through the nose for it, but in the country beer is far cheaper and the atmosphere suits this kind of simple drinking. For example, the other night I sat down with a can of draught Beamish. The wind whistled around the one hundred year old farmhouse and a turf fire burned in the hearth, belching sooty smoke into the room on occasion as the pressure in the house was altered by a particularly strong gust of wind. If I was asked I would tell you that Beamish is my least favourite of the major stouts available in Ireland, but in those surroundings served at perfect temperature from the unheated adjacent dining room the stout attained a far greater degree of quality than I would ever dream of attributing to it. It was sweet and toffee like and made me want more.

Later that evening I went to the local town, a tiny place sporting horrific potholes and a population of about 500. At the moment it has 4 pubs on 3 streets but I was jauntily informed that a few years ago it had nine pubs and all of them did very nicely indeed. This is typical of towns out here; one church and a plethora of pubs that would make a marketing analyst scratch his head in confusion, but everyone has their local in this most local of places and the pubs thrive. Unsurprisingly the pub I visited had only three beers on tap which the locals differentiate by the terms beer and stout. Stout covers Guinness – the only stout available, while beer covers ale and lager. Only pints of Swithwick’s Irish ale and Guinness were present on the bar and the barman knew everyone’s drink. There was a not a woman in sight and only one curious incident when a notorious local man was driven from the bar because he nicked the remote control for the television the last time he was in. For my part I opted for a pint of Smithwick’s – once again a beer I can’t say I enjoy when I drink it in Dublin, but I was happy to drink it in this environment among a group of men who were very content enjoying a simple pint and talking in accents I could quite decipher. The simple country pub image was distorted somewhat when a middle aged farmer dressed in cap and woolly jumper was presented with a Corona and lime when he stepped up to the bar. I suppose it passes as a cocktail around those parts.

There are two monastic ruins in the vicinity which I visit on occasion. The link between monasteries and brewing is never far from my mind when I wander around the old walls. They are sombre places and it is hard to believe that they once housed a communities of devout of people. I imagine they were peaceful, but grim to some extent and I also like the idea of passing travellers perhaps stopping off for the night after a long day's travel across the wind swept land from parts that are no more than an hour away nowadays. No doubt some ale was on offer (though perhaps not the very best stuff) and a comfortable bed until the next morning. There is a fresh water well nearby the ruins of this monastery that has become a point of pilgrimage for local people. The cynic in me sees why this became a holy place - for brewers this supply of clean spring water was surely sent from on high and reason enough to make it a place of devotion.

No comments: