It’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.”
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 more of a storyteller than an onboard concierge.
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 Gate Brewery.
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 7-story tall structure in the shape of a 14-million pint glass of Guinness topped by the Gravity Bar with its nearly 360-degree view of Dublin — for a VIP tour 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 pint.
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-5 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.”
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” gathers for the very last time to break bread at FortyOne, an award-winning restaurant in the heart of Dublin.
©The Palladian Traveler