Pining for a pint of stout, an earful of blarney, and a toe-tapping fiddle tune but find yourself far removed from the Emerald Isle? Fret not. Edythe Preet has the answer.
Be ye in an off-island bulwark of Hibernian society such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, or the more unlikely locales of Milan, Hamburg, Oslo, Paris, Johannesburg, Beijing, Dubai or Kabul, heritage hankerings can be quenched. The Irish, you see, are conquering the world.
More to the point, the grand tradition of the Irish Pub has become one of Ireland’s most successful exports. And it’s Arthur Guinness to whom we owe our gratitude. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
By definition, a ‘pub’ or ‘public house’ is ‘an establishment that sells alcoholic beverages to the public for consumption on the premises, usually in a comfortable setting.’ The concept as we know it was invented by the British.
Pubs are cousins to taverns, which have existed almost as long as have alcoholic beverages. References to such places can be found in the historic record dating back to Rome, Greece, and Babylonia. While the inhabitants of the islands in the waters just west of Europe had been drinking ale since the Bronze Age, it was not until the Romans arrived and built roads that places selling refreshments to travelers sprouted along their lengths. The watering holes were so successful that by 965 A.D. King Edgar of Britain ruled that any one village could only have one alehouse.
Long ago, the Irish kept bees hoping they would have enough surplus to make mead, a fermentation of honey, water and herbs. It is said that the cup of mead St. Brigid served the King of Leinster pleased him so much that he gave the saintly woman a generous donation of land and money to help with her charities.
Saint Patrick brought his personal brewer to Ireland, but it was hardly necessary. The Celts had long been concocting a potent beer called coirm. In the epic Tain Bo Culainge, King Conchubar spent “…a third of his day feasting, a third watching the young warriors wrestle, and a third drinking coirm until he falls asleep.”
When the Normans arrived, they instituted regulations to control brewing. Only women were allowed to make ale, and although men owned the pubs, ‘ale-wives’ operated them. In addition to flagons of frothy brew, they offered their customers oysters, smoked salmon, and soda bread. In the seventeenth century, the French traveler Jouvin wrote, “If I drink two-pence worth of beer at a public house, I am given as much as I want of bread, meat, butter, cheese, and fish.”
That tradition continues yet today. Always bastions of hospitality, pubs are now frequented as much for their grub as their brew. This is especially true outside the major cities where regional specialties and authentic country cooking showcase Ireland’s superb seafood and meats, luscious cheeses, and legendary bread.
Sometime around the fifth century, Mediterranean missionaries introduced Ireland to the art of distilling alcohol. Used mostly for medicinal purposes, this white lightning’s Latin name was aqua vitae or ‘water of life.’ The Gaelic translation, uisce beatha, was anglicized to whiskey by the Normans.
While whiskey is popular in any pub, it’s a properly pulled pint of Guinness topped with a collar of creamy foam that’s the drink of choice. On New Year’s Eve 1759, Arthur Guinness took possession of a brewery located at St. James Gate, a defense point in Dublin’s medieval walled city. With typically understated Irish optimism, Arthur negotiated a 9,000-year property lease for an annual sum of forty-five pounds sterling, plus free use of all the water he’d ever need from the River Liffey.
When Arthur’s black beer took off like a rocket, the city fathers realized their dreadful mistake. A sheriff attempted to block the water line, but Arthur appeared brandishing a pickaxe and hurling a volley of colorful Irish curses. After a twenty-year court battle, compromise was reached and Guinness quickly became Ireland’s favorite brew as well as one of the nation’s chief employers and sources of revenue.
Guinness production now exceeds 750 million pints a year. The company funds numerous international cultural events and its advertising policy leads the push for Ireland’s modern stance on alcoholism awareness. To its further esteem, Guinness launched Ireland’s move to conquer the world.
In 1992, Guinness threw its considerable global clout behind The Irish Pub Company with the intention of developing high-quality Irish pubs outside of Ireland. Its first offshore endeavor, Fado in Atlanta, GA opened in January 1996 just in time to cash in on the crowds that would be attending the Atlanta Olympics. The venture was a rip-roaring success. Currently, there are more than 130 IPC pubs operating in the U.S.
Called by pundits the design consortium that sells ‘a pub in a box,’ Dublin-based IPC is no joke. In the last 16 years, it and its imitators have fabricated and installed more than 1,800 ‘Irish’ pubs in more than 50 countries, including Ireland itself where IPC has opened 40 faux-pubs side-by-jowl the venerable establishments on which the winning strategy is based.
Having developed ‘ways of re-creating Irish pubs which would be successful, culturally and commercially, anywhere in the world,’ IPC offers five basic styles: Country Cottage, with timber beams and stone floors; Gaelic, with Irish folklore murals; Traditional Pub Shop, with fake grocery and apothecary items; Brewery, with empty kegs and brewer’s geewgaws; and Victorian Dublin, the stained-glass Beaux Arts top of the range.
An inquiry is all that’s necessary to set the wheels in motion. Your pub will be assembled in Ireland, broken down, shipped, and assembled in your chosen location. All in 18 weeks. And that’s not the whole of it. IPC will also supply all the necessary decorative et ceteras as well as the music, games (dartboards head the list), lighting, mirrors, tables and chairs, pub grub menu, sources for culinary ingredients, a list of believable ‘pub’ names, training on pouring ‘a perfect pint,’ and staff who speak with lilting Irish brogues. They even predict a pretty profit. According to IPC: “Sales per square foot exceed the U.S. average by a factor of two.”
While IPC has built and opened more ‘authentic’ Irish pubs than any other design group, imitation is the highest form of flattery and other firms have jumped on the bandwagon with gusto. When I moved to Los Angeles in the late ’60s, finding an Irish pub was an exercise in dogged determination. Today, there’s hardly a major city anywhere in the U.S. lacking the experience, and Irish pubs have sprung up on every continent like mushrooms after a rain. There’s even a full-blown Irish ‘village’ in Dubai!
How is it, one wonders, that the British who invented the ‘pub’ concept missed the boat? All I can say to that is: Ireland’s got the Craic and God bless Guinness! Sláinte!
Guinness Braised Beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bay leaves
3 pounds round steak, cut in chunks
1 large onion, halved & sliced
2 tablespoons flour seasoned
w/ salt & pepper
1⁄4 pint Guinness
salt and pepper
1⁄2 pound carrots, sliced
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
In a Dutch Oven, heat the olive oil with the bay leaves. Add the beef chunks and brown quickly. Push aside the meat, add the onion and sweat until just softened.
Sprinkle with the flour and let it brown, then add the Guinness and an equal amount of water, or a little more if needed, to barely cover. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add the carrots. Bring to a boil, then cover and braise in a slow oven at 325 F for approximately 1 1⁄2 hours. Check occasionally to see if the liquid is evaporating and add more equally proportioned Guinness and water if needed. Check also for tenderness, and if necessary continue cooking a little longer. Before serving, sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Makes 4 or 5 servings. Accompany with baked or mashed potatoes.
Traditional Irish Food –
Guinness Ice Cream
1 quart premium vanilla ice cream
2⁄3 cup Guinness
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Soften ice cream to very thick stirring stage. Add Guinness and brown sugar. Combine thoroughly. Place in freezer until ice cream hardens. Makes 1 quart. Note: Do not let ice cream get too soft or it will not refreeze properly.
Courtesy FADO Irish Pub, Atlanta, GA
Guinness Original Half & Half
1 12oz Cold Bottle of Harp
1 14.9oz Guinness Draught Can
1 Tablespoon (Yes a spoon!)
1 16oz Pint Glass
From a chilled bottle, fill a clean pint glass just over halfway with Harp.
Open a chilled Guinness Draught Can and prepare to pour. Place a spoon face down (creating an umbrella effect) and slowly pour your Guinness Draught over it. When the Guinness has risen to “just proud of the rim” you’re ready to enjoy the distinct pleasures of the Original Half & Half!
Courtesy Guinness Brewery