It may also be impossible to understand Dublin without setting foot in the Guinness Storehouse. Here, at its source near the famed St James’s Gate, legend has it you find the best pint of Guinness in the world.
Guide Michael Buckley claims: “If you don’t like Guinness here there is no hope for you.” It’s an important test, as I have never been a fan of the heavy brew, one reason I have avoided visiting its showcase for many years, despite the fact it’s the city’s second most popular attraction after the medieval Book of Kells in Trinity College.
An impressive audio-visual tour, the obligatory shop and a great view of Dublin from the top of the building are all distractions from the main event. Here’s where I learn that drinking a pint of “the black stuff” is a lot more complicated than I ever thought, involving all the senses.
Touch: it can be too cold, it should be 6 degrees. Sight: if you hold your pint up to the light you see it’s a dark ruby red, not black. Hearing: the soft fizz of nitrogen gas being released to give it a creamy head and its texture. If you can’t hear it, you have a flat pint. Smell: the head keeps the flavor in, so you need to swirl the glass around to release the smells.
The fifth stage, which turns out to be many people’s favorite, is taste. “Don’t sip,” says Michael. “If you do, you are sipping on the most bitter part where the hops concentrate and you are not breaking the seal. Take a small gulp. Aim to drink beyond the head. You know you’ve done it right if you have a small Guinness mustache.”
I am then introduced to “retro nasal breathing” which is very like wine tasting “only you swallow Guinness, you don’t spit it out”. I take a gulp, swirl it around, take a deep breath in through my nose, swallow and then exhale through my nose.
It actually tastes quite good. Why has no one ever told me?