I love beer. In its myriad forms it refreshes, compliments food, relaxes and can break the ice better than any other beverage: "fancy a pint?" has a disarming directness that eludes suggestions like "glass of chardonnay?" or "G&T?".
There are beers for every occasion and meal. Lager for curry, English bitter for a ploughmans, Scottish ale for stews, Trappist beer for cheese and cured meats and, of course, stout & porter for oysters.
Guinness is a stout, and by far the most famous in the world. It has an incredible marketing machine behind it and as a brand in the beer world it manages to do what no other beer does in its advertising: exude sophistication. Oh, style beers abound and there's all sorts of bollocks kicking about; but Guinness advertising has risen to the level of an art form, with stark, bold images and films that would not be out of place in promotional pieces for Rolex, Chanel, Dom Perignon, Mercedes or Krug. A pint itself is iconic: black and white perfection.
I find this odd. Guinness for me is the beer equivilant of comfort food and, while not ubiquitous in my beer consumption, plays a very important role. I drink it mostly when I'm in Ireland and for very good reason. All the myths, rumours and hearsay are true: Guinness simply tastes better over here. In fact, it tastes incredible. I drank a lot of it this holiday. In fact, aside from a glass of water or oj in the morning it was pretty much the only liquid that passed my lips.
It's not just the taste though, it's the place. It's possible I've collapsed at the feet of a marketing giant and been caught in the ultimate of tourist traps. But sitting in a quiet pub in the country, wood beams barely keeping the roof above your head, the peat fire blazing while locals gossip and the seafood chowder steams and bubbles with thick-cut Irish brown bread on the side, coated in creamy butter and seeing your pint arrive with that extra-thick-double-cream of a head rising unsupported above the rim of the glass it is impossible not to feel content, comforted, cozy and happy. Especially as it's probably pissing with rain outside. I defy anyone not to buy into the image when faced with the reality.
I had a tradition when I left Ireland. I would have my final pint of Guinness in the departure lounge pub, usually with a dressed crab, as I didn't eat oysters back then. It was a mock-pub that specialised in seafood and it was really nice. It bookended the holiday and gave an opportunity to reflect. Sadly I'm at a different departure gate, one with a bar to be mocked, not a mock pub, the food is dreadful and I should have been in London 45 minutes ago, still having an hour-and-a-half to wait for my long-delayed flight. Still... there's time for a pint.