Sundown at The Garrick’s Head. My dazed and blood-red eyes droop and lilt. A pint of warm, noxious stout sits half-drunk in front of me. Or rather: I sit half-drunk behind it.
It has been an unimaginative and disappointing evening. Research, in brewing terms, is usually a chore on par with a civilian vacation. But this isn’t brewing, this is serious Journalism — heavy stuff. As such, I have scheduled an upcoming interview with a fellow member of the brewing Illuminati, who has an illicit appetite for [removed under legal advisement] and James Joyce.
As a man who is not into [see above], this leaves me with the unfortunate task of reading Ulysses. I’ve been here before — my grandfather handed a copy down to my father, which I saw as an inherited literary journey. I got through four pages, seven times. The book is impenetrable. Our modern consciousness has evolved beyond the slightest ability to comprehend it.
And yet, here we are. Again. Guinness may be the ‘wine of the country’ Joyce, but it’s the sleeping pill of the warm city. Summer is just beginning here in the Province’s capital. For a brewer, this signals a tiredness that resides in the bones, and often ventures out into one’s philosophies. I give in. The thick paperback in my hand falls to the floor….
Me: “Hello, yes. I’m sorry, I fell asleep there.”
Stranger: “I see that. I’m Art, Art Murtagh. I’m here for the interview.”
Me: “Of course…”
But in my cobwebbed mind, I can’t place this person. Something feels discordant, askew…Who is this stranger, Art? Distantly familiar…like an apparition of a friend I haven’t seen for years…Well. When in doubt, order more beer and go into it headlong. I fumble for a pen, open my notebook, flag a waitress, and order two more Guinnesses.
Me: “So. Art. How is…everything?”
Art: “Great! We just installed a new brew system, eight times the size of our last one.”[A brewer, yes, and a rarity — a successful one…but still, I can’t place that face…]
Me: “Excellent! Success!”
Art: “Absolutely! But it’s strange. I’m still brewing five batches a day. The beer just disappears…it makes for long days. But you know me, I still love brewing.”
Me: “You can’t hire another brewer?”
Art: “Sure, I could, but, well, new brew systems are expensive…and our investors…anyhow, I’ll keep doing it for now. And you know me, I love to brew.”[But do I?? Do I know you? I feel like I do…but how…and from when…]
Me: “I hear you. My brewpub just hit 3,000 litres a week.”
Art: “3,000 litres…I remember when I used to only do 3,000 litres…but you know me, I still love to brew…love…loves to love…loves to brew…”[He appears to doze off. I prod his thin ribcage and he jolts upright. I also feel a hard pain in my own side…Instant Karma.]
Art: “Jesus, it’s true! It’s as painful to be awakened from a vision as to be born.”
Me: “You’re telling me.”
Art is fading, physically. It’s as though he has grown more emaciated and gaunt since he sat down in front of me; his rosy-cheeked Irish vitality has given way to a wispy, ill-advised impersonation of a beard. Black and white images of Concentration Camp inmates flood my mind…
Me: “Well, Art – you know what they say: ‘Hard Work Will Set You Free’.”
The words send a visible shiver down his spine. He lays his head down into his forearm, and I think I see a tear escape from his covered face. I notice the clock tick over into the seventh hour of the afternoon.
Me: “Jesus, Art, I’m sorry, I —”
Art: “Christ, I have to be at work in nine hours!” He casually yells at me, stands unsteadily and grabs my jacket. “And I don’t have any money.”
Me: “No money?! I thought you were a goddamned beer baron! And give me back my jacket!”
Art: “Have you mortgaged your house yet, to finance that 10-head rotary rinser/filler?!”
Me: “No, we don’t need-”
Art: “You will! You’ll see! A jacket is the goddamned least you can do! Thank yourself later!!”
And with that the interview is apparently over. Art limps hurriedly past security, out into the bright, unfeeling world — a hunched and beaten man. Success is more a tyrannical lover than a friend, in the brewing game. I pay the bill for our pints, and wonder: Guinness was just some obscure Irishman’s porter recipe, in a local Dublin brewery, at some point. And now behold the monster it has become.
Success. But at what cost? At what cost. >
I crush my receipt in my hand, drop it to the sticky floor, and ponder…
The receipt hits the ground with a great noise, like the thud of heavy Literary boredom on the floor. I’m startled awake. There’s a half-drunk pint in front of me. And that’s it. Art was just some half-assed Joyce-ian daydream. I wipe the dark drool from the corners of my mouth. Well Jim, if history is indeed a nightmare from which we are trying to awake, then the future looks no less grim.
(440ml can, Brewed in Ireland, Imported for Diageo, QC)
The first thing I notice about this beer is the way it gently sprays across my laptop when I open the can. Despite the strangely prominent instruction to “serve extra cold,” this beer had spent the fifteen minutes prior inside my girlfriend’s purse. (Deadlines are fickle creatures — they must be pandered to, sometimes in transit.) Maybe that explains the mild explosion.
That, or the mysterious device known as the ‘widget,’ which has been used off-and-on as a selling feature. The widget is basically a small table-tennis ball with a hole in it — beer resides inside the ball, until the change in pressure that occurs when the can is opened, forcing the beer to eject through the tiny widget-hole, and triggering a strong foaming reaction, leading to its signature dense, off-white head.
Which, of course, this beer proudly displays.
Subdued roasted malt aromas, and on the palate … not much. Not much at all. The thinness is striking for a beer of this style. The weight and body, and fullness, I expect of a stout are noticeably absent. The absolute lack of hop presence allows a milky sweetness to dominate. Despite its reputation in the market, and culture at large, as the prototypical stout, this really feels like Stout Lite. As though it spent itself birthing that foamy head, then laid prostrate and motionless when called upon to rise.
I would love to drink this beer in Ireland. I seriously wonder how much may have been lost in its translation into the North American market. But that’s a long trip without promise of reward. Such is life, Jimbo. Drink up.