In Armagh 2009


One Pint, Two Pint, Three Pint, wait…No, I said wait! Floor.

Guinnessians. They’re all around you in Ireland. A beer-induced quasi-religion that is deeply rooted in Irish culture and takes on an exclusive aura that breweries could only dream of building. The people who drink a pint of the black stuff enjoy it just shy of Stonecutter status, except without the whole drunken theme song and 912 thing.

In Armagh, and Ireland in general, there’s a weird freemasonry structure of finding a pub that has either a good pint of black stuff, or completely blowing off a place that makes thy Guinness look like a ruby-hued Budweiser, tapped like an ignored child of a clueless bartender.

“If a pub has a reputation of bad Guinness, it ain’t good for them,” said Guinnessian Adrian McGahan at Turner’s bar, a wee pub in the heart of Armagh. “You get one bad pint and you never go back.”

Guinness drinkers are wary enough to avoid bars and pubs that have a reputation for a bad pint, and know when they’ve been duped. And that’s a good thing, because if you get an overflowing mess of some-kind-of-bad that looks like a drunken monkey poured it, your pounds will start gaining in other places. A Guinnessian will literally talk about what which pub has a good pint, bad pint or the best in town. Of course, if you get a bad pint, they’ll let you know about it. Just ask anyone who’s been served a “stone of shame.”

“Oh, I’d tell them straight away to get another pint,” says James Wright, a former bartender and man that loves his Guinness as much as his art. “But I’d tell them I’m not paying for another one.”

You could talk for hours upon hours about stories of a horrid pour, but in Ireland, somehow England always comes up in conversation some way or another.

“In England they just pour (Guinness) like a regular beer in one go. You get a half glass of foam,” said Padráig McGahan as he recollects memories of a bad pour.

Paul Eliasberg, a bartender at Turner’s, was cleaning booze chalices when he quipped in with a story, “I had my worst pint of Guinness and the head was all brown.”

The two McGahan’s scowled simultaneously a conceited “Oh!” and “F**k!”

Malachy O’ Neill of Red Ned’s pub in Armagh, a master pourer himself, endowed in a bad pint story involving a rushed job, “Years ago when people didn’t want to wait for Guinness, a guy would wipe off the sides of the glass with a towel.” The Guinnessians at the bar all gawked. To which O’ Neill pointed out a patron drinking a Guinness out of a Budweiser glass by choice, “That’s a bastardization of Guinness!” People really care about their pints here, and you do not want to give them a bad one.

Liquid Perfection

Guinness actually sends around a service company that comes around every three weeks to clean the tap lines says O’ Neill. Depending on how much of the black stuff you move along, they come around even sooner so various beer related build-up doesn’t affect the quality of the beer. “For us it’s once a week or every two weeks,” said O’ Neill. He then demonstrated a less intensive method of cleaning the tap nozzle. A nice bath in tonic water and a cleaner nozzle emerged.

Mark McGovern, head of media relations at the Guinness Storehouse, says it doesn’t have anything to do with the beer, but rather the pub itself. “All Guinness draught should be the same, it’s all about creating the same conditions,” said McGovern. “A clean glass, proper detergent and flushed beer lines are all necessary for a good Guinness.”

Suffice to say, those that follow so devoutly will always be a bit curious about subtle changes. When the beer was still primarily in its “Original Stout” bottle-form, the older generations were skeptical of the new nitrogen-enhanced product.

“They’d ask for it ‘off-the-shelf’,” said Wright. “They were accustomed to warm temperatures, the beer is supposed to be room temperature anyways. They don’t like change.”

Everything’s got to progress at some point. Whether it’s a beer through innovation or America through re-invigoration, the “caringosity” that revolves around a pint of Guinness new or old is really just fascinating.

“On Sunday after mass, people would walk out of church to the nearest pub and see if there’s any pints around the pub, if not, they ask for it in the bottle,” said Padráig.

Hearing this, Eliasberg moved over to the Guinness tap to point out that beer above the cooler lines and in the tap arm itself is warm and loses some of its character if it sits in there long enough. This is why a devout Guinnessian will check a bar to see if there are any pints out if it’s not a packed pub. You’ll get that tainted warm arm and stagnant beer line stout instead of being fresh from the keg. The closer to the keg, the better the experience.

Even in an area so close to the Stout Vatican of St. James Gate, it can be like night and day for the seeking disciple, “Guinness is totally different in (Counties) Kerry and Cork,” said Padráig.

Of course, if you ask Mark McGovern at the Guinness Storehouse, that isn’t the case. So there is really only one way to find out: a beer pilgrimage through Ireland. And that just sounds like an awful, horrible idea doesn’t it?