I’ve never been a fan of green beer. Okay, I was in my twenties before I even tasted beer; I’d drunk cocktails and wine, not to mention the occasional toddy when I wasn’t feeling well. Something about the suds of beer turned me off; partly it was due to the way it turned my stomach when I’d see my dad or one of his relatives with big foam mustaches. (Yeah, it’s been a lifelong weakness, my gag reflex triggered by people with stuff all over their mouths; I wrote about it here a couple of years ago.)
When finally I did try beer–at a country-western music festival after the clogging group I danced with had performed–I was astonished to find I loved it. I still didn’t drink it often, and there are brands I absolutely hate, but it was something I’d indulge in occasionally.
I know green food dye doesn’t add any flavor to beer, but I always imagined green beer tasted funny. Probably the base beer was one I simply didn’t favor. I tolerated green beer if I was out somewhere on St. Patrick’s Day, but it certainly didn’t make me feel more Irish to down a mug of it.
There came a time, though, when I discovered Guinness stout. It was life-changing. Not only did I prefer its dark, deep flavor, I liked that I was drinking real Irish beer, as if putting a bit of the country right into my bloodstream. Over the decades Guinness has become part of my St. Patrick’s Day celebration, even if I don’t go anywhere. I always get at least one six-pack to last me a few days, and I always order it when Mom treats Diamondqueen and me to lunch out as part of our festivities. (We have, however, learned to go out in advance of March 17, as the actual day is murder as far as seating and service go.)
I’ve always been puzzled when the Guinness I order out never tastes as good as the stout I have at home. I relish the flavor when I pour one for myself out of a bottle, but the pints at the various pubs (traditional and gastro) always taste a little flat and even bitter. Even in Ireland, I wasn’t impressed with pints that should have been extraordinarily fresh since the beer was produced right in Dublin.
This year the light suddenly dawned, all because I picked up a carton of Guinness draught by mistake. The difference wasn’t only in the look of the bottles; my self-poured pint tasted as inferior as the ones I had in the pubs. I went to the store looking for the bottles I was accustomed to, and that’s when I made my discovery: What I truly love is extra stout, which is a completely different beverage. When I poured that mahogany liquid, I was relieved to see the creamy head and sip that full-bodied yet sparkling flavor. Believe me, I’ll never make that error again at the grocery store. And I’ll probably reconsider ordering Guinness with a meal; there are other beers that taste better to me, including ales by Samuel Adams and Mt. Carmel, the latter a local brewery.
Back in the ’80s I wrote a poem based on my experience of first tasting a “black and tan”; I really was told it “tasted like wood”:READING THE GRAIN The carpenter visited the gypsy for a reading of his fortune. She put aside her tarot and offered him a drink, two bottles on the fringed table glinting like crystal balls: ale, clear as hindsight, and porter, murky as the future. “It tastes like wood,” she promised, the amber blend a deepening stain in the mug. A dram, and the carpenter felt forests grow on his tongue, a flavor of age and shadows. Another draft uncovered the solid beams of an abandoned barn crisscrossing his mind, ancient oak pews beneath the domed basilica of his heart. The past sifted away like sawdust. He recalled the essence of gnawed crib posts and pencils, toothpicks nibbled jauntily, Popsicle sticks sucked clean and bitten hard in a sudden hunger for splinters. At last his life lay flat and smooth as a shaved board over which the gypsy’s fingers glided, reading the grain. “Mahogany,” she whispered, and blew soft notes on a pear wood recorder. He dreamed of his future as a great quantity of quality pine, raw good fortune awaiting his construction.