Advent and Guinness – redivivus

I’m going to be off-line for an indeterminate period, laid up in the Mater Clinic in Dublin undergoing heart surgery (as one does!). So rather than leave the blog dormant, I thought I would trawl through the archives for some posts I like, or which got a particular reaction from my reader!

This one was posted originally on 13 December 2006.

Dscf1460I met a good friend after work today for a pre-Christmas catch-up in our favourite bar in Belfast, The John Hewitt. I arrived a few moments early, and found the bar was unusually quiet with just a few small groups of individuals enjoying respite from the weather with good company and conversation.

Having arrived early I greeted the bar staff and proceeded to set up the round. It struck me as I stood there that Guinness is the perfect Advent brew. There are elaborate preparations required to pull a pint of the black stuff. Three quarters of the glass is filled and then allowed to settle before being topped off. And even then you can’t drink it until the roiling mixture settles into the distinctive creamy head and deep black body. Several minutes pass between ordering and paying and actually enjoying the first swallow.

It’s not like ordering a long neck. That’s always a hurried task. The fridge door is whipped open, the bottle is grabbed unceremoniously from the assembled ranks, its cap is yanked off and you throw it down your throat.

Guinness requires time. You need patience.  You need to wait. And wait. It’s not really a drink for the desperately thirsty, and whilst it is undoubtedly an acquired taste, you need also to acquire the ritual of waiting.

Guinnesses always come in twos in my head because it’s a conversational drink.  Its a drink to be savoured as the lubricant of good exchange and craic and from the moment you order it you enter a different way of counting time. For me it is always the prelude to extended time with a friend, indeed, advertisers used to  sloganeer about ‘Guinness Time’. And often, just like today, the pints are pulled, they’ve settled in the glass, but the owner of one hasn’t yet arrived. It would be wrong to begin my pint before my companion has arrived. So I sit and wait, for however long it takes. My drink sitting formally in front of me, and his sitting lonely on the other side of the small table. The first visit to the glasses will be together, synchronised following a brief mutually expressed word of blessing. Then a long, slow, deliberate tasting. The glasses will then be placed carefully again on the table, we’ll wipe a hand across the upper lip and profess ourselves satisfied. Then, and only then can the conversation begin. It is the quintessential Irish drink, so in tune with the Irish psyche. Americans mass produce cheap, fizzy portable beers, we have slow, dark, deep porter.

As I grow older these kinds of times are more and more valued and precious.  So much of the rest of life is pressed and hurried, and waiting is so despised  that the opportunity of setting aside an hour or two over a pint is a luxury worthy of ritualising. Worth waiting for. It’s good to savour and to wait over the almost sacramental pulling of a pint of Guinness and to linger while it all settles. It can thus become a metaphor of retreat.  To untangle the stuff of life in parallel with the settling of the pint. To witness to the declining of the drink in rings of creamy residue left on the inside of the glass.

I wonder if that’s why Guinness has never really been to the taste of younger drinkers. No time to wait. No patience to appreciate the ritual.

All Christmas and no Advent.

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