I know, I know, Advent is gone. But, I posted this more than a year ago, and the subject came up again with members of The Daily Scribe, who drink too much iced tea, have no patience to boil water and generally drink too much fizzy American beer. They need to learn the ways of the Irish when it comes to our drinks.
By the way, Happy New Year to readers, and if you’ve time, check out the posts aggregated on TDS.
I 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
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 crack 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
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
All Christmas and no Advent.