I’ll be darned if I’ll write anything today. It’s my birthday! I will sit around ruminating on fantastically old I am. And yet, how still very unfinished.
I didn’t plan anything much. Last time, you might remember, I took a walk in the Burren, but I’m not trying to impress anyone this year. I’d already had dinner a couple of days ago with a dear friend who couldn’t be here today, so I just met up with one of my bestest buddies and went out for a non-drink. She’s being healthy too, so she drank rice milk while I had what I’ve come to call artificial beer, or Toybräu. I tried to drink so much and so fast that it would give me a sort of simulated sensation of getting out of it, but I can’t honestly say that it worked. Then I was so busy talking I only managed four pints of the stuff. What’s happened to me? There were times when I would have had four pints – of actual beer – before breakfast.
Not good times, no. But times. Anyway, good night!
Guinness drinkers are puzzled about something. OK, after a few they’re puzzled about many things, but the one that gets you even before you start drinking the black stuff is that the bubbles in it appear to rise… downwards. This is not the standard behaviour of bubbles.
You might think that this has something to do with the unusual, possibly supernatural, properties of the famous Irish beer. But no. Scientists have finally torn their attention away from trivialities to explain exactly what is going on here, and it has less to do with the liquid itself than with the glass. Not the special Guinness “tulip” either, but any beer glass just so long as it has the typical tapering shape.
You can read the actual scientific paper here (PDF) if you don’t mind looking at maths, or MIT’s excellent non-technical account. But if you want a loose and more inaccurate explanation which has the merit of being simple enough to tell someone in the pub while they wait for their pint to settle, read on!
Like other beers or fizzy drinks, bubbles form in stout as gas forced in under pressure escapes after the pressure is released. They’re significantly less dense than the liquid of course, and therefore float to the surface – exerting a little drag on the liquid as they do. Now that drag would have no effect in a straight-sided container. All the liquid would feel an equal upward pull, so it would be in balance and none of it could move. But in the slope-sided glass things are different.
This is the crucial bit: There are always fewer bubbles directly above the sloped sides than there are directly above the flat bottom. Therefore there is less upward pull near the sides, more in the centre. This creates an imbalance – the centre goes up, and the liquid at the sides is pulled downwards to take its place at the bottom of the glass. Similar to the convection that occurs when you heat fluids, a “rolling” motion is set up.
Bubbles still want to go up at the sides of course, but the liquid is being pulled down faster than they can rise through it. The net result therefore is that they are visibly dragged downwards. And as we know Guinness is pretty opaque stuff, so though there are actually far more upward-moving bubbles at the centre, we only see the downward-moving ones just inside the wall.
The solution is simple and convincing then: The bubbles at the outside sink because of a circulating motion caused by the bubbles on the inside rising. Next perhaps mathematicians can explain why people drink the stuff when it tastes like wet cardboard.
Wondrous news! Galway is about to get its first “craft beer”. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s pretty easily explained. Most of the beer we get in this country is made by giant brewers like Diageo and Heineken. There’s this thing about giant brewers. Basically it’s hard to tell their products from defrosted mammoth urine.
Some countries really make beer. The Czech Republic I have raved about before; even their mass-produced brews are among the best in the world. Staropramen, Budvar, Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell are widely available, cheap, and delicious. The sad exception is Krusovice, a good beer that travels so badly it is best drunk from the vat with a short straw.
Perhaps because their French neighbours make such an unwarranted fuss over their wines, the Belgians outdo the world in the variety, audacity and of course sheer freaking alcohol content of their beers. If you want to drink a stout that’s double the strength of Guinness, try a Gaulois. Their legendary Bush beer is, at 12 per cent, stronger than many wines. It should be approached with caution and terminated with extreme prejudice. They also produce a wide variety of fruit-flavoured grain beverages, considered by many to be on the very leading edge of hangover technology.
Germany of course is famous for the purity of its beers. And whatever you think of the idea of hand-pumps and pre-refrigerator temperatures, it must be said that England provides an enormous variety of ales and bitters, many of them with remarkably silly names.
But Ireland? As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we make a beer. Other native or semi-native products like Harp have rightfully achieved a state of almost total global obscurity. “Irish Reds” have had some success abroad, no doubt based at least in part on the mistaken assumption that we actually drink the crap here. For the most part our choice is between locally-brewed editions of the world’s biggest brand-name lagers. Or, to give them their technically correct name, swill.
It’s no mystery why local brewing has never taken off in this country. (The term “effective duopoly” may be libellous, so I didn’t say it. OK?) The only surprise is that a handful do exist. I’ve not been alone in speculating why we didn’t have one here. Lord knows Galway beer consumption could support a brewery or six. But – sit down, this may come as a shock – some guys stopped talking about it and have actually done it.
You don’t see that every day.
They’re calling it an “Irish pale ale”, but the actual name of the brew will be up to you, its future imbibers. They’re holding a competition. The prize, naturally, will be beer. Check out “nameyourbeer.net”. They have a fun attitude.
There’s just one thing I hope. Not that this beer will be good – I know it will be good, compared to the liquid evils available now – but simply that they’re not going to charge a premium for it. Bad beer is already keeping me impoverished. Better could be fatal.