National Drug Problem Festival

Guinnessmap
Well it’s certainly one view of the country

How many people would drink Guinness if it were not for its association with Ireland?

It might still be a known product, sure. Its following in Africa for example probably has little to do with its Irish origins. But for most people, the images of beverage and country are almost indistinguishable – despite it being owned by British-based Diageo. If you strip away the associations with Irish culture – or what people suppose to be Irish culture – what are you left with? No tradition, no fun-loving attitude, no music and mystery. Just a black drink with a bitter taste and weird texture.

Diageo should ruminate on this. Without the Irish market, there would be little enough market for Guinness.

Ironically these thoughts are prompted by an effort to regain market share in Ireland. I say share; I doubt that Guinness has declined much in total sales, but it remains associated with the more relaxed, conversational drinker. The biggest growth sector – the young, excessive drinker – prefers cider, lagers, alcopops, Buckfast. Any old shit in fact, as long as they can drink a lot of it quickly. It’s hard to drink Guinness quickly. The “Arthur’s Day” programme of concerts by fashionable and/or obscure bands is clearly aimed at attracting the younger crowd. But it threatens instead to kill the goose.

The debate continues elsewhere about what restrictions should be placed on the promotion of alcohol, whether it’s right to aim it at the young through sport or art or even entertainment. That’s not really the problem here though, so much as the sheer scale of Diageo’s vision. The original “Arthur’s Day” was a one-off celebration of the company’s product and history. No one objected to that. Where they overstepped the mark was in turning it into an annual event, virtually a national holiday. That is going a bit far now. Already they push the identification of brand and country to extremes, even to the point of using the national symbol for their company logo. But declaring a new feast day, that’s acting like they own the place.

It’s not a national holiday of course. It’s an enormous alcoholic drink promotion in a country that has an enormous alcoholic drink problem. Such a big event inevitably brings the issue to a head. (I’m sorry, it was unavoidable.) Guinness wants to project an image of Ireland as a land of happy drinkers, where the worst social consequences of alcohol use are perhaps a comical hangover, perhaps a jaw that aches from too much talk and laughter. And not, say, spousal abuse and suicide.

If you feel like registering your disapproval, you could visit the Boycott Arthur’s Day Facebook page.

Birthday 2012

One reckless owner. Bodywork in need of attention, could use a respray. Good mileage, but refuses to start when cold. Will need a lot of work done on the suspension.

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!

Name Your Poison

Taken in an Irish Pub located in Madrid, Spain...
This beer is completely unknown in Ireland

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.