Humour Politics

Tis The Season

Portrait of Václav Havel, a Czech playwright, ...
President and playwright Václav Havel

Still there? Good. Only there was quite a lot of unexpected shuffling off this mortal coil in the last couple of days. Christopher Hitchens it seems died of a broken heart, unable to go on without the war he had so loved.

Then the great Václav Havel, fun-loving playwright-in-president of what was once Czechoslovakia. Few people better represent the triumph of hopeful creativity over banal power.

And then Kim Jong-Il, which is an anagram of Milo J. King. I suppose the fact that he died before he managed to spark a war is a good thing. It is also the first time in history that a nuclear-power has been passed on from father to ill-prepared son like some feudal kingdom or family heirloom. Unless you count the Bushes.

And I nearly died too. But more of that later.


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 “”. 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.

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