The Perfect Pint

IMG_3899IMG_1542IMG_1744You always know a serious Guinness drinker, the minute they walk in the door. First, their priority is not the people they’ve come to meet or where they’ll find a seat. Second, they won’t be too concerned about the surroundings, the bar’s decor or atmosphere. No, what they’re looking for is the state of the pint of Guinness.

They want to know how frequently the Guinness is being poured. They want to know the state of those pints, as in, how well are they being poured.

So let’s say, our man (or woman) walks into your bar. His eyes will sweep the room, table and bar level, although he’ll concentrate on the bar as this is where he (or she) would sit. Why? So they can keep an eye on the pour and the Guinness gets to them as quickly as possible and doesn’t sit around, waiting for someone to deliver it.

I poured my first pint of Guinness in 1966. I was 10 and it was in my uncle’s bar in Sligo town, Co Sligo. Back then, pouring a pint of draught Guinness was an even more complicated affair than it is today. The glass tilt (45°) remains the same. Back then, though, a pint was poured in three stages, compared with two, today. It was an elaborate process, watched with studied attention by my uncle’s regulars. I felt it was like a rite of passage. The second part of the process, then, brought the pour to the top, when the bartender would take a swipe and smooth the creamy head across the top of the glass. A further ‘settling’ ensued. The final ‘topping off’ brought the gleaming, creamy smooth head ‘proud’ of the glass, lending it a mildy elevated dome shape.

So here, according to Guinness Master Brewer, Fergal Murray, are the six stages of pouring a perfect pint of Guinness,

Step One: The Glass

“The bartender takes a dry, clean glass, which should be a 20-ounce tulip pint glass,” Murray says. “The internal aerodynamics of a tulip glass allows the nitrogen bubbles to flow down the sides of the glass, and the contour ‘bump’ in the middle pushes the bubbles back to the center on their way up.”

Step Two: The Angle

“The glass should be held at a 45-degree angle under the tap. The tap faucet should not touch the tulip glass or beer. If you just hold it straight under the faucet, you’ll get a big block of bubbles and a fish eye.”

Step Three: The Pour

“Let the beer flow nice and smoothly into the angled glass and fill it up three-quarters of the way.”

Step Four: The Head

“Let it settle. On the way through the faucet, the beer passes through a five-hole disk restrictor plate at a high speed, creating friction and bringing out nitrogen bubbles. The bubbles are agitated now — they can’t go back into the solution, so they flow down the interior sides and back up the middle — but they can’t escape. So they build this wonderful, creamy head on top. It’s like an architect building a strong foundation.”

Step Five: The Top-Off

“Once it settles, you want to fill up the glass and top it off. You allowed it to settle, you created a domed effect across the top of the pint, and now your head is looking proud over the glass. That’s the perfect vision of the perfect pint.”

Step Six: The First Sip

“You drink with your eyes first. The cosmetic look of the pint is critical to the Guinness experience. We don’t want anybody just putting liquid in a glass. And finally, drink responsibly.”

(Source: http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/how-to/a2763/guinness031207/)

Now, all this might be dismissed as a whole load of marketing baloney but not if you drink Guinness, particularly in Dublin. Or Ireland. But you can get a bad pint, anywhere. In the end, it depends on the pour.

Take the three pints at the top of this article. The first one was poured in a pub in Roscommon, beside the Shannon river. The second was poured in a Dublin city centre pub, The Long Hall and the third and a ‘bad pour’, was slopped up in a pub that carries the name of the beer and brewery’s founder, Arthur Guinness and stands on the corner of the same street where the famous black beer has been brewed for more than 200 years.

I could say, if you have to ask what’s wrong with it, you’ve no business drinking it or you’ve got what you deserve. But it isn’t what a true pint of Guinness deserves. This pint was poured in a hurry, not allowed to settle and then topped off, badly. Look at the head; it’s flat at the top of the glass.

Which brings us back, neatly, to our friend who walks into a bar scanning the pub for signs of pint pour activity. What’s he looking for?

New pints with good heads, plenty of them and a few, half drunk, that’s what. This will give him most of the information he needs, short of watching the pour, him (or her) self. And the half drunk pint? That can be the real giveaway because, y’see, as every pint drinker will tell you, a good pint, poured well, in the right glass, will hold its head intact for the length of the glass, leaving a trail of concentric circles of residue, right to the end of the glass.

Slˊainte.

pour

 

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Annoying things people ask in bars…

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Mindful that barwork is a service industry, then ‘service’ is the business of the bar employee. That said, there are other criteria or ingredients, that make good service, not only possible, but a pleasure, to give and receive.

Good manners, consideration, respect and logic are four that spring to mind, immediately. Personally, good grammar and diction are required, too.

Any bar worker will tell you, when asked, a list of things they get asked, that customers do or say, every day and night, in every bar in the world. Not all of these things are, by any means, offensive or irritating, but some are.

So I’ve made a casual list, derived from conversations with bar workers in several Dublin bars.

But first, I own personal bugbears, creeping Americanisms.

The American version of the English language has crept into our lives and daily argot through film and television and these days, by even more common inference, through the internet and YouTube.

But when people persist in prefacing their request for a drink with ‘can I get…?’, my immediate reaction is ‘no, you can’t, because y’see, that’s why I’m here…to ‘get’ it for you. On the other hand, if you ask me, ‘may I have?, then all becomes clear and order, proper English and good grammar is restored.

The other ‘Americanism’ that has taken a niche in Irish conversation occurs when a customer is asked, when their glass or their plate is almost empty, ‘may I get you another or something else? is ‘I’m good.’ What does that mean, for God’s sake? I haven’t made any inquiry regarding your moral disposition, so why tell me if you’re good? Like I care?

But that’s me. I’m a writer. So, shoot me.

But here’s another few of those nonsense irritations:

abbreviations, like cabsav (Cabernet Sauvignon), or heino (Heineken) or what about ‘sauvignon blanc white wine’, eh?

Then there’s the customer who saunters in and orders ‘a pint.’ Well, a pint of what, exactly? Sure, there was a time, now almost forgotten, when a pint, meant a pint of stout and the other three taps in a pub, lager, ale or cider, were the secondary alternatives. Now most pubs have multiple choices in stouts, ales, lagers, even ciders and wheat beers. So think specific or ask advice, it helps and everyone’s willing to help, if you ask.

Then there are the drinkers of a particular American beer (Coors) who assume, when you name the brand, you will know exactly what they want. Unfortunately, ESP (extra sensory perception) is no longer a requirement for bartenders, although, in the case of a good customer and an experienced bartender, it can be a useful asset.

I worked in a bar, once, where the oldest member of staff was close to retirement age and most of the customers were a third of his age. He was, not to understate this, intolerant and fools, in his mind, would never be suffered, gladly or otherwise. So when an unsuspecting misfortunate approached the bar and asked for ‘a Guinness’, he got our man’s gimlet eye and question, barked, ‘d’ye want a pint, glass or a bottle, I’m not a fucking prophet, y’know?’

So I caution those who ask for a beer to be specific, in quantity and product, ‘a Coors’ can mean a bottle, a pint or a glass.

And that brings me then to every bartender’s greatest bugbear, an English customer. Don’t get me wrong, this is nothing against English people, per se. It’s just that their bar rules are very different to ours. Having worked for years in English bars, I have first hand knowledge of their drink ordering technique. First, they order one drink at a time.

Now that’s just wrong, especially to an Irish bartender. We have memories and we pride ourselves on our ability to remember long, complex orders and to deliver the drink in the most efficient manner possible, given that knowledge. So, please, don’t order a drink at a time and, above all, never end your order with ‘and a pint (or multiple pints) of Guinness.’

And finally, while saying this list is by no means conclusive, let me add just two more caveats. There is a saying, ‘it’s nice to be nice’ and a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can go a long way. Most bartenders remember a customer by their drink but a small gesture of recognition and respect with a gracious request and a word of gratitude, will lay a ground mark that will be remembered and reciprocated.

Which brings me, neatly, to my final bugbear, the customer who demands that you ‘smile.’ Why? because you’ve bought that with your drink? I don’t think so. I do believe and agree that a happy, smiling bartender can make your visit to a bar more interesting and make the whole experience more pleasurable, for all concerned. But since you don’t know the circumstances of the frown or grimace, why interfere with an inane and insensitive demand that they ‘smile.’ Give them a reason, tell a joke, give them a tip, say please, smile at them first, say hello.

It goes a long way.IMG_1542