The Walk to St. James Gate


In honor of St Patrick’s Day I am re-posting one of my soggiest beer drinking adventures.  Hope you enjoy it.  Slainte!

Rain in Ireland is nothing new.  In fact, Kevin, my friend and host, during my summer 2011 trip told me that in Ireland you can experience all four seasons in a single day.

From the time of my arrival the daily rain quickly showed that my Columbia (and allegedly water resistant) jacket was not going to suffice.  Fortunately Kevin had a spare one from Patagonia that seemed to be working much better… that is until I decided to walk across Dublin in it in a steady rain.

I had weighed the decision for a couple of days now… should I bother to visit the famous Guinness Storehouse Brewery at St. James Gate while I was in Dublin or not?  It was without a doubt one of the most touristy things one can do…. right up there with the Blarney Stone it was something in my mind that only yokels stooped to do.   Yet I was also working to launch my blog dealing with reflections on beer and beer culture.  It was a only supposed to be a 15-20 minute walk… how could I pass it up?  So I headed out from just south of St. Stephen’s Green on my quest for the fabled “Perfect Pint.”

For those of you who don’t know me, I suck with maps.  There is something wrong with my internal compass.  I very easily get all turned around and head off in the opposite direction that I should be going in.  Now combine this misfortune of fogged up glasses and the inexplicable reality that Dublin seems to have no street signs whatsoever (and when I say none, I really do mean none) and the end result is that what should have taken no more than about 20 minutes took more like an hour.  And did I mention it was raining?

Anyway, the Patagonia had long since succumbed to the Irish weather and as the time was dragging on I began to second guess my decision…. Should I just give up, turn around and find a nice dry pub to warm up in?  But while one can certainly impugn my sense of direction and perhaps also my judgment and maybe even my intelligence, one thing you can never question is my stubbornness.

And so I stuck with it.  Eventually I got turned in more or less the right direction and at long last the brewery was in sight.  I kept walking even when it became apparent that I had chosen the wrong approach to finding the entrance to the 55 acre complex.  So instead of walking down the correct side and turning right to the entrance I walked the extra kilometer or so the wrong way around the perimeter.  Add to this that it was now 4:45 and they stopped letting folks in at 5:00 so the time was also adding to my anxiety.

Of course even with my wrong turns I eventually got there.  Upon entering I found there was a long queue of other wet and tired tourists who were also pushing their luck that afternoon.  While waiting to buy my ticket we were told that because of a private function that night that we had to go straight to the top to the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor and get our pint first and that then on the way back down we could take the self-guided tour.

Part of the cool 360 degree view from the Gravity Bar

When I finally got to the front of the line I was shocked to find that the ticket for this cost not the 5 Euro I had been told but was in fact a whopping 15 Euro which translates to $21.30 given the exchange rate that day.  Again, I had second thoughts… $21 bucks for a pint?  That made the beer that I was told I had to rush up to get the most expense pint I had ever purchased.  But I had come this far and so was not about to turn back.

As I packed into the elevator with a group of German tourists I began anticipate the beer.  The room was circular and did indeed fulfill their claim that it offered the best views of Dublin.  Anyway, after standing in line for a while I finally held the glass in my hands.  I tried to savor the moment… to really analyze the appearance of the dark liquid still churning up its foamy head.  However the culmination of my relief at finally arriving, my thirst and the power of the moment simply got the better of me and I took a long first sip.

I sincerely wish I could say that that I had some sort of a transcendent moment… that brewing angels sang and that my perseverance was somehow rewarded with a once in a lifetime taste experience.  It was not so.  While the pint was indeed a good one and in fact seemed to have a bit more of a roasty character than the Guinness I had gotten elsewhere, it was not the Nirvana-in-a-glass that I had been hoping for.Image

I contemplated this as I walked back down the seven floors and perused the displays.  Had it all been worth it?  Had I made the right decision?  Had I been foolish not to turn back?  Perhaps.  Had I stayed in the City Center area I would no doubt have had different experiences and they likely would have been interesting, drier and probably a good deal less frustrating.  However, (and I suppose this is where I finally get around to the spiritual part of this post) I choose to believe that everything happens for a reason.  The reasons for my journey to St. James’ Gate are not yet fully clear to me and in fact may never be.  I will say that they lead to some interesting experiences in a local’s only pub in the Liberties neighborhood on the way back, but that as they say, is another story.   But even with that in mind, I am left to ponder the purpose of my journey.

What did God have in mind for me that day?  What did I miss out on?  What did it teach me about myself?  About my capacity for stubbornness?  What did God want me to learn from my perfect, but still less than satisfying, pint atop of Dublin?  I may never fully know but I still choose to believe that it all still served a purpose and in the end it is one thing I can check off my beer bucket list.

Half Empty or Half Full?

It’s that classic question- half-empty or half-full?  Now that I am reaching the halfway half-empty-half-full-imagepoint of my Lenten alcohol fast it is a good time to stop and reflect.

On the plus side, most evenings I don’t even miss the beer.  It’s been long enough now that my habits have changed.  At suppertime I no longer have to stop myself from heading towards the basement stairs and the beer fridge that stands at the bottom of them.  As the night winds down I no longer find myself glancing up at the liquor cabinet on my way out of the kitchen.  Yes, in general this Lenten experiment in discipline has gone about as well as I could hope.

Of course it has not been without its struggle.  For example, after a five hour, highly charged governance meeting, I wanted nothing more than to have a bourbon in my hand when I collapsed into my living room chair.  The other instance when I found myself severely tempted occurred last weekend when I was out with friends celebrating a birthday.

After our initial plans fell through (thanks Erin Express for turning University city into a zoo where every restaurant had a 90 minute plus wait) we headed west to Dock Street.   While it was odd to be in a place dedicated to good beer (Man Full of Trouble Porter anyone?) I had no problems ordering and fetching the first round for my companions while sipping away on ice water.  Yet I still found that I had to consciously check myself, not in combatting the desire to order a pint of my own, but in resisting the urge to sample the beers my companions ordered.

This was not so much about the alcohol as it was about a different dynamic- something fundamentally social. One of the joys of going out with close friends is sharing what we order.  When the pizzas arrived we all shared a slice with anyone who wanted to try it and tried some of theirs in return.  It seems to me that such practice not only improves the meal by expanding our culinary horizon, it also strengthens the bonds of friendship.  As a result I had to actively resist the urge to ask for a sip of their Belgian Quad or Kolsch, not because I wanted the booze but because I wanted to know what it tasted like.  While it was a good learning experience, it wasn’t particularly fun.

So here I am at the halfway mark.  And while I know that twenty booze-free days (and nights) still lie ahead, I am not worried.  For I also know that with few exceptions it will only get easier as I go along.  And even when it’s hard, I know those times of trial and temptation create the greatest opportunity to learn.

Please keep those questions and supportive thoughts and prayers coming!