Literature, Guinness and Whiskey must be amongst the three biggest exports form Dublin to the rest of the World and a recent trip to the city gave me the opportunity to discover the origins of all three. I was there for the TBEX (travel blog exchange) conference and decided to go a few days early to do some exploring of my own.
Dublin is a small city and I found that the hop on hop off tour, helped to orientate me around the banks of the Liffey. The driver of the bus gave his own commentary with historical anecdotes on the places we past, along with the odd joke and even a song. Over the next few days, I would hear the same stories, with variations, which goes to show that there are many sides to every story.
My first ‘hop off’ was at the Guinness storehouse where I learned everything I needed to know, and more, about the beer; from the day Arthur Guinness signed the 9,000 year lease in 1759 for the land that the factory still stands on, to the 10 million pints of Guinness that are drunk around the World in a day, today. The Guinness Storehouse, the building that the museum is housed in, was originally the fermenting house, where yeast was added to the boiled mixture of barley, water and hops to create fermentation (and alcohol). The building is architecturally interesting in itself, built in 1905 in the Chicago style, it was the first of its kind in Europe (The Ritz in London came next). The turquoise steel girders form the structure of the building around an atrium in the shape of a giant pint glass.
The tour of the museum takes you up through six floors, giving you the history of the various members of the Guinness family who made the beer a Worldwide brand. You are also shown the brewing process and treated to some sensory experiences (see, smell, hear) along the way. For the finale you are given a practical lesson on how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness, which you can then take to the Gravity Bar at the top of the building to drink whilst looking down at the 75 acres that make up the Guinness site, and the rest of Dublin below.
In 1906 Guinness employed 3,240 men, one in 30 of Dublin’s population at the time. They introduced welfare reforms like holiday pay, health care and pensions long before it was mandatory and everywhere you go in Dublin you see signs of their philanthropy and patronage. The saying went that Guinness took care of you from the cradle to the grave and every young woman was encouraged to marry a ‘Guinness man’. Oh and each Guinness worker was given two pints of Guinness to drink a day.
And the best job at the brewery? It has to be that of the quality controllers’; everyday they have to taste a pint of the latest batch of Guinness before it leaves the brewery, to make sure it lives up to the signature of Arthur Guinness, still on every bottle sold today.
My next stop was to learn about the whiskey pioneer, John Jameson (pronounced Jam-e-son) who set up his distillery in 1780. The site of the original distillery, which was moved in 1973, is now a museum where the tour that takes you through the alchemic stages of turning barley, maize and Dublin water into whiskey. Jameson’s whiskey is triple distilled and the barley toasted over smokeless fuel, which gives it a less smoky flavour than Scotch whiskey where the barley is traditionally toasted over a peat fire and only double distilled (American whiskey is only distilled once). Displayed in the museum are the vast copper vats in which the whiskey was distilled along with scenes, with life sized manikins (and cats), from when it was a working distillery.
After the distillery process, the whiskey is laid in barrels to age, before it is ‘married’ together and finally bottled. An 18 year old whiskey will have lost 50% of its original volume during the maturing process.
At the end of the tour we were given a taste of the whiskey to send us off into the Dublin drizzle with a warm glow in our bellies.
My last stop was Trinity College, to discover the beginnings of literature in the Book of Kells. This is displayed in the old library building of the college. It is an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels and the New Testament from the 8th century and believed to have been written on the island of Iona by Celtic monks. It was brought to the Abbey of Kells in County Meath to save it from marauding Vikings in the 9th Century. It stayed there until the 17th century when Oliver Cromwell landed on Ireland’s shores and his army were holed up in the Abbey. It was then given to Trinity College by the Bishop of Meath for safe-keeping and has remained there ever since.
Two pages of the book are open on display to show the rich detail of the illustrations and the calligraphy, embossed with gold leaf, and coloured with precious pigments. The local taxi drivers will tell you that the pages are turned once a day, but they are in fact turned every few months.
From the Book of Kells exhibition you walk up to the Long Room where some of the oldest of the College’s 5 million books are kept. Here you can walk in the footprints of the College’s famous alumni, Samuel Beckett, Johnathan Swift and Oscar Wilde to name but a few (James Joyce did not go to Trinity as he was a Catholic and Trinity was set up by Elizabeth 1 so that Protestants scholars didn’t have to travel abroad to get educated).
Looking at the old reading lecterns, you can imagine the young students leaning over a book, (or falling asleep) under the high ceilings stacked with books, inspired by the marble busts of the great thinkers through the ages.
The library, is no longer used as a reading room and the lecterns are roped off. There are glass display boxes instead with notebooks and published books of scholars who attended the College.
If you want to see real live students, you have to look outside the windows where you can see them coming and going from their lectures around the quadrant.
And as it’s Autumn, here’s a recipe for Guinness® and Beef Stew, created by the Guinness Storehouse chef himself.
Guinness and Beef Stew
- 200 ml Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
- 400g stewing beef cut into one inch cubes
- 2 tblsp of oil
- Medium onion diced
- 1 large carrot diced
- 1 large celery stick diced
- 1 large parsnip diced
- 1 litre thick beef stock
- Sprigs of thyme and rosemary
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat a heavy bottomed casserole dish with two tablespoons of oil.
Fry the beef, searing it on all sides, add salt and pepper
Add the vegetables and cook for about 10 minutes
Add the Guinness and cook on a moderate heat until it has reduced by half
Add the stock, thyme and rosemary and lower the heat to simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, until the gravy has reduced to a rich dark sauce.
Serve with champ, mashed potatoes with spring onions.
With thanks to Ireland.com and Dublin City Council