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By Dan Clarke

It was St. Patrick’s Day and I had been in an all-day seminar on growing winegrapes under extreme climate conditions.

Dogfish Head Imperial Stout Picmonkey 2 Dogfish Head Imperial Stout

The day had actually been interesting, but it was work and I was ready for a beer. Not knowing of any real—or even feigned—Irish pubs in the area, I stopped into Brews. I like the place and it was on the way home . . . not that I really needed an excuse.

The joint was jumping. How much was due to normal Friday night tipplers and how much to those who used this once religious holiday to justify having a few, I don’t know.

Chelsea and Brie welcomed me and seemed to like the fact that I was wearing a tie—an Irish tie, actually—and a jacket. This is not my normal practice anymore but even on a Friday night it may have set me apart—at least a little—from the rest of the crowd.

Brews Taphouse and Growler Fills caters to the craft beer aficionado. They pour from about 40 taps and the selections change frequently. I hoped that they might have brought in a Guinness keg for this occasion, but that was not the case. They did have Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, an “Imperial Stout” at 18% alcohol, but it was from Delaware, not Dublin. I passed.

I quenched my thirst on a pint of something milder. When nearly finished with my Kölsch, I began to contemplate my next move. The monster stout from Dogfish Head was intriguing, but at that alcohol content I wanted to be sure that I didn’t invite the staff to “overserve” me. More than one Irishman has told me that you can’t really get drunk on Guinness Stout. Well, you can, but at just a little more than 4% alcohol for the draft version, it takes a determined effort.

It can be done though.

Guinness Rugby Poster PicmonkeyOn my first trip to Ireland a visit to the Guinness Brewery seemed mandatory. Normally, visitors were given a tour of the facilities followed by a couple of small ones at an in-house pub. It was December of 1973, not high season for tourism. In fact, I seemed to be the only visitor that day. It was explained that the brewery was undergoing some remodeling and that the tour was off, but the alternative was that they would show me a movie about how Guinness was brewed. I suspected that security concerns could also be at issue, more than just the brewery remodeling, but didn’t bring this up in conversation (This was a time of tension in Ireland with the IRA, paramilitary groups holding a very different point of view, and the British Army in various kinds of armed conflict north of the Ulster border.).

In any case, I sat through the film, then was shown to where they’d be pleased to pour me a small glass or two. As I remember, the place looked very much like a pub—though a very empty one. They poured me one, which I sipped in quiet contemplation. Eventually the barman, having recognized my American accent, confirmed that I was from the U.S.

What brings you to Ireland, he asked? Looking up your ancestors?

Well, no, I said, although with Clarkes and Fitzpatricks in my lineage, I might do that one day.

After polishing a few glasses, he continued.

Oh, maybe you’re here for fishing, then?

No. But I liked to fish when I was younger, I told him.

Genealogy and fishing must be popular reasons for visiting Ireland, I thought. A few more moments passed before his curiosity had to be satisfied.

Well, why are you here, lad?

I’m delivering a few Christmas packages to the family of a friend who moved to California to attend college, I replied. That, and I wanted to experience some Rugby and hoped to see my favorite player in action.

Apparently, that was an unusual response and the man on the other side of the bar had to know more.

Now who would that player be, he asked?

Well, the great second row from Ballymena, I replied. Willie John McBride.

“Jaysus, Mary and Joseph,” I hear as he grabs my half-empty glass from my hand.

Had I done something wrong? Was the publican cutting me off?

Apparently not. Turned out the fellow who poured stout on this afternoon was not only a Rugby fan, but he, too, was also a huge appreciator of the greatest Irish forward of the era. He had to top off my glass. Over the next two or three hours I wasn’t ever able to completely drain it. We had a great afternoon. I think my friend joined me in analyzing the stout, as well as in talking Rugby. The Guinness pub closes at end of business day. Waving goodbye to my new-found friend, I realized I had no idea how to get back to my hotel. It didn’t matter. I was quite happy. Maybe even a little drunk.

Brews is prudent enough to make four-ounce glasses of their beers available to the cautious, especially for beers pushing 20% alcohol. Yes, that was the compromise for me. I had another 14 miles to drive, but that small portion wouldn’t put me in harm’s way. Candon, the bar manager, poured me the Dogfish Head version of this dark and potent brew. It wasn’t the classic of all stouts that I was looking for, but it was excellent--lots of personality and deep chocolatey flavor with an obvious high-test punch (though without unnecessary heat that too often mars high-alcohol wines and beers). It was still stout, but a completely different interpretation of this style of beer.