Sunday, August 19, 2012

Gimme a Pint with those Galoshes and Bike Chains

Sure, the whole point of drinking beer is to relax (Not get crazy and do wild stunts like keg stands? Interesting theory...continue). So you might think that the whole concept of "multitasking" is at odds with  proper beer drinking etiquette (Well chuh, it's why one never guzzles AND smashes the can on one's forehead at the same time).

Turns out, not even a little bit. Not when you multitask like they do in Dingle.

Earlier this year, with family visiting, we traveled waaaaaay out to one of Ireland's western fingers: Dingle Peninsula, in County Kerry. This little town has some renowned pubs that recall the ancient purpose of a public house as a place of cozy communal gathering (fortunately, so unlike the Branch Davidians, who had a different kind of cozy communal gathering). Dick Mack's may well have been an old house, with its multiple rooms and coal-burning fireplace and ancient woodwork (I think he means House of Usher meets the Shrieking Shack). Foxy John's could well have been the workroom of that same house. (And no joke, I think these pubs were connected by some labyrinthine network of hallways... and they weren't by any means next door.)

The most fascinating aspect of these pubs, though, wasn't the beer (mostly the Irish usuals - with one exception), and it wasn't even the inhabitants (though they might have come a close second). It was their multi-purposeness.

Dick Mack's may be a world-famous pub, but it's also a leather-working shop and a shoe shop from way back inna day (yes, when solid floors, walls, and ceilings were optional or even kitsch). Drinks may be their primary focus now, but on the shelves next to a painted portrait of Dick Mack himself (being served by a leggy waitress, no less), there are still bright blue Wellies and strips of hide and old cardboard shoe boxes with varying quantities of dust (Oh is that what that was? I didn't know dust could husk...). But unlike any Bennigan's you ever visited, none of the items was mere decor. Everything was for sale, and if you were lucky, you could still get your leather punched.

Foxy John's didn't bother to trade in leather and shoes. Nope. Instead, it decided to be your grandpa's garage combined with a bike shop. We only got to sit there for 45 minutes or so, and no joke, in that time people bought a bike chain, a flashlight, and some washers. More home repair must be attempted per capita in Dingle than anywhere else in the world - "Honey, the toilet's broken again, and I need a... er... a bolt to fix it! I'll be right back!" An hour later: "Oh shoot! I got the wrong size. I gotta head over to the hardware store again!"

Like I said, the beer was pretty much the usual at these shopubs. Foxy John's, though, carried the local selection from the Dingle Brewing Company: Tom Crean's Lager. It's named for the Antarctic explorer, and (like an Irish beer named for an Antarctic explorer) it defies your expectations of a lager. The head is wide and white -- fair enough so far -- but it's also thick, like you'd expect on a much stouter beer (and how apt for a beer from the land of thick-eternal-fog). And the lager itself is, in a word, creamy (like sarsaparilla, root beer, or cream soda creamy! I wanted to pour my Crean's over ice cream, it was that good!). I had to make sure my brain wasn't simply applying a misspelling of "Crean" to my taste sensations, because I hardly believed it. Sure enough, it's a creamy feeling and tasting lager. What a treat!

Dingle proved to be a tiny beer mecca (which was some consolation, considering your family went there intent on its stunning coastal views which were perpetually bashful and shrouded in that eternal-fog the whole time). If you should be there in the on-season (oh, late March to probably September), see if you can find the Canteen. The food was heeeeeeeeavenly (I've been craving pork and applesauce ever since), but the owners are also big supporters of Irish beer and cider. We learned about three or four different brands while we were there, and poof! our horizons were broadened. Not bad for a little town barely accessible by car!

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