“When I was a child in Mayo,” said my Irish mother as we drove along the Embarcadero, “my aunt used to send me down to the village pub to buy ‘a pint for the washing.’”
“For laundry?” I asked, wondering what cleansing powers a pint of beer could offer.
“No, for the deceased,” she chided, wondering whose daughter I was. “I never quite knew whether the pint was for washing the body or for numbing the senses of the person doing the washing,” she continued. “And to think that a bartender would give a seven-year-old a pint to bring home,” she laughed.
My great-aunt Mary was the village undertaker. Not on an official basis, but everyone in town brought their dead to her to prepare them for the wake. And my mom played an integral part in the process.
The whole conversation brought on a terrible thirst. Nothing quite like talk of death and Ireland to draw one to the drink. So the following day, I bought out every variety of Irish beer that Beverages & More offered. And that evening, my father Bill, hubby Patrick, and friends Bernice and John gathered around the fireplace. With the Clancy Brothers crooning from the corner, we had ourselves a tastin’.
“I will work for beer,” announced John, pouring a mug of Murphy’s Stout ($5.99 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans). The stout was as dark as coffee, casting a shadow on the floor when held up to the lamp.
“I almost get a smoky bacon taste from it,” noticed Bernice.
“What I like about stout is the head; it’s like drinking a cappuccino,” added Patrick. “This is a very clean stout — almost too clean — not as bitter as some stouts.”
“I measure my beer by whether or not it leaves me wanting another,” explained John, admiring the tan-colored head on the next glass, a Guinness Extra Stout ($7.99 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles). “And I like to gulp my beer, and I couldn’t gulp this,” he added.
“This is a meaty beer,” Bernice said. “You can see why people call it a meal in a glass. It’s totally bitter in the center of the palate, whereas the Murphy’s Stout spreads out, tastes more...wet.”
The Beamish Draught Irish Stout ($5.99 for the four- pack of 14.9-ounce cans) was noticeably sweeter and smoother, “but I like the carbonation of the Guinness Stout better,” offered Patrick.
Smithwick’s Irish Ale ($8.49 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles) featured a dark amber color that elicited “oohs” and “aahs.” “The most enchanting color,” stated Patrick. “The smell is ripe but not skunky,” added Bernice, “and it kind of sits in the mouth.”
“This would be the beer to have with corned beef or a fat burger,” said Patrick.
The Guinness Draught ($7.99 for the six-pack of 11.2-ounce bottles) was the surprise failure of the evening. “Tastes like burnt coffee,” grimaced Dad, “and it has no head on it.”
“Flat and bitter,” noticed Bernice, “nothing like the Guinness Stout, which had tang and bubbly effervescence.”
“This goes over the edge of bitterness,” complained Patrick.
“It has a wet-dog smell,” added John.
We tossed the bottle straight into the garbage and plunged ahead.
Wexford Irish Cream Ale ($8.99 a four-pack of 14.9-ounce cans) sparkled with a liquid amber color but failed in the taste department. “Tastes like it’s been skunked,” said Patrick.
“If I’m celebratin’ St. Patty’s Day and not expectin’ to wake up for a day, this isn’t the beer I’ll be drinkin’,” said John, who by this point was speaking with a brogue, despite the fact he’s an Italian who grew up in Tacoma.
Murphy’s Red ($6.99 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles) was a crowd favorite, especially its carbonation.
“It’s the sexy redhead,” touted Bernice.
“These beers are tasting better and better,” smiled Dad.
John bestowed his highest praise: “I could drink nine of these.”
The last cap to be popped was the Harp Lager ($6.99 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles). “It doesn’t hold a head,” noticed Dad.
“But it’s very clean tasting — the lightest beer we’ve had this evening,” added Bernice.
“A good drinking beer for a hot summer’s day,” continued John, “but it’s brewed in Canada,” he added, reading the bottle in shock.
A quick perusal of the bottles informed us that they were all posers except two, the Smithwick’s and the Beamish, which were the only ones brewed on the Emerald Isle.
“As if the Irish haven’t suffered enough injustice, and now Murphy’s is brewed in England,” moaned Bernice.
“Perhaps they like it that way,” countered Patrick, “to have the English doing their work for them for a change.”
We lined up our favorite atop the hearth: Guinness Extra Stout for a dark stout beer; Murphy’s Red for a medium-bodied beer (Smithwick’s Ale following closely behind); Harp Lager as the choice for a lighter beer.
The following day, I spoke to Gary O’Neil, bar manager at The Field. He said one of his favorite beers is the Smithwick’s. Asked about stouts, O’Neil touted the spectator-sport aspect of drinking the dark beers. “When you pour it and you see it settling, it has that look of it turning itself over. Stouts tend to be really, really light compared to other beers; they just look and feel thicker than what they are. Once you get over the head, the creamy top part, the body part is fairly light.”