One thing about Irish Pubs; they kinda look the same no matter where you go. However, in Ireland, they don’t FEEL the same. There’s a different commitment to the drink than you’ll find in their doppelgängers elsewhere. Where else are you going find a bar that has a basement below the tap so the beer keg is the shortest possible distance from it?
I’ve been to my share of Irish themed bars around the planet and even bartended at a British pub for a few years, but it’s taken several trips to Ireland to weed out fact and fiction. Pull up a barstool and let me teach you what I’ve learned:
Don’t order an Irish Car Bomb– I was actually introduced to this drink in Dublin by a “tinker”, (an Irish gypsy). It’s created by dropping a shot glass of Irish whiskey (and Bailey’s sometimes) into a glass of Guinness. It turns out, my new bar friend picked a very unpopular choice. Not only are many Irish offended by the name of this beverage, but many perceive it as blasphemy to their most esteemed beer. Think of it as comparable to someone ordering “A World Trade Center”. As fun as “Irish Car Bomb” sounds, it’s probably better to order it in America where no one cares.
Look at the glass– the Irish take their Guinness very seriously and most pubs consider new glassware to be part of the experience. Each glass has the last two numbers of the year stamped near the top, so if you see a 10 year old glass, you’ll probably be surrounded by tourists and unlikely you’ll catch any locals in that bar. Also, each beer has its own unique glass with its name on it. Serving a non-Guinness beer in a Guinness glass is simply not done.
Black and Tan? Nope.- Another faux pas in Ireland is to order a Black and Tan, a glass of beer served with half stout and half ale layered to show both beers. Not only are the Irish less than enthusiastic about watering down a Guinness, but the term Black and Tan is a nickname for the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force, a British group sent into Ireland during the war for Independence. Sure, it’s an old reference, but the Irish have good memories when it comes to British meddling. If you’re intent on mixing two beers, it’s called a “half and half” in Ireland.
Celebrities Aren’t As Revered– Bono and The Edge walk into a bar. The bartender says, “ Not U2 again!”
I love that joke, but apparently every bartender in Dublin doesn’t and after telling it 10 times, I only got one laugh from an 80 year old Irish woman. Bring up Colin Farrell or Bono (or any famous Irish person) and no one seems to really care much for them. I actually ran into Bono on St. Patrick’s Day in Temple Bar and he was getting less attention than me. Such devaluation of stars is unheard of in the states, but Ireland’s most famous can walk among the common people and are likely to be ignored or scorned. So look around…wait a minute.. is that Sinead O’Connor playing darts?
Irish Whiskey– What kind of whiskey should you order in Ireland? Well, any kind you want if you’re paying for it, but according to the bartenders I asked on my last pub crawl, Murphy’s isn’t at the top of the list. Redbreast seemed to be the local’s choice. It’s served in a fancy fluted glass or can be served as part of an Irish coffee. Single Pot Still Whiskey is exclusively made in Ireland using a mix of malted and unmalted barley at a single distillery. The difference between single malt and single pot still is the unmalted (or green) barley used. What could be more Irish than that?
Where is Ulster? You might hear the name “Ulster” and wonder why you haven’t noticed it on a map. It has a few geographical designations, but its common usage refers to Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK rather than the country of Ireland. There’s religious differences, soccer team rivalry and economic issues, but things have settled down quite a bit from what the Irish refer to as “The Troubles”. It’s best not to bring up politics when visiting any country, but being aware of the differences between the two Irelands and avoiding sensitive subjects is a good idea.