An advert for Guinness begged me to drink the perfect black liquid to celebrate this Christmas. Like the slowly opening vault of festive cheer that I am I quickly acceded to the command and bought myself a delicious four-pack of Guinness Original, tra-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-laaaah. Thank you, old man Arthur Guinness for your two-hundred year old perfection.
I remember the first time I sampled your brew. My teenage band Lack of Energy or Interest played a gig at the Cartmel Bar in Lancaster University and were each paid with two free drinks (despite only being 17 years old). I asked for a Guinness, having no real clue what it was; I assumed it was simply beer, a lager. The tall stocky glass of solid caliginous liquid shocked and surprised me, and my first taste disgusted me and turned my stomach. Revulsion spread from my tongue downwards and my gag reflex prevented me from taking another sip. Eventually I tried again, yet despite my desire to get drunk as quickly as possible, I was unable to finish even half of the pint.
At some point between then and now, during one of the many forgotten time periods in my life, I learnt to love the dark drink. When or how this happened I do not know, but happen it did. It looks like marmite and shaving foam, and drunk in quantity can make morning toilet-stops a little disturbing, but its flavour is rich and chewy, strong and delicious. After pouring it settles in the most mesmerising fashion like a living breathing screensaver. Even without the decades of iconic stylish advertising, Guinness would still be a legend in its own lifetime.
Lifelong drunk, IRA volunteer and famous Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan was famously asked by Guinness to write an advertising slogan for them. After they provided him with a crate of Guinness and he drank the lot overnight he apparently presented them with the fruits of his efforts, the slogan “Guinness makes you drunk”. And by Christ he was right. He also described himself as “a drinker with a writing problem,” and claimed he “only drink(s) on two occasions – when I’m thirsty and when I’m not”. Should anything be learnt by his terrible ill health, his sudden decline in literary output, and his alcohol death at the young age of 41? If there is anything to be learnt from his example, I’ll be damned if I know what it is.
It can’t have been the Guinness that finished off dear Brendan, as we all know well and good that Guinness is good for you. It must have been infiltrators from Murphy’s Brewery who finished him off through a combination of industrial espionage and poisoning. Their motives were to discredit the obvious medical benefits of Guinness, and thus open up the position for Murphy’s Irish Stout to become the doctor’s cure-all tonic of choice. In some ways they succeeded, in other ways they failed. The claim that Guinness is good for you can no longer be made, and no doctor recommends a stiff brandy to steady a gentleman’s nerves. One can’t even consult the medical journals for accurate information as to which brand of cigarette will best treat ones asthma. These are mad, mad times we live in.