Having poked around the fine old cathedral in Kilkenny, Patricia and I decided to sit a spell before strolling the rest of the town. In the Abbey pub on the High (the name of which had changed to Parliament in the charming if confusing way of old cities), I asked for something I had never tasted: a Franciscan Well IPA.
“Ah, no, you don’t want that,” the barman said with a grimace. “That’s no good.”
“Well, I like an IPA,” I responded. “I think I’ll try it anyway.”
“Ah, but it’s so rough. You’ll be sorry.” By this time he had assumed a pained and concerned look. Patricia ordered a Guinness, and his expression instantly brightened.
“Now, there you are. Guinness is good for you. We’re very proud of it. You know, it’s the very thing for pregnant ladies. What other drink can say that? Shall I make it two?”
My resistance came alive, “No, no, it’s Franciscan Well for me. But did you mean by ‘rough’ that it has higher alcohol? We’re going out on a long walk. I expect I can handle one.”
“No, it’s not at all the alcohol. It’s the same there, but it’s just so hard on the stomach. You’re sure to regret it.” He pulled two-thirds of the Guinness, then drew mine, placed it before me on the bar and recoiled as though from a venomous thing. He turned with a smile to Patricia, his favored one, as he topped off her pint. “M’dear, y’know we have the finest quality control of any business anywhere, but it’s got to be served right as well. I was all m’life with Guinness, retired now, I’m only helpin’ out an old friend here f’r a while. Why, I’ve taught servers how to handle Guinness all over the world: Germany, Singapore, California, Texas, New York. I’d be sent to give the course to the locals before they could sell our stuff, had to make sure it’s done half-right.”
“What a great career,” Patricia was encouraging him, “to be able to travel like that.”
He needed little encouragement. “It’s a rotten shame, but today even in Dublin, they have only a three month course for certification. In my day the apprenticeship was seven years. There are only forty-three of us properly trained master servers left alive. Soon the skill will be lost. These young ones are doin’ the job any which way. They’ve lost the respect for craft and the ability to know the difference. That’s the modern world for ya.”
We took our drinks to a table in the front. The only other customer was nursing a drink at the bar, and, before we knew it, our Guinness master had slid into the bench next to Patricia. “Now, it’s not only just the servin’. You’ve got to drink it properly as well. If, as they should, they’re usin’ a Guinness glass, they’ll place the name toward the customer. Don’t turn it, but keep the same side facin’ yourself all along. Hold it gently, don’t jostle and rudely shake, drink in the right way, and ev’ry sip you take will leave a line of foam on the opposite side of the glass. We call these ‘lines of goodness.’ It’s like rings in a tree trunk, a beautiful thing, really.” He managed to elaborate his theme for very nearly our entire visit.
“Darlin’,” he said to Patricia confidentially as she took her leave while I was in the men’s room, “I’ll look forward to seein’ you again, but leave him at home next time, will ya?”
I survived my Franciscan Well. A few days later we described the guru of Guinness to another publican who said, “Maybe he was pulling your leg . . . just a little.”