Irish cider and potatoes – or no Guinness for me please!:

On a cold, dark night we ventured out intent on discovery. Another cozy bar and hotel in Ireland – the Roganstown Hotel and Country Club was charming, welcoming and stylish.

Bar roganstown 4Unfortunately on the local beer front, I was offered a Guinness. Now Guinness, is for me a tried and tested but not too well loved beverage.  To my mind it’s like bitter, cold cocoa, spiked with flat, unsweetened coca-cola mixed and served in the consistency of Oxo gravy ( I  believe it’s a taste that you love if you grew up with it like Marmite). So while I have admittedly considered using Guinness in chocolate cakes or stews,  as a drink, unlike the Galway hooker,  it really doesn’t float my boat. However, in Ireland I found this is not easily communicated (and probably would be considered impolite). Consequently, I did drink the odd Guinness:  We found ourselves in a tiny , very local bar (think An American Werewolf in London) asking for directions,  the barmaid answered my request for an ale – with a  shake of her head. “We don’t serve that here” she said, ” Hm, what do you serve”  I asked, the answer” Here everyone drinks Guinness”. And  so that’s what I had, I really wanted directions to the local sea-food place…….Another night, another village, another pub in Connemara: in answer to my request for pale ale, the barman raised his eyebrows eloquently and offered: Smithwick’s, Kilkenny or Guinness.  He himself was drinking a Peroni  (from his own personal Italian stash, ie he wasn’t sharing).   So I said “Hm, a Guinness for me please”…..  Bulmers cider

Not easily discouraged however, I tried my luck again in Roganstown. Similar story, charming bar, nice barman and the unholy trio: Guinness, Kilkenny and Smithwicks.  Adamant to have a local drink that wasn’t Guiness I made the acquaintance of  Bulmer’s cider:

Bulmer’s cider –  a pleasing tawny golden liquid, tiny champagne-like bubbles, the taste of musty apples from wooden barrels all served up in a very attractive glass.   A  unique drink  – it made me think of farmers markets and farmhouses, cold nights and fireplaces. I recommend this highly but beware it packs a serious and for me unexpected punch. The barman grinned when I commented…….My companion picked a continental beer and then ogled my cider for the rest of the evening  lamenting his choice 🙂 Bar roganstown 1

 The setting was wonderful, the cider delightful, but what made the evening really special was the fact that the group of middle-aged ladies and men at the table next to ours was having an intense, loud, and very animated discussion about potatoes.

Imagine that, the humble potato, that played such a pivotal role in Ireland’s history – the topic of a night out in the pub! The merits of different kinds of potato were intensely debated. British Queen potatoes were said to be delicious, although sadly apt to break apart when you cook them, so they are apparently a challenge to boil. The group agreed that the best way to cook potatoes is in a big enamel pot and that the most wonderful smell in the world,  other than that of freshly boiled potatoes, is the scent of  potatoes just pulled out of the earth. ……

The conversation for me was quintessentially Irish, I cannot imagine having witnessed it anywhere else in the world. It was a privilege, and I am now sorely tempted to go find British Queen potatoes now…

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5 thoughts on “Irish cider and potatoes – or no Guinness for me please!:

  1. A postscript: I have since returning been trying to hunt down Irish drinks – I can find Guinness of course, but nothing else. I have now written a plea to our local wine merchant’s marketing team suggesting they make some shelf space available for the Galway Hooker, I am sure the name alone would move it off the shelves. And I would get to drink some now and again and introduce it to my friends. I will keep you posted

  2. I’ve never heard of British Queen praytees (spelt as it would be pronounced), as the Patriarch used to call them. They must be good if the locals are talking about them. It’s strange that I read about these encounters but have never experienced them for myself. Okay, so I grew up in N. Ireland, which is a very different country in many ways, but it’s still quite fascinating hearing about them. And I agree with you about Guinness. Unless it’s poured really well. Which it very seldom is!

  3. Thanks Johnny for commenting – praytees? I was wondering if I should call them taters, but not being sure made me stick with potatoes – phew! I think that when traveling we experience more because we see a new world with eyes not blinkered by daily duties, and so things like Polish coal on sale, peat piled high in a truck or an old lady drinking a pint by herself at 11am are experienced differently. Also I don’t sound Irish, so automatically encounters change! Is Northern Ireland really very different culture-wise? I must read up on it. Never considered going for a visit – just googled and seen beautiful landscapes!

  4. Was in Dublin with my daughter a couple years ago and had my first ever Guiness at the factory– I agree with your description! But the Bulmer’s Cider sounds perfect! especially this time of year– I’m a cider fan… Fun post!!

  5. Thank you so much Rhonda – I am glad I am not the only one who doesn’t like Guinness, felt like an anomaly in Ireland. The cider is perfect, sadly cannot source that here either, but as you are in the US you can probably find anything in those big supermarkets – I used to love wandering the aisles just observing all the variety!

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