By Lindsay Toler
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How to tell whether an Irish-sounding bar is the real McCoy? If they're really Irish, they don't serve green beer on St. Paddy's Day. Who wants to clean up green puke, eh? Another token of genuineness: The establishment offers Bushmills as well as Jameson. Both whiskeys have their devotees, and a good bar true to Irish ways is loath to deny one contingent the right to weep over their spirit of choice during a particularly stirring rendition of "Danny Boy." Yet another sign: The bar usually carries more than one brand of stout on tap. McNulty's in West Port Plaza -- "the only Irish-owned bar in St. Louis, " according to proprietor Joe Butler -- has three: Guinness, Murphy's and Beamish. John D. McGurk's in Soulard carries the aforementioned stouts on tap, plus one, Young's Oatmeal Stout. Growlers Pub in Creve Coeur, with its 32 taps, has only the venerable Guinness for the stout of heart, though the bar does offer five other brands in the bottle: Mackeson, Boddington, Beamish, Dragon Stout and Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout. Bottled-beer drinkers and draft-beer drinkers, incidentally, are two entirely different animals.
Coming to Terms
Chances are, if you've imbibed some seriously potent brew it was bock beer, ale, porter or stout. The term "ale," once used for a beer made without hops, is now applied in the U.S. to a pale, strongly hopped malt beverage, generally brewed in a top (as opposed to bottom) fermentation process. Bock beer, said to take its name from Einbeck, Prussia, where it was first made, is a heavier, darker beer -- "dregs of the barrel," as they say -- commonly drunk in the spring. Porter is a strong, dark ale brewed with the addition of roasted malt to give flavor and color. Stout, darker and maltier than porter, has a more pronounced hop aroma and may possess an alcohol content of 6 to 7 percent. According to John McGuire Jr., manager of McGurk's and himself a scholar of heady beverages, the term "stout" comes from the docks of old Britain. Porter, which predates stout, wasn't strong enough for these dockworkers, who loaded and unloaded ships all day and drank as they worked. "They would say, 'Give me the stoutest porter you have,' meaning the heaviest," he says.
Pouring -- or pulling, if you like -- a stout has more protocol attached to it than does a banquet for a visiting head of state. First, it's a two-step pour. A pint glass will do, though purists insist on a 20-ounce "proper pint." Whatever the vessel, it should be "beer-clean" -- that is, free of soapy residue and wiped down. Tilt the glass at a 45-degree angle and fill it about two-thirds of the way. Then, let it settle. That can take awhile -- as long as 10 minutes -- so stout drinkers have to be patient. John "Lucky" Mc-Ateer, night bartender at McGurk's and a stickler for a proper pour, relates that during Mardi Gras, "we had some first-time stout drinkers in here. The stouts were settling on the bar, I'm pouring beers as fast as I can, and these guys are saying, 'Hey, did you forget about me or what?' Then they took the glass, still settling, and started drinking it before I could top it off. I had to take it back from them; it wasn't finished."
When the stout has settled, you finish filling the glass. The head on a glass of stout is its crowning glory. It should be a half to three-quarters of an inch thick and should rise a little over the rim. On a proper head of stout, say the Brits, you should be able to float a fivepence. In the U.S., make that a dime.
A Lion Among Stouts
Of all the stouts, Guinness -- brewed in St. James Gate, Dublin, since 1759 -- has garnered the most fame. Part of that, of course, has to do with the ever-popular Book of World Records annually published by Guinness. For the last five years, the brewer has sponsored a unique contest in the U.S.: Whoever pens the best essay, 50 words or fewer, on the theme of a "perfect pint" of Guinness wins his or her own quaint pub in Ireland. Going by surnames alone, the winners so far -- O'Driscoll, Knight, Weston, Gallagher, Mulligan -- should have no trouble speaking in the vernacular to their Gaelic patrons, the vernacular being blarney.
Guinness, too, has been touted as a health tonic: One of the company's better-known ad slogans was "Guinness Is Good for You." Davey Muldrew, a visiting Irish minstrel, onstage this month at McGurk's, swears that patients in Irish hospitals get "two pints a day for purposes of fortification. It's full of iron and malt, they say."
Another contribution of the Dublin brewery has been to acquaint the American palate with two staples of British pubs: the Black-and-Tan (Bass and Guinness) and the Half-and-Half (Harp and Guinness). That conjures a joke heard long ago: A drunken sailor comes knocking at the door of a pub in County Mayo. "I wants me 'arf n' 'arf," he shouts to no one in particular. "Go 'way," says the proprietor, come to the open window above. "We've closed hours ago." "Nah," says the sailor, waxing ever more belligerent, "I ain't goin' til I gets me 'arf n' 'arf!" The saloonkeeper throws up his hands, walks away from the window and returns with a large chamberpot, which he gleefully dumps on the sailor. "There's your 'arf n' 'arf ," he croaks. "'Arf mine and 'arf the old lady's!"