Folks who have lived in Ireland know that if you stop in a pub there and ask simply for "a pint," the bartender almost certainly will pour you a Guinness. It's a brew central to Irish culture, the "pint of plain" that famed Irish poet Flann O'Brien lauded in "The Workingman's Friend." ("When things go wrong and will not come right/ Though you do the best you can/ When life looks black as the hour of night/ A pint of plain is your only man.")
Guinness has a long history in Ireland. It dates to the mid-1700s, when Arthur Guinness used an inheritance to sign a 9,000-year lease on a brewery at St. James' Gate, Dublin, and went on to create the legendary brew that bears his name. Guinness stout -- now sold in more than 150 countries, with annual sales of about 2 billion pints -- is arguably Ireland's best-known export. According to TheStreet.com, in 2010 Americans drank an average of 600,000 pints a day, which spiked to 3.5 million pints on -- you guessed it -- St. Patrick's Day.
That celebration happens to be another sort of Irish "export." It turns out that March 17, the day that marks the death of St. Patrick sometime around the year 493, was not much celebrated in Ireland until recent times. Although it has long been a holy day for Catholics in Ireland, the rowdy celebrations we know -- the parades, the pub crawls, the corned beef dinners -- are all American creations.
Irish New Yorkers were marching in St. Patrick's honor as early as 1762. The 1.6 million Irish who fled to the U.S. during the potato famine of the mid-1800s, along with their descendants, used St. Patrick as a rallying point to raise Irish pride and political clout. Chicagoans have been dyeing their river emerald green for 43 years. But it wasn't until the 1990s that Dubliners began a St. Patrick's festival. Green beer? "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" buttons? That's American ingenuity at work.
It seems right, somehow, to celebrate the Americanized version of St. Patrick's Day with something actually Irish, so get your Guinness on. Feel free to drink it plain (as in "a pint of plain") or in combination with other alcohol. A Black and Tan is Guinness and a lager or ale; a Black Velvet is Guinness mixed with Champagne; a Black Fog is Guinness and raspberry liqueur; and a Hairball is Guinness, hard cider and Irish whiskey.
Or, if the sharp, tangy brew is not your drink, you can cook with it. Guinness Extra Stout (along with Murphy's Irish Stout from County Cork) would work well in an Irish stew or in a steak and kidney pie. But they are spectacular with chocolate, as in this brownie recipe from my files. Eat it, it's Irish!
Guinness Molten Brownie