Ireland – make mine a double

Beer, EU, Ireland

 Name of beers: Guinness Draught can; Guinness Special Export

Beer descriptions: Irish stout, 4.1% and 8% respectively              

Irish word for beer: beoir/beer

Date joined the EU: 1973

Have I visited? Yes
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Ireland. Member of the European Union since 1973. Home of Guinness since 1759. Enthusiast for destroying Eurocrats’ dreams by the means of direct democracy since Nice.

 The country

Despite its proximity, and not just in geographical terms, I’ve only been to Ireland once. This was a Christmas shopping trip to Dublin with my sister when we were both rather poor students, so it was a bit of a shoe-string visit. Nevertheless, we were both big fans of the city. In fact, I was so keen on it, I applied to study a Master’s there but fate (and a rather generous scholarship) led me to Belgium instead.

It’s fair to say that Ireland is a beer-loving nation. It is of course famous for its stout, but also for its red ale. Today, it is virtually impossible to find a major city worldwide without an Irish pub in it. Although Irish in name does not necessarily mean Irish in nature 

The Parliament

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The Irish Parliament is known as the Oireachtas and is bicameral. The lower house is called the Dáil and is directly elected at least every five years by proportional representation. It has 166 seats and a member of the Dáil is known as a Teachta Dála, or TD for short.

The upper house, the Seanad, is much weaker and is not directly elected. In fact, its members are a real mixed bag. 11 of them are appointed by the Prime Minister (the Taoiseach), 43 are elected to represent particular interests (agriculture, labour, culture and so on) and six of them are elected by graduates of two of Ireland’s main universities. That is placing a lot of faith in undergraduates if you ask me. When I was at university, we elected a fictitious leader of the free world as our Student Union President.

In 2013, Ireland dabbled with direct democracy yet again, with a referendum proposing to abolish the Seanad. To everyone’s surprise, it was narrowly defeated and so the Seanad survived. Long live bicameralism I say.

I’ve visited the outside of the Irish Parliament’s building, which is Leinster House, an 18th Century palace in Dublin where the Oireachtas has met since the Irish Free State was established in 1922. Earlier in time, when things were a bit more…err…controversial, the Irish Parliament met in the building which is today the Bank of Ireland. Parliamentary fun fact: at the time it was built, this building was the world’s first purpose-built two-chamber parliament house.  

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The beer

I was given two Irish beers as part of my leaving present. Namely, two Guinness. I had planned to taste just one, assuming that they would be practically identical and thus indiscernible in taste. How wrong I was.

Alongside a widget can of Guinness Draught – a 4.1% classic stout – I was also given a bottle of Guinness Special Export – an 8% stout/black ale. I genuinely expected to be unable to tell the different but in fact, these are two completely different beers.

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Little did I know that Guinness Special Export is exclusively available in Belgium, having been specifically requested by Antwerp-based brewer and Guinness enthusiast, John Martin, in 1912. I’m hugely envious of this man’s evidently immense power. The ability to commission your own exclusive variety of a major beer? I want me some of that.

The differences between the two beers was clear as soon as they hit the glasses. Whereas the Draught had the classic, smooth pitch-black appearance of Guinness, the Special Export was a warmer brown colour with a sticky head and big bubbles. Gareth proclaimed that the Draught smelt “just like a pub”, whereas the Special Export was maltier and sweeter.

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Draught to the left, Special Export on the right

As for the taste, I personally preferred the Draught, which was gorgeously smooth and light on the tongue, with a delicate bitter flavour. Gareth, however, was keener on the Special Export, which had a much deeper and more complex taste, as well as being noticeably sweeter. We both agreed that the Special Export tasted like a fusion between a classic Guinness and a Belgian dark ale. It is very much a dessert beer, thanks to the sweetness, with a lingering chocolatey after taste.

One of the things I am enjoying most about this beer tasting extravaganza is learning new facts about countries and beers. And who would’ve thought that mainstream Guinness would provide me with such a revelation as an exclusive Belgian variety? Great craic all round.

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