#3 | The Irish beer I forgot to remember
9 White Deer’s Stag Bán at Killarney’s MAC's of Main Street
In beer, wine and certain social circles, an established order is preferred. Lagers before stouts. Whites before reds. Marriage before children.
The thinking goes that strong flavors blow out the taste buds, vaporizing lighter flavors into wispy pokes at the palate. The reasoning behind the marriage and children thing ... I do not know. Ask me in a few years.
What I do know, thanks to the Cliffs of Moher and a beer called Stag Bán, is that this law of hierarchy extends to experiences.
Keeley and I took a jaunt around Ireland for our honeymoon in 2016. Dublin was a wonder. At over a million people, it’s Ireland’s biggest city. But because its skyline is mostly without skyscrapers, it hardly feels like a city at all. Then again, I suppose enough Guinness and whiskey can make any stumble home feel like a short spin through the village.
It wasn’t advertised, but our €7 tickets to a stone age tomb called Newgrange about 45 minutes north of Dublin came with a free spiritual awakening. The tomb sits at the top of a hill. Its roof is grass. Its walls are stone. Etched on nearly every available space was a symbol with three circles that, upon careful inspection, are made up of one unbreaking line.
Ducking through a shaft into the center of the tomb, we stepped into a domed chamber with altars on three sides. On the solstice, the sun lines up with a tiny hole in the wall of the manmade cave, bathing the inner chamber in light. As our guide hit a switch to simulate the experience and described how the tomb’s builders believed the beam of sunlight brought peace and tranquility to their dead loved ones, I leaned into a corner and tried to hide my tears.
A year later, I got the three circles tattooed on my arm.
In Galway that night, we soaked up fried fish and chips with more Guinness and walked it off through the town’s center. The streets seemed to be both alive with drunken college students yet burdened by the kind of historical witness that few towns in America possess. “We’ve seen kings and queens, poets and poverty,” the cobblestones seem to say. “What heed should we pay to you?”
A nearby pub stands as a monument to the idea. The building dates to the 13th century. The fireplace was added in the relatively recent 1612. The pub is named The King’s Head, allegedly in honor of a previous owner who served as executor for King Charles I of England in 1649. This dark deed is belied by the charming bar and traditional music inside.
One day, we drove from Galway to a tiny town called Doolin, where we bought sweaters that make us look like grizzled Irish fishermen, then to those famed Cliffs of Moher, ending our day in a perfectly treacly bed and breakfast near Killarney.
In the grand order of things, I can tell you that the Cliffs of Moher are not a white wine, but a red. They are, appropriately for Ireland, not a lager but a stout. They should be approached in the proper order and with the utmost care.
Imagine a cliff that drops to the ocean. Imagine it twice as big. Then realize what you’re imagining is probably a curb compared to the real thing. Perhaps pop culture offers a better starting point. You watched Game of Thrones, right? With the frozen Wall in the North? Dye it green on top and grey on the sides, dunk it in the Atlantic and plant some puffin nests at its craggy base. It’s that, but real.
Standing on the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean, staring into vast nothingness with the knowledge that something exists on the other side, perhaps in the footsteps of ancestors who pondered the exact same thoughts before uprooting their lives and taking a chance on North America — it’s enough to drive a man to tears.
And cry I did, mostly because of the wind pummeling my eyeballs.
If I am lucky, I will never forget the sights and smells and sounds of that 700-foot plunging coastline in western Ireland. I know I will never forget the feeling.
But I did forget the beer I drank at MAC's of Main Street in Killarney later that night.
On their website, 9 White Deer boasts that their Stag Bán beer is “a crisp and refreshing American style pale ale/hybrid, the use of lager malt gives it more interest and appeal to more consumers.” I was even less specific when I wrote a short review via the beer app, Untappd. “Malty, but not sweet. Really crisp. Or maybe that's just the air.”
I’m sure it was a perfectly fine beer. But after drinking in the Cliffs of Moher, it evaporated somewhere between my tongue and my memories.
From Keats to Joyce, limericks to legends, the Irish seem to have a way with words. Here’s my humble attempt at an imitation: “Beer before Moher, so you get a chance to know her.” Or something like that.
A good Irish drink worth remembering: Teeling’s single malt whiskey. I know, it’s not beer. But it is delicate, balanced and affordable.
A little light reading: British beer writer Pete Brown explains why some good beers cost more.