On a recent, balmy Thursday I made the decision – and it felt good to seem like a decisive man, an agent of my own destiny. The quality of the decision-making is neither here nor there. It was, for me, a busy evening. My dear professor, a recent transplant to the unoccupied six counties, had decided to forego the pleasures of the ‘feel-good’, ‘family-friendly’ (actual quotes) July twelfth ‘festivities’ and had instead made herself available for drinks in the Free State. Feelings, families, friendliness and festivities are all apparently different concepts (for some) when you cross that frictionless border. We meet at the back terrace of the IFI for a couple of glasses of (perfectly serviceable) PicPoul and discuss our relative woes. It goes on for a while, but I’d like to think that we both feel moderately disburdened before I’m required to flee for the familiar surrounds of Thomas House to my rendezvous with Red Ben. He has always been a poor time-keeper, operating on the theory that punctuality is the thief of time. This evening is no different.
I exchange some coins for a cold bottle of Anchor Steam and sit down at the Ouija board table to consider the working theories of medieval philosopher-theologian Duns Scotus. I have long been drawn to his concept of Haecceitas or ‘thisness’, which in turn informed Gerard Manley Hopkins’ theory of inscape and instress. Both identified characteristics that inhere to every created thing – inanimate, human or animal, that active thisness that defines its creation by God. The crashing of the wave is the wave and at once our understanding of it. It is “…the achieve of the thing…”
Nevertheless, I’m seeing the bottom of the bottle by the time he barrels in to order a pint, so I’m required to have another. So anyhow, while attending the Meatopia event just the previous week (it was not a patch on last year’s beef-orgy), it occurred to me that I could put paid, once and for all, to the rumour that I could not in fact organise a piss-up in a brewery. I am referring, of course, to the Guinness Open Gate Brewery on James St, a space opened up by the good folk of global mega-corp Diageo as a marketing wheeze, some two years ago. The atmosphere is muggy outside, but with a light breeze blowing through the (necessarily) industrial space, it’s not an unpleasant place to be. It’s like drinking in the bowels of a battleship, or Ripley’s Nostromo, or the Pompidou Center with less pomp and more communal tables.
Pipes, tubes and ductwork make (presumably) purposive journeys everywhere you look. They are met with bigger-bore cylinders and brobdingnagian vats forming serried ranks. There are dials, meters and switches. There is the creaking and groaning of metal contracting, and an almost boundless measure of do not touch, toggle, depress or otherwise interfere-with warnings. I like the feeling that potentially calamitous choices are just maddeningly out of reach. What if I were to pull that lever? Would a tsunami of Hop House 13 roar down James St, engulfing willing locals, sweeping terriers and crones before it? Would there be time to ready buckets and basins? The eight Euro cost of entry (you need to book online) buys you one of those annoying tasting ‘planks’ holding four halves of your choice from the board above the bar. Service is jaded with a dash of cordial. They obviously deal with a lot of tourists. These are supposedly experimental brews and as a punter you are (kinda but not really) assisting with product development. That’s just dandy with me. The idea is that some of these beers will eventually be brought to market. Many of them would do well to stay put.
We choose four apiece and sit down with the supplied tasting slips. Ben, ever chafing at the yoke, fills out his with churlish brevity. His note for ‘Crystal Warrior’ reads, ‘not ghastly, but terrible.’ My notes for the ‘Caramel Stout’ read, ‘burnt & acrid.’ Five Lamps Stout (there are ‘guest beers’) merits, ‘insipid coffee.’ We are, admittedly, a tough crowd. We both like the ‘Salt & Pepper Beer’. To finish, we order a couple of rounds of the brand’s signature product to cleanse our palates. They do not begin to approach thisness.
As I’ve decided this is to be my last throw of the dice, we decide to put down a nightcap at Lucky’s, scene of my most popular Barfly. This was the one that really opened up my work to a broader audience, and made mine, if not a household name, then perhaps a houseshare one. This was never an open-ended gig for me, unlike my Gastro duty. I had intended my Barfly stint to last for one calendar year. I was but the keeper of a flame, albeit one that I could not relinquish until I had identified a worthy successor. So, with heavy heart and heavier liver I am allowing the saloon doors to swing closed behind me and moving into the light. If you find yourself overcome with wrenching feelings of loss and emptiness, or believe that you have been traumatised by any of my prose, please don’t hesitate to contact the editor directly. A dedicated helpline appears to be beyond the budget. Otherwise, thanks for the memories, such as they were. Time, gentlemen, please. Farewell and adieu. Ben, it’s over to you…
Words: Conor Stevens
The Open Gate Brewery @ Guinness