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Emer McLysaght: I’ve never drunk a full pint of Guinness

At the risk of setting feminism back to the marriage bar, there is a coolness about a woman drinking a pint of the black stuff

I saw a video on social media recently of a young woman chugging a pint of Guinness. In fact, she chugged a pint of Guinness hands-free. She put her arms behind her back, unhooked her jaw like a python, put her entire mouth around the rim of the pint glass, and methodically downed the liquid. “Imagine chugging a Guinness”, one of the comments mused, and I couldn’t have agreed more with the sentiment. Actually, I can’t imagine chugging a pint of Guinness. Full disclosure: I’ve never drunk a full pint of Guinness, or a half-pint. My tally stands at a few pitiful mouthfuls, which I have not enjoyed.

It doesn’t matter than I don’t drink Guinness, of course, but the culture around the “black stuff” is such that I often feel like I’m missing out on a quintessential experience. I don’t drink coffee either, but coffee drinking isn’t so ingrained in the fabric of being Irish, which makes it easier to poke fun at those who’ve made coffee drinking part of their personality. I long to be the kind of person in a bar who, faced with indecision, breezily says “Sure just get me a pint.” More specifically, I’d like to be the kind of woman who breezily orders a pint (”A pint”, I believe, always refers to a pint of Guinness in an Irish pub unless otherwise stated. As a person who only ever orders pints for other people I always crumble and add “of Guinness” at the end just in case I’m doing it wrong.)

I cannot deny that the consumption of Guinness is somewhat gendered to me. In my 20s, plenty of my female friends drank pints, but not of Guinness. Many men in my circle graduated onto the black stuff fairly quickly, but it wasn’t until my 30s and into my 40s when the women in my life really started embracing it. A few say they just developed a taste for it, with two likening its flavour to coffee, which they came to later in life too. One friend admitted to me that she thinks Guinness “tastes disgusting” but “I think girls look cool when they drink it in public, so I keep trying”. Another said, “I don’t care for the fact that it’s more filling than dinner but unfortunately I do find men who quietly drink it very sexy.”

I felt both comments deep in my bones. At the risk of setting feminism back to the marriage bar, there is a coolness about a woman drinking a pint of Guinness. She’s one of the lads – a designation we shouldn’t aspire to and yet, as girls and women, we often can’t fight. She’s just in from a hike. She’s uncomplicated. She might be good at pool. Oh, to be good at pool. The man quietly drinking his pint is also at one with nature. Sinking the black stuff is in his genes, or at the very least is whispered to him in the air around him. Together they’re in a tourism ad for west Cork. They’re tapping their feet to a session. They’re considering doing up a VW van.

There is a threshold over which the coolness evaporates though. Guinness bores are all around, much like the coffee doses. Talking ad nauseam about good pints and bad pints and “did you see the head on that?” and telling people that they must “split the G” on the first sip. Splitting the G means drinking just enough that the head of the pint rests on the horizontal through the logo on the glass. And God forbid you only order a glass, which a few friends said is the only way they can drink Guinness as it’s only palatable if it’s cold and they drink the pints too slowly for it to stay that way. One mentioned being slagged for drinking it slowly. It truly is a minefield out there. Is this really a club I want to be part of?

But who wouldn’t want to drink something that tastes “like ice-cream in the summer and rich, comforting cream in the winter”? “The texture is so comforting” really sold it to me too. I appreciated the honesty of a pal who admitted that to her, Guinness tastes “nothingy, peaty maybe” but that she’s sort of indoctrinated herself into loving it. Is that the Irish version of growth? Maturity? Peer pressure? Who knows. Either way, I’d love to be part of the cool gang and pythoning a pint by the summer. Watch this space.

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