Saint Patrick, the “Apostle of Ireland,” was known for bringing Christianity to the Irish, driving snakes from their island, and teaching about God through the green-leafed shamrock. What he may best be known for now, especially by the world at large, is as the inspiration for St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated each year on March 17.
Originally known and celebrated as the Feast of St. Patrick in the Catholic Church, then a national holiday in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has evolved into an event that celebrates the Irish and their culture, generally by drinking copious amounts of beer and wearing green. Because the Irish have spread far and wide, St. Patrick’s Day is actually celebrated in more countries throughout the world than any other national holiday.
I challenge you to find a major city in the Western world, and even in most of Asia that doesn’t have an Irish pub or dive bar of some variety. That means that as the world celebrates St. Patrick’s Day those festivities are likely going to be fueled by Irish beer. Some lowbrow, mainstream brewers will dye their beer green for the occasion, and if you live in Chicago you might see an entire river turned green next week, but you should steer clear of all fake green beverages. Instead, turn to Ireland’s most famous beer: Guinness Draught.
The Carbonation Cascade
When I first started drinking beer I mainly drank Shiner, Samuel Adams, and Guinness. This was before the craft beer revolution, so my options were much more limited, but even now I return to these three breweries for good beer.
Guinness was the first beer I ordered in a bar that came from a nitro tap. When you pour a Guinness, it needs time to settle while bubbles, tiny, tiny bubbles, cascade. Traditional carbonation yields bubbles much bigger than those from nitrogen. Michael Ash, the man at Guinness who invented the concept, once said that as each bubble of nitrogen in a Guinness rises it’s slowly dissolving into the beer, or perhaps “the beer is dissolving into the bubble.” This gives a glass of Guinness a smoothness you just don’t get in many other beers.
Guinness is best enjoyed in a bar where you can get it poured from one of these nitrogen taps. For St. Patrick’s Day this is probably how you’ll be enjoying this beer, but if life makes it difficult for you to spend a lot of time in a bar, like it does for me, Guinness has the answer: “The Smoothifier.”
What, pray tell, is this “Smoothifier?” When you open a can of Guinness, you’ll notice a little plastic ball inside the can. This is a widget the company created to help give their packaged beer the same smooth creaminess you get from having it poured on a nitrogen tap.
Here’s a more detailed explanation.
A widget is a hollow, spherical piece of plastic with a tiny hole in it — it looks like a little ping pong ball.
During the canning process, brewers add pressurized nitrogen to the brew, which trickles into the hole along with a little bit of beer. The entire can is then pressurized.
When you open the can, the pressure inside the can drops to equalize with the pressure in the room. Since the pressure inside the widget is still much higher than the pressure in the beer around it, the nitrogenated beer from inside the widget squirts into the beer — providing a burst of tiny bubbles of nitrogen gas that rise to the top of beer, giving it a thick, creamy head you’d get straight from the tap.
Beer drinkers across the pond are so fond of the widget that a 2004 poll conducted by T3, a British technology magazine, named it the greatest invention of the last 40 years. Yeah, it beat out the Internet. It has also won the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement. That’s how seriously the British Isles take their beer. So, on the queen’s advice, next week when you dress in green and celebrate St. Patrick with a toast, skip the green beer and grab a Guinness.
Keep in mind that Guinness is a serious beer, “a beer you can chew” as they say, and as such is not something you want to pound back one after the other racing to finish before your buddy at the stool next to you. Guinness is a beer best enjoyed one at a time. Most importantly, remember that if you’re going out on St. Patrick’s Day, don’t drive. Get a cab, Lyft, Uber, or a buddy who’s only drinking Coke to handling the driving duties. Celebrate with a beer, not a night in jail.