I’ve visited a few Irish cities but never managed to click with the black stuff. I’ve stared longingly at old fellas sitting on plum-coloured stools in pubs whilst having a good old stare with a Guinness in front of them and thought “aye, that’s the life for me”. You can’t have a lovely little stare with a pint of lager, you just can’t.
What better city to get my taste buds educated than Dublin. And what better time for a Welshman to visit than for Ireland’s first Six Nations game with spectators for two years.
A quick walk from the city centre I found myself at the impressive Clayton Hotel in Ballsbridge. This red-bricked beauty is the perfect mix of storied 19th-century building work and modern, welcoming hotel. I was a bit keen checking-in and was told that “the bar downstairs is already open” by a receptionist with a wry smile.
It could have been the daffodil pinned to my coat or the red scarf round my neck but the lad at reception seemed certain I was up for some of that famous ‘craic’ I’d heard so much about in the ‘filums’ so I settled downstairs in the hotel’s Grandstand Bar with my first Guinness of the weekend.
The Grandstand has that incredible hotel bar feeling where it never feels like it’s any particular time of day so whether you’re after a little swifty before the match (with the Aviva a handy 15 mins stroll away) or a nightcap to see out a day of exploring, the hotel bar is pleasingly welcoming and judgement free, day or night. And the Guinness? Crisp and more refreshing than I remember. But more research was certainly needed so I dragged myself away from the Grandstand and headed into town to continue my important work.
Armed with a book (written in and about Dublin, obviously) and a list of the best boozers in Dublin expertly provided by a friend who runs a certain Sh*tLondonGuinness* Instagram account, I set about my mission to turn from a city-slicking lager liker into a cream-admiring stout supper. My curated journey took me from graveyards to main streets and from back alleys to many a side-street as I sampled some of the finest Guinness in the city. I ended with a late-night pint in Grogan’s chatting to a regular about the wonders of Arthur Guinness’ discovery over an apparently famous toastie.
I’m not claiming to be a Dublin pub expert by any stretch but if it was ever humanly possible to up-end and rebuild The Long Hall brick-by-brick on my street, then I’d be an incredibly happy man. I’ve thought about that pub’s perfect atmosphere and warming presence about seven times since I started writing this article. It will now forever be known as the place where I finally fell in love with Guinness. It is my happy place.
It was time to turn in but not before a friendly final pint for the day in the Grandstand’s still vibrant setting. Honestly, it’s like some kind of magic lounge where time moves differently in there and it was even graced that weekend by several blasts of Welsh choir renditions of Tom Jones classics. That might not be every weekend though, you’d have to check.
As a newly self-appointed Guinness expert, it was time to test the previous day’s learnings at SwigsSchool.Ire aka The Guinness Storehouse. As a Welshman having witnessed how we’ve absolutely bungled what should have been our national beer, Brains, places like the Guinness storehouse fill me with a longing envy.
The place is absolutely dripping in stylish history, incredibly crafted and presented in something that is half-museum, half a Wonka-esque wondrous celebration of one of the most recognisable beers in the world.
Whether you’ve never touched a drop of the stuff or even if you’re a Guinness expert like I definitely am, The Storehouse should be top of your list for a touristy thing that doesn’t feel touristy in the slightest. I mean, yes, The Louvre has some nice pictures and The Coliseum is probably a laugh but at either of those places can you put your face on a pint of Guinness? No? Didn’t think so.
So having plied my Guinness knowledge at the source and exhausted our poor, patient tour guide with what little Guinness facts I know (I am so sorry Leo, you lovely man), what better way to celebrate than with a glass of that other Irish beverage, whiskey.
The Teelings whiskey distillery doesn’t look real from the outside and resembles something from a Hollywood film set. It’s so modern and handsome from the outside that I thought there’s no way whiskey can come from inside that place but it does - a hell of a lot actually with more than 1.5 millions bottles sold to people all over the world. In fact, my Instagram was inundated with messages from American friends and colleagues proclaiming Teelings to be their favourite whiskey. I’ll be honest and say I’d never heard of the stuff before heading to Dublin and I’m glad to say that’s now changed because the whiskey tasting and tour on offer at Teelings is superb with some flavours that will make you forget everything you thought you knew about Irish whiskey.
The final stop on my extraordinary expedition around Dublin was at the hallowed grounds of the Aviva stadium and the first home Six Nations game with fans for almost two years meant there was something quite magical in the air. If you’ve ever been to a big sporting fixture then you’ll be used to overpriced, watered-down lager that you pay for with one eye closed so you don’t see the price of a round but things are a little different at the Aviva. Perfectly poured Guinness is served by real pint-professionals who appreciate that taste as well as speed are crucial for a good stadium beer.
Apparently there was some rugby going too but we don’t need to dwell on that, do we?
■ Set in Dublin 4, Clayton Hotel Ballsbridge (claytonhotelballsbridge.com) or Clayton Hotel Burlington Road (claytonhotelburlingtonroad.com) are the ideal base for visiting the capital.
■ A one-hour Teeling Whiskey Tour is priced €17–€30. See teelingwhiskey.com.
■ Guinness Storehouse tour packages start from €22. See guinness-storehouse.com.