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Prince Philip eyeballs a pint of Guinness during a tour of the famous brewery with his wife, Britain's Queen Elizabeth, on Wednesday. He resisted the temptation to take a sip of the black stuff. Click on the photo to see a slideshow of the queen's visit to Ireland.
By Chris Hampson, Director of NBC News’ International News
LONDON – There are many things to admire about Her Majesty the Queen.
Her regal stiff upper lip is one of them.
But her resoluteness in smiling at a perfectly-poured pint of Guinness during a tour of the famous brewery Wednesday – and not even taking a sip of it – is one of those regal mysteries that leaves me gasping for a glass of the black stuff.
There is something particularly beguiling about a glass of Irish stout – deep black with a creamy head and a flavor of burnt malt and chocolate.
It is, as they say, an “acquired” taste.
I remember a wonderful advertising campaign some years back that read simply: “I don’t like Guinness. So I’ve never tried it.”
I suspect that was in the back of the queen’s mind today.
When it’s poured well – and in Ireland they know no other way – it is indeed a thing of beauty. In any Irish bar you will see it in various stages of readiness, the bartender taking loving care of each one, slowly filling the glass and waiting for the “surge” to subside, and gently topping up the glass to ensure the cream is in exact proportion to the black below.
Then, with a gentle flourish, the shamrock is sometimes etched into the foam with the final drops.
According to Guinness, it takes 119.53 seconds to make the perfect “double pour” pint. Even at two minutes, it would be worth the wait.
On busy days I have been known to phone ahead to my favorite Irish bar in London and order a round of stout, so that my friends and I could walk in to a warm greeting and a cold glass of beautifully poured ale.
Of course, there is more to stout than alcohol. Every pint contains a large dollop of Ireland.
If the Blarney Stone had a sense of smell, it would no doubt detect the stuff on most of the puckered-up lips planted on it.
I remember the Northern Ireland firebrand preacher and politician, the Rev Ian Paisley, rounding on a well-known parliamentary reporter after smelling stout (the reporter’s favorite lunch) on his breath. "Sir," he bellowed. "You have been partaking of the devil’s buttermilk."
Another famous son, author James Joyce, called it the “wine of Ireland” – and he certainly had a fondness for wine. The drinking scenes he wrote in “Ulysses” capture well the convivial, boozy atmosphere of Dublin.
I remember, though not very well, a long night of drinking stout and Irish whiskey in a posh hotel in Dublin with a group of journalist friends some years ago.
As the Irish say, the “craic” was very good and we lost ourselves in the fun and banter.
It was the manager himself who approached us to ask if we could keep the noise down.
“Why?” we asked.
“Because,” he said patiently, “you’re disturbing the breakfast guests.”
So drinking the black stuff is not without its perils. But I don’t think alcohol was why the queen – and her husband – both abstained.
I think it’s because royal dignity was at stake.
Her Majesty the Queen simply knew by instinct that a stiff upper lip – topped with an unavoidable creamy froth moustache – would have brought a smile to everyone’s face but hers.
So allow me, ma’am. Cheers. Slainte. And down the hatch.
You don’t know what you’re missing.
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