Posted in Study Abroad

My Irish-Bred Drinking Habits

Heading to Ireland on my first study abroad program, my 21st year came a year early. Not a frequent drinker, I was going to at least try my hand at Guinness and Jameson with the legal age for drinking being 18. Over the course of the next eight weeks, I unknowingly shaped my drinking habits from that point forward. To this day, from what I prefer to drink to what environment I most enjoy drinking in has its roots in my time in Ireland.

Prior to departure, this was my profile: occasional drinker, not a heavy partier, enjoyed some mixed drinks but mostly enjoyed shots, always drank to get drunk but never knew I was drunk until it was too late to not be really hungover the next day, and preferred drinking at someone’s apartment or dorm to being out. By the time I returned to the US, most of that had changed.

On my first night out in Temple Bar in Dublin, Guinness was my first drink. Yuck! I had to choke down that pint. How could my sister love that beer? It tasted disgusting to me. I wasn’t taking any chances after that so I ordered a Heineken. At least I had tried it, I thought. At the next bar that evening I tried someone’s Carlsberg and was happy to have found a beer I hadn’t heard of before that was palatable. This experience is all about trying new things, right?

Over the next couple of weeks Carlsberg led to Smithwick’s (Smid-icks) which then led to Kilkenny, another Guinness product. This became my favorite beer. I wish I could get Kilkenny here in the States (lucky Canadians). Kilkenny is red in color and, as a cream ale, is thicker than Guinness, which, much to people’s disbelief, is actually relatively light in texture. That I was enjoying a cream ale shocked me; my taste buds for beer had come a long way from Heineken. It was time to try Guinness again. I did and I loved it. Still do.

St. Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny, home to Smithwick’s

As for Jameson, I enjoyed it, but then at some point near the end of my program I lost my taste for liquor. Once I returned to Wisconsin I found that I could not down a shot without my gag reflex being triggered. Still can’t. I had officially switched from being a liquor drinker to a beer drinker.

Limits were a nice thing I learned too. I quickly began to understand that I wouldn’t feel well the next morning if I had more than four pints of draught beer, keeping in mind that an Irish pint is 570 ml or just over 19 oz as compared to the US pint of 14 or 16 oz. I became in control what kind of evening (and the following morning) I was going to have. It helped in maintaining the balance of work and play. Paying attention to how much I’m consuming and of the consequences at different imbibing levels still plays a role in my drinking.

Also, being allowed into bars was new for me. I wasn’t sure how I’d like them. Back in Madison the college bars seemed to be meat markets, something I wasn’t interested in being a part of. Maybe it’s because they were my first highly frequented bars but I loved the pubs in Ireland. From the stereotypical “traditional” pub to the brightly lit workman’s pub to the loud metal bar to the country western pub, I loved them all. What I loved most about the pubs was the seeming overall acceptance of people of varying ages coming together to share a common space, having a pint and enjoying the craic.

I have yet to find a bar in the US where this is comfortably accepted. While their pubs had an air of mutual respect amongst the differing age groups, here in the US there seems a palpable distaste for other age groups. I have to say I’m as much a part of that as those I see around me. I’ve been known to say a negative thing or two about those younger than myself. Is it because I didn’t grow up in a culture where respect across age groups was valued? If I could find a bar that replicated the feel of any one of those pubs (well maybe not the metal bar), I would definitely go out on the town more. As it is, I get a closer feeling at a friend’s house or in my own home.

Upon leaving Ireland my profile became and still is: casual drinker, enjoys beer and trying new beers (I’ve noticed how my preference in type of beer has changed over the years as well – I used to really like wheat beers, now I prefer hoppy beers), I know my limits and pay attention as they change with different drinks, and though I still prefer a house/home to a bar, I enjoy going out now, and I’m still in search of a place that captures something similar to that in Ireland. If I learned to drink somewhere else, I don’t know what kind of drinking profile I’d have today. But I can’t imagine having a better self exploration and transition period from being underage to being of age than I got from my time in Ireland.

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