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Ode to Guinness: A perfect pint, indeed

It’s mesmerizing to watch, that cascade of tiny bubbles dancing down the dark and roasty pour.

That effervescence, of course, is one of its most notable hallmarks – along with its dense, creamy head and all-around velvety mouth-feel.

Perfect pint, indeed.

Elegant-looking in a glass, smooth and balanced in a sip, comforting but not too heavy – with notes of coffee, caramel, dark chocolate and just a whisper of smoke for that signature slightly burnt flavor – Guinness offers remarkably easy drinking for such a distinctively dark beer.

The finish is dry and clean. And a serving is surprisingly low in calories and alcohol content. Guinness Draught has 128 calories per 12 ounces. And its alcohol by volume is 4.2 percent, the same as Bud Light.

My goodness. My Guinness.

First created nearly 260 years ago, Guinness is the stuff of legend. It embodies tradition.

And, for many Irish-Americans, it also represents a particular romance with the Old Country.

“We have a romance about all things Irish that the Irish don’t have,” said Tim Doherty, 62, owner of O’Doherty’s Irish Grille in downtown Spokane. “There’s a lot more wrapped up in it than just beer. It is, for a lot of us, the beer that our parents and grandparents drank.”

The best way to enjoy the iconic Irish stout is on draft. Its famously frothy top results from mixing the beer with nitrogen as it pours.

It’s a six-step process, starting with selecting a Guinness-branded glass, then holding it at a 45-degree angle. And bartenders who are sticklers for perfection insist on 119 seconds to achieve what the Guinness Storehouse website refers to as “the iconic surge and eventual settle.”

Well, 119.53 seconds, to be precise.

“You have to wait for it,” O’Doherty said. “You pour it three-fourths of the way and you let it sit. There’s a romance to it. There’s courtship and consummation.”

Roasted barley gives Guinness its flavor and deep ruby-red – almost black in appearance – hue. It’s what makes it so versatile, too.

Guinness in beef stew? Yes, thank you. In chocolate cake or chocolate mousse? You bet.

And, “Of course, there’s the car bomb,” O’Doherty said, referring to a shot of half Irish whiskey and half Baileys Irish Cream dropped into a pint of Guinness that’s about three-fourths full.

“It tastes like a chocolate milkshake,” O’Doherty said.

He’s been to Ireland twice, first in the mid-1990s and again in 2010. Both times, he made a pilgrimage to the Guinness brewery, established when Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease at St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin. That is not a typo.

Almost 258 years in – the lease was signed at the tail end of 1759 – there are still some 8,742 years to go. Guinness should be around for a long time.

“In the days before craft beer was a thing, imports were a mainstay for more adventurous drinkers, and Guinness was about the most flavorful one you could find,” said Rick Bonino, The Spokesman-Review’s resident beer guru and On Tap columnist. “Even now, it’s often a safe choice at places with more limited selections.

“Part of its appeal is its drinkability, though not everyone understands that,” Bonino said. “Some people think all dark beers are strong, but regular Guinness Draught is just over 4 percent alcohol by volume, compared to 6 percent and up for many craft beers. That fits right in with today’s popularity of lighter ‘session’ beers, which the Irish and British basically invented through their pub culture.”

O’Doherty’s, in its 25th year in downtown Spokane, features three taps of Guinness during the week of March 17 – from the Saturday’s parade through St. Patrick’s Day itself. It regularly offers one.

The bar ups the number of handles because pub-goers drink more than four times the amount of Guinness during St. Paddy’s festivities than they do during regular weeks.

Last year, O’Doherty’s patrons guzzled 23 kegs of Guinness during the week of St. Paddy’s, O’Doherty said. “In a normal week, we go through five. This is our biggest week of the year. And, far and away, it’s our biggest Guinness week of the year.”

In recent years, American craft beer has been on the rise, particularly hop-forward India Pale Ales. Guinness is the opposite of those bitter brews.

“It’s certainly not hoppy,” O’Doherty said. “It has a slight coffee flavor to it, but it’s not very strong.

“Of course,” he said, “you have to have a shamrock in the foam.”

That’s how they serve it at the top-story Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

But the reach of Guinness is global. The iconic dry Irish stout is available in about 150 countries worldwide and brewed in nearly 50. More than 1.8 billion pints are sold each year, and more than 10 million glasses are drunk each day.

Even though American craft beer is gaining popularity, O’Doherty said, “The aura of Guinness is strong.”