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A pint of plain

Pub scenes appear frequently in my novels. In fact much of my early working life was spent in them. Pubs I mean, not novels; first as a “lounge boy” (collecting glasses and tips), eventually ending up behind the bar for my sins.

In those days – at least in my case – there was no formal training. You’d pick things up as you went along. Glasses, tips, barrels, customers, the lot.

See this? Near the top of the glass? That’s lipstick, Mel. Lipstick. Do it again and I’ll…

See that? Now that’s how to change a barrel. You’ll only be shown the once.

And see him? He’s barred.

“Osmosis.” That’s what it was called. That’s what it was all done by, though one’s mentor would usually provide at least one obligatory, rudimentary and semi-formal lesson. The training module was called How To Pour A Perfect Pint.

The perfect pint, that was a big thing back then; similar to the quest for the Holy Grail, was this quest for the perfect pint. Because a perfect pint was nirvana and a bad pint was, well, criminal.

Young men – sorry but it did seem a particularly male pursuit – embarked on this epic quest at an early age, sometimes never to be seen again, their last words being something along the lines of “Sure we could always head up to Slatterys I suppose, they’re said to have a good pint.”

But how does one pour the perfect pint of stout? Nowadays they have official videos about it.

There are probably interactive online multimedia lessons too. And correspondence courses in these matters, in which you get weekly lessons delivered to your 4G phone, and a kit in the post via DHL.

No doubt this study pack would include the following 10 essentials for “simulation exercises” to practise in the comfort of your own home kitchen:

  1. A reasonably clean glass (preferably a 20-ounce imperial pint, none of that metric stuff)
  2. One bottle of Fairy Liquid
  3. A jug with a good strong handle
  4. A spatula
  5. A tin of Coke, shaken not stirred
  6. Three heaped tablespoons of instant coffee (Maxwell House will do, the fine powder rather than the freeze-dried granules)
  7. One 4-oz carton of Avonmore double cream
  8. One can of shaving foam
  9. One lifesize inflatable doll from the “Adult” shop in South William Street, already inflated
  10. Last but not least, A Fine Sturdy Mop

For a touch of authenticity, the simulation exercise will require some sort of Guinness-like mixture. So start by taking the jug, mixing the Coke with the instant coffee, adding the double cream and a dash of Fairy Liquid. Stir well.

Now picture the scene. You’re behind the bar counter. The Customer (inflatable doll) approaches, mouth agape, clearly gagging for a pint. You take his/her order. What next?

Forget all that codology about how draught Guinness or Beamish or Galway Bay Chocolate Stout for that matter is “first drunk with the eyes”. With the eyes me arse. Actually it involves the following six steps. Exactly six, and these exact six.

Crack these six essential steps and you will be well on the way to becoming the perfect barperson…

Step #1: the glass

Grab your glass. It should be warm and wet, preferably with all traces of lipstick and dishwashery removed. If the 20-ounce glass in your study pack has broken in transit, please use a large coffee mug instead. Or a flower vase. Remove the flowers.

Step #2: the pouring

This is the delicate and legendary stage as you pour the “pint” (i.e. your Coke-coffee-and-cream mixture) from the “tap” (your jug) into the “glass” (or mug/vase).

Hold the jug about 18 inches in front of you, the handle toward your hand (this is getting very Macbeth). Tilt the glass at 45 degrees with its lip close to the “tap” (jug) to stop big bubbles forming in the head.

Of course, if this were a real pub you’d now pull the tap fully open and pour the stout until the glass is 3/4 full – or 1/4 empty if you’re the pessimistic type. But seeing as this is a simulation exercise, simply tip the jug handle TOWARDS you.

Yeah, I know. It’s awkward at first, much of the mixture may end up on the floor (hence the Sturdy Mop). But with practice a lovely stream of creamy coffee-coloured liquid will eventually end up (a) all over your trendy barman T-shirt (see Study Pack #1) or (b) mostly in the glass.

Step #3: the ‘settling’

“Aha, time to let the gorgeous creamy surge settle completely, and allow the head to separate from the rich, black body,” do we hear you say? As if. As if.

The settling period means you can forget about the pint and all that guff about nitrogen bubbles for a good 5-10 minutes (approx).

This gives you time to practise your Lively Barman Banter (see Study Pack #2) on your Customer, or settle down with the evening paper and check the racing pages, read all the Articles For Sale, Men Wanting Men, “JOHN GILES ACTUALLY PLAYED FOR LEEDS UTD SHOCK!” etc etc.

Step #4: customer interactions

Next comes a key part of the “B2C relationship” as they call it nowadays, leading to the Transactional Fulfilment Process (the till).

Or, more likely, this is where the irate blow-up doll (sorry, the Customer) will enquire politely: “Here mister, where’s me pint?” And there’s you nicely settled down with the paper and all.

Time to remind them who’s boss. Take the pint, top it up (see Step #5 below) and serve to A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT customer. Return to blow-up doll and say nonchalantly “What can I get you oh shag I forgot – what was it again…” Go back to Step #1 above.

Step #5: the ‘topping off’ ceremony

“Topping off” is an ancient Hiberno-English term from our now defunct building trade. It usually involves a trowel, a mortar, a brown envelope and a corrupt local politician.

Push the tap forward slightly until the head rises just proud of the rim but doesn’t overflow into the slops tray – it’s always harder to recycle stout than other slops. For the sake of this simulation exercise, then, simply give it a quick squirt of the shaving foam.

The barman’s art”
“At this stage many barmen will also get a white plastic spatula (provided by their Mammies) and level off the head. Some will even draw a ‘shamrock’ shape or smiley face or ‘Vote Yes’ logo on the head, in a technique much copied by coffee baristas. This might go down well with The Tourist Coach or the Chattering Classes of Dublin 4, but why not try your hand at something slightly fancier and more adventurous – a Picasso perhaps from his ‘blue’ period, or a Warhol, a Damien Hirst, or something more indigenous (a Felim Egan, a John Hinde, a Dorothy Cross). A ‘Mondrian’ pattern is also particularly popular with the ladies at the moment.

Step #6: the retort

Two minutes later, the blow-up doll returns to the counter, says something along the lines of: “Sorry boss but that’s a bad pint. It tastes a bit soapy if yez ask me, y’know wharra mean?”

Stay adamant at all times: “Looks fine to me. What d’you think, Joe? Looks fine to Joe too. See?”

If said Customer persists, simply take the offending glass, knock back a slug (obviously making sure the head of white shaving foam goes ABOVE your gob before swallowing the brown liquid) and say: “Tastes fine to me. Joe, Joe. Does that taste fine to you?”

And there you go! A perfectly perfect pint.