John B. Keane and Irish Drink

The subject of Guinness comes round and round, on Twitter, in palavers of brewery historians and other enthusiasts, and no doubt among aficionados in thousands of bars around the world. (That time will come again).

Guinness, of which I have written many times, is such an old and important brand that the relative blandness of the current draught can’t unseat the basic interest and respect.

The company offers too a number of more characterful brews, in the stout line and otherwise, perhaps in part to keep its legend alive and healthy.

We live in hope one day it will return an all-malt, bottle-conditioned stout to the market and for that matter a cask-conditioned version, too. Even if the cask is sold only in Dublin, what a way to bring tourists back to the Emerald Isle once the present world-wide pall lifts.

John B. Keane, now. Do you know the name? Most Irish reading me do, at least of a certain age. He was one of Ireland’s best-known writers of the postwar era. Primarily a playwright, he was also a novelist and essayist.

Keane wrote a novel in 1986 describing 1950s life in Dingle, The Bodhrán Makers. In the book he describes the two-cask system of dispense then used by Guinness. Currently, the extract I recall reading on Google Books is no longer available.

[For source of image see below].

I think Keane recalled that the glass was filled with mostly flat stout and just a little lively younger beer was added. Some accounts of “two-cask” have it the other way – two-thirds or more is young beer and the rest older flat. It probably varied in different localities or as recommended by different brewers. It is easy to forget that in Keane’s day, and still, Beamish and Murphy stouts were available in parts of Ireland, to compete with the famous black wine of Guinness.

I intend to buy the book soon anyway, for its inherent interest. A bodhrán is a drum, a traditional instrument in Irish music, and in part the book is about that music and its makers. John Keane was beloved for his warm, sometimes sentimental portrayals of Irish people and their ways.

He died in 2002 at 73, but can speak to us today via Youtube.  Here he is, some years before his death, speaking frankly yet disarmingly of the role drink played in his life. His unvarnished opener: “No man was ever born in this world with such a passionate love of liquor as myself”. Having read of his life it sounds to me like he enjoyed drink without actually abusing it, but as befits a good storyteller his tale here beguiles nonetheless.

A bar in Listowel called John B. Keane is named in his memory, a fact as endearing as it seems to me quintessentially Irish.

Another stop on the mental itinerary I construct of travels post-Covid 19 is John B. Keane’s in Listowel. I add it to locales in Myanmar, Gibraltar, Kolkata, Woolwich London, and a score of other places knit together only by my interest, in my way.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Facebook site of John B. Keane Bar, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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