I was a bit apprehensive about my first holidays back in Ireland after quitting drinking.
All of my memories of the Emerald Isle revolved around pints in small village pubs and vodka Cokes in the dance clubs.
I actually loved Guinness like a proper tourist, and would order multiple pints in a night, much to my father’s chagrin. (The locals didn’t think it was ladylike to drink the dark stuff, as one sternly reminded me.)
So on this holiday I was resigned to the fact that I’d most likely be holding up the far end of the bar with a sparkling water while my cousins whooped it up during the seisiúns (traditional Irish music sessions).
But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that times in Ireland have changed, and in my favor.
My first night out was at a lovely little hotel bar on Galway Bay. I spied a massive coffee machine as I walked in and since it was still on the early side of the evening, I figured I could get away with ordering a cappuccino.
The bartender frowned, leaned over the bar and told me in no uncertain terms that it was Friday night and he would not be serving me coffee. He added that the coffee machine was broken, in case I wanted to pursue the point.
I was disappointed — ok, more like pissed off — but I didn’t let on. “Ok, I’ll just have a sparkling water then.”
He broke into the hugest of belly laughs and said he was only joking, I could have a coffee or whatever else I wanted.
I know the Irish are jokers, but he had me going there for a minute.
He then suggested that if I wanted something “stronger” than coffee, they had an alcohol-free German beer I could try.
I was the one who had to laugh now. It turned out they had my favorite hefeweizen, served in the proper tall bulbed glass.
I ordered three that night, tapping my foot to the music and musing how just a few short hours ago I had tried to order a coffee in an Irish bar, without whiskey in it.
Like the U.K., Ireland has a drinking culture. The local pub is more of an institution than a drinking hole. It’s where everyone goes after work or Sunday mass or to watch the match. It really is a place where everyone knows your name.
Pubs started hurting when the country’s drink driving laws were stiffened to the point where you could get caught driving with a hangover. Then the economic crisis pushed pubs to a tipping point, and many closed up shop for good.
Those who did survive adapted. And some started selling alcohol-free beer because they wisely saw a market.
Across the street at another pub, there was more great Irish music and much to my delight, more German alcohol-free beer.
My nights out in Ireland were happy once again.
And it wasn’t just at the pub. Even small shops had at least one alcohol-free beverage on the shelf.
Looking forward to a Sunday lamb roast, we stopped off at Joyce’s Supermarket in Knocknacarra, near Galway City, to stock up on wine. I recognized the cashier because we had ordered cases of wine here for my sister’s wedding just a few years back. (My dad is still embarrassed by how many we bought, but we didn’t have any leftover either.)
I perused the shelves looking for labels I recognized as alcohol-free. I found a lone bottle of Torres Natureo Muscat among the merlots and cabernets and let out a squeal. I would’ve preferred red wine with my lamb but as they say, beggars can’t be choosers.
I went to the till and asked if perhaps she had any other low-alcohol wines in the storeroom. She looked confused. “Didn’t you get this from the back shelf?” she asked.
Now I was the one confused. She pointed me toward the back where much to my amazement, there was a whole SECTION of alcohol-free wines and beer.
You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.
There were shelves of red, white and pink wines from Germany, Spain and the U.S. There were hefeweizens and pilsners and ciders. I was like a kid in the candy store filling up my basket.
The lamb was excellent, and while the dealcoholized German red wine I had with it probably wasn’t as good as the Rioja my family was having, I wasn’t jealous. I was just happy to be drinking along.
Is Ireland ready for a cracking dry bar in Galway City? Maybe. In the meantime, I’d be happy if they could come up with alcohol-free Guinness.
DryChick lives in London. She started DryScene to show people that they can have fun without alcohol. She wants to promote a healthy lifestyle and connect like-minded people through her events, where the focus is on the fun and not what’s in your glass. Contact her at email@example.com.Tags: alcohol-free, beer, dealcoholized, drinking, hefeweizen, Ireland, Natureo, Torres, wine
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