The Long and the Stout of It
It’s rare to hear the words woman and beer aficionado in the same sentence. That wouldn’t describe me. But when I passed the beer pouring class at Guinness, I did graduate to the status of beer snob.
How I psyched myself into drinking dark beer
I’ve never been a beer drinker. Well maybe one glass at a baseball game if I’m sweltering in the burning sun, but that rarely happens in Seattle. While traveling the Irish countryside, I wanted to get into the culture, so I weaned myself onto stout, starting with sips and then half-pints. I told myself it tasted like bread and repeated the mantra: less calories than Bud. Eventually I developed enough appreciation to muster excitement for the Guinness Brewery tour.
The Guinness tour is a must
An easy walk from the center of Dublin, the Guinness Storehouse is the Epcot Center of Beer. In the building that used to be the fermenting plant, you learn history and science, get some hands-on practice, ride criss-crossing escalators, and work your way up to the Gravity Bar.
The free tour starts on the ground floor at the bottom of a seven-story replica of a Guinness glass. You could skip this part. The information is silly. The guide is, I think, trying to appease those Americans who always ask: How big is it? How much does it weigh? I can’t even remember the answers.
The Guinness family cared about Ireland
The real inspiration is on the first floor, where you read about the magnanimous Guinness family. Starting business in 1759 near a fresh mountain stream, Guinness provided a beverage free of the diseases contracted from drinking Dublin’s contaminated river water. The company developed an employee benefits program way ahead of its time and provided humane labor conditions, rare during the Industrial Revolution.
The Exhibit on the Art of Brewing
Here you learn what has made Guinness so distinctive for over 250 years. Lots of people, well mostly young guys itching for a drink, skip this exhibit. I found it interesting.
We lingered awhile in front of a beautiful waterfall and then moved on to the display of old vats and hops. From childhood I remember the Schlitz commercial ending with, “just a kiss of the hops,” which I thought was about bunnies. Wrong. Now I know that hops vine themselves up a pole and then across a wire, farmed in what looks like a field of clotheslines. The hops plant produces a sweet little white flower.
Accept the Challenge at the Guinness Academy
On the second floor you practice using the proper elbow angle for taste testing. Though your teacher acts serious, the exercise is a little silly. Like Guy Fiero has his stance for burger tasting, so Guinness has a stance for beer tasting. But since the beer was good and free, we played along.
On the fourth floor you actually practice drawing a perfect pint from the tap. Be forewarned: in a class of eight students, it can be embarrassing for those who gas it up and have to start over. Listen closely. You must perfect the 45 degree angle and use the right number of seconds. Look at the concentration on the face of this determined student.
Your final pour must have the signature Guinness red. You can see the evidence above in our two glasses, which must sit (see the one in back) until the color is just right.
Success earns you a lot of pride and a certificate.
The Gravity Bar
After class the proud graduates can carry their glasses up the escalators to a floor of restaurants or do what we did and go straight to the seventh floor Gravity Bar.
The Jameson Tour, or not
While in Dublin, we only had time for one beverage tour. Our Air bnb host recommended the Jameson tour because it’s cheaper than Guinness. I’m glad we chose Guinness. Turns out, at Jameson, only a few hand-picked group members get to taste test while the rest of the group sulks about not being chosen. Who wants to pay to watch other people enjoy expensive Irish whiskey? For a few Euros more, Guinness offers everyone two different tasting experiences.
Plus, Guinness has the one-and-only Gravity Bar, where we lounged for over an hour, relaxing after our pouring exam, enjoying the view—and splitting a second stout. I guess I’m fully weaned.
Slàinte mhath. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
The feature photo credit: “Guinness Storehouse,” by Nico Kaiser from Creative Commons
As I finish my time in the Oman’s capital, Muscat, I wonder why, with all the oil wealth, Oman doesn’t build towering skyscrapers like Dubai. They could, if they wanted to. And then I realize that the foundation of Oman’s success and stability is avoiding extremes.
Good taste and moderation reflect the soul of Oman’s enlightened Sultan, Qaboos bin Said al Said. His signature buildings have been gifts to his people, not bragging rights to the world.
He seized power from his father, Said, with the goal of using Oman’s wealth to move the country out of isolation. Yet not with the rush or frenzy of Dubai, where futuristic skyscrapers feel like a building competition with no end in sight. Oman feels like a plan.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The Sultan commissioned the new Grand Mosque as a gift to his people, commemorating his thirtieth year of power. In its extravagance, it remains tasteful.
Open to the public until 11 a.m., nonMuslims are allowed into most sections. I had to cover to gain entrance even to the grounds. And although this custom makes me uncomfortable, I followed the rules without complaint. If the Sultan can respect me enough to invite me in, I can return the gesture by avoiding offense.
The exterior offers a beautiful introduction to the world of Islam.
Beautiful landscaping lines the marble walkways.
First things first.
The Women’s Prayer Hall accommodates 750 women.
The Men’s Prayer Hall is breathtaking.
The gorgeous men’s prayer hall holds around 6,600 and may be extended under a covered outdoor courtyard. For a while the Persian carpet was the largest in the world, until the Emirates commissioned one a little larger. This one has 1,700,000,000 knots and was woven in one piece. It took 600 Iranian women four years and uses the Trabriz, Kashan, and Isfahan traditions.
It glistens with 600,000 Swarovski crystals and 24K gold plaiting on the metal parts.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque includes varying Islamic styles. The minarets seen above reflect Egyptian style.
The exquisite mosaic tile work represents various Persian styles.
The Islamic Center
And if you have any more questions at the end, you can stop by the Islamic Center, enjoy some Arabic coffee and dates, and ask away. Friendly people are on hand to answer any questions about Islam or the Koran.
The Royal Opera House
The Sultan loves classical music, so he commissioned the Royal Opera House for his people.
The Islamic arches carry over to the adjacent restaurants and mini mall. Above the designers have combined the traditional Islamic style with that of modern Paris at my favorite Parisian chocolate shop, Fauchon.
The theater of red plush seats and stunning Islamic carving has provided the venue for such greats as Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli, and Yo Yo Ma. But like the Sultan, who models respect for all, the Opera House offerings are diverse. Last year Jeff and Monica Adair saw New Orlean’s original Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
The Sultan has opened Oman to the world and the world to Oman. He has built a peaceful society that showcases the best of the Islamic World.
It’s time to appreciate Oman for its values. The Sultan reaches out to all nations, keeping relationships with countries of varying persuasions: Iran, the U.S. and the U.K. Rather than siding with one faction, Oman remains neutral in an effort to position itself as the mediator when nations comes to blows.
photos of Fauchon from Jeff Adair.
photos of the mosque from Perry Adair.
That’s right. I’m recommending a beach vacation in the Middle East. Who would do that? Well thousands of Europeans have already discovered Oman’s sun-drenched paradise.Last week I blogged on places like the desert and now below on how to relax at the beach.
But what about bathing suits? Middle Eastern women cover. Won’t people stare at me—or worse? Not in Oman. Omanis are tolerant and accepting, for one. Also, Westerners go to the beach during the day; Omanis go in the evening. If you’re really nervous, find a secluded cove or check into a resort with a private beach.
Oman’s seashore offers a wide variety of activities.
The cool thing is that Oman’s over 1200 miles of coastline with crystal-clear water and groomed sand offer a lot more to do than swim.
Find a cafe for a leisurely lunch of prawns, lobster or Indian food, or just stop in a coffee shop with a great view. You can do Starbucks or Arabian Coffee. Lots of options here at Shatti Beach.
Muscat beaches are real—not touristy—because the Omani’s love them, too. And Westerners can meander among the locals without any discomfort whatsoever. One evening we drove (crept, really) down Lover’s Lane, a narrow isthmus flanked by the sea and a mangrove forest.
Here, Omanis meet on the beach, stroll the walkway above, or crowd into the three large coffee shops, which, surprising to me, are empty in the morning but packed at night. So goes life in a culture without bars.
Oman’s dramatic coastline stretches from the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean.
In addition to viewing the rugged coast, you can sail a few miles out to see the dolphins or whales who travel the coastline.
You can hire a traditional dhow, a sailboat, or a speed boat to take you dolphin watching.
We paid about $45 per person for a 2.5-hour tour in this speedboat.
As we returned to the marina we noticed the country gearing up for the 2016 America’s Cup, the world’s oldest international competition. On Sunday, the Brits’ catamaran finished first and America’s Team, sponsored as usual by Larry Ellison and Oracle, finished second. Learn more from this youtube video.
Elegant resorts are tucked into secluded coves.
If you want to spend your holiday in the lap of luxury, check into one of Muscat’s exquisite beachfront hotels.
I love to visit hotels, if only for a drink or a meal, just to experience the ambience in case I ever need a setting for one of my novels. I was struck by the allure of the lobby in the elegant Chedi Hotel, created by its traditional Omani architecture.
Yet from the lobby through the bar to the pool I could also feel the Chedi’s peaceful zen-like vibe.
Once the Sultan’s palace, the Al Bustan Palace is now a five-star hotel. With frankincense burning in every corner of the lobby, you enter to a hazy atmosphere, which smells and feels like old Oman.
Yet outside, the property along the ocean feels like modern-day luxury as you walk through the grassy area and the beautiful, palm tree-lined infinity pool.
The Shangri-La, where we stayed, offers three distinct properties.
On top of a peak stands the very exclusive Al Husn (the fort) Hotel, with gorgeous Arabian architecture and adult amenities. During happy hour in the courtyard, drinks and hors d’oeurves are complimentary while you listen to a young woman plucking a harp under the stars.
The other two properties cater more to families with kids. But I’m writing as one big kid, who couldn’t resist traveling the lazy river, which links the hotels.
Muscat has a range of hotel prices, and if you don’t want to go five-star, you can stay in town, like we did in 2007. The Radisson has great food and a lovely property. For a private beach experience you can purchase a day pass at the five-stars for around $50 US, which includes a large buffet lunch and access to all the facilities.
Note that hotel prices are quoted in Rials, which equal 2.5 to $1.
There’s nothing like finishing the day—or the trip—with a sunset dinner at the beach.
At the Crowne Plaza, my family and I enjoyed steak or hamour, a delicious thick white fish common to this bay. Our focus crossed the bay to the mountains to the glorious sunset, a view which inspired us to count our blessings for a beautiful trip and a loving family, who showed us how to enjoy Oman.
Even wonderful leaders like Sultan Qaboos don’t live forever. As we were leaving Oman, he was traveling to Germany for cancer treatment. And since he has no heir, it’s hard to say what will result when he eventually passes. In addition, the Omanis know that their oil reserve is limited, so they are scrambling to build their tourism industry. Right now the oil/tourism partnership succeeds. But when the oil is gone, who knows. So visit Oman now while it enjoys this golden age of peace and stability.
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Al Husn Hotel photos, courtesy of the Shangri-La Hotel Press Kit.
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