Thursday, 4 January 2018

Food & Drink History: {Opinion} Be Careful What You Wish For...


As you may be aware, many food writers, bloggers, tweeters and other so called food/nutrition/wellness 'experts' tend to annoy me.

But what's really galled me in recent days are those who say we need to eat 'what our grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents ate...' 

If we think that food wasn't 'processed' or was 'additive-free' (their words) back in these halcyon good-old-days we would do well to read a little more history and give our 'like' thumbs a rest. There seems to be a body of people who think that everyone baked their own bread, made their own drink and grew their own food back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, or bought everything from some wholesome local market or guano-fed local farm, but looking back through any newspaper from that time will quickly highlight the issues that existed with food and drink poisoning or other contamination, and just how unsafe eating or drinking could be back then. We only need to think back at the plethora of chemicals available in the last century to know this - for example we used mercury-based products to prevent clubroot in brassicas, also, DDT anyone?

We can debate until be are blue in the face about whether these or any of the batch of still available controls are absorbed into our bodies but the fact remains that there was less science-based knowledge, testing and understanding back in the last couple of centuries than there is now. Sure some people grew more vegetables themselves but not everyone did, could or even wanted to. And yes, I'm being purposely selective and controversial with my points but then again so do those who spout food related nonsense...

Here's an article that appeared in an old local paper, which talks of issues in England but I'm sure that the same sentiment would/could have been applied to Ireland too.

Commercial Honesty in England

A writer, who made no small noise in the world among a certain class of individuals, wrote a book entitled “What to Eat, Drink, and Avoid.” If he were alive now, perhaps he might tell us how to avoid these things, recommend for daily food, which area adulterated, and that to a shameful extent. Unfortunately, the public generally are not up to snuff; it is only the practical chemist who can throw a light upon the matter, and show that we swallow slow poison daily, while we hug ourselves with an assurance, that by going to the best market things may be purchased “pure and adulterated.” Alas! Human weakness leads us to strange conclusions. It is not the tradesman making the greatest show who are the most honest. Allured by the greed of gain, he discovers that honesty in business is but a name, and that unless he acts like his neighbours, in his defence, he must shut up shop, or walk through the Bankruptcy or Insolvent Debtors’ Court, to throw off his liabilities.
Modern science, aided by the alembic of the chemist, has evolved many hidden mysteries, which, in some shape or other, have brought to bear upon the food we eat, in clothes we wear, and the liquid we drink. Our forefathers drank their nut-brown ale, brewed from malt and hops; they ate bread made from good wheaten flour, regardless of its whiteness; and tossed off wine that had not been flavoured, or sham age given to it by the brewers’ druggist. All things are altered in this respect for the worse. People must have their appetites tickled. Your English sausage is too common for the table. Nothing short of real German will do now-a-days, and the newer the importation the better. Perhaps, instead of coming from Germany, it may have been manufactured in Cow-cross, the knacker’s yard contributing greatly to the stuffing department; or some superannuated cow, that had been killed to save it dying a natural death, may have furnished the material; but no matter, the sausage is German, and German sausages must be good, because it is sold at a heavy price. Has no one ever experienced a fullness of the stomach accompanied with dyspepsia, without asking himself the cause? Of course, it was not the German sausage, made of well seasoned offal, like Goldner’s preserved meat. They cannot account for it. The gentleman who drank three bottles of wine after dinner and found himself the next day unwell, laid the fault to eating those “cursed potatoes.” It was not the wine, for his friend never introduced wine that would give any man the head-ache, or cause him to fall under the table in a state of giddiness; and so with those who devour sausage – they fly to something else as an excuse for their illness. 
Some people snub what is called “second bread,” because it is not so white as the loaf of the first quality. Perhaps they do not know that the chemist has taught the baker how to bleach his flour with alum and other ingredients. They may not know that he has the power to make a very white loaf out of the cheapest materials; but such is the case, and the baker who can make the whitest loaf at the cheapest price will out-distance all his competitors. 
The beer we drink is made intoxicating by the druggist’s aid; malt and hops are very well in their way, but, notwithstanding the aid of these, the beer wants body; a fullness is required to be given to it, and Messrs. Strychnine, Cocolus Indicus, and Quassia, are called in to aid the process of the mash-tub. Wine is snubbed if it present no bead, and therefore what is done to make it sparkling and beady? Mr. Arsenic is ready with his recipe to give it the required advantages. Gin, the most adulterated of all liquor, is flavoured, and made strong or rendered weak by the aid of modern discovery. 
You think you use pure colonial sugar, whereas one-half of it is adulterated with sugar manufactured from potatoes, at three half-pence a pound. As to coffee, it is compounded of chicory, horse beans, horses’ liver, and other delicacies. Your milk and cream are manufactured of bruised sheep’s brains, with sugar of lead, and other choice things from the laboratory. The young Raleighs of the day plume themselves upon being able to detect a “prime Havannah” from a sham one, little dreaming that, with the exception of the outward coating (we speak of English manufactured cigars), there is not a particle of tobacco in their composition. If a sceptic doubt what we say, he may see, in the eastern warehouse of the Customhouse, plenty of the imitation of leaf tobacco, which the authorities have seized. 
We talk of the “cup which cheers, but not inebriates,” and buy the finest green tea, brought to that state by Prussian blue, copper, and other deleterious ingredients. The nerves get unstrung, and the hands become shaky from drinking gin; and they would be shaky if the beverage of a person were green tea. There is not a thing we eat but what is adulterated or doctored in some shape or other; there is not a thing we drink but contains slow poison. Your best Witney blankets are half yarn; the gold chain you so much delight in is nothing but lacquered copper; in fact, cheating and humbug extend over every business and profession. Londoners area surfeited with drugs of one description or another. They attribute half their ailments to a want of pure air; and, in the hope of improving their health, retreat to Bleak House, Thacheray Villa, or Gothic Cottage, in the suburbs of the metropolis. Pure air is now the panacea for all conceivable ills. It is time we learned “What to Eat, Drink, and Avoid” - Dispatch
via The Carlow Post 1854
(Paragraphs added by me to aid reading - original text below)

This is from 1854 ... but ironically with a few changes to the language and examples it could have been written today and posted up on a number of food-scarer's websites. Whole paragraphs could be lifted and used by some of the confusion/fear merchants that ply their trade in the nod-along, retweet, repost social media society we now live in. After all, doesn't it sound like some of the food snobs that spout their half-baked (Hah!) opinions on social media and now also in too many mainstream publications?

Even taking the side that the above writer was just some crackpot and food contamination wasn't in reality an issue, then doesn't that play into my personal belief that some of these modern food-gurus are crackpots too?  Either way it tells a tale...

[The part about the German sausages put a wry smile on my face because we now think something similar regarding local ones, and given my distrust of promoting overpriced, local-for-local-sake products with no oversight or accountability it struck a chord.
 '...but no matter, the sausage is German local, and German local sausages must be good, because it is sold at a heavy price...'
(But don't get me started on local and the word 'cheap' again, I got enough abuse last time.)]

Next time someone says that they wish they could eat like they did back in their ancestors time show them this, and tell them to read more, question everything (yes, even this post) and - ironically I know - believe less of what you see on your screens.

It's time we looked at how we eat and drink as much as what we consume, perhaps even more so in my opinion. I'd never claim to be an expert on anything, but I do question and research as much as I can about the subjects I write about.

I take everything with a pinch of salt...

... although apparently we can't do than anymore, unless it's some kind of special salt of course!

Liam

(With the usual thanks to my local library.)




Friday, 22 December 2017

Travel: Bonn, Germany Part I - Christmas Markets, Castles and Beethoven's Birthplace!


So here we go again...

I have a reoccuring fear that our annual pilgrimage to a Christmas market each December has become so regular that it is in danger of becoming boring. Even though we usually pick somewhere away from the normal tourist crowds, I was still worried that wherever we chose this year would just be the same as every other trip - like some kind of Every-Weihnachtsmarkt, Germany ... with the same old stalls selling the same old items.

I would hate for that sameness to creep in to our trips, so we put a bit of thought and research into our destinations from year to year...

Bonn isn't on the list of names trotted out each year when people think about a city to visit at this time of year, especially when the tourist magnet of Cologne is just up the road. But as ever - and because of my above mentioned fear of boredom - we chose to venture on the less travelled path, and Bonn was somewhere we knew very little about so it ticked that box in my travel-needs list. That combined with its ease of access via a couple of decent airports and affordable - and available - accomodation, plus a walkable looking city centre with a decent sized market that sprawled across a few streets and squares, meant we took a chance...

And we were glad we did.

At the Christmas market itself the quality and variety of the stalls were superb, it seemed that the various stall holders were vying with each other to produce bigger displays or better products, all presented with that welcome bit of theatre that is essential at this time of year. Most noticeable was  that, apart from a couple of the usual suspects, most of what we saw was local or at least local-ish, plus the quality of everything from the food to the gifts and drinks were all excellent. We were impressed with all the handmade items such as jewelry, pottery and wood carvings, although admittedly a lot of it was in the higher price bracket but it still appeared to be value for money.

The food ranged from plank-cooked salmon (top right below) to flammkuchen and of course plenty of wursts! From vegetarian dishes to roast pork and bacon there was a food-type here for everyone. There was plenty for the sweet toothed too, with our favourite being the flavoured, marshmallow filled Schokoküsse ... we even saw a churro stand! As well as the usual mulled wine there were plenty of standard drinks available and I had my first mulled Belgian beer, a really good Liefmans Kriek served in the correct glassware!

The market stretches from Münsterplatz and Bottlerplatz, along adjoining streets to Friedensplatz and with 180 stalls there's plenty of choice ... but it gets very busy at night so I'd recommend heading out to a bar or a restaurant for a drink or a bite away from the city centre if it gets too hectic. (More on this option in my next post.) 

There's more than the Christmas market to see in Bonn of course, as there are plenty of sights too, although on this kind of trip I find that it's nice just to wander the streets and keep the agenda to a minimum. But one building that's literally impossible to miss is the huge multi-towered Bonner Münster - The Basilica of St. Cassius and Florentius - on Münsterplatz (obviously!) although sadly it was closed for renovations when we visited but we did get to look around the beautiful cloister. (Curiously enough they have built a glass office at the side of the church and placed someone in it whose only job appears to be telling people that the building is closed!)

Bonn is also the birthplace of Beethoven, a fact that's hard to miss given how his name is plastered everywhere and not-so-cheery statues of good old Ludwig abound, including the imposing one on Münsterplatz where he scowls down from his plinth at the christmas merrymakers. The self-guided tour of the museum and house of his birth (picture below) is quite interesting, and is full of items and pictures connected to him. It's a pleasant way to kill an hour or so and a must-do for anyone interested in such an important composer.

The city is a great place for retail therapy too with plenty of mid- and high-end brands available, and a nice touch for Christmas is that each of the main shopping streets in the main part of the city have their name in lights. Walking these streets you'll notice that most of the city was destroyed in the war but some old building remain such as the Knusperhäuschen (centre below), and there are plenty of interesting statues and fountains around to take that raw edge off the city. Bonn also boasts an excellent food market on Marktplatz ( More original naming!) and a nice little flower market close by.

There are many other sights too that we missed or hadn't time to see, I've included a link to the Bonn tourism website below to show what else there is to see and do.

Our other reason for staying in Bonn was to visit the magnificent Schloss Drachenburg with its stunning views over the Rhine. The castle is a wonderfully over-the-top, turreted masterpiece and certainly has a serious fairytale quality. It was built in just three years from 1882 to 1884 half way between the town of Königswinter and the older castle at the top of the hill called Drachenfels - Dragon's Rock! Sadly there was a lot of cloud and mist when we visited so we had to strain our eyes to see the river winding its way in either direction below us...

We got there by taking tram 66 from the city centre to Königswinter Fähre and then it's just a short walk to the funicular railway that take you up to the castle. We timed our visit to coincide with a Dickens' style Christmas market that was taking place in the grounds and a light show that bathed the building in colour. The house itself is full of wonderful stained glass, carvings and unbelievably detailed workmanship, murals and paintings. I'd imagine it's just as stunning in summer so whenever you visit Bonn it would be worth going, and perhaps in summer you can abandon the train and climb all the way to the top! (Check the website for opening times - I've included the link below.)

So ... Bonn might not have been on your radar up to now but I would seriously recommend a visit, and in truth we only scratched the surface of what can be seen, as time, the Christmas market and the need to eat and drink were our enemy as usual!

It could certainly figure in your Christmas market shortlist for next year ... don't forget to try the mulled kriek!

Next up will be a post about the beer and food we had during our visit...

Liam

Links:
Christmas Market
Bonn Tourist Information
Schloss Drachenburg



Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Beer History: Genuine London Porter in Kilkenny - 1767


Here's a nice early-ish mention from 1767 of London porter being available in Kilkenny - hardly a shock but nice to see it in print. The Bartholomew Rivers mentioned here was a wealthy merchant who is perhaps best known for helping to transform Tramore just outside Waterford city into a seaside resort. In this advert from Finn's Leinster Journal (printed in Kilkenny) he says that he has 'fitted up a warehouse in the city [Kilkenny] to hold porter' and just porter by the sounds of it, which shows its popularity in the city. It ties in with a couple of my previous porter related posts here and here too.


What is also of some interest is the specific mention of hops in the advert in relation to his Waterford warehouse, a hardly surprising sign of how important hops were to the brewing trade, as they are mentioned here before tea and sugar. Perhaps Mr. Rivers was one of the bigger importers of them...

Liam

(With thanks as ever to the local studies room in my local library.)

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Drink History: Hop Bitters - For New Life and Vigor!



Here are a three of adverts from the late 19th and very early 20th century, two of which make great claims of the benefits of Hop Bitters...

In this second advert we can see the ingredients listed as 'Hops, Bucha, Mandrake, podophyllin and Dandelion' - all of which are still available today in various forms - but what attracted my attention was the £500 that would be paid to anyone it didn't cure! I wonder did anyone claim it?

Judging from the advert below even our local bottlers got in on the act - without making any such bold claims I might add...


Anyhow, it's all food - or drink - for thought and I think it deserves an airing, I'll return to the topic as soon as I find some more information on it.

Who knows? I might even make some!

Liam

(With thanks again to my local library...)

Friday, 24 November 2017

Beer & Whiskey: Did Jameson get it wrong?


(This post relates to free product I received from Jameson - although there's more to it than that - so back out now if that bothers you...)

As I've said previously, I'm not really a whiskey person.

Although I do like the idea of sitting back in my armchair with a nice warming single malt and a pipe, basking in the glow and warmth of an open turf fire with a little bit of vinyl jazz tickling my eardrums, as I read the latest dispatches from abroad with my obedient King Charles asleep at my feet...

Okay, so perhaps that's overkill but the fact is I've never really been exposed to spirits in any meaningful way until recently, and even now a bottle can last me an awful long time, so perhaps my hearts not really in it ... I may need to cancel the spaniel and the load of turf.


Spirits such as whiskey were never something that featured in my past. My parents and grandparents didn't drink much, although allegedly when my great grandfather came back from WW1 with undiagnosed (and unheard of) PTSD he took to whiskey to blank out his past and spent his journey home from the local pub saluting the telegraph poles that were erected along his route, perhaps in tribute to fallen comrades.

I was for a brief time partial to the odd whiskey myself in my younger days when my constitution was better and I needed that warming alcohol hit without the stomach-filling volume of a pint. But in recent years my 'Drink Less, Drink Better' mantra (which I may have stolen from The Beer Nut) has kicked in and although I still enjoy alcoholic beverages, it's more likely to be beer or wine and taken in a different, more analytical and sometimes-social, way where the alcohol content can be an unwanted but necessary part of the consumed liquid.

But I still do buy the occasional bottle of spirits, which are slowly consumed and rarely commented on. Therefore I was surprised to receive a free gratis bottle of Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition a few weeks ago via their marketing company - not that I refused it because, let's face it, I'm not that stupid! (Hush now...)

Anyhow, the whiskey came with a memory stick which contained a blurb about the whiskey and some images ... which I quickly deleted and it's now full of beer and whiskey related history research - cheers Jameson! It also arrived with a can of Franciscan Well Chieftain IPA to pair with the whiskey, as the whiskey was finished in casks that were previously used for flavouring an IPA.

This struck me as a little odd as surely the IPA would mask any hint of hops, which already had to fight for its place on my palate with the whiskey flavours themselves? Nevertheless I did what I was told and sure enough, although they were quite pleasant together they didn't give me the contrast I was looking for ... 

So I went off-piste and ignored Jameson and their silly ideas ... Sure what would they know about whiskey anyway?


I tried drinking the whiskey with one of my all time favourite stouts from Galway Bay Brewing - Buried at Sea. This was better for me, as the contrasting sweet stout brought out the subtle citrus quality of the whiskey. I'm sure other stouts would also work by the way - just differently.

A different night I tried another experiment with a half measure of the IPA Caskmates and the same amount of the older Caskmates Stout Edition of the whiskey, which I'd purchased myself by the way. This was better again as the sharp contrast between the vanilla-like stout edition enhanced the hoppy-citrus notes of the IPA version and vice versa, this part of the experiment impressed me the most.

Lastly, I tried the Stout edition of the whiskey with an IPA and again found this a much better partner, as that contrast in tastes worked much better for me. Again the nice vanilla sweetness of the whiskey enhanced the hops in beer and even bought out a different side to the malts.

So ... where does that leave us? Well for me Jameson did get it wrong...

They should have shipped the IPA edition with a stout and the stout edition with an IPA - but that's just my palate of course - and if you want to pick up the hops in the IPA whiskey in any meaningful way try it after the stouted version.

Then again some people like to match yellow with orange and others like the contrast of yellow with blue ... so maybe you like complements, where I like contrasts...

Liam

(Thanks again to Jameson & Co.)

(Responsible Bit: This experiment took place over a couple of weeks, I don't suggest doing it all in one night!)

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Food History: Hams! Hams! Hams! Christmas in Carlow - 1891

As I've mentioned previously, Carlow was a pretty cosmopolitan and prosperous place back in the 1800s and here's a nice advert from 1891 showing the range and variety of food and drink available at this time. Perhaps it's also testament to the sheer number of people who could afford these items within the town environs and in the many Big Houses a little beyond.

And this was just one shop of a few that sold these kind of products ... some lucky local people were going to have a good Christmas that year...

The Carlow Vindicator 1891 - Local Library

Morris's stood on the corner of Burrin Street and Bridewell Lane, on part of the site where the town's hideous post office now lurks. Judging from the maps at this time, it was quite a large establishment - as it would need to be to stock such a range. Calling itself an 'Italian Warehouse' - with the subtitle of 'The Marsala House' with fancy-shmancy script - is a superb piece of marketing exoticism that would appeal to the landed gentry returning from trips abroad back in the day.

I will draw your attention to some of the lines listed:
  • Coffee roasted and ground on site daily
  • Doomvera tea - 'The Tea of the Future' (Nope, I have no clue either...)
  • Whiskey, scotch ... even old Islay malt
  • Old Cognac in wood and 21 year old brandy
  • Large range of champagnes, plus Hock and Moselle wines
  • Gin, rum and liqueurs
  • Guinness's stouts, Bass and Allsopp's ales and Royal Pilsener
  • Fruits and nuts - fresh, tinned, preserved and crystalised
  • Rices, spices, jams and jellies
  • Cossaques [sic] (Christmas crackers), biscuits, chocolates (Cadbury's and Fry's) and other confectionary
  • Meat, fish and cheese ... including Gorgonzola
  • Those special Hams! Hams! Hams! (No turkeys of course...)
...and much more as you can see.

Part of me would love to have seen this place at Christmas ... busy with customers, packages being loaded up for delivery around the town, plus new lines arriving from far flung places...

Perhaps it's no different to shopping in any supermarket now in a way, but my romantic, nostalgic - and possibly naive - side makes me think I'm somehow missing something special, like some kind of food-focussed time-traveller's FOMO.

I'll leave you to mull over the stock with this last bit of 19th century marketing blurb that's stuck on to the end of the advert...

'Whiskey that needs no eulogy.'

What does that even mean?

Liam

Friday, 10 November 2017

Travel: Wexford Town - Be Entertained...


Okay, I admit it ... I have a bit of a gra* for Wexford...

I'm not 100% sure what the actual draw is but I can tell you that it started with a visit to Lambert's Bar and Yellowbelly brewery a couple of years ago and grew from that to the point where I try to get down at least twice a year, to lurk in strange corners of the town gazing at walls, doors or windows, drinking quietly in bars or just staring out to sea. Perhaps that's part of the attraction as I have a love of being close to the ocean but an intense fear of water, which means that maybe my psyche might be literally trying to psych me out, daring me to be close to the edge of terrafirma but not in the sea itself.

This time I was down with the other half - and by far my better half (well, she may be reading this...), who is also half Wexican I might add - on a quick overnighter, to relax and have a little alone time, which gets increasingly rare when kids, work and life's various bumps and bruises need attending.

Arriving in town in the early afternoon we checked into our lodgings at Bugler Doyle's and headed for lunch in the aforementioned Simon Lambert & Sons, or Simon's Place as it's also called. It was in the bowels of the cellar here that Yellowbelly beer was born and thrived, outgrowing its cramped surroundings and flexing its prodigious muscles into a bigger, better space just out of town. I had a tour of the cellar on my visit back in 2015 by head brewer Declan Nixon, whose passion for experimentation has birthed a thousand (or so it seems) different beers over the last few years, very few of which haven't appealed to me. Following the various Yellowbellys on Twitter is akin to watching a dysfunctional, manic family argue, joke and express some kind of quasi-love in what is quite frankly a disturbing - if endearing and entertaining - way ... but regardless of that, they produce great beers that rarely disappoint and are very likely to elicit 'Oohs!' and 'Aahs!' from the first sip.

Anyhow, Lambert's also do a very busy trade in lunch and we were fortunate to get a seat, as the place was extremely busy on the saturday we visited  ... luckily I'm not above elbowing little old ladies out of the way if there's a promise of good food and drink. I ordered a salad with chicken, black pudding and a fried egg, which may sound like a strange combination but was exactly what I needed, especially when washed down with a cask pulled Rascal's Wunderbar ... wunderbar indeed! Herself had a tasty looking steak sandwich which mustn't have offended her much, as she left very little of it behind her. I even convinced her to have a Yellowbelly lager instead of her usual - and frankly embarrassing-to-ask-for - Bud ... a minor miracle in itself.

We finally felt guilty about the amount of people looking for seats so we paid up - refusing to make eye contact with the little old ladies we had wrestled for our table - and toddled out into the town, very full and happy with our lunch, drinks and service.

Wexford is great shopping town and we wove our way along the very busy South & North Main Streets past shoppers, tourists and herds of feral-looking teenagers, glancing in the many windows that line the street. We weren't really shopping just browsing but I did end up in a quirky secondhand shop and managed to accidentally buy an old embossed, skittle-shaped beer bottle and get my ear bent by the owner. We wandered on to the old town walls and the gate that once guarded the town dwellers from marauding Carlow men no doubt. I guess the locals take all this for granted - a substantial part of the walls still remain - but when you live in a town that has lost all traces of its walls it makes you appreciate these lumps of rocks and mortar all the more...

Wexford has a long and colourful history which is worth looking into, so I'd suggest when you're finished reading this you delve a little deeper if that's of interest - you won't be disappointed.

We bookended our dinner that evening with return visits to Lambert's where I had a very pleasant McGargle's Toothless Dec brown ale and an absolutely sublime sour saison dry-hopped with Irish hops from Yellowbelly called The Harvest King, my favourite beer of the weekend. (No pints by the way, just half ones - drink less drink better remember?)

Later on in a then much busier bar that was full of the after-show crowds I had Are You Not Entertained?, a full-on double IPA which is exactly what I needed after dinner to scrape my palate of rabbit and pork fat...

We had that dinner in The Yard just off Lower George's Street, a rather nice if quite loud restaurant that was very popular on this Saturday night. I chose the potted rabbit for starter followed by a miso glazed pork belly dish, while herself had some excellent goat's cheese croquettes followed by lamb rump, and we shared a very nice, fruity bottle of Les Amies Chanteuses. (As well as a great looking wine list they also stock a selection of micro produced beers, so don't worry if wine is not your thing.)

My rabbit was served with radish, pickled blackcurrants and a slab of soda bread ... this fantastic combination worked really well and was one the nicest plates of food I've had while eating out in Ireland in a long time. The pork was served with a kimchi parcel, rice, cashew cream and pickled mouli ... and  those little parcels of kimchi were the highlight on the plate and I was quite sad when I'd finished the last one! I had some issues with the pork, as the miso glaze seemed to have over-salted the meat to the point where the lovely crackling was inedible and even the rest of the belly slice was just barely tolerable for me - a salt addict. It was still a very enjoyable meal but the salt did overshadow it a tad ... perhaps I'm not as salt tolerant as I think I am? I did mention this to our waiter and she said she'd say it to the chef ... if she did he either took it on the chin or decided I didn't know what I was talking about, which was perhaps the correct assumption. Service was excellent from booking to leaving, where we were given a voucher for a couple of free glasses of bubbly in a related bar on Monch Street, which was a nice - and clever - touch.

When we got to the bar we realised it wasn't our kind of spot, as it seems to have a endless procession of noisy, wobbly hen parties coming and going ... as entertaining as watching them might be it was too loud and brash for us middle-aged, slightly bloated, stick-in-the-muds to enjoy. Instead we rambled on along the quays where we witnessed a man in a van threaten the bouncers of a nightclub while shouting profanities. I'm not sure what his problem or agenda was but I'm pretty sure that hanging half out of the window of a Volkswagon Caddy waving a hurley and name calling was going to get him too far.

We watched the spectacle for a while before cutting back up onto North Main Street where we discovered poor Barry...

Barry was getting a ferocious telling of from his partner. She accused him of bringing shame to her family - among other things - and called him a number of choice words that I won't repeat here. Barry was rambling in our direction with his hands in his pockets and head down, when he finally cracked, turned to face her and voiced his disagreement with her assessment of how their evening had went with a few germanic words of his own. This only caused his accuser to raise her voice louder - which I didn't think was possible - and give him a shove for his troubles. I presume some primitive survival instinct kicked in then as he avoided her next attempted contact and detoured up Rowe Street looking for sanctuary, as his soon-to-be-former-partner tottered after him, flinging more insults in his wake...

Five minutes later as I sipped my 'Are we not Entertained?' in Lambert's I thought ... Why yes, yes we are...

The Sky and the Ground is the other main my-kind-of-beer bar I frequent in Wexford and it was here we decided to have a night cap. Earlier in the day I had a pleasant drink from their more than decent tap selection and a read in the quiet, lovely little snug just inside the door. Tonight we headed up to the Suas bar on the first floor, as the last time we were here they had a great bottle range and I was hoping for something special to finish the night in style. The range on the chalkboard seems to have diminished since my last visit but I spotted two brett stouts from Otterbank Brewery - Declan from Yellowbelly's own brand - either of which would have suited my needs. Unfortunately the chalkboard wasn't up to date and both were gone ... a huge disappointment! I asked about any imperial stouts that might be lurking in the fridge, shelf or cellar but there were none, and sensing the barperson's impatience I settled on a gin for myself and a coffee liqueur for herself, and sat like a grump in the corner, cross and disappointed, mumbling about stouts and getting into a strop.

That changed...

This place is possibly the best place to be on a saturday night to people-watch. Notwithstanding hen parties, hurley bearing fruitcakes and poor Barry ... watching the comings, goings and interactions of people here was fascinating. Merry ladies spilling gin and hitting on whoever the could; a guy having a snooze as his girlfriend sat sourly beside him on a couch - only perking up when a lothario in a too-tight suit and wicked facial hair sidled over to sit beside her; someone at the bar who kept getting asked for selfies by a group of hangers on (Was he famous? Obviously not in my circles...); and a gaggle of ever changing drinkers and schmoozers wandering in and out, interacting with each other and giving the place a huge, buzzing atmosphere.

We sat sipping our drinks, being thoroughly entertained by all of these wonderful people. So if this kind of conspicuous voyeurism is your thing then I thoroughly recommend this spot ... just harangue them about their beer selection! (In truth it's quite good but perhaps needs a little filling out to appeal to contrary curmudgeons...)

The next morning we were up early wandering the deserted town, taking in a few sights that we missed the previous day and having a nice walk along the quays, feeling refreshed by the sea air, views and sights - more churches, gateways and walls. Eventually we also found somewhere open for breakfast - a rare thing on a Sunday morning in Wexford town it seems - before heading back to collect our bags and walk uphill to where our car was parked in the Bride Street Church carpark. (Which is great value by the way...)

We wandered into the church to check out the Harry Clarke stained glass window, which no matter what your religious views are is one of the must see things in the town in my opinion. We gazed and studied it for a while, checking out the detail and admiring the superb use of colour before heading out to the car and the shortish road back to Carlow.

Our trip only reinforced my love of Wexford town. Sure it's not perfect - no place is - but for a one night break it comes close as far as sights, shopping, food and drinks are concerned. And as for entertainment? Well, this trip would be hard to beat...

So huge thanks to all the places we visited, even those I may have berated slightly.

Oh, and if you see Barry, let him know we were thinking about him...

Liam

*Love - for those of you not from Ireland or acquainted with this stolen Irish word.