This is a book about just one brand of beer: many, many pints of just one brand of beer.

Evan McHugh, like many other young Australians, strapped a pack to his back for a long odyssey away from his remote homeland. With him was a companion named Michelle, but referred to as Twidkiwodm (“The woman I didn’t know I would one day marry”).

The pair land in Ireland, and, almost by accident, begin a quest for the perfect pint of Guinness. The quest gets off to an unpromising start: on the ferry crossing from Wales to Dublin, they order their first pints, which McHugh describes as having “the taste of something that had died a horrible death.”

McHugh briefly considers catching the first ferry back to Wales, rather than face three weeks of Ireland and its favorite beverage. But at the ferry terminal, Pat and Ciaran are waiting to return the hospitality McHugh had shown the two Irishmen in Sydney. Clearly, more Guinness lies ahead.

Pint by pint, McHugh, who is accustomed to Australian lager and Vegemite, warms to Guinness. He has little choice, as every activity is punctuated, interrupted, begun, convened or concluded by a stop in a pub. And, over the course of many stops, he discovers a puzzle: as devoted as the Irish are to their pub and their Guinness, they are also vehemently convinced that the best Guinness is served somewhere else.

Together with Pat and Ciaran, and various pals and girlfriends, and seemingly stalked by a stunning German tourist, McHugh and Twidkiwodm hitch across the country. McHugh goes rowing on the lakes of Killarney with a kilt-wearing German bagpiper; he windsurfs in Dingle with a one-armed man. But the perfect pint of Guinness seems to be always one pub away.

McHugh’s writing is quirky and wry, and Ireland through his eyes is a puzzle and a pleasure. This isn’t a beer book: it’s a travel narrative marinated in beer. But at the end, you’ll be thirsty for a pint, yourself.

+ posts