In praise of the black stuff

Related tags Elvis presley Alcoholic beverage Guinness

Despite the Irish abandoning their iconic national pint, the Cheltenham Festival just wouldn't be the same without the traditional Guinness village,...

Despite the Irish abandoning their iconic national pint, the Cheltenham Festival just wouldn't be the same without the traditional Guinness village, says Adam Edwards

The news that the Irish have fallen out of love with Guinness - the stout's owner Diageo has announced that volumes have fallen by 10% in Ireland in the last six month - will not, I hope, affect the consumption of the black stuff at this month's National Hunt Festival at Cheltenham.

A glass of Guinness is the sacrament taken at the temple of jump racing, in particular at the bar in the makeshift black-and-white Guinness village.

The village is a series of temporary structures built underneath a provisional stand at the racecourse. And its bar usually has the good fortune to be open on St Patrick's Day (sadly it misses it by one day this year), which gives the tens of thousands of Irish race-goers making the pilgrimage to the four-day spring meeting an appropriate place in which to glorify their saint.

This racing beer tent is a primitive Low Church affair that does exactly what it says on the awning, it sells draught Guinness. It does not offer a choice of liquor. It does not even offer the highest form of communion wine - bottled Guinness Original. And nor is there any nourishment at this altar to stout. For the supping of the Dublin brew is a serious affair. Last year the Cheltenham worshippers drank almost 150,000 pints of it.

There are, of course, bells and smells

outside the bar. In the enclosed village an Irish band, Murphy's Marbles, plays cheerful jigs, obliterating the discombobulated cut-glass commentary noting the runners and riders. Wenches wearing the skimpy Guinness cloth slosh beer into plastic for the congregation of punters unable to get to the bar. There are big TV screens, fruit machines and fairground attractions. And, of course, there are betting shops where an offertory can be made.

Last year I arranged to meet my Irish mate Sean at the said Guinness bar of this busy

parish after the completion of the Queen Mother Champion Chase. I had lost a couple of quid on the 2-1 favourite Kauto Star who had tumbled like an intoxicated prince at the third, and was looking to slake my thirst with my man from over the water. But the bar was as full as an Irish Catholic Church on Mothering Sunday. It was 20 deep and there was no sign of Sean. I rang his mobile.

"Where are you?" I said.

"At the very front of the Guinness Bar," he said happily.

"Get me a pint."

"What sort of beer do you want?"

Popes and Catholics came to mind. And then I remembered that Sean is an atheist. He probably doesn't care that his nation is currently in the process of discarding its sacred talisman.

Sweets for my sweet

After last summer's extraordinary cider sales the race is on to capture the 2007 apple-

drinking punter. Magners is rumoured to be planning a draught cider after the stunning success of its bottled cider on ice. Gaymer's Original Cider is planning a £26m marketing package while cider maker Thatchers has launched a pear cider drink. The company has said that adding pears brings a "fresh, light distinctive flavour".

It may be light and distinctive, but fresh

it ain't. Who, especially those over 40, can

forget Whiteways Peardrax?

As Victor Lewis Smith commented in his book Buygones, a tome that fondly remembers the lost objects of the '60s and

'70s, "Peardrax came in a dusty old brown bottle and looked as though it might be real booze. It wasn't. It was a foul, resinous, cloying, sweet beverage without even the saving grace of getting you pissed."

This revival of a Peardrax-type drink is, I note, merely the tip of the retro-food craze. I have seen the recent resurgence of Spam and wept. And not only Spam but Fray Bentos tinned pies, tiramisu and frozen fruit pies are all making a comeback. So is Angel Delight and the powdered mash potato, Smash. Even Blue Nun wine was successfully re-launched three years ago and now claims to be selling more in the UK than it did in its 1970s heyday.

Now Britain's biggest retailer, Tesco, claims that stickies are back with sales of drinks such as Tia Maria, Grand Marnier and Cointreau booming, while Amaretto, the Italian almond-flavoured liqueur is putting all of them into the shade with a rise of 41%.

Tesco liqueur buyer - now there's an obscure job for you - Katherine Abram claims: "For 80 years liqueurs have suffered from a very poor image with young people. But now grandma's favourite is becoming increasingly popular, something unimaginable a few years ago."

I fear a Watneys Red Barrel revival may be only days away.

Long live the King

Last month's Morning Advertiser regional pub awards included an Elvis Presley impersonator. I remember the first anniversary of Presley's death when the New York Times ("all the news fit to print") reported that at the time the "King" died in August 1977 there had been 137 official professional impersonators and that a year later there were over 4,000. "If they continue to increase at the current rate," stated the paper, "by 2007 one in three of us will be an Elvis impersonator." It looks as if America's paper of record may just have been right.

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