by Tiger Von Pagel
This issue’s topic, Lammas, is the first Sabbat of the harvest season, focusing on the first cut of the first crop ready to harvest, often a grain such as wheat or barley. The harvest reaches its peak at Mabon and concludes with the final reap at Samhain. Because of the association with the grain Lammas is traditionally a beer Sabbat.
While most circles and Sabbats have wine or juice as the traditional libation, this time of year is dedicated to beer. Beer making is usually most associated with Germany, however the Irish will tell you that their brews are their life’s blood. Ireland has built an entire culture out of the brewing and consumption of beer.
The most famous brewery in Ireland is the Guinness brewery, located on the banks of the River Liffey in Dublin. Two lesser known stouts are brewed in the southern city of Cork, Murphy’s and Beamish. Breweries are open to the public and offer tours as well as tasting, but the experience can feel a bit too touristy at times, especially at the Guinness brewery, which includes a souvenir store next door.
For a more authentic Irish experience, it is best to visit the local pub. In smaller Irish towns, the pub is the center of all evening activities, offering food, live music, lively conversation and, of course, pint after pint of beers, ales and stouts. In the larger cities, pubs can number into the hundreds. James Joyce once wrote, “Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub,” and of course, the answer to that is don’t pass them, just go in each one. Dublin’s oldest pub is the Brazen Head, first established in 1198, and much of it is exactly the same as it was 800 years ago. You may even suspect that some of the more colorful occupants are left over from opening day.
Here in Seattle we are fortunate enough to have several “authentic” Irish pubs. Downtown in Post Alley is the Owl and Thistle, a spacious tavern which combines Irish decor with a waterfront atmosphere. Live music is the major attraction here, with the best nights belonging to the Owl and Thistle Band, a trio which performs Irish folk tunes alongside original music and the requisite rendition of “Danny Boy.” The Owl and Thistle has a great menu too, with fish and chips and the best brown bread outside the Emerald Isle.
In Fremont there is the Dubliner Pub, a smaller, more cozy venue which offers Guinness, a number of microbrews on tap and not just one but twodart boards (and real dart-boards, too, with score kept on an old fashioned chalkboard, not one of those electronic facsimiles). They serve meals as well, including delicious lamb stew, but be warned, the kitchen closes early.
In addition to the numerous breweries in the area, you can actually try your hand at brewing your own at U-Brew Seattle in the Greenlake area. U-Brew Seattle offers recipes which imitate all the most popular brands on the market, including Guinness of course. They provide all materials and tools necessary for the process, they sell bottles or you can bring your own to recycle, and, best of all, they do all the cleanup. Brewing your own can be a time consuming process, and two sessions are required, one for the actual brewing and another a few weeks later for the bottling.
For those of you who wish to imbibe without waiting, might I suggest that you check out the specialty brews of Samuel Adams? Much like the traditional European brewers, Sam Adams offers seasonal beers, which at this time of year include a light Summer Ale and a Cream Stout which has a sweet, almost chocolaty taste.
Of course, you may wish to be a part of the harvest process from start to finish, and later this month there is a unique opportunity to do just that in Eastern Washington. The town of Colfax in Palouse County holds the Palouse Empire Fair on Labor Day Weekend. The entire town, along with several hundred tourists, gather for a traditional county fair which culminates in the harvest of the barley fields. The cutting is done the old fashioned way, with swinging scythes and horse drawn wagons. The fields, which could be cut in a manner of hours with modern machinery, take two or three days to complete, and visitors are left with a rare glimpse of the bounty the Gods provide to us, as well as the serious amount of work it takes to bring this bounty to fruition.