Walk into a pub in Ireland and ask for a beer without specifying the brand and chances are you’ll be served a Guinness. It’s only natural you’d get this Irish stout renowned for its distinctive, malty flavour, dark colour and smooth, creamy head. Roughly one in two pints consumed in Ireland every day is a Guinness, making it one of the most popular brews.
Ever since Arthur Guinness took over the vacant St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin in 1759 and developed his own recipe based on a black ale produced in London called porter (so named because it was popular with porters at Covent Garden Market), Guinness beer has had a steady and loyal following. More than two centuries later, it has grown to become the best-selling stout in the world with 10 million glasses sold every day in 150 countries.
Yet Guinness, as any visitor to Ireland quickly learns, is more than a beer; it’s an institution with tentacles reaching into Irish culture, sports, history and more.
At the Old Library of Trinity College Dublin, for example, you can see the famous 14th-century Irish harp known as the “O’Neill” or “Brian Boru” harp, which has served as an emblem on Guinness labels since 1862. The harp later became the official national emblem of the Republic of Ireland and can be found on the Republic’s coinage.
The Guinness family has a long history of philanthropy. At Ireland’s largest church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, where Handel’s Messiah was first performed, guides explain how the building had fallen into terrible disrepair by the 1800s, until Sir Benjamin Guinness paid for costly renovations. As a token of gratitude, the Guinness crest – a boar – appears on the tiled floors near the altar.
Just east of the beautiful park known as St. Stephen’s Green – another Guinness family gift to the public – is the Georgian district with its elegant, terraced 18th-century townhouses distinguished by stuccowork and colourful, elaborate doorways. One of them is a lovely boutique hotel: the Pembroke Townhouse. Every evening in the lobby, which resembles a comfortable, 18th-century sitting room, the hotel sets out a different cake for its guests, including a chocolate Guinness cake. Its made with 330 millilitres of Guinness and topped with Baileys icing that the hotel’s Fiona Teehan says resembles a pint of Guinness! Some visitors call it divine.
More Guinness connections are revealed on travels around Ireland. At historic St. George’s market in Belfast – regularly voted one of the best food markets in the U.K. – there’s a dark Guinness bread that you can sample or purchase (try it with Irish smoked salmon). Elsewhere, on a day trip from Dublin to Glendalough and Kilkenny with Wild Rover Tours, there’s a photo stop at the Wicklow Mountains, the source of eight million litres of fresh water that flows into the Guinness brewery every day. Guinness has also sponsored various cultural and sporting events, including the Hurling Championships in Ireland.
THE GUINNESS STOREHOUSE
For fans, the ultimate destination is the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland’s number one tourist attraction, which brought in a record 1,156,985 visitors last year, including Hollywood actor Tom Cruise.
Set amidst several historic red brick buildings and cobblestone streets where horse-drawn carriages await their next customers, the former fermentation plant opened in 2000 as a seven-storey visitor experience dedicated to the history and making of the world-famous beer.
The tour (free audio guides are available) begins on the ground floor at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass, where you glance down at a copy of the famous 9,000-year lease that founder Arthur Guinness signed on the St. James’s Gate Brewery. It ends hours later on the seventh floor at what many consider a highlight – the Gravity Bar, where one can redeem a complimentary pint while enjoying a 360-degree panoramic view of Dublin from a light-filled, glassed-in enclosure.
The floors in between contain displays of the four natural ingredients – water, barley, hops and yeast – that are combined to make Guinness stout, and an answer to a common question: How does Guinness get its ruby red colour? (It’s the roasted barley).
There’s an exhibit on the most highly skilled of all the brewery craftsmen – the coopers who made the wooden barrels, which were used to transport Guinness stout across the globe – and another on award-winning Guinness advertisements. These include early posters with slogans, such as “Guinness for Strength” and “Guinness is Good for You,” which extolled the beer’s supposed health benefits.
There’s also a legend that Guinness aided the recovery of a cavalry officer wounded in the Battle of Waterloo. Author Robert Louis Stevenson, who brought supplies of Guinness to Western Samoa in 1893, wrote about drinking a pint while recovering from influenza. These days, both ads and guides steer away from making any health claims.
The Storehouse is crammed with fascinating exhibits and some experiential opportunities, too, such as the Guinness Academy where you can learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness in six easy steps (hint: it takes 125.27 seconds to pour and serve Guinness draught) and receive a certificate that proves you’ve mastered the craft.
Want to tantalize the senses? Just proceed through the neon-lit entrance to the all-white Tasting Rooms, or enjoy the classic beef and Guinness stew in the 18th-century-inspired Brewers Dining Hall on the fifth floor, where you can also pick up free recipe cards.
Aficionados may be particularly interested in the exclusive Guinness Connoisseur Bar experience offering tastings of the four most popular variants of Guinness: Draught, Original, Foreign Extra Stout and Black Lager.
The Guinness Storehouse is more than a brewery museum. The structure itself is architecturally significant, as it’s the first major steel-framed, multi-storey building in the British Isles (modelled after the Chicago School). And where else can you get your own personalized bottle of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (try the Guinness Store) or enjoy the view from Dublin’s highest bar? Admittedly, the 46-metre-high Gravity Bar is not all that tall, but still, it offers unrivalled views of city landmarks, including some that have benefited from Guinness family largesse.
DID YOU KNOW:
- One in two Dublin tourists visit the Guinness Storehouse.
- Three million pints of Guinness are brewed every day at Dublin’s St James’s Gate brewery – the biggest stout export brewery and one of the most technologically advanced in the world.
- In 1909, Guinness was brought to the frozen lands of the South Pole. Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson left some Guinness behind at his base camp, which was discovered by another expedition in 1927.
- There are about 198 calories in a pint of Guinness – less than in a pint of orange juice.
IF YOU GO:
The Morrison, A Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, is a stylish 138-room boutique property, which was fully refurbished in the past year, and is an ideal base while in Dublin. Located on the banks of the River Liffey in the heart of the city near 25 attractions, it’s within walking distance of the Guinness Storehouse and just steps from the lively Temple Bar area with plenty of pubs and free nightly street entertainment. In staying true to their legacy of supporting new Irish talent, the hotel’s lobby and rooms were redesigned by leading Irish architect Nikki O’Donnell, while the hotel’s Quay 14 bar features up-and-coming local bands.
A lot of hotels boast of excellent service, but The Morrison actually delivers, with its team of knowledgeable, courteous and helpful staff, who consistently exceed guest expectations. “Would you like some pastries to take with you?” the server at the hotel’s Halo restaurant inquired when a guest returned to fill up her water bottle. The quiet, comfortable hotel with complimentary Wi-Fi has another bonus: freshly baked cookies upon check-in (a Doubletree staple). For more information, visit: morrisonhotel.ie.
If travelling to the Guinness Storehouse on foot, try the Guinness Storehouse iWalk – a free audio walking tour available for download. The tour guides visitors from the heart of Dublin to the heart of Guinness. For more information, check guinness-storehouse.com.by