Article By: Aimsel Ponti
Since I had already waited so long to finally try my first taste of Guinness, I figured why not wait just a little bit longer and go straight to the source. Next stop: Dublin, Ireland's Guinness Storehouse, located on the expansive 64-acre grounds of the St. James's Gate Brewery. It was there I had my first sip while on a tour and then my first pint while enjoying a 36O-degree view of the city in their Gravity Bar. I couldn't have asked for a more superb rite of passage into becoming an official Guinness drinker.
For it wasn't just a pint of the fabled beer to quench my thirst on a Thursday afternoon; it was a key into the history of Ireland itself where the Guinness tradition has been woven into the fabric of Dublin and beyond for almost 25O years. Oh yes, that first sip was divine, and I'll get to that for sure. But first some history that I uncovered with the help of a terrific tour guide named Kevin Hynes who wove a keen narrative of Guinness and fielded more questions than any one person should ever have to answer. What I'm not going to do is give a blow-by-blow of the entire brewing process; the experience was far too poetic and it makes more sense to speak of things like barley and hops like the musical notes on an Irish harp that, when played just right, there is no superior sound to be heard. And if you listen really close, you just might hear the ancient echo of founding father Arthur Guinness himself sounding quite pleased after a tasting session.
The Guinness Storehouse is Ireland's number one tourist attraction. Seven floors (which is tall for Dublin) are formed around a glass atrium designed to look like a pint of Guinness. You know what? It does. Seven floors tell the story. No stone is left unturned. You'll come to know every step of the brewing process in as much detail as you'd like. You'll see, and touch, barley. You'll see equipment dating back to the 17OOs and 18OOs. You'll peruse displayed archives of bottles, labels, promotional items, and ad campaigns that act as time capsules to the Guinness history. This includes the work of artist John Gilroy, whose Guinness cartoon animal characters are universally recognized and adored. Master Brewer Fergal Murray, who is in many ways the face of Guinness for the general public, gives a virtual narration through every stop along the way providing first hand knowledge while incorporating archival footage. It all culminates at The Gravity Bar, where you'll receive your complimentary pint, and can see the present day landscape of Guinness equipment and how it fits seamlessly in and among all that is historic around it.
As for our guide Kevin, he added another dimension to the tour from which I'll share my favorite moments of learning. One of the first things that was explained was that the essence of Guinness is the roasted barley, which smells and tastes not unlike coffee. All of the barley used to make Guinness is grown in Ireland and approximately 15,OOO tons of it is roasted every year at St. James's Gate. The hops are imported from countries including The Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and Australia. The climate in Ireland isn't conducive to the cone flower which grows in vines that can be up to 5O meters long. As for the yeast, it's a crucial ingredient and the same original strain, which is kept under lock and key and is still used today. The water used in Guinness comes from the Nicklow Mountains, which lie north of Dublin. 8 million liters are used every day. Water used for brewing is referred to as liquor and the liquor from those mountains is about as pure as you'll find anywhere. Kevin then explained that the final ingredient in Guinness is the skill of Master Brewers like Fergal Murray. There's a team of them and these men and women are dedicated to consistently delivering the high standard that Arthur Guinness set. "Although Guinness family members are no longer actual board members, they are still involved and are a thriving family," explained Kevin. He added that they are a family well known for their philanthropy and for treating their employees exceptionally well by providing benefits such as pensions, paid holidays and housing. At one time there were 5OOO people in the Guinness Brewery family. Now owned by Diageo and streamlined by technology that number hovers at around 12OO in Ireland.
There's never a dull moment though as the brewery is in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A new brew starts once an hour. The barley roasting process takes two and a half hours and to this day is still very much a hands-on process. Fermentation takes two days and this is followed by a seven day maturation period. In all, it's about a ten day affair to bring you that perfect pint.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
It was about 2pm on Thursday afternoon, March 22 of this year, when I had my first taste of Guinness. Don't ask me why I've never tried it before; I have no respectable answer. Kevin hopped behind the small tasting bar and drew me a few inches into a beer glass. I gave pause to the moment, savoring the visual symphony that was the settling of the head. With my right hand, I raised the glass to my lips, tilted my head back and was at the point of no return. Like anyone, I had my pre-conceived notions and tried to remain totally neutral. However I was stripped of all rational thought the nano second the first swell of the storied Guinness foam met with my lips, my mouth, my throat. It was one of those moments that held such significance because it punctuated my visit to Ireland by allowing me to experience something that's been so revered and so much a part of the country. It was a bookend to a spell-binding week in the land of infinite shades of green. And do you want to know something else? It was excellent. It was both refreshing and flavorful and its signature bitter finish was not lost on me either. "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" was all I was able to say to Kevin. The tour ended with him depositing my friend Jessica and me at the Gravity Bar where I learned how the perfect pint is achieved by bartenders around the globe; including the woman who poured ours. The glass is tilted to 45 degrees and filled three quarters of the way full. Then it must be placed on the bar to settle for about 119.5 seconds. I can only imagine what things have been decided on, solved, pondered, and smiled at during this tiny break from life that Arthur Guinness graciously bestowed upon us. When the surge has calmed, fill the glass to the brim but this time tilt the tap away from you so as to pour the last bit without nitrogen. With a twinkle in your eye, place the glass on a mat and present it to your customer. Your work is done; the rest is up to them. Jessica and I toasted to Dublin, toasted to Ireland and, upon finding seats that afforded a view of St. Patrick's Church, we toasted to Arthur Guinness himself. I'm not sure if my next pint will equal the first one I had in Dublin but if only all of life's worries were so wonderful.
A CLOSER LOOK AT FERGAL MURRAY
Master Brewer Fergal Murray represents Guinness around the world at different events. In fact, he was in Boston for three days just before St. Patrick's Day on a pub tour in which he visited several local establishments that serve Guinness. Although he and I weren't able to cross paths in person, he entertained my questions via e-mail and commented on the presence of Guinness in Boston.
"The Guinness was flowing wonderfully. The flavor and the quality was as good as you could get anywhere in the world, as I would expect from well-run Boston pubs," noted Murray. "Boston does great pints. I will be back and hopefully soon." In addition to thoughts on Boston, I told Murray all about my enchanting first pint at The Storehouse and asked him what it means to him to be a Master Brewer for Guinness. "I am not surprised you have fallen in love with our beer. Being a master brewer for Guinness is special. There is an integral link to the past and to all our customers all over the world of which we have to be very much connected to," said Murray. As for what he likes best about his job, Murray points to the people.
"My favorite part of the job is when out in the markets listening and chatting to the consumers, hearing their questions and correcting the misconceptions."
Under the category of "Did you know?", here are some standouts taken from my visit.
• In addition to Ireland, Guinness is also brewed in several other countries
including Antigua, Belize, Cameroon, New Zealand, and Tanzania.
• New York's Pinkerton and Hart took their first delivery of a shipment of Guinness in 1842.
• The Storehouse building was completed in 19O4 and was constructed in the style of the Chicago School of Architecture. Its original purpose was to house the fermentation process. It did just that until the late 198Os. It re-opened in 2OOO as a tourist attraction and is also used for employee training and business conferences.
• St. James's Gate has been used as a brewery since 167O. On New Year's Eve 1759, Arthur Guinness took out a 9OOO year lease on the property. A copy of this lease is imbedded under glass on the first floor of The Storehouse.
• In the 177Os, Arthur Guinness II began brewing "Porter", a strong black beer made with roasted barley which explains its dark color. Ladies and gentlemen, thus was the birth of today's Guinness beer.
• St. James's Gate is the biggest stout export brewery in the world.
• 1O million (give or take) pints of Guinness are consumed around the world every day.
• Almost one in two pints of beer consumed in Ireland every single day is Guinness.
• Arthur Guinness, who was born in 1735 in Celbridge, County Kildare, passed away in 18O3 at the age of 78 where upon his son, Arthur Guinness II took over. In the mid 185Os, Arthur II's son, Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, took on the leadership role upon his father's death. In 1868 the brewery was passed onto Benjamin's son Edward Cecil who doubled its size to over 5O acres. His son Rupert succeeded him in 1927 as chairman.
• In 1862 the trademark Guinness label was introduced. Its first incarnation was a buff oval label with the harp and Arthur Guinness's signature. The harp was registered as a trademark in 1862.
• Guinness will be celebrating its 25Oth anniversary in 2OO9.