Guinness. The pint of plain, sure ’tis your only man. Some even claim it is good for you. Well, whatever the veracity of that claim it is surely true that no other drink is as synonymous with a country as Guinness is with Ireland. Brewed in Dublin since 1759, Guinness had a ninety-something percent market share in Ireland up to the mid 1970’s, so it is not hard to understand it’s pre-eminence in the field, or lake, of Irish beer. The harp, the symbol of Ireland which can today be found on our euro coins is also Guinness’s symbol. No one knows which came first. Did the smart marketing people at Guinness adopt the country’s symbol as their own back in 1862, or did the government of Ireland at a later date decide the Guinness harp was as good a symbol as any to represent our country? If Jesus lived in Ireland today and was asked if we should really be willing to pay so much for a pint of Guinness, he would no doubt examine our coinage and declare that we should return to Guinness what belongs to Guinness
But enough fluff. What is all the fuss about I hear you ask? It’s just a beer, right? Well, actually Guinness is a stout, as opposed to an ale, a pilsner or, God forbid, a lager. What this means in brewing terms I have no idea – I’m a drinker, not a brewer – but the end product is very different. Whereas lagers or pilsners are generally light, crisp and gassy, are dark, thick and creamy. And Guinness is arguably the darkest and creamiest of them all. The iconic black pint with its creamy head is hard to miss. A well-poured pint of Guinness is certainly a thing of beauty, something to be studied and admired before drinking can even be contemplated. It always seems a shame to put a dent in that beautiful head. But that doesn’t stop 10 million glasses of the stuff being consumed worldwide every day. I guess at the end of the day it tastes even better than it looks.
But Guinness is an acquired taste. It is rare the man or woman that is converted on the first sip, or pint, or evening in its company. It takes a measure of perseverance and a dash of dedication. Many complain of feeling full after a couple of pints; of being unable to drink any more. The key to overcoming this hurdle is ignoring your stomach, which should know better, and paying close attention to your taste buds, which know best. After a few outings you will either be a believer for life, or will be condemned to being a skeptic who wished they believed. All you can do at this point is feel sorry for yourself. We believers certainly do.
As a visitor to Ireland with only limited Guinness time you need to ensure that every drop of the black stuff you consume is of the highest quality. For many years the most often heard question among Guinness drinkers in a pub was “How’s the Guinness?”, the reason being that quality varied greatly and a bad pint of Guinness was a thing to be avoided at all costs, perfectly capable of prematurely ending an otherwise enjoyable evening. But that has all changed. Guinness now has a dedicated quality control team that visits every pub in the country on a regular basis to ensure the mythical “bad pint”, remains just that, a myth.
Having said that some pints are still better than others and the simple fact is some pubs serve better Guinness than others. I do not know what these pubs do differently and frankly I would be afraid to ask. The answer could be “not a thing” and that would make me question my infallible taste buds, which is never a wise move. I do know that I have never had anything less than a splendid pint of Guinness in the following pubs:
- Mulligan’s, Poolbeg Street, Dublin.
- Keogh’s, South Anne Street, Dublin
- Neary’s, Chatham Street, Dublin
- The Long Haul, South Great Georges Street, Dublin
Yes, they are all Dublin pubs. It is often claimed that Guinness doesn’t travel well, or tastes different outside Dublin. As much as I would like to dispel this as an old Guinness drinker’s tale, there is definitely some truth to it. Simply put, Guinness tastes better in Dublin, particularly in the above mentioned pubs. Don’t get me wrong, many pubs outside Dublin serve fantastic Guinness, but, and I’m trusting my taste buds completely here, a pint of Guinness from any of the five pubs above is Guinness of a different quality. These are also great bars in their own right. Dublin institutions. All are well worth checking out if you have the time and they are all within walking distance of Grafton Street or Trinity College. Ask any local and they will point you in the right direction.
Of course you could always go directly to the source for your pint. The Guinness Brewery tour at the Storehouse is now Dublin’s most popular visitor attraction. The self-led tour ends with a “free” pint at the Gravity Bar on the seventh floor of the Storehouse. It is Dublin’s highest bar and commands great views across the city. A word of warning though, the queue, at weekends in particular, can be extremely long. This queue can be easily beaten though. Simply book your ticket online in advance and you can skip straight to the top. There is also the Guinness Connoisseur Experience which offers a tasting of many different varieties of Guinness!
Be sure to check out the history of Guinness advertising while at the Storehouse. Some of the old tv ads are fantastic. The famous “Dancing Man” ad became a phenomenon when it was released in Ireland ten or so years ago. The music from the ad topped the charts and yokels across the country attempted to imitate the dance in nightclubs from Borrisokane to Borris-in-Ossiry. See the ad and you will understand why.
You will be glad to hear I have saved the best news for last. I can now reveal after lengthy and detailed research conducted while quaffing a number of long black ones, that apparently Guinness is in fact good for you, relative to other beers that is. It contains less calories, more iron and when poured properly is a good deal sexier looking than most other beers on the market today. Go on, sure you’ll have a pint….
Tips for Drinking Guinness
- When searching for a good Guinness pub it is safer to pick a traditional or “old man” pub. If there are lots of people drinking Guinness in the bar you are on the right track.
- Don’t rush the bar man. Make sure he allows the Guinness to settle fully before topping it off. Allow it to settle fully after top up before drinking. This takes will power but your patience will be rewarded.
- It is a bad sign if the head turns yellowish and sags before you have even taken a sip. Another bad sign is an inordinate amount of bubbles in the head. Not necessarily a bad pint but usually an indicator of a less than splendid one.
- Not allowing the pint to settle before topping up results in an oversized head sometimes up to an inch thick. Ask the barman to knock some of the head off and top it up properly. Be careful though, many barmen do not look kindly upon this request, as it infers they do not know how to do their job properly.
- If it tastes bad send it back. Don’t be afraid.
- Finally, if you are feeling adventurous order a plate of oysters to go with your perfect pint. Many swear by this combination. There is even a Guinness and Oysters Festival in Galway every year where competitors from around the world vie for the title of Guinness World Oyster Opening Champion. Once opened of course the oysters must be eaten and allegedly there is no better way to wash them down than with a creamy pint of the black stuff.