The Story of Guinness

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Ireland and the Irish people are famous for lots of things; our hospitality, sense of humour, love of the 'craic', Riverdance, shamrocks, beautiful landscapes, rain, and, among other things of course... Guinness!

Our most famous export (apart from our people that is) can be found all over the world, and one of the first things visitors to Ireland do is seek out the best pint of 'the black stuff' that can be found and enjoy it in a traditional Irish pub.

The man who founded the Guinness brewing company, Arthur Guinness, even has a day dedicated to him in Ireland, which was celebrated around the world for the company's 250th anniversary in 2009.

We decided to delve deeper into the pint glass to find out the story behind the drink, and why it' so famous around the world.

A brief history of Guinness

For those who don't know already, Guinness is a dry stout. In other words, it is an alcoholic drink made using roasted barley. So essentially it is black beer, with a 'roasted' taste and dry flavour, as well as the thick and creamy foam that comes on top. It is one of the most well known alcoholic drink brands in the world, being brewed in over 60 countries. It is the most popular drink in Ireland and the primary brewery is still in Dublin.

The story of Guinness begins with Arthur Guinness. Arthur was born in 1725 and came from an upper class Protestant Anglo-Irish family.

He was born in Celbridge, county Kildare, and his grave is in nearby Oughterard, in his mother's family plot. He married a woman named Olivia Whitmore in Dublin in 1761 and they had a whopping 21 children, although sadly only 10 survived until adulthood. They lived in various locations in Dublin including Beaumont House and Mountjoy Square. He died in 1803 at the ripe old age of 78, a great achievement for those times.

But where does the beer come into all of this? In 1755 Arthur had leased a brewery out in Leixlip, Kildare. It brewed ale, a popular drink at the time and a standard in any public house.

By 1759, he had made enough money to rent another, much bigger brewery in St. James' Gate, Dublin, signing a lease for 9,000 years at £45 per year! Visitors to the Guinness Storehouse, on the site of the original brewery, can still see the original lease with Arthur's distinctive signature (which also happens to be printed on every bottle or can of Guinness to this day too).

Originally the Guinness company only brewed ale, and it wasn't until 1778 that porter (stout) came along. After expanding the brewery in 1799, the company then switched to only making porter. They did, however, divide this into three categories; single stout, double or extra stout, and foreign stout, which was exported.

By the time of Arthur's death in 1803, the brewery's annual output was 20,000 barrels. By 1876, it was 779,000 barrels.

By the 1930s, Guinness was the 7th largest company in the world. The original recipe of the drink remained unchanged until 1973, when declining sales lead to a revamping of the taste, using pale malt and isomerized hop extract for the first time.

The brand was relaunched in 1981 and has enjoyed immense popularity ever since, despite declining sales.

Nowadays, Guinness has merged with another company, Grand Metropolitan, to become Diageo PLC. It still retains the rights to all of its products and trademarks however, so you won't see Guinness disappearing any time soon.

Silver Guinness Tie Pin
Sterling Silver Guinness Tie Pin

How Guinness is made

A lot of people are surprised to find out that Guinness contains only four simple ingredients; barley (both malted and roasted), water, hops and yeast.

The complicated part comes when combining them all together to make the distinctive Guinness taste, which is a complicated process that takes the skill of a master brewer to complete perfectly.

The master brewer uses microbiology, mycology, bacteriology and thermodynamics to create the perfect brew time after time, so the job is a lot more skillful than it sounds.

First of all, the malted barley is crushed to release the inner starch and flavour and milled. At this stage, it is now known as 'grist'. The grist is mixed with hot water and mashed through a mashing machine to extract the brewing sugars.

Once properly mashed, the mixture goes into a giant sieve of sorts known as a mash tun. The extracted sugars and water are collected while the grain is left behind. This collected liquid is known as 'sweet wort'. Hops and roasted barley are added to the sweet wort and boiled for 90 minutes. This concentrates the sugars and extracts bitterness from the hops.

Once cooled, the final ingredient – yeast – is added to the mixture and everything is left to ferment over a number of days. Thanks to yeast, the sugars are converted to alcohol and gas. Naturally, the alcohol is what is collected, not the gas! The final stage in the brewing process is maturation, where the final liquid is left to settle and balance together to achieve the typical flavour everyone knows.

The creamy topping that comes with every pint of Guinness is a result of the packaging, not the brewing process. Nitrogen is added during the packaging of the liquid into its kegs, bottles and cans to allow the beer to be put under high pressure without making it fizzy.

When the liquid is poured from its container into the glass, the nitrogen causes a 'surge and settle' effect, which results in the white cream building up at the top of the glass.

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How to pour and drink a pint of Guinness

Pouring and drinking a pint of Guinness is not as simple as it sounds! There is a ritual to the process that all Guinness drinkers are familiar with. If you don't approach it in just the right manner, not only will you receive disparaging looks from all around you, but you'll end up with an inferior pint to boot.

The perfect pour, according to Guinness, should take 125.27 seconds and must be completed with an official Guinness branded glass. The glass should be held at a 45 degree angle to the spout of the tap, close to but not touching the glass.

When the liquid starts pouring out, it should be hitting the bottom of the harp symbol that is printed on every Guinness glass. The tap should be pulled straight down without any hesitation.

The glass should be filled up to the top edge of the harp symbol - or three quarters to the top of the glass itself – straightened slightly while pouring. Then, it must be left to settle, the most vital stage of the whole process.

The liquid will appear brownish in colour and will look as though there are waves and waves of clouds rolling around inside. This will gradually settle and darken after a minute or two.

Once it has, the tap should then be pushed slowly in the opposite direction until the glass is exactly full. This adds the creamy head. If there is any overflow or any foam that needs to be skimmed off the top to avoid spilling, then start again!

Drinking a Guinness is equally as ceremonial as pouring it. First of all, when the barman placed your finished, two-stage poured pint in front of you, DO NOT take a sip straight away.

The cloudiness will have appeared again during the pouring of the head, so it needs to settle again. Only when there is a distinct line between the white and black should you take your first sip. Your first sip needs to be big enough to break through the foam to the black goodness below. This ensures your first taste isn't too bitter.

You should drink the rest of your pint with big sips too, so that there are five or six rings of foam left along the edge of the glass. And lastly, you should enjoy it!


Guinness around the world

Guinness is available in over 150 countries. Considering that there are officially 193 countries in the world, that's not too bad at all!

10 million pints of Guinness are sold every day, with over 40% of all Guinness being sold in Africa (no, not in Ireland!). Foreign Extra Stout is the most popular variety in the continent, and Nigeria holds the title of being one of the biggest Guinness drinking nations in the world along with the UK, US, and of course, Ireland.

In the United States, 950,000 hectolitres of Guinness was consumed in 2010 we're not even sure what a hectolitre is, but we know it's a lot! In Ireland however, Guinness does still account for over a quarter of all beer sold.

All of the Guinness in the world starts out its brewing process in Dublin. At the sweet wort stage before fermentation, the wort is shipped as far as the Bahamas, Cameroon and Indonesia to be blended with beer brewed locally and then sold. It has become somewhat of a tradition for any US President who visits Irish shores to have a pint in a pub. Barack and Michelle Obama both tasted a pint in his ancestral home of Moneygall in county Offaly in 2011, as did Irish-American Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan before him.

So no matter where in the world you may be, you'll probably find an Irish pub somewhere serving the black stuff!

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