Two things that go so well together are a pint of Guinness and St. Patrick’s Day. When one thinks of a beer to have on St. Paddy’s Day, Guinness is a sure bet. This traditional Irish Dry Stout is very interconnected to this popular holiday that honors the day that Saint Patrick left this world in the year 461 AD.
Dublin is an amazing city that sits on the Western shore of the Irish Sea, across from Liverpool, England. The population of Dublin is only 528,000 where as Portland’s population is 609,000. But the amazing part is Dublin is home to around 1,000 pubs with The Brazen Head being the city’s oldest, a definite must visit if you ever find yourself in Dublin.
Arthur Guinness founded the St. James’s Gate Brewery in the year 1759. As legend has it, Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease on the original 4-acre plot of land in the midst of the growing city of Dublin, Ireland. Now this lease is worth nothing since the brewery took off and grew through the years to its current 50-acre site.
When looking over the modern landscape of the world of brewing many trends of beer styles have come and gone. One style and definitely one brand has remained constant, Guinness. With today’s short attention spans its easy to take our more recent history in American craft brewing and say that these styles are going to last for decades, even centuries but this thought process may be a bit immature. Our country’s 30+ years of craft brewing is still in its infancy compared to other beer scenes across the globe. Sure, the U.S. has had its ebb and flow of breweries over the course of our country’s 240 so years but not many if any at all U.S. brands can stand up to the image of Guinness.
Upon entering the grounds of St. James’s Gate the thrill of being overwhelmed with brewing history will hit anyone. Standing amongst buildings that are over 200 years old is quite amazing. To begin a tour of the site this begins at the Guinness Storehouse. The seven floor Storehouse is where the brewery’s fermentation plant stood from 1904 to 1988, the year a new plant opened on the property. Since its closure the building has transformed into a pint glass shaped interior that if filled would fit 14.3 million pints of Guinness. The Storehouse opened in 2000 and is now the most visited attraction in Dublin and sees 1.4 million guests per year. Guests through the years have included Paul Rudd whom was said to be one of the great ones to Tom Cruise whom was not all that well appreciated. Even the Queen Elizabeth II made a visit with demands that were far less than what the world’s most famous Scientologist made.
Inside the Guinness Storehouse is a museum of all things Guinness. There is a lot to see and take in during a visit, more than just a marketing exhibit from the brewery. Guinness’ 257-year history is presented with many interactive exhibits and of course beer.
The highlight of visiting the Storehouse is the history. On the second floor lies the Guinness Archives. Eibhlin Colgan, the Guinness Archivist, maintains this secured area of Guinness history and memorabilia. Colgan has been working in the archive for the past 14 years and definitely knows her Guinness history from the large amount of material that has been collected over the years. If stretched from end to end there would be 5 miles worth of historical papers from Guinness, pretty impressive.
From the time spent with Colgan, which wasn’t enough, the group learned many interesting facts about the founder himself. Arthur Guinness was born south of Dublin most likely in 1725; there was no record of his actual birth date. It was his father that taught him the craft of brewing. When Arthur signed the famous 9,000-year lease in 1759, his first beer brewed was Dublin Ale, not the Dry Irish Stout that his brewery is known for across the globe. He soon began brewing a Porter to keep his sales in line to what the public was drinking.
Arthur’s famous signature that graces this historic 9,000 year lease adorns all of Guinness’ packaging on bottles and cans. This signature on the label began in 1862 when the brewery also included the famous harp, known as a Brian Boru Harp. Guinness was wise and trademarked the harp and signature in 1876. The harp is also a symbol of the Irish Free State Government but it had to turn the harp the other way so it would not interfere with the trademarked harp from Guinness.
In 1929 Guinness placed its first newspaper advertisement when John Gilroy was hired to illustrate the advertisements for Guinness. This ad work has now lasted an entire generation and more. Gilroy, a graduate of Royal College of Art in London designed characters such as the toucan, kangaroo, zookeeper, turtle, elephant and more that are associated strongly to the Guinness brand. Of these characters it is the toucan that is most beloved and has recently been used in alternate packaging of Guinness Draught cans. The phrases that the copywriters came up with such as “It’s a Lovely Day for a Guinness”, “My Goodness, My Guinness!” and “Guinness For Strength” are still well known even in today’s savvy and creative world of advertising. Many of these characters come to life on the fifth floor of the Storehouse
Other areas of the Storehouse show how Guinness is brewed. This is as close as one will get to see the production brewery as Guinness seems to keep that side of things off limits. During this visit Alan Maxwell led the group through the process that begins on the third floor and ends on the fourth floor.
The brewing part of the tour begins with the barley used by Guinness. The brewery purchases 100,000 tons of Irish grown barley. Ten percent of the barley received is roasted. Then the yeast that Guinness uses is still derived from the original yeast strain that dates back to 1759. Then there’s the water source for Guinness.
The Wicklow Mountains sit just south of Dublin and is the water source for Guinness. It’s here in the majestic mountains that have proven to be popular filming location. A few films that have been shot in the Wicklow Mountains have been Brave Heart, Excalibur, P.S. I Love You, Leap Year and more.
Moving on up the top floor of the Storehouse sits the Gravity Bar. This is the highest bar in all of Dublin. Gravity Bar offers up a magnificent 360-degree view of Dublin and beyond. Once up top at the Gravity Bar it becomes quite evident that Dublin is absent of many tall buildings.
Here at the Gravity Bar it’s a perfect location to take in and discuss what was seen in the Guinness Storehouse while enjoying a perfectly poured Guinness. To assist in doing so, “You’re doing it right if you have a Guinness mustache,” stated Maxwell. Also make sure to exhale through your nose to get the full effect.
From enjoying many pints of Guinness while in Ireland it was noticed that the hop profile was a bit more pronounced. This is the benefit of drinking a beer when it’s very fresh. Unfortunately what we end up with here in the Pacific Northwest has a hop profile that has tamed down but is shipped here much more quickly than it was a decade or more ago.
The most recent addition at St. James’s Gate for the opening of The Open Gate Brewery that has recently opened to the public with very limited hours of Thursday and Friday evenings. However this research and development brewery has been in operation at St. James Gate for around a century. The Open Gate Brewery creates small batch, innovative beers on its 10 HL brewhouse while using 40 HL Tanks. For a brewery of this size it’s amazing that Guinness chooses to brew at this small of scale. But as the American craft brewing trend moves overseas its wise that Guinness has chosen to go in this direction with its creativity.
The Open Gate it’s a perfect spot to order up a four-beer taster tray. This is the brewery where one can find some rare beers from the highly skilled brewers at Guinness. During my visit I had the opportunity to speak to Peter Simpson and Jason Carroll, two of the brewers at The Open Gate. Carroll recently left his senior brewing position at Irish craft brewer Franciscan Well to take a position at Guinness. Franciscan Well is the brewery that was part of the Jameson Caskmates Irish Whiskey – Stout Edition release. This team of brewers at The Open Gate Brewery is part of “The Brewers Project”. It’s here where any new beer begins before ever going into the marketplace anywhere around the globe.
One of the more unique beers pouring was its Barrel Beer. This barrel-aged beer was a Strong Ale that was aged in a Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky Barrel. Being a sister company in the Diageo portfolio of brands, Guinness is in much better position to have access to these barrels. Prior to entering the barrel the Strong Ale was at 6.4% ABV. One week later after resting in the barrel the beer’s ABV increased to 7.4%.
Over at the Guinness production brewery at St. James’s Gate, the brewery brewed 4.5 million HL (2.8 million BBL) of beer. This does not even count the amount of beer that is brewed on behalf of Guinness at its numerous breweries around the globe that brew its beers on a license basis. Not surprisingly Guinness is the largest brewer of stout in the world.
Here in the United States Guinness offers about eight different varieties of beers. These offerings include Draught, Extra Stout, Nitro IPA, Blonde American Lager, Black Lager, Foreign Extra Stout, and the two new to our market Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter. All of these beers except for the Blonde Amerocan Lager are brewed at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. Outside of the U.S. the brewery’s offerings are more varied based on the market its in. A few of these varieties include Bitter, Extra Smooth, Mid-Strength, and Red Harvest Stout.
The two latest offerings to this the States from Guinness are its West Indies Porter and Dublin Porter, that are part of The Brewers Project. During the visit to Guinness these two re-launched beers were served while tasting various Guinness offerings in the Guinness Connoisseur Bar. Both beers are based on recipes found in the historic brewer logbooks that Colgan maintains in the Guinness Archives.
Part of The Brewers Project, Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter were developed inside The Open Gate Brewery. It’s here in the innovation brewery where the brewers brought back to life two historic beers for today’s beer drinkers. Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter were released a few years ago and sold exclusively for Ireland and United Kingdom. Both beers are now available here in the States as part of The Brewers Project Pack 18 pack of 11.2 oz. bottles.
Originally brewed in 1796, Dublin Porter was the result for the Dublin brewer to compete with the Porters being brewed in England. Guinness put an Irish spin on the style with a more caramel flavor. Dublin Porter is a true Session Beer at only 3.8% ABV.
West Indies Porter roots go back to 1801 when Guinness was shipping its beers for long trips across the ocean. Compared to the Dublin Porter, this beer offers a much more robust flavor and chocolate notes with a 6% ABV. It is this beer that the well respected Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is base on.
Traveling to Dublin was a memorable experience and to visit the home of Guinness made it that much more special. Learning about the history of this iconic brand was a true highlight. Now I just need to return to learn and experience more of what Ireland has to offer.
Here are more photos from the trip to Dublin, Ireland and St. James’s Gate.
Guinness, a division of Diageo provided travel, lodging, meals and beer for the reporting of this article.
D.J. is a Portland, Oregon based writer that spent his formative years in the Midwest. With over 20 years under his belt of drinking beer at festivals across America and the world, he has developed a strong appreciation and understanding of craft beer and the industry that surrounds it. He can be found in any of the great breweries or beer bars that make Portland the best beer city in the world. His writing can also be found in Northwest Brewing News and can be followed on Twitter at @hopapalooza.