Guinness: The Irish legend

March 14, 2014
“In theory, brewing is a very simple matter, in practice it is a difficult art.” Arthur Guinness

Just a few days after the feast of St. Patrick, celebrated with great fanfare on 17 March in many countries, and of course especially in Ireland, one thing remains etched in our minds… Guinness beer! So, my thoughts travelled to Dublin, one of my favourite destinations. Not only on account of the country’s beer-brewing tradition, which has its own unique history, but also for its natural beauty, atmosphere and the philhellenic, fun-loving and well-intentioned Irish people themselves. 

The story began in 1759 when the visionary Arthur Guinness, at the age of 34, signed a 9,000-year lease for the St. James’s Gate brewery, for an annual rent of £45. You can be sure that all those who love Guinness feel the same love and respect for Arthur Guinness, the man who created it. He was determined and bold; he took huge risks that took Guinness beer right to the top; he was actively involved in public life and a philanthropist who contributed a great deal to society.

Despite the difficulties he faced at the outset, in just 10 years Guinness had managed to outstrip the competition and export his beer to England. He began by making ale and in the 1770s turned to porter, a dark beer that had recently originated in London. The idea of using roasted barley was inspired by an 18th century London brewer by the name of Harwood, and Guinness discovered that its use at high temperatures yielded good results in the brewing of porter. In fact this was the reason he stopped producing ale altogether to focus exclusively on the dark beer that would come to be known as stout. The huge popularity of the beer and rising exports soon transformed the old and small St. James’s Gate into the biggest brewery in Ireland.

Under Benjamin Lee, Arthur Guinness’ grandson, who took over the brewery in 1855, the Guinness trademark label with the Harp was introduced. His son, Edward Cecil, went on to make Guinness the largest brewery in the world. By the end of the 19th century he had managed to expand it to 15 times its original size, with an annual production of over 1.2 million barrels. Guinness Stout was now available all over the world. The company’s steady rise continued with innovations such as the launch of Draught Guinness in 1959. This was followed some years later by the launch of Draught Guinness in a can, using a widget to create the characteristic creamy head, a device internationally patented by Guinness. By 1980 a large part of production had become automated, making Guinness one of the most technologically advanced breweries. At the end of the 20th century, Guinness was being produced in 49 countries and sold in over 150, with a daily global consumption of 10 million pints!  


Guinness is a stout beer, specifically a dry stout, as opposed to a sweet, double or imperial stout. Dry stout has become synonymous with Guinness, since it all began when Arthur Guinness called his beer Porter Stout. Beers of this type are characterized by roasted malts and barley, while they often have a coffee-like taste.

The finest Irish barley is the soul of Guinness. The beer’s distinctive rich flavour and dark colour are due to the roasted malts and a quantity of roasted unmalted barley. The bitterness of the hops is discernible on the palate, while the vitality of the yeast attests something magical, a hidden secret, in its elaborate preparation.

When poured, the beer mixes with nitrogen to create a very dark shade of ruby which actually appears to be black. This perfect picture is completed by the formation of the characteristic thick, creamy head.

It is available in a number of variants, the best known being Guinness Draught, Guinness Extra Stout and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. 


Guinness is a great accompaniment to oysters, seafood in general, as well as traditional Irish beef stew, in which it is one of the ingredients. Its smooth and uniform consistency makes it ideal for culinary use, especially when we want to make a special sauce, such as deglaze for lamb, or for mussels, instead of the traditional white wine, simply supplementing the dish with cream and parsley. Bay leaves are also well suited to Guinness, while we can also use it to make delicious bread to be enjoyed with oysters, after adding a dash of Tabasco and lemon. The delicate and savoury flavours are enhanced by the strong roasted and bitter flavours of the beer, while the slight acidity of the hops makes it ideal for pot-cooked dishes and boiled food. 


Any visit to Dublin must surely include a tour of the Guinness Storehouse. There, past meets present, in a world of memories, flavours and aromas. The seven-storey metal edifice, designed in the style of the Chicago School of Architecture, with solid steel frames strengthening the structure, surrounds a glass atrium in the shape of a gigantic pint glass. Up to 1988, the building had been used as the brewery’s fermentation plant. On each floor there is something different, such as the history of Guinness advertising, featuring photos, posters and TV advertisements from its celebrated ad campaigns, with info on all the main protagonists, including the toucans, the zoo animals and the surfers. The interactive exhibition areas of the Storehouse contain hundreds of items recording the beer’s history since 1759, with spaces devoted to ingredients, brewing, transport and cooperage. You can also learn how to pour the perfect pint, participate in an exclusive tasting experience and relax in excellent bars. In the Brewers Dining Hall, try some of the classic dishes that use Guinness beer as an ingredient. Sit back in Arthur’s Bar and enjoy a breathtaking view of the brewery. On the seventh floor, the “top of the glass”, is the Gravity Bar, where you can take in an amazing, panoramic view of the city while sipping a glass of perfect draught Guinness Stout, topped with an awesome shamrock flourish!   

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