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Friday, August 16, 2013

A Little bit of Ireland, A Lot of Guinness

If you don't acquire this taste, you'll never forgive yourself.

Dublin.  Only one thing you need to remember:  Guinness.  Oh sure, there’s a castle, a cathedral, a history that dates back to the murdering, marauding, plundering, pillaging Vikings.  There are the uprisings against British rule that led to independence.  Sorry, no time for all that, once I get beer on my mind.  Speaking of historic dates, only one of those you need to remember:  1759. 


Guinness and 1759.  They dovetail.  It was 1759 when Arthur Guinness purchased a run-down brewery at St James Gate and took out a 9,000 year lease, at 45 £ per year.  That’s what I call confidence.

All began over some burned barley.  Ever seen barley?  Ever tasted barley?  Know what the hell barley is???  Let’s set the record straight.  First off, you undereducated inebriate, barley is a grain and to see it growing, you wouldn’t know whether you were looking at barley or wheat.  Secondly, you swilling swine, you only need four ingredients to brew beer and barley is one of them.  The other three are hops, yeast, and water.  Guinness adds a bit of a twist, using both malted and un-malted barley.  What does malted mean?  It means the barley was drenched with water and allowed to sprout before being dried. 

A factoid:  Guinness uses 100,000 tons of Irish barley every year.

How about the water?  Legend has it that Guinness is brewed with water from the River Liffey, which flows right through the center of Dublin.  Legend has it wrong.  The eight million liters of water that flow through the Guinness Brewery each day comes from the Wicklow Mountains, right above the city. Wicklow water has a low mineral content, which is another thing in its favor.

Factoid:  Water, in brewing terms, is called liquor.

Then there are the other two ingredients:  Yeast and hops.  Unlike barley, hops grows in fifteen foot strands of greenery.  Harvested by cutting off great ropes of the stuff, it’s then fed through a machine that separates the little cabbage-like balls that will add spice and bitterness to the brew.

Yeast adds the magic.  The little yeast beasts multiply and feed off the sugar of the barley and hops to produce alcohol.  The Egyptians, of pyramid fame, first used yeast and no beer (or whiskey, for that matter) would be complete without it.  Different types of beers generally use specific strains of yeast, although frequent readers of my blog will know that the Belgians are content to use whatever yeast happens to drift in.

See how quickly you can graduate to being a well-informed drunk?  Education is everything.  Well, you also need confidence and foresight.  Those two got me stumped.  I can only do so much.

But, forget about me for the moment and get back to Guinness.  Arthur heard about a man who had over-roasted his barley.  But, instead of throwing it away, the man went ahead with the brewing.  That led to a solidly dark beer, sold inexpensively to porters working at the Dublin docks, hence the name for dark beer:  Porter.   Arthur did the brew one better and called his creation Stout Porter.  At St James Gate, they brew about three million pints ever day.  The porter part was later dropped and now in over a hundred and fifty countries people happily raise a glass of Guinness Stout.  It’s not for nothing that the saying goes:  There’s a little bit of the Irish in all of us.

The self-guided tour is a wonder in itself.  The old part of the brewery, with equipment dating back to the turn of the 19th Century, is rearranged, with huge photos and videos, running waterfalls, numerous descriptions of the brewing process and something I found particularly fascinating, a video of barrel makers at work.  Sadly, Guinness is no longer stored and taken to market in wooden barrels, but for centuries, men chopped and shaped oak, all by hand, and almost without measuring.  At the height of wooden barrel usage, 300 artisans turned out a thousand barrels a day.  A few decades ago, Guinness graduated to steel kegs.  Easier to produce and store and much easier to ship.

So, you’ve had your tour and are ready for the tasting.  Best place to do that is the 7th floor, offering not only a delicious pint, but also a panoramic view of the brewery’s 50 acres, and the entire city of Dublin.

50 acres of brewery....And Beyond!
Ok, I admit that Guinness, as black as ink and spiced with the bitterness of hops, is an acquired taste.  Matter of fact, it took me almost 30 seconds to acquire it, about half the time it takes to pull a pint.  The dark brew washes into the bottom of the glass and bubbles rush to the top, so tiny it’s almost like watching a dark kaleidoscope.  The barkeep adds a bit more.  You wait.  Then there’s the top-off and you’re ready to become a devotee of one of the tastiest and most storied brews on earth.  The Guinness team likes to say, besides everything else there’s a fifth ingredient in their brew, a little bit of

Arthur, who dreamed big in 1759 and
bequeathed his dream to all of us.

So here’s to you Arthur, and here’s to your creation.  Cheers! Or, as the Scots say, Slainte Mhor!

7th Floor Tasting Room

Pulling a Pint

...patience now...


  1. Wonderful post!! I am glad you explained what hops was because I had no idea! Great personality and wit went into your article and I thoroughly enjoyed it!! Hope to go in the future!

  2. Next time I go, we'll make it a foursome!