“When health is bad and your heart feels strange, And your face is pale and wan, When doctors say you need a change, A pint of plain is your only man.” – Flann O’Brien, “The Workman’s Friend”
I once knew an Irish girl who absolutely refused to drink Guinness this side of the pond.
“It doesn’t taste right here,” she said. “It tastes kind of funny. Sort of flat.”
Having never been to Ireland at that point in life, I could not mount a well-rounded defense of the black stuff’s American cousin. But it hardly mattered, as said lass regularly forsook her native brew in favor of the dollar draft du jour. To me, no perceived inferiority could be so great as to justify drinking Coors Light, the skim milk of beer, thusly self-negating her own testimony.
I’ve never been a beer man, per se, preferring rambunctious, high-octane spirits like whiskey, Scotch, and rum. But I’ve always had a fondness for the vaguely sweet, burnt-but-never-bitter flavor of the Emerald Isle’s most well-known export.
Diageo, the multinational corporate juggernaut that today owns, brews, and markets Guinness, says it annually sells more than 1.8 billion pints of it worldwide. Today, the stout is brewed in nearly 60 countries (including Ireland), and sold in twice that many, but it all began in 1759, at St. James’s Gate in Dublin.
The Guinness Storehouse leaves no stone in the company’s 256-year history unturned, starting with the four ingredients that comprise its famous stout – barley, hops, yeast, and water (sourced from nearby mountains and not the River Liffey, as urban legend holds). And that’s only the first floor; the six more that ascend tell nearly every angle of the Guinness story, from the brewers to the coopers to the suits upstairs in marketing.
Those of drinking age (18!) can enjoy a pint (included in the admission price) on the top-floor Gravity Bar, a glass-walled cylinder that affords visitors a 360-degree view of Dublin. Another bar on the floor below teaches visitors the protocol behind a perfect pour. (TIP: Every admission stub is good for a pint, including the one your non-drinking companion is holding.)
Also of note, the Guinness Storehouse is kid-friendly.
I spent an obscene amount of time and money in the gift shop (some on actual gifts), which features every manner of Guinness-branded clothing and paraphernalia. The whole deal is not inexpensive; tickets are 18 euros, or 16.20 if purchased online in advance. But for the Guinness-drinker it’s nirvana – the nexus of product and branding that defines the whole Guinness experience for people around the world.
Diageo insists that all Guinness is brewed to the same specifications, no matter where its made. But who knows? Maybe Ireland’s Guinness really is just a little more fresh, traveling through cleaner, better maintained lines to a tap that plays like a perfectly tuned instrument in the hands of a skilled barman. Or, just perhaps, a pint means that much more when enjoyed upon its native shore.
Or maybe not.
Either way, it sure as hell beats Coors Light.