By Dave Fox
Every year on March 17, bars around the United States serve pint after pint of green beer. But if you go to Ireland on Saint Patrick's Day, the beer is never green. It's black — or actually "dark ruby," according to the Guinness brewery's website.
In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed an astounding 9,000-year lease on a dilapidated Dublin brewery. The rent: £48 a year. Competition was fierce among Dublin brewers. Friends of the 34-year-old entrepreneur thought he was being ridiculous. He began pumping out two varieties of beer — an ale, and a darker "stout porter," so named because it was popular among porters in London. Against big odds, his dark beer thrived. By 1914, Guinness had the largest brewery in the world.
Today, Guinness remains one of the world's largest beer producers, with breweries in 50 countries. Ten million pints of Guinness stout are consumed each day (with a few extras on St. Patrick's Day).
Over the years, a clever ad campaign has helped fuel the beer's success. In the 1930s, the brewery was known for its animal cartoons that featured simple but catchy slogans such as, "Guinness is good for you," "My goodness, my Guinness!" and "Have a Guinness when you're tired." Is it good advice to drink alcohol when you're sleepy? Not necessarily, but the slogan helped sell beer.
Guinness stout is known for its dark color and creamy white head. The color and slightly burnt flavor come from roasting the barley before the beer is brewed. The beer is carbonated with nitrous oxide in addition to the usual carbon dioxide, producing the thick white foam on top. Traditionally, Guinness is served at a slightly warmer temperature than most ales and lagers.
Because of the high carbonation, pouring a Guinness takes skill, and ordering one takes patience. To tap a perfect pint, Guinness instructs bartenders to use a "two-part pour." The glass should be tilted at a 45-degree angle and filled to three-quarters capacity. Then you must wait for the surge of bubbles beneath the foam to settle before the glass is filled to the brim. The overall process takes about two minutes.
Recently, a Dublin company has been developing a process to cut down the pouring-and-settling time without disrupting the beer's quality. Guinness afficionados aren't impressed.
A bartender at one of Dublin's oldest pubs told CNN, "Our customers will certainly not go for that. Guinness is a traditional drink and I don't think people will sacrifice that for a little extra speed and efficiency."
The speed of the pour isn't the only change Guinness is undergoing. As Dublin has become one of Europe's most high-tech economies, Guinness is targeting a new breed of Irish yuppies with varieties such as Guinness Ice, Guinness Light, and Guinness Extra Cold. These are all lighter beers. There are no plans to brew a Guinness Green.
Pilgrims for Beer
A visit to the Guinness Storehouse is, for many, a pilgrimage. The home of Ireland's national beer welcomes visitors, for a price, with a sprawling modern museum, but there are no tours of the actual working brewery. It fills the old fermentation plant, used from 1902 through 1988, vacated, and then opened in 2000 as a huge shrine-like place that most tourists just have to visit.
Step into the middle of the ground floor and look up. A tall beer glass-shaped atrium — 14 million pints big — leads past four floors of exhibitions and cafés to the skylight. Atop the building, the Gravity Bar provides visitors with a commanding 360-degree view of Dublin — with vistas all the way to the sea — and a free beer.
The actual exhibit makes brewing more grandiose than it is and treats Arthur Guinness like the god of human happiness. Highlights are the cooperage (with 1954 film clips showing the master wood-keg makers plying their now virtually extinct trade), a display of the brewery's clever ads, and the Gravity Bar, which really is spectacular.
Dave Fox is a veteran Rick Steves tour guide.