After eight days in Scotland, it was off to Ireland for the duration of our Europe trip. My mom and sister had been to neither country, so I was excited to play tour guide for both. I’ve been to Ireland three or four times—it was a quick jaunt from Edinburgh when I was living there—and as luck would have it, our arrival in Dublin coincided with Arthur’s Day. I knew nothing about this Irish holiday, but like everything else worth celebrating, the city goes all out for the occasion.
In a nutshell, Arthur’s Day is the celebration of the founding of Guinness, which took place in 1759. The company is older than my country—how’s that for comparison?—and all of Ireland celebrates accordingly, with many big-name acts like Mumford & Sons and Ellie Goulding playing surprise performances at bars across the country. (We tried to track down M&S to no avail…turns out they were in Cork while we thought we were hot on their trail in Dublin.) So naturally, it was the perfect time to visit the place where Guinness was born.
The last time I visited the Guinness Storehouse in 2003 with my friends Francie and Evan, we just poked around a bit and had a pint at the Gravity Bar. If you’re there on your own, you can get an audio guide as you explore (included in your €16.50 admission, along with a pint at the top of the storehouse). If you have a group of six or more, you can organize a guided tour, which is offered in pretty much every major language (including Chinese). In fact, since we were there, they’ve even started offering a fancier tour, the Connoisseurs Experience, in which you get to taste MULTIPLE kinds of Guinness. Every beer-lover’s dream!
When Arthur started Guinness, the company occupied four acres of land; today, the storehouse is spread out over 55 acres. The original lease was a 9,000-year contract that cost an initial deposit of £100 and is £45 a year. (I’d say Arthur got the better deal in that bargain.) We even got to see said lease, as they removed it from its vault for the occasion—the last time it had been out in public was when the Queen made a visit to the factory.
Guinness produces four million pints a day, two million of which are exported (and I guess the Irish consume the rest? no big surprise there!). Production uses four million liters of water per day, which come from the nearby Wickelow Mountains. The water was the reason Arthur decided to settle in the first place; it’s soft and doesn’t need to be treated.
After we had an hour-long tour of the facilities and learned the science behind the brewing process, it was time to learn to pour!
Truth be told: I would never order a Guinness in a bar in the United States. I’ve just never liked it much. And then I went back to Guinness and had not one, but three pints, and I learned why I don’t like it at bars in the United States: They have no idea how to pour! A Guinness always needs to be served at 42 degrees Fahrenheit. If there’s too much head on the beer, the glass is too warm.
In addition, one must follow these six steps:
- Position the glass so the golden harp faces you and make sure the glass is clean, dry and cool to the touch. (Guinness glasses are special for a reason; the shape plays a factor in the taste.)
- Hold the glass under the tap at a 45-degree angle.
- Start to pour. Pull down quickly and in one motion. Stop when the beer reaches the point between the center and the top of the harp.
- Leave it on the tray to settle. (This—the waiting process—is the hardest part, in my opinion.)
- Fill it up. Bring the head up to the glass.
- Present your beer to the customer with the Guinness label facing toward them. Feel free to add your own personal touch (like a four-leaf clover) to the head if you like!
Then, we poured some more. This time, Kari attempted to fancy it up a bit with a design. (She’s an ace pourer, that one. Guess she did inherit something from her father other than her big feet.)
And then we “graduated” from the Guinness Academy and were made to drink what we poured. (Oh, darn.)
My mom doesn’t drink beer either, so that left even more for Kari and me to consume.
We lingered so long—downing three pints a piece of thick, chocolate-y Guinness is no quick task—that Keith came back and asked us if we’d like to meet a living Guinness. I mean, who’s going to say no to that? The great-great-great-great-great grandson of Arthur, Rory Guinness, flew in for the occasion and did a small meet-and-greet with some of the guests.
He was absolutely delightful. There were probably 20 people in the room, and he came to each table and chatted up all of his guests. Then, he did a brief presentation in which he told about his five-times-great grandfather Arthur (he had 22 children! all by the same wife!) and showed us the Guinness commercials through the years (because let’s be honest: Guinness has the most genius ad campaigns of any company, ever).
And then, we all drank Guinness. As if there were any other possible conclusion to the event.