Photos by Aonghus Kealy
Jane “Doe” stares up at the screen, waiting for the order to begin brewing 200,000 pints of Guinness.
Batch No. 3,157 at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin gets the thumbs-up from an engineer in the viewer. The blond English woman stacks one hand on top of the other and pushes the red button on the table in front of her. Jane enables a computerized system to release milled barley into a mash vessel to mix with water, deep within the St. James’ Gate Brew House in the building 50 metres north.
And thus the batch begins.
“If anything goes wrong, we have your e-mail address and we will come looking for you,” a grinning Martin Gorman announces on a microphone.
That batch will be ready in 10 days, adds the Storehouse VIP/media tour guide.
Unfortunately, we can’t watch that batch begin at the brew house without brewmaster Fergal Murray present. He’s Down Under on holiday.
The engineer assures us he’ll take it from here. This batch will be Guinness draught, the lovely 4.2 per cent alcohol per volume stout gulped all over Dublin and around the world.
According to the brewing behemoth’s stats, almost one out of every two pints of beer consumed in Ireland is Guinness, whether it’s draught or stronger stout. But St. Jane’s personalized Guinness is one of 100 visitor-blessed batches per week, and really just a drop in the pond of the millions of gallons of Guinness produced this year at the Gate and abroad.
The Storehouse used to house the fermentation plant, closed down in 1988. About 50 million Euros later, it’s been reopened for six years as an award-winning “visitor experience centre” featuring Chicago-style architecture, exposed girders crossing at the pint-shaped glass heart of the building.
To fill the seven-storey atrium, it would take 14.3 million people, each armed with a pint of Guinness, to climb to the top of the Storehouse, not spill a drop, then pour their drink into it.
“It’s the largest pint of Guinness in the world,” Gorman says.
Well, minus the drink anyway.
And about that drink, the Irish giant is no exception to the big and small brewer mantra “only four natural ingredients.”
“Firstly, I’ll tell you what we don’t use,” Gorman begins as we walk through the ingredients exhibit on the above-ground floor called OG. “We don’t use colourings, flavourings, additives or chemicals.
“Ninety-eight per cent of Guinness is water.”
The water is pumped down to the brewery from the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, north of the city, from an exclusive source called Lady’s Well, Gorman says. “It’s not used anywhere else in all of Ireland,” he adds, as we walk past a couple snapping photos in front of a man-made waterfall.
It’s a myth that Guinness takes its water from the famous murky River Liffey that runs through the city, Gorman says.
But as for what supplies that waterfall …
“We probably just use the hose,” he shrugs.
The 100,000 tons of barley used annually comes from all over Ireland — “this week, it’s coming from Kerry,” Gorman says.
Roasted malts give the drink its “black” colour, which is really the darkest amber you may ever see.
As for the drink’s famous bitterness, that’s attributed to one per cent of the world’s hops. They are collected from Australia, California, the Czech Republic, Germany and Kent County in England.
And then there’s every brewer’s secret ingredient — yeast.
“Yeast is a self-producing organism. We don’t buy yeast. We still use the same strand of yeast that Arthur Guinness (the first) used in 1759,” Gorman says.
Arthur probably imported it from England, but its origin isn’t known. There are other possibilities considered. “It could have come from his father (also a brewer), or it could have come from a baker down the road.”
And the brewery still has a strong relationship with Dublin bakers, as it sells yeast to them.
“If you eat enough bread in Dublin, you’ll probably wake up with a hangover,” Gorman quips.
It’s time to get started on one. While there are advertising, tasting and interactive areas between the OG and seventh floors, we’ll skip to the chase to see, for many, the building’s highlight — the Gravity Bar.
"Ours is the freshest Guinness in Ireland,” Gorman says. Therefore, this is where you’ll find the best pint in the world, I’m told.
“This is a bit like Charley And The Chocolate Factory,” Gorman quips, “where the elevator goes through the roof.”
We shed our steel and brick surroundings as the glass elevator takes us past the sixth floor to the top of the giant pint’s head. It’s here that the cosy 2,496-sq.-ft. Gravity Bar is found.
The bar fits 270 at capacity, and every day, about 3,500 visitors come in for the drink and a view of Dublin.
Time for a pint.
Gorman pours my first.
After a long stare at the latté mass of cascading bubbles, the transformed black beauty is placed before me. Driplets form and trickle down the left side of the glass. Two more pints await their top-up. I snap photos of all three.
I take a gulp, because you don’t sip Guinness. That’s rude.
It’s fine. The best in Ireland? The Storehouse folks say so. They should know. But I’ve equally enjoyed pints of Mother’s Milk poured elsewhere in Dublin, New York and Toronto.
It’s the ultimate drink for marketing, pub talk and atmosphere. Every stout drinker has some kind of theory on the beer, and anyone who rates this beer 5/5 on ratebeer.comis in love, not just with the beer, but the culture of Guinness.
With Guinness, it’s not an overwhelming delicious flavour you enjoy. It’s all about mouthfeel, creaminess, burned maltiness and a hint of coffee.
And the circumstances.
My thoughts turn to its bitterness and roasted malts paired with a Lion chocolate bar, after two sausage rolls, before a 1-1 Ireland-Czech Republic Euro Cup qualifying match I attended just a few days earlier.
While drinking that Guinness as I followed the crowd down the street to Lansdowne Stadium, I walked past a garda (police officer), who looked at my plastic glass, at me, then let me move on to the game. My last two gulps were superb.
As I’m in mid-thought at Gravity Bar, a little more luck of the Irish is served up.
Quality specialist Andrew William, who is pouring pints at the bar, throws in a bonus pint. Luckily for me, he can’t read minds.
After Dave from Essex County, England, one-way gabs me for 40 minutes about corruption in Bulgaria — his better half in smiling, full tolerance mode — we all escape, me to the windows surrounding to look out on Dublin.
While it’s a fascinating view of the city, from a strictly aesthetic point of view, it’s disappointing from here. Factory-like domes and cylindrical industrial towers obscure some of the views, and much of Dublin’s architecture is simply too far away to appreciate.
The quotes on the windows from James Joyce’s works are a nice touch, and a skyline map helps to find Phoenix Park, St. Patrick’s Tower and Croke Park.
While it’s a much more beautiful city to tour by foot, the view is still worth the 14-Euro entry fee (12 if you buy tickets online).
And go for a pint. It’s the best Guinness you’ll ever have. Right?
• Next Week: The history and advertising genius of Guinness.
• The Guinness Storehouse is seven storeys high, with 170,000 sq. ft. (about four acres) of floor space built around a huge glass central atrium.
• 10 million glasses of Guinness consumed around the world every day.
• It takes 119.5 seconds to pour a perfect pint of Guinness. The wait is to allow the drink’s gases (80 per cent nitrogen, 20 per cent C02) to separate.
• Why nitrogen? The gas gives the drink its thick, creamy head.
• About 3.5 million pints of Guinness are produced every day at the St. James’ Gate Brewery. That number soars to five million prior to Christmas and big sporting events.
• About 67 per cent of the amount brewed is exported overseas, but that 33 per cent means Ireland is still the No. 1 consumer of Black Gold.
• There are Guinness breweries in Malaysia, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria.