One could hardly come to Dublin without visiting the Guinness Storehouse. So that is what my wife and I did during our recent trip to that fair city. Guinness and I go back a long way. Of all the beers that I currently drink with any regularity Guinness is the one with which I have the longest association. My Guinness drinking days go back over 30 years to when I was undergraduate student at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. So it was appropriate that I should make a pilgrimage to the home of Guinness.
The Storehouse, located at Guinness’s St. James’s Gate Brewery, was opened in 2000 and is the place to go if you wish to learn more about this iconic Irish brew. There are seven floors in the cleverly designed Storehouse whose atrium is shaped in the form of a glass of Guinness. Entry was €18 (~$20) although showing our AAA card reduced the entry fee to €16 (~$18). This included a ticket for a pint of Guinness. Alternatively, you can save 10% on the cost of admission by purchasing your tickets online in advance. This also allows you to bypass what at times can be some fairly lengthy lines to purchase tickets. In planning your visit please allocate yourself plenty of time. We spent more than four hours there exploring the facility floor by floor.
After entering the Storehouse there is an optional brief introduction to the brand by a Guinness employee. This occurs next to the original copy of the 9,000 year lease for the brewery that Arthur Guinness signed in 1759. The lease is encased in a display case that is sunken into the floor – allowing you to effectively walk on top of the lease. The lease is no longer in effect as the company purchased the brewery outright. But having read about the lease it was pretty cool to see the actual document complete with the signature of Arthur Guinness on the bottom right hand corner.
Following this introduction to the Storehouse my wife and I strolled around at our leisure. Our self guided tour started with the basics – learning about the four ingredients of Guinness (water, barley, hops, and yeast) and the brewing process itself. Here you learn that the water used by Guinness’s Dublin brewery comes from the Wicklow Mountains, which are 26 miles away.
We then moved to second floor where the focus was cooperage and transportation. For me the most interesting part of this display was the short nine minute video from the 1950s that shows how the wooden casks for Guinness were made. We live in an era where most products are made with machines using standardized interchangeable parts so it was fascinating to see the skill and craftsmanship involved in making a wooden beer cask. During the 1930s there were around 600 coopers employed in the city of Dublin, half of whom worked at Guinness. Guinness introduced aluminum kegs in 1946, which themselves were replaced by stainless steel ones during the 1980s. Aluminum and wooden casks existed side by side at Guinness but the latter were gradually phased out. By 1961 Guinness employed only 70 coopers. The last wooden cask was filled at Guinness’s Dublin brewery in March 1963.
The third floor has a fascinating display of the history of Guinness advertising and sponsorship. Most of us are probably familiar with the famous Guinness toucan. The toucan actually began life as a pelican designed by the artist John Gilroy who worked for the S.H Benson advertising agency. Also on the Benson team, working on the Guinness account, was Dorothy L. Sayers. Sayers is perhaps better known for her mystery novels and in particular the character Lord Peter Wimsey. It was Sayers who is credited with the idea of changing the pelican to a toucan. From its introduction in 1935 until its final appearance in 1982 the toucan was synonymous with the brand and was the centerpiece of a number of colorful, eye-catching, and whimsical Guinness advertisements. Over the years Gilroy and his team at Benson produced over one hundred newspaper ads and fifty posters for the Guinness brand.
Another fun part of the advertising section is The Whistling Oyster. Yes, there it is, sitting on a red pillow is a mechanical oyster that whistles. In the early 1930s Guinness advertising started to capitalize on the idea that Guinness pairs well with a variety of fish and seafood, including and oysters. The result was a number of advertisements over the years featuring Guinness and Oysters.
Guinness does not just go well with oysters but it is also good for your health apparently. In its first newspaper ad, which appeared on February 7, 1929, the health benefits of Guinness were extolled. According to the ad Guinness was something akin to a cure-all magic elixir that builds strong muscles, feeds exhausted nerves, enriches the blood, and helps with insomnia. Furthermore it acts as a restorative following a bout of the flu or other illnesses that weaken the body. As I read the ad that was displayed in the Storehouse I was reminded of the snake oil salesman that often make an appearance in old Western movies. I suspect that advertising standards in most countries would not permit such an ad today.
During our visit we also had a number of opportunities to taste Guinness. The first was part of an informational session about Guinness West Indies Porter. This is a modern interpretation on an old brew that was produced by Guinness in 1801. It has been suggested that this brew, along with Guinness Dublin Porter, is an attempt to capture some of the burgeoning craft beer market in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Our second opportunity to sample some Guinness came when we entered the Tasting Rooms. Once inside you are instructed on how to properly drink a Guinness so that you get the full range of sensory satisfaction. It was here that I was the recipient of not one, but two second complimentary samples – my reward for knowing that the color of Guinness is ruby red. Yes, it pays to be The Beer Professor! When we reached the fourth floor of the Storehouse we had the opportunity to pour our own pint of Guinness. This is done in groups of about a dozen visitors. Your Guinness guide (in our case a very affable young man by the name of Hugh) takes you through the six steps involved in pouring a perfect pint of Guinness. You then get the opportunity to pour your own pint after which you are presented with a certificate that states that you have successfully crafted a perfect pint of Guinness. This certificate will now hang proudly on the wall of my office alongside the one certifying that I successfully completed all the requirements for a doctoral degree. Upon receiving your certificate you sit down and enjoy the pint you poured. Eventually your self-guided tour takes you to The Gravity Bar that sits atop the Guinness Storehouse. Here you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of Dublin through the ceiling to floor windows while enjoying a pint.
I was not sure what to expect of the Guinness Storehouse but I have to say that I enjoyed the experience thoroughly. It is a great way to spend the afternoon. And if you go do not forget to visit the gift store on the ground floor. I admit to having a certain amount of gift store fatigue as a result of dozens of visits to museums, art galleries etc. but the Guinness gift store is really quite fun and I was impressed with both the quality and the wide array of Guinness related gifts on display.
So as they say in Ireland “sláinte”.