“Is this your first trip to Dublin?” the immigration officer asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a journalist.”
“What are you here for?”
“Oh, all right then. Have a nice stay in Ireland!”
It was at that moment while clearing immigration at the Dublin Airport that I realised that the Irish really do take their Guinness seriously.
During a media visit to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin courtesy of Guinness, we got to see first hand just how ingrained Guinness is in the culture of this city.
Everywhere you go around Dublin, you’ll see signs proudly advertising the iconic black brew.
Spend some time in the local pubs, and you’re bound to hear at least one debate about which pub serves the best Guinness pour.
“People here are so proud of their Guinness that they can tell a bad pour immediately,” says one of the barman we met at a local pub called John Kehoe (or Kehoe’s), which purportedly serves one of the best Guinness pours in Dublin. “I’ve even heard people debating about a particular batch of Guinness, as if each batch of Guinness they brew is different from the previous ones.” (It’s not.)
Kehoe’s is a typical Irish pub just a stone’s throw away from the popular Grafton Street shopping area. After walking through the hustle and bustle of the trendy shopping street to get to it, stepping into the pub feels like I’m stepping into a time machine that, instead of taking one back in time, seems to make time stand still.
The first thing you notice is the lack of music. The only sounds you hear are the chatter of the patrons, glasses clinking, and best of all, that sweet SWOOOSH of beer being tapped.
Pubs in Ireland are treated as sanctuaries of sorts. One goes to a pub, not just for a Guinness, but to meet friends, have a good chat, or maybe read a book. Every Irish person I met spoke of their “local” with a swelling pride – it is THEIR place, the place where everyone knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.
Back to Kehoe’s. After a pint, the conversation inevitably turned to what pub serves the best Guinness. Another quirk I noticed was how hardly any barman would trumpet their own pub as having the best, modestly suggesting other pubs instead of their own. But one place that always seems to get a mention, unsurprisingly, is the Guinness Storehouse.
One of the most visited tourist spots in Ireland, the Guinness Storehouse is a seven-storey attraction where visitors can immerse themselves in the world of Guinness. Here, they can learn about the history of Guinness, learn how to pour a pint, see how Guinness advertising has changed over the years, and finally, head up to the Gravity Bar on the top floor where they can enjoy a pint of Guinness while admiring the Dublin skyline.
Looking at the modern, touristy atmosphere of the Guinness Storehouse, with its swanky gift shop and state-of-the-art displays, it’s hard to imagine that 257 years ago, this was where it all began. On Dec 31, 1759, Arthur Guinness, the founder of Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease for the then unused St James’ Gate Brewery in Dublin, and started brewing his own beer. Yes, that’s NINE THOUSAND YEARS. Only 8,743 years left to go then.
From a small four-acre brewery site back then, the brewery has grown to an over 50-acre site. The Guinness brewed back then wasn’t the Guinness we know now though. According to Guinness Archivist Eibhlin Roche, the early Guinness beers were mostly ales, not stout.
Roche, who has worked as an archivist for Guinness for almost 15 years and is considered one of the world’s most knowledgeable authorities on all things Guinness, then showed us a large book that was one of Arthur Guinness’ original brewing recipe books, dating back to 1796.
In that 220-year-old book are the recipes for all the beers that he brewed back then. “This book shows us that they were brewing ale and porter at the time,” she explained. “He wasn’t brewing just one type of beer – he was brewing different types of beer consistently, and even in this book, we can see the amount of porter he brewed, which is the dark beer that Guinness is now known for.”
Back in Ireland in the late 1700s, ale would have been the most common type of beer drunk here. “The dark beer we now call Guinness started as a style of porter, which was invented in the early 1700s in London, when the market porters who carried the goods all over the city started to drink a new dark beer made with roasted barley. Arthur Guinness may not have invented porter or stout, but he took the recipe and made his own.”
In 1799, Arthur decided to stop brewing ales, and concentrate instead on his version of a porter recipe, and that’s how the Guinness we know today began.
The best black
“The best pint of Guinness in the world you can have is right here,” declared our host and barman at the Connoisseur’s Bar inside the Guinness Storehouse, as he poured each of us an impeccable pint of Guinness.
As he passed the beers around, he continued, “This is probably the freshest Guinness you will ever have. It’s a fresh keg, brewed right here, and opened especially for you guys.”
One of the frequently asked questions I’ve gotten since I returned home from Dublin is, “Is the Guinness in Ireland really better than the one in Malaysia?”
While it is hard to tell for sure without a side by side comparison, one thing is certain – that glass of Guinness that was poured for us at the Connoisseur’s Bar was without doubt, one of the best pints of Guinness I have ever had in my entire life.
Appearance-wise, it looked tantalisingly perfect, with a head of foam so immaculate that it seemed almost a shame to have to disturb it in order to drink that dark liquid underneath it. But drink we did, and boy did it hit the spot.
The sweet aroma of malt, the creaminess of the foam, that first touch of the liquid to the lips, the rich maltiness of the beer, the smooth sensation of the beer going down the throat, and that warm, fuzzy feeling inside your tummy… that was what the perfect Guinness tastes like, in my mind.
And for what it’s worth, it’s still the one thing I remember the most from my trip to Dublin.
Purchase five glasses or bottles of Guinness at participating outlets throughout March and stand a chance to win one of 12 pairs of tickets for an exclusive hosted trip to Dublin. Also look out for the Guinness St Patrick’s ‘Friendliest Fridge’ at selected Malone’s outlets every Thursday this month – for locations and more details, visit facebook.com/guinnessmalaysia