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Guinness celebrates 250th birthday

From here to Hong Kong and myriad ports in between, millions will pause today at 17:59 on the 24-hour clock and raise a glass to the 18th-century Irish brewer who made the day worth celebrating.

From here to Hong Kong and myriad ports in between, millions will pause today at 17:59 on the 24-hour clock and raise a glass to the 18th-century Irish brewer who made the day worth celebrating.

The man: Arthur Guinness. While today is his 284th birthday, it was 250 years ago, on Dec. 31, 1759, that the 34-year-old from County Kildare signed a lease on a four-acre dilapidated ale brewery near St. James's Gate on the edge of Dublin and began producing the dry stout that bears his name.

It was a smart move. Using a 100-pound legacy from his clergyman godfather, and negotiating a 45-pound, 9,000-year lease with brewery landowner Mark Rainsford, Arthur launched what has become a multinational conglomerate - Britain's Grand Metropolitan P.L.C. and Guinness morphed into Diageo P.L.C. in 1997.

Although the product that Guinness fine-tuned from porter is quintessentially Irish, more of it is consumed elsewhere these days, says master brewer Fergal Murray.

That is why today's birthday bash is a worldwide 250-years-of-Guinness affair.

As "global brand ambassador, I've been traveling everywhere, Singapore last week," Murray said in an early-morning interview yesterday from Dublin. "My job puts me everywhere on the planet - even Philadelphia," he added, noting he "enjoyed a few pints" here on a March stopover.

Today's Dublin bash will feature the Black Eyed Peas, Sir Tom Jones, and more than 60 other performers, and will be televised to watering holes worldwide.

In Philadelphia, Dubliner Ken Merriman says the broadcast will be one of the attractions at his place, Tir Na Nog, at 16th and Arch Streets.

"We Irish tend to be superstitious, but I'm hoping to have a big turnout" for the festivities, which run from 5 to 7 p.m.

Although the first Guinness arrived in South Carolina in 1817, the brew did not begin attracting lots of takers until 20 years ago.

"We'd didn't have what we now call 'Irish pubs' then," said Tom Brenich, who has been the Guinness rep for eastern Pennsylvania for the last four years, with 700 outlets just in metro Philadelphia.

In the ensuing years, Guinness has made steady gains in the United States, capturing those who like "craft" beers, said Brenich, who previously worked for Miller Brewing Co.

Tir Na Nog offers almost two dozen draft beers, but Guinness is the largest seller, accounting for 25 percent of sales, Merriman said.

Many beers taste alike, but Guinness is "one of a kind," Brenich said.

"It goes down almost like a milk shake," he said.

This "specialness" makes Guinness drinkers a loyal lot, said Belfast native Paul McCloskey, co-owner of the Dark Horse on Head House Square.

"A lot of people try it here for the first time," he said. "Some don't always stay with it, but most of them do."

What makes Guinness, well, Guinness?

It is the maturation process. Through it, the ingredients become a keg in 8.5 days, including 10 hours' brewing, 60 hours fermenting, five days maturing.

"All beer has the same ingredients: barley, hops, water and yeast," said Murray, who has been with Guinness for 25 years. More of these ingredients are used than in other beers, which is part of the difference.

In the Guinness process, part of the 100 percent Irish barley is roasted, giving it its ruby red (not black) color.

"Roasting reduces carbonation, bitterness, and gives the stout its dry quality when it reaches the back of your throat," he said.

The water in Dublin is from the Wicklow Mountains. The 49 foreign breweries use water "that meets those purity standards," he said.

Female hops imported from Europe and America help preserve Guinness for export as well as provide its flavor and aroma.

The yeast converts malt sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide, and is so valuable that a small reserve culture is kept under lock and key if something happened to the main supply, Murray said.

The result is a drink with a 4.2 percent alcohol content, he said. There are 210 calories and 15 carbs per pint of draught.

Is Guinness good for you, as the company's advertising once suggested?

Jerry Clarke, who is from Navan, County Meath, and supplies munchies to pubs in central Ireland, recalled that "when we were kids, the doctor told my mother to give us a couple of spoons of Guinness when we were sick."

"There are a lot of myths associated with Guinness and health," said Murray, who said the brewery "encourages responsible drinking."

Pouring - "crafting," as purist say - a pint is an art, and McCloskey trains his non-Irish barmen to come up with a perfect one each time.

It takes 119.5 seconds to create a pint, "but after 30 years, I don't even look at my watch," McCloskey jokes.

Said Merriman: "If there was ever a bad pint poured here, it wouldn't get past me."

. . . crafting the Perfect Pint

The Glass: Clean, dry, preferably 20 ounces.

The Angle: Hold the glass at 45 degrees. Never let spout touch poured beer or glass.

The Pour: Let the glass fill slowly, three-quarters of the way.

The Settle: Nitrogen bubbles flow down the sides of the glass and back up the middle to begin creating the creamy head.

The Top-Off: Resume filling the glass and build the head into a dome. Present to the customer.

Elapsed time: 119.5 seconds.

SOURCE: Fergal Murray, Guinness master brewer


Guinness Facts

10 million glasses are consumed worldwide daily.

Roasting the barley gives Guinness its ruby red color and taste.

Two-thirds of Ireland's annual barley crop goes to brewing Guinness.

Guinness is brewed in 49 countries besides Ireland.

Guinness workers call the Wicklow Mountain water used in brewing "liquor."

The top five markets around the world in terms of sales are Britain, Ireland, Nigeria, the United States, and Cameroon.

The Dublin brewery produces about 12.5 million gallons annually.

Guinness first arrived in the United States in 1817. All U.S. Guinness is made in Dublin.

The widget in a can of Guinness contains nitrogen. It facilitates release of carbon dioxide in the stout to create the head.

SOURCE: Guinness