Revealed: The Secrets of the Guinness Brewery

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Arthur Guinness may not be the patron saint of Ireland (that would be St. Patrick) but he might as well be the patron saint of Irish tourism. In a country filled with incredible sights and natural attractions, the Guinness Brewery is Ireland’s number one sight, now drawing nearly 2 million visitors a year and 20 million visitors since it first opened its doors in 2000. Arthur famously signed a 9,000-year lease back in 1759, so he believed—hard—in the potential of his brand, but with sights like the Cliffs of Moher, the Giant’s Causeway, the Rock of Cashel, and the Book of Kells, how is a brewery Ireland’s number one attraction? What is it about “the black stuff” that draws visitors from far and wide? Why does Guinness hold such a special, green-white-and gold place in our hearts and bellies? And are there leprechauns involved behind the scenes? Oh, and what’s this about the Camino de Santiago connection?

Now that the Guinness Brewery has unveiled a cool new Behind The Gates tour, Guinness fans can visit the oldest parts of the brewery, get a better understanding of Guinness’ place in Dublin and the world, and get to the bottom of Ireland’s most famous export…all the while, getting to the bottom of a few pint glasses, too. Sláinte!

It’s Willie-Wonka-Meets-VH1-Behind-the-Music

While the original Guinness Storehouse tour provides a solid background on the history, production, and advertising-magic of Guinness across its seven exhibit-packed floors, the new Behind the Gates tour takes you deeper. This is for the Guinness fan who appreciates a good pour of a pint as much as a good long story while enjoying the second pint (raises hand). The premium tours (€95, ages 18 and up) are small groups of up to 12 and run by informed and affable Beer Ambassadors/Specialists who share stories and facts as you cross cobblestone yards, explore the oldest and newest parts of the plant, and sniff around the roasting house. You’ll learn where the water comes from (the Wicklow Mountains), what temperature the barley is roasted to (232 degrees celsius), and what’s being tested at the Open Gate Brewery (all sorts of delicious experiments). You’ll also go beyond the brilliant advertising of the brand to appreciate the impact this brewery had on the lives of working Dubliners and the city of Dublin. Depending on how much you enjoy a pint of the black stuff, your eye taps might flood at the realization that you are walking in the footsteps of the OG, Mr. Arthur Guinness himself.

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Like Every Good Hero, Arthur Has a Humble Origin Story

Before you learn about malt and barley and the science of a good pint, you need to appreciate the man behind the myth. As the tour kicks off you learn that Arthur Guinness was born in 1725 in County Kildare, where his father managed the land and estate of the Archbishop of Cashel. Like a good Jane Austen plot, the Archbishop left the humble “servant” Arthur £100 in his will which the then 27-year-old used to start a small ale brewery nearby. His father had supervised the brewing of beer for the workers of the estate, so Arthur had learned the ins and outs of brewing as a young man. A few years later, Arthur packed his ambition, brewing expertise, and sensible pants, and set off for the bright gas-lights of Dublin. Once there, he signed a lease for 9,000 years (because go big or go home) at £45 a month for a run-down brewery in the Liberties neighborhood. In true period romantic-novel theme, Arthur then married a well-born Dubliner with a £1,000 dowry and good connections. To cap-off his more-is-more philosophy, or maybe to secure that 9,000-year legacy, the couple had 21 kids together (only ten survived to adulthood).

Pub Quiz Winner: Guinness Is Not Black and White

While fondly referred to as “the Black Stuff,” Guinness is not actually black and white [makes boom sounds and mind-blowing gestures with hands]. I know, take a minute. In the historic Roast House, where the barley is brewed, and you inhale like you might never breathe again, you learn about the ingredients and the art of science of the roasting process. You also learn that Guinness is actually a deep ruby red because of the way the malted barley is roasted. If you ever needed an excuse to stop what you are doing and go toast the sunset with a pint (and see its true colors), this is it.

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Behind Every Good Pint Is a Great Farmer

Forget the Oscars and the Grammys; the red carpet you need to be watching is probably green. The annual Irish Malting Barley Excellence Awards, aka the Cream of the Crop Awards, is the one day of the year when farmers across Ireland milk the cows early, polish their wellies, and head to the Guinness Storehouse in the hopes of taking home the Guinness Perpetual Cup for Malting Barley Excellence. Try saying that twice after three celebratory pints. The annual awards have been held since 1954 to promote excellence in barley production and sustainability in the supply chain. There are over 900 barley growers in Ireland (and Guinness is their biggest customer) and the Malting Barley Excellence awards bring together the best growers from the five barley supply regions, while also recognizing the best seed producers. The 2019 winner was Evan McDonnell, a third-generation malting barley grower from County Carlow. No, we do not know if he’s married (but, sidenote, if you have a thing for Irish farmers, you might want to check out the Irish Farmer’s Calendar).

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There’s a Tunnel, But No Oompa Loompas

I don’t know about you, but I like my tours to have tunnels. There’s something so captivating about entering and exiting a tunnel, especially if the tunnel was once the exclusive terrain of workers making my favorite drink, and it now leads to Brewhouse 4, my favorite drink’s state of the art brewing facility. After visiting the 200-year-old Vat Houses where Guinness was matured for months before being sent to the four corners of the world and then entering the gleaming new facilities where Guinness is brewed today, you’d expect choirs of angels, or at least, a Star-Trek-like transporter effect as the secret door reveals the slick new brewing vessels — but you’re met with silence. This part of the plant is modern, pristine, and completely—and mysteriously—quiet and unpopulated, (because the magic wee folk scattered, right before you entered, duh). There are 400 quality checks a day, but the lucky tasters who get to test the final product daily at 10 a.m., are also nowhere in sight. Their work is most likely conducted in a top-secret bunker. We all saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The recipe must be protected.

Workers Get a Daily Guinness Allowance

There are indeed workers and Arthur Guinness cared about them, and one of the earliest ways he showed it was by granting a daily beer allowance (this was before Hallmark cards). For many years, this consisted of two pints of Guinness a day. In the 60s, it was downgraded to two bottles a day, and eventually, the allowance was changed to ‎€50 a month to spend in the onsite shop. So. Not. Fair.

Friends With Even More Benefits

While traversing the older parts of the plant, and hearing the stories of how progressive the Guinness company was in terms of workers’ rights, it all starts to make sense. The reason the Guinness name and brand has such a special place in the heart of Dubliners, and the Irish diaspora, is that Arthur Guinness was genuinely good to his workers. He was a deeply religious man who saw it as his duty to improve the living conditions of those around him. Subsequent generations built upon this legacy so that, along with free meals and that free daily Guinness allowance, Guinness employees received social benefits such as free train tickets for trips to the countryside and access to the theater and health facilities. There was a doctor who visited employees and their families at home, a company midwife, Sunday schools, and by the 1920s there was full medical and dental care, company-funded pensions, and educational benefits.

Guinness Is Not Technically Good For You, But It’s Vegan!

Okay, so despite the catchy “Guinness is Good for You” advertising (brainwashing) campaign in the 1920s, Guinness is not exactly “good” for you. It’s not necessarily bad for you, either (in moderation), it’s just that thoughts on nutrition have evolved a little since the twenties, so alcohol is considered less of a superfood. Go figure. Pregnant women were long advised to drink Guinness for its high iron content, and Dublin students (raises hand again) were offered a pint of Guinness in exchange for a blood donation as recently as the early-2000s, but it turns out the actual science behind the health claims was a little flimsy.

This is where your Beer Ambassador helps you look on the brighter side of things, casually referring to studies that found that stout beer like Guinness (as opposed to lager and other light beer) is high in antioxidant compounds called flavonoids—similar to those found in red wine—that can reduce the risk of a heart attack from blood clotting. Also, who knew, but a pint has about 200 calories (which is less than many lagers and some juice drinks), and due to new and improved filtration techniques, Guinness is also vegan. Oh, and if you need further validation, the Guinness Brewery is a zero-waste facility and one of the most sustainable breweries in the world. The company plans to make 40% of the company’s plastics recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025, and 100% five years later in 2030.

Guinness IS Good for Dublin

There’s a cute Insta-gimmick stop on the regular Storehouse tour (which you can take after you complete your Behind the Gates tour), where you can have your photo printed on the head of a pint of Guinness that you pull yourself. As you struggle to drink around your face on your selfie-pint, you might find yourself thinking about the imprint of Guinness on the city of Dublin. (Guinness makes you deep.)

The Gravity Bar at the top of the Storehouse offers 360-degree views of Dublin’s historic rooftops, and from here you can see the surrounding housing that the company built in the 1870s for three hundred employees and their families. Then, in the 1890s, the Guinness family established the Iveagh Trust to build social housing for Dublin’s working class. Continued investments added public baths, parks, a childcare facility, and a homeless shelter.

Many of Dublin’s top attractions also benefitted from a financial Guinness toast. St Stephen’s Green was once a private park, restricted to the residents surrounding it, but in the late 1800s, Sir A.E. Guinness paid to redevelop it and open it to the public. And St. Patrick’s Cathedral would most certainly have fallen in to ruin had Benjamin Guinness (Arthur’s grandson) not funded its preservation and restoration. Benjamin’s sons continued his work by adding the tiles to the floor of the Cathedral and by donating a stained glass window, and the Guinness family are still active and supportive in preserving this Dublin monument. The Iveagh Trust is also still going strong. Yes, another pint is in order as you toast the Dublin skyline.

You Can Start the Camino de Santiago Outside the Brewery

Yes, the Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrim paths that lead to Galicia in northwestern Spain. No, St. James Church is not in Spain; it’s at the gate of the Guinness Brewery. Yet, due to an ancient connection, Irish pilgrims have embarked on this pilgrimage from St. James Gate in Dublin since medieval times. The Camino Information Centre is run by volunteers who have completed the pilgrimage. They offer information on the journey and issue the official Irish Pilgrim Passport, which is stamped along the way to certify participation on the route. You know how to bless your journey before you start …

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Guinness Should Be Served With Oysters and Chocolate, Too

After working up a thirst learning about the past, present, and future of Guinness, the tour stops for a guided food and beer tasting (with limited-edition brews, not found anywhere else in the world) at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery, Guinness’s on-site experimental brewery. Newsflash, the malt in Guinness is perfectly complemented by toffee and caramel in rich desserts. Also, Guinness Extra Stout’s rich, creamy head and crisp taste compliments the brininess of oysters to draw out their more complex tastes. Yes, oysters and Guinness Extra Stout are like peanut butter and jelly and you need to get in on this diet, fast.

This 250-Year-Old Company Has A Start-Up Vibe

The Guinness Brewery is Ireland’s top attraction. Guinness is available in 100 countries and more than 10 million pints are consumed around the world every single day. But the real secret behind the success of this company is that it does not sit still on the vision of a founder who signed a lease for 9,000 years. While its success is forever tied to its classic black and white (ahem, red) stout, the company is always experimenting and growing.

At the Open Gate Brewery, a team of experimental brewers is constantly playing and testing, and creating seasonal ales, stouts, and sours for staff and visitors to try and vote on. The Gravity Bar at the top of the Guinness Storehouse just doubled in size and capacity so that visitors can linger even longer to take in those romantic, Dublin rooftop views after taking a tour. And Guinness just opened a new brewery in Baltimore, Maryland, the first Guinness brewery in the U.S. since the mid-50s. And hey, we’re just in 2020. There are still 8,739 years to go on the lease!

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