I’m afeared I may have to give up my Beer Lover Membership Card when I say this, but I feel I must be honest, so here goes.
I don’t like Guinness.
To be fair, I’m not a fan of stouts overall. However, I can generally manage to drink them under the right circumstances – several beers into a night out with lots of nibbles, usually. (Several beers in so my taste buds are somewhat deadened, and nibbles to cleanse my pallet after each sip.) But I can’t even manage that with Guinness.
Not that any of that made one lick of difference when I had the chance to visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. I am, after all, a beer lover, and Guinness is one of the most iconic beers of all time. Plus I’m a history fan, and when the 9000-year lease for the land the brewery is built on, signed in 1759, is on display in the gift shop before the tour even starts, you know there’s guaranteed to be some real cool stuff once you get inside.
The nice thing about visiting the Guinness Storehouse is that it’s all self-directed, not a guided tour. You can book a start time in advance to avoid the line, and once you arrive, spend as much or as little time in the various areas as you like. And there are a lot of areas to visit, as there are extensive displays over the building’s seven floors.
There are all kinds of things to see and do – from info on the history of the brewery and its founder, Arthur Guinness, to the building itself, to the brewing process, to advertising campaigns, to restaurants, to tastings (at which, I am a little embarrassed to say, I won an extra glass because I knew the answer to the question, “What colour is Guinness?” (It’s ruby red.) I waited for someone else, who might actually like the prize, to answer, but after the entire group remained silent for a good five seconds it got uncomfortable, so I answered. And then I handed my prize off to Ron.), to learning how to do the perfect Guinness pour.
Just the building itself is worth the price of admission, with its juxtaposition of modern touches and old, exposed pipes.
And I particularly enjoyed the coopering display. This was partly because the history of the casks Guinness has used over the years is interesting. (When they transitioned from wood to metal casks, for example, a lot of the old casks got repurposed into furniture, and can be found in pubs throughout Dublin to this day.) Then there’s the historical hierarchy of the coopers themselves. (Wood casks had to be cleaned, and coopers would judge whether or not they were usable by smell. But they wouldn’t deign to bend down to take a sniff. Oh no. Apprentices would lift the barrels and hold them directly under the cooper’s nose. The arrogance makes me giggle.) Mostly, though, it’s because I love straight lines and neat piles, and the way casks were stored – there was once a pyramid of 250,000 of them stacked in the Guinness yard – makes me inordinately happy.
But my favourite exhibit was the look at Guinness’ advertising over the years. It’s not just that it’s entertaining in its own right. Although it certainly is. The first ever Guinness ad features a section on how good it is for you, from building muscles, to enriching the blood, to being both an effective restorative and ‘a valuable natural aid in cases of insomnia.’
But it was the long-running zookeeper ad campaign that I enjoyed the most. One of my uncles had a few pieces from this campaign – an ashtray or two, and maybe some coasters. I remember that whenever we visited, I loved to look at them, because they were cute and colourful.
My uncle was a very large, very loud man. He was also an alcoholic. He was the kind of guy who would stash a beer inside his coat for the drive home when my aunt picked him up at the mess, forget it was there, fall when he got out of the car upon arriving home, and think he’d broken a rib, when it was actually the beer glass breaking. He always kind of intimidated quiet, nervous little me.
Visiting the Guinness Storehouse reminded me of him and his coasters and ashtrays. He died when I was a teenager, or perhaps even a bit younger. In recent years, I’ve thought it would have been nice to get to know him as an adult, when I could get past his size and volume. From my memories of him, I think he had a good heart, and I bet he had some great stories to tell. Especially after he quit drinking – which he did, cold turkey – and could remember them.
The culmination of our long perusal of this comprehensive history of Guinness was a visit to the Gravity Bar, on the building’s top floor.
Admission to the Guinness Storehouse includes a beer in the Gravity Bar. I figured I’d give my drink ticket to Ron, what with my not being a fan of Guinness, and all. But I was in for a surprise. It turns out that a few years back, the Guinness brewery began producing a lager called Hop House 13.
And I’m able to drink it just fine.