Storehouse experience, Guinness Brewery, Dublin, Ireland

Raising (to) the bar

We barely had two hours, were thirsty and needed to get up high….

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The taxi rolled along walls of windowless industrial brick buildings, passing under shiny piping to come to a halt just shy of a disused narrow gauge railroad track. Rusted steel rail passed through two wide open black steel gates adorned with a large gilded lyre. We had arrived at “The Storehouse” Dublin’s biggest tourist draw counting more than a-million-and-a-half thirsty visitors annually.

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What’s brewing?
Perhaps had it not been for the 100 Irish pounds gifted by Arthur Price, a man of the cloth and the entrepreneurial acumen of “his servant” likewise christened Arthur there would be no draw. However, the proof is in the …. and Arthur (“the servant”) in 1755 at 30 poured the money into a lease of a small brewery in Leixlip. Five years later he left it in the care of his younger brother and went to town. There at St James gate in Dublin he signed a 9000-year lease for 45 Irish pounds per annum and founded what would become the world’s largest brewery.

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Liz our guide pointed down at the lease which fittingly sits at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass. Neither I nor Jim, my travel mate, have eyes sharp enough to read the scrawls below our feet at this distance and gazed upwards at the steel girders of the building rising above. We have to make it to the top. Let’s Go!

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The young Arthur Guinness was certainly not the first, nor was the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians and certainly not the Belgian monks who all had preceded him as brewers. Some form of beer had been brewed as early as the 7th millennium BC. Liz walked us through the fields of barley, a fragrant tunnel of hops which was added as flavor to European beer around 800 AD as Charlemagne ruled. She stopped at a safe once holding crucial high-quality brewer’s yeast to assure continuous brewing. The final key ingredient is of course water cascading down in raging water falls along glass walls.

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At the end of the first stairs we are met by a rich sweet burnt sugar aroma on the first floor. This is what separates Guinness stout from ales, as a portion of the barley used is roasted at 232 degrees Centigrade. It adds not only flavor but also turns transparent amber into “the black stuff” or dry- Irish stout. By 1769 the brew had reached such fame that the first 6.5 wooden casks of stout left on a ship for England. With the advent of the industrial revolution production scaled up and by the late 19th century Guinness had become the world’s largest brewery.

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To meet demand the company made its own wooden casks, which were piled tall in the cooperage yard. It was not until the 1960ies recyclable metal kegs had completely replaced wood casks. Around the same time another important addition was made. To make a beer fizzy carbon-dioxide is added at the pump or into each can or bottle of beer. In 1959 mathematician Michael Ash after four years of testing convinced Guinness to add Nitrogen gas as well. Whilst the Carbon-dioxide escape and eventually making beer flat the 30 million much smaller Nitrogen-oxide bubbles in each pint slowly rise to form the rich creamy head preserving freshness and flavor of each pint.

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Having a beer before lunch is often frowned upon but at Guinness it is required for some. At 10 AM each finished batch is sampled by experienced tasters who perhaps have the best job at the brewery. With today’s production methods batch rejects are extremely rare but someone must have the final say.

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Red is the new black
Brand recognition is an often used buzzword today but Guinness started way back. A first almost apologetic ad was placed in 1929, touting “Guinness is Good for You” a slogan that stuck. Perhaps it saved some from jumping out the window on Wall Street during “Black Friday” the same year as many who had tried it claimed that they felt good after a pint. Long thereafter in an era of political correctness the campaign was stopped as proof had emerged that too high consumption of alcoholic beverages had side effects.

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My Goodness my G…
Much is spoken about brands these days but Guinness has been on the forefront for long. A first almost apologetic ad was placed in 1929. Based on market research it touted that “Guinness is Good for You” a slogan that stuck. Perhaps it saved some from jumping out the window after the “Black Friday” stock market crash on Wall Street the same year as many who had tried it claimed that they felt good after a pint. Long thereafter in an era of political correctness the campaign was stopped as proof had emerged that too high consumption of alcoholic beverages had side effects.

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Our climb continues to the 3rd floor where we are stared down by an upside down ostrich, stuck in its throat a bulge the shape of a Guinness glass. The big bird was but one of the animal characters artist John Gilroy had thought up while visiting a zoo in 1935. There he had seen sea lion balancing a ball on its nose. Why not a glass of Guinness, he thought and drew? So the first of the “My Goodness My Guinness” campaigns was born featuring a caricature of himself as the astonished zookeeper. The ad campaign went on for 25 years, also featuring Tuki the Toucan which still today adorn many a pub walls around the country. One can only wonder where Samuel Beckett in 1938 got the words “any fool can turn a blind eye but who knows what the ostrich sees in the sand” from?

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Turning 200
To celebrate its bi-centenary in 1959 Guinness dropped 150 000 brown bottles into the three major oceans of the world. Not filled with beer but the message in the bottles referred to the Goodness of Guinness. Perhaps with today’s environmental standards, it would not have been acceptable but the bottles still turn up, one as late as three months ago in Nova Scotia, Canada. Talk about snail mail…

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Wait a couple of minutes….
As we continued to rise under time pressure we had to forego the 4th floor Academy where the skills to pour a perfect pint was shared. The 5th-floor restaurants were also rushed by leaving me wondering what the pairing of briny oysters with Guinness tastes like. One who knows was British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who in 1837 started the trend now giving name to one of the restaurants.

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With only one level to go to the top floor Jim stops by a large lyre to show off his musical talent to a giggling trio of Japanese females. Now there is more to it than just a lyre. The origin of the Guinness logo is the nationally treasured harp named after the medieval Irish warrior king “Brian Boru”, a patron of the arts. The original 15th century harp can be viewed at the Trinity College library (the second most visited tourist attraction in Dublin?). A left facing harp as a symbol was used on a Catholic Confederate Irish flag in the 17th century. Forward hundred years and Guinness turned the national harp symbol to the right, absorbed it into their logo and trademarked it in 1876. Harp was also the first lager beer the brewery put out in 1960.

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Somewhat staggering we arrive at the top flight “Gravity bar” for the big reveal. Liz leave us in the capable hands of bar tender Alan Maxwell who in great detail and with the flair of an actor describe the 6 step pouring process to Jim’s video camera. He divulge that it starts with the specifically designed Guinness glass incorporating veins for correct flow. First, pour at 45-degree angle filling it up to the imprinted lyre. The settle had me mesmerized as I watched the rise of 30 million Nitrogen bubbles turn the chocolate mousse colored liquid mixture into two distinct layers, the brew at the bottom topped by the rich foamy head. A final top up and wait until the separation has completed. From start to finish it should have taken 119.5 seconds for us to be served the freshest Guinness on the planet. Not willing to wait one more second I grab the cold glass walk over to the floor to ceiling panorama windows, put the rim to my lips and indulge as I look out over the city below basking in the sun. Aaaaahhhhh.

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Great big Thanks to our guide Liz, bartender Alan at the #Guinness Storehouse and Lisa at #FailteIreland who made my day by arranging a visit with such short notice. Cheers to Jim who shared my experience and who will tell his own stories @ neverstoptravelling.com

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