Martyn Cornell's picture

This full story is available to premium subscribers.

Login / Subscribe
Subscription options for $2, $15 and $25.


Everything You Need to Know About Guinness

Guinness: the iconic black pint with the creamy white clerical collar and a flash of ruby in its depths. Who doesn't know it? Who hasn't drunk it?

But while Guinness is famed and drunk around the world, half the world knows a very different kind of Guinness to the drink the other half swallows. In Ireland, the drink's original home, North America and Europe, Guinness Draft—which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year—is the familiar friend to lovers of creamy stout. Served in a pint glass, with its initial surge of bubbles that gradually settle out into the familiar deep, dark body and blond head.

In Africa and Asia, drinkers are much more familiar with an older style of Guinness, known as Foreign Extra Stout, or FES, which comes in bottles, is almost twice as strong as draft Guinness and has a powerful, tart flavor that’s surprisingly refreshing in a hot climate.

The story of Guinness is the tale of how one small and run-down brewhouse on a street lined with other breweries grew into what became, for a long time, the biggest brewery in the world.

Many drinkers know that Arthur Guinness, the founder of the company, acquired the brewery at St James's Gate in Dublin, Ireland in 1759, when he was 35. But the St James's Gate brewery goes back almost a century before that. Its first known occupant was Giles Mee, who was paying hearth tax on a property at St James's Gate in 1663 and was brewing on location by 1670.

Arthur Guinness acquired the brewery at St. James's Gate in 1759 and was likely brewing his famed porter a few years later.

The brewery at St James's Gate passed to Mee's son-in-law, Mark Rainsford, and then to a Huguenot family of French settlers called Espinasse. But in 1750 the then owner, John Espinasse, was thrown from his horse near Drogheda, some 30 miles north of Dublin, and—depending on which newspaper report you read—either fractured his skull or dislocated his neck, dying immediately.

Although St James's Street was a popular thoroughfare with brewers, thanks to the several watercourses that ran across it down to the Liffey, Dublin's main river (even in 1804 a city directory listed eight breweries on the street), the St James's Gate premises appear to have remained empty for nine years after John Espinasse's death, until Arthur Guinness came along in 1759 to sign his now-famous 9,000-year lease.

The drinks that Dublin's breweries were making at the time were table beer, and a strong, lightly hopped brown ale. But they were suffering increasing competition from imports of English Porter, the aged, well-hopped brown-black beer that had originally been developed to appeal to the working classes of London, but which had found a market around the world.

Dublin's brewers responded by brewing porters themselves from the 1760s onward. Exactly when Arthur Guinness first made porter is not known, but he was probably doing so by 1779, when he was appointed one of the two official suppliers of ale and beer to Dublin Castle, seat of the Irish government, and definitely by 1784, when he was specifically fingered as the supplier of porter to the castle.

Guinness was still making the traditional Dublin brown ale as well. But early in 1799 the decision was made to stop brewing ale completely. From then on, Guinness would be a porter and stout specialist. Arthur Guinness I died four years later, in 1803, aged 78, and the brewery was continued by his second son, Arthur Guinness II. Already a special, stronger, more heavily hopped West India porter was being brewed, which eventually developed into what became known as Foreign Extra Stout.

Finish reading this article by becoming a premium subscriber.
Visit the store now. Options start for only $2.00!