Guinness: The Drink that says Dublin
There are so many symbols associated with Ireland and the Irish, in the many roles they have played, throughout history, in so many countries: shamrocks, harps, the color green, leprechauns, shillelaghs … the length of the list depends only upon how cliched you are willing to get!
Perhaps the most potent symbol of Ireland, however, both in terms of international recognition and straightforward alcohol content, is the iconic deeply black pint of stout with approximately a finger-width of creamy white head floating calmly on top.
Of course, every country and every people (with the possible exception of the Amish) have an associated alcoholic beverage, but Guinness is particularly distinctive. Visually, you certainly notice it when everyone else is holding indistinguishable pints of urine-colored lager. Outside Ireland, ordering a Guinness certainly makes the statement that you are someone who enjoys more complex tastes.
Guinness does seem somewhat daunting at first but, once you actually try it and, more importantly, learn the proper speed at which to drink it, it is actually a surprisingly smooth and delicious drink. It is not a “difficult” drink and in Ireland it is actually equally popular among both men and women.
The Correct Way to Serve Guinness:
Sadly, many bartenders in other countries treat Guinness as just another liquid to slosh out of a tap and into a pint glasses - in moments of particular emotional fragility, this causes Irish people to cry. The correct way to pour a Guinness is to hold the glass at a 45° angle, so that the stream hits near the inside top lip and flows gently down. The bartender should stop when the glass is roughly 3/4 full and set the glass down for about a minute while he serves another customer, allowing the drink to settle and a head to form. He can then return and “top off” the pint.
The Correct Way to Drink Guinness
Upon receiving his pint from the bartender, a patient customer will then let it rest for a further minute. Sadly, there are no actual laws against diving straight into your Guinness before it has had time to fully settle and, of course, young people are in such a hurry these days - we would suggest that another good way to save yourself a minute would be to pour any crisps you might have directly into your glass too, allowing you to both drink and eat in one smooth movement.
Many drinkers new to Guinness are somewhat perplexed by the creamy white head - are you meant to drink that first? Actually, no, the correct method is to use your upper lip to sort of push the head back as you tilt the drink towards your mouth, the idea being to more or less leave the head in place while you drink the black liquid, leaving the head lying at the bottom of your glass when finished. If you are a hirsute gentleman, don’t worry about ending up with white foam on your mustache or beard, it is all part of the magic: the Dubliners and the Wolf Tones spent most of their performing careers, bringing joy to millions of listeners, with their beards almost entirely marinated in Guinness.
Guinness is a rich, complex drink that is meant to be savored. You should never gulp it down as if it was some sort of fizzy lager or alcopop - this behavior will cause experienced Guinness drinkers to wince but, of course, they will be far to polite to say anything. A Guinness should be treated as an integral part of the sort of relaxed, unhurried conversation that it is so easy to fall into in Irish pubs.
Guinness is a pretty tasty drink almost everywhere but I must admit that there is truth to the widely stated belief that the very best Guinness is served in its home city, Dublin. Some say it is the water, some say the freshness and lack of travel damage, some say it is the expertise of Dublin bar staff, some say it is simply that Dublin aficionados will not tolerate any hint of adulteration caused by poorly maintained pipes. Whatever the reason, there is something quite remarkable about sitting down to a pint of Guinness in Dublin and, as a general rule of thumb, the experience is better in direct proportion to how down-to-earth and old-fashioned the bar is.
Of course, the Mecca for Guinness drinkers is the place it has been made since 1759, the Guinness brewery at St. James’s Gate in central Dublin. The company has turned their old hopstore into a state-of-the-art visitors center, called the Guinness Storehouse, and it is now one of Dublin’s must-see visitor attractions. Be sure to read our article all about the Guinness Storehouse experience.