It’s the most popular fee-paying attraction in Ireland. The “all-dominating brewery” (Fodor’s), “extraordinary exhibition” (Eyewitness Travel) and “beer-lover’s Disneyland” (Lonely Planet) is deemed must-see by every Ireland guidebook.
So what lies beneath all the hype of the Guinness Storehouse? With a deep breath and a long sip, I went to find out.
One of the first things I see stepping into the Storehouse is Arthur Guinness’ smirking portrait. You’d be smug too, if you’d just secured a 9,000-year lease on which to build a porter empire (a copy of the lease is another one of the first things I see – under my feet behind inches of glass).
There’s no doubt about Arthur’s business acumen and vision; taking a sizable inheritance and investing it into the sprawling 26-hectare site that about 8 million people have visited to date. The Storehouse is as much an homage to the man and his vision, as it is a bells-and-whistles multimedia celebration of the velvety black stuff itself.
Bells, whistles and a seven-storey pint glass if you don’t mind. The exhibition tells the Guinness story from the ground up; roasted barley and grinning Arthur at the bottom, all the way through early advertising and marketing, to toasting its current position as a global megabrand on top of the world (so to speak) in the Gravity Bar.
One of my first nuggets of chin-stroking info is that when Arthur stepped into James Gate in 1759 and demanded his science-fiction time lease, he wasn’t the one to actually invent stout. He sure did perfect it though, and the first floors demonstrate the simplicity of his recipe – just four ingredients – barley, hops, yeast and water. This is a full-sensory tour too – prepare to get a noseful of hops and crunch roasted barley between your teeth before sipping the stout itself.
Next I stroke my chin at the brewing process section; “10 days you say?” while craning my neck at brewery equipment, some as big as my house. In the Tasting Room, I horrify my guide by holding my pint with my pinky finger outstretched.
Each floor has its ‘Did you know’ moments. How does Guinness gets its malty flavour? Taste the roasted hops on level 1 for a mystery solved. In the Tasting Room, I’m told to hold my glass up to the light and see Guinness is actually a ruby red colour. I silently remind myself not to order a pint of the ‘black stuff’ at a bar again.
In the advertising section, I resist the urge to break into the famous Guinness dance from 1995. Toucans, ostriches, and award-winning surfers parade the iconic advertising of the brand over the years. I certainly did not know that the harp logo was used by Guinness long before it became national emblem of the Republic of Ireland.
My homework on the history and ingredients covered, it’s time for my first exam. I line up at the bar and get instructions – from 45 degree angles to nitrogen bubbles – on how to pour a pint. As the ink dries on my ‘perfect pint’ certificate, I take my new skills and pint upstairs to the equally perfect views of the Gravity Bar.
The most famous part of the Storehouse experience, the Gravity Bar has had many famous faces clink their glasses there over the years. Chris Rock, Will Ferrell, Susan Sarandon, Adam Sandler, Sean Penn, Beyoncé, Pink, and recently with quite the global media following, Queen Elizabeth II.
The sunlight-soaked bar is easily the climax of the tour. Perched 46 meters above the city, the panoramic views stretch from rooftops to parkland, steeples and mountains. As I wait for my pint to settle and survey the scene, the massive scale of the brewery reveals itself, and I appreciate how what’s brewed here supplies the entire world with Draught Guinness.
Just imagine what it’ll do for the other 8,747 years.
There are plenty more tasty tours around Ireland. Our blogger visited Jameson’s Whiskey Distillery in Dublin. In Kilkenny, take a tour of Ireland’s oldest operating brewery and taste the sparkling Smithwick’s Ale.