There is, perhaps, no more famous symbol of Ireland than Guinness. The dark, almost black, stout beer has been exported to all corners of the globe, an ambassador in a glass for the country and for Dublin, its home city. And although the traditional Irish pub long predates this famous beverage – and would exist without it – a “properly poured pint” is linked to the experience.
I’ll be honest; before arriving in Dublin I’d tried Guinness only once, a sip from a can someone else had back home in the States. And, as long as I’m being honest, I didn’t much care for the experience. I found it to be like drinking a loaf of brown bread, more food than beverage, too thick and too bitter. But I’ve made a conscious effort in my older – and hopefully wiser – years to try to have as many relevant cultural experiences as possible on my travels, so I knew I’d be visiting the Guinness Storehouse, where a pint is part of the admission.
Guinness was founded here in Dublin in 1759. Arthur Guinness, obviously very confident his product would be a huge hit, signed a 9,000 year lease (not a typo) for £45 per year. Ten years later the company would export its first product. Within a century, barely 1% of the lease, Guinness was the largest brewery in the world, with sales approaching 1.2 million barrels. It was also the largest employer in Dublin, and the Guinness family one of the largest contributors to social causes across the city.
The Guinness Storehouse sits adjacent to the brewery, which is still active, and is now a museum to the iconic beer and its brand. Exhibits cover the ingredients of the brew, focusing on the roasted barley that sets Guinness apart, as well as process, advertising, and more. It is self-guided and, frankly, not really worth the admission cost unless you are fascinated by the Guinness name and product. There is also a cafe (the Guinness brown bread and onion soup were shockingly good) and a myriad of bars. General admission also includes a drink at the Storehouse’s stunning top floor glass walled bar.
I hand over my drink ticket, and a glass is filled about 75% of the way, the millions of nitrogen-aided bubbles cascading in lovely patterns as the brew turns from light to its signature black. After one minute and twenty-five seconds, specifically, it is topped off, and I’m allowed to begin drinking. To my surprise, I enjoy it. I enjoy it immensely. It is much smoother than what I’d had prior, or my tastes have changed. It still wouldn’t be my go-to beverage order, but I polish it off happily, gazing out at the view of Dublin from a table I’m lucky to snatch from the crowds.
Guinness is on tap at every pub in Dublin, and the pub experience is one visitors should have, no matter if they drink alcohol or not, let alone like Guinness. There are somewhere between 750 and 800 pubs in Dublin, so you’ll literally find one anywhere you turn. These range from The Brazen Head, established in 1198, to brand new openings. It is customary for locals to pop in for a pint, especially after work, on a regular basis to their favorite neighborhood spot, and tourists frequent those in the city center as well.
During my time in Dublin, I try a couple. Brannigan’s has been around since 1854. It is small, cute, and around the corner from my hotel, so it seems a good spot for an early dinner on my first night in the city. I opt for a Dublin lager, a lighter beer, made by local brewery Five Lamps, and a traditional beef and Guinness stew served with (like everything here) mashed potatoes. This is what Irish pub food is all about: something warm and hearty to combat the cold and wet weather and to help offset the alcohol, which is consumed to combat the cold and wet weather (and the harsh history of the country, though that doesn’t apply as much today).
Other traditional offerings might include Shepherd’s Pie – a stew of meat (or vegetarian options) topped with mashed potatoes – or Irish stew, which is traditionally made with beef or lamb and, you guessed it, potatoes. Likewise, pub food like bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) that I associate more with England have made it over here. The bangers and mash at The Duke, another nineteenth century pub closer to Trinity College, were outstanding!
If you don’t like beer, Ireland is also known for cider. (If you order cider, it will be alcoholic. Without alcohol it is just juice.) Or you can opt for Ireland’s other famous alcoholic beverage, whiskey.
There were once dozens of whiskey distilleries in Dublin, and hundreds in Ireland. By 2010, only four were left in the entire country, but today, that number is close to forty, with five being here within Dublin city limits. While the most famous is Jameson, Teeling has made a name for itself, and its distillery is right in the center, making it easy to visit.
Irish whiskey is a bit different from other whiskeys, besides being made here. It is, according to experts and my online research, distilled three times (Scotch is twice), and is a barley base (American whiskey is corn, rye, or wheat). All I know is that it tastes smoother and doesn’t remind me of drinking an ash tray.
While it is typically consumed neat, I prefer an Irish coffee. A base of whiskey and sugar gets coffee added, then topped with hand foamed cream. Before mixing it sort of looks like a Guinness!
My experience here in Dublin has changed my opinion on Guinness. While I may not have another in my life, I can say that I’ve had a positive go with one, and that is a victory. And beyond that, my time at a few different Dublin pubs has been nothing short of wonderful. It is a huge part of the culture here, with or without the most famous of Irish exports, and something visitors should strive to experience at least once.
Like it? Pin it!