As someone who's only a quarter Irish, it might be a bit rich to say that Guinness is in my blood, but given that my mother used to drink the black stuff as a substitute for other alcohols while pregnant with me, it's a claim I reckon I can pass off! I've always been partial to a pint or two of Guinness and since it's St. Patrick's Day, thought it'd be fun to crack out a little piece about what makes Arthur Guinness's rich, creamy stout such a great drink and a kick ass brand to boot. It's associations with Ireland run deep, rooted in a history of over 250 years which has seen some fantastic adverts based in a love of the drink, long ties with the sport of rugby and a promise kept, that good things come to those who wait.
Unlike a lager which can be pumped out with relative ease, watching a pint of Guinness being pulled is a slightly more artistic experience, and one which turns this conocoction of water, barley, roast malt, hops and yeast into an anticipatory spectacle, the foamy head resting atop the dark beer cascading down beneath. From the first sip of your Guinness draught as the cloudy interior continues its tumbling, through to that longing last sip, the taste remains constant, a characteristic tang that separates it from other dark stouts and a smooth texture that helps it from becoming too heavy.
Although the draught form is the Guinness most well known and loved, it's just one of many variations on the recipe which are served across the world including an Original, an Extra Smooth for the African market, an English style bitter and a foreign exported super strength version. Sales remain strong across the world, with Guinness making 2 billion Euro profits in Ireland alone, and following a rapid growth of the company in the 19th century, saw Guinness as the 7th largest company in the world in the 1930s. Today it's known the world over as a symbol of Ireland, incorporated into classic recipes such as Steak & Guinness pie along with some rather bizarre ones such as 'Timothy O Toole's French Toast.'
Unlike many beers which are targeted firmly in the direction of the everyman, Guinness has been, especially in recent years, targetted as a cult beer, an alternative to be enjoyed by those in the know. A perfect summary of this description comes from an observation by the Guardian on the company that I feel perfectly sums up the attitude: 'They've worked very hard to help Guinness drinkers picture themselves as twinkly-eyed, Byronic bar-room intellectuals, sitting quietly with a pint and dreaming of poetry and impossibly lovely redheads running barefoot across the peat. You have a pint or two of Guinness with a slim volume of Yeats, not eight mates and a 19 pint bender which ends in tattoos, A&E and herpes from a hen party'. Perhaps then, as a philosophy student with a penchant for jackets, continental aesthetics and writing, I'm well suited to being a typical Guinness drinker (I even have a little of that Irish heritage to boot!)
Despite the obvious associations with today however, to paraphrase horribly, 'A Guinness is for life, not just for Paddy's' and it works perfectly well both in glorious sun soaked afternoons (of which sadly Wales and Ireland share a lack of) and rainy days huddled into a pub armchair. It's one of my favourite beers and a fantastic way to celebrate any occasion, but probably especially today. Happy St. Patrick's Day!