Good Beer Hunting

Signifier: Guinness — Coming to America — 3 of 5

Signifier: Guinness — Coming to America — 3 of 5

Welcome to a special edition of the Good Beer Hunting podcast—a series of episodes devoted to one of the world’s most iconic brands from Dublin to the United States, to Nigeria and the Caribbean. That beer is Guinness.

Guinness became an underwriter of Good Beer Hunting 18 months ago, helping us bring you a series of stories called Coming to America, exploring the relationship between imports and the U.S. beer drinker in the age of local craft. And more recently, they helped us start up a new series called Mother of Invention, where we explore the technical innovations, past and present, that have transformed the beer in your glass in surprising ways.

And now we’re taking the opportunity to explore the story of Guinness itself in a unique way for GBH. Guinness made it possible for us to visit historic St. James Gate in Dublin, and their new brewery in Baltimore County in the U.S., and gave us free rein to pull at the strings of the stories we’ve so often heard in the form of legend, but rarely had the first-hand experience to dive in to. We wanted to turn legends into learning.

They also gave us free rein of their brewing sites, both in Baltimore, home to their new brewery and taproom, called the Open Gate Brewery, which shares a name with the public-facing innovation brewing taproom located in Dublin, and historic St James Gate—which, to be honest, took some real doing. It’s not a place open to tourists, at least beyond the visitor center. And much of the more historical aspects are either in disrepair or preserved, and gaining access to those people and places isn’t easy for a film and audio crew. So for all the rigamarole we caused with our persistence, we’re thankful and grateful we were able to get past the gates, and into some of the more fascinating aspects of the various Guinness operations.

And it was all in pursuit of understanding one thing: What makes Guinness Guinness? And how has that changed over the years?

Of course, along the way, we discovered dozens of things we didn’t anticipate—processes and techniques, brewhouse logistics, cultural elements, historical side roads, and lots of other small things that all add up to a perspective on Guinness as I see it in the year 2019. With all my inherent contemporary biases and assumptions, some of which are confirmed, and some of which fall apart like the beauty of a nitro charge releasing in a pint of the black stuff. Which, for example, they’ll tell you is actually ruby red. Hmmm.

Well, depending on where you’re from, your experience of Guinness may vary wildly, even if it tastes largely the same.

The Guinness of 2019 may seem like an unbelievably preserved gem of brewing history. It’s still drank in some of the same pubs in Dublin that is has been for hundreds of years. And similarly in the U.S., albeit on a much younger timeline, in pubs that value their connections to their homeland as much as they do their surrounding neighborhoods.

But it’s not some amber-preserved relic brought back to life in a new age. In fact, Guinness in 2019 is defined as much by its rapid evolution as it is its historic integrity. And the first thing we need to do there is disambiguate between Guinness the beer, and Guinness the brewery. Because while the name certainly brings to mind the draft pint of nitrogenated stout that’s ubiquitous in the world today, that wasn’t always the case—and won’t always be either.

In this series of episodes, we’re going to focus on a few specific narratives that I think do the Guinness story justice and bring it to life for today’s drinker. And to do that, we’re going to look at where Guinness intersects with technical innovation, its historic place in Dublin and now Baltimore where it opened its first purpose-built brewery in the U.S. in 2018. Which is actually its second effort to run a brewery here, if you didn’t know (I didn’t), and how the people of Guinness past and present, including some of it’s most historic pub operators have adapted over time, and how it’s most recent hires, like it’s American craft brewers in Baltimore, see their place in the next chapter of the company and brand.