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Generations of entrepreneurship pour into every glass of Guinness pulled around the world. Writer Cat Allen outlines the beer’s story from Arthur Guinness’ roasted barley experiment to its global dominance.
Text: Cat Allen
Country: Ireland

sk any good bartender which drink takes exactly 119.5 seconds to pour perfectly, and you should hear the response “a pint of Guinness”. When I worked as a bartender, being asked for a pint of “the black stuff”, as the beverage is affectionately known, would induce one of two reactions: “I’m too busy for this” or “excellent, the most satisfying of pints to pour, I’m even going to draw a clover design in the velvety head”.

The popular Irish beer has a long and colourful history dating back to 1759 when a young Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease for St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland. At the time the rent was £45 a year, equivalent to about £8,500 (roughly $12,000 USD) in today’s money. The brewery was abandoned, poorly equipped and relatively small at just 4 acres, or about 1,600 square metres. These limitations didn’t stop the 34-year-old entrepreneur and he set to work building up a successful and prosperous business. A decade later, after the beer had received national fame and approval, a small boat containing 6.5 barrels of the alcoholic drink made the voyage across the Irish Sea. The cargo arrived safely in England, a historic start to what would become Ireland’s most successful international export.

In the 1770s Arthur Guinness decided to shift his focus from brewing ale and started to experiment with porter, a new type of English beer. Invented in the 1720s and named after the city and river porters with whom the drink was popular, the beer was made using roasted barley, which gave it a dark ruby colour. To this day many believe the white-topped liquid is black, but holding it up to the light will show its true colour. This initial experimentation in products worked, and Guinness saw an opportunity, continuing to create different beers for different taste palates. He started brewing one recipe specifically for exportation called “West India Porter”, a drink that is still sold worldwide today under the name Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. To this day it accounts for an incredible 45% of Guinness sales around the world.

As well as becoming a successful beer entrepreneur, Arthur Guinness helped thousands of other Irish people as he dedicated much of his time and money to charitable efforts. He donated generously, helped to improve hospitals and Sunday schools, as well as working and living conditions of the poor in Ireland. He even challenged the material excesses of his social peers, which received mixed reactions. The author Stephen Mansfield writes of the beer founder, “He was nearly a one-man army of reform,” in his book The Search for God and Guinness.

After a life of entrepreneurial and philanthropic success, Arthur Guinness died in 1803. He left the brewery to his oldest son, Arthur Guinness II, who passed it on to his son, a tradition which continued for five successive generations. The brewery grew as each Guinness son took the reins and achieved more greatness for the family name.

Arthur Guinness II continued in his father’s steps and by the 1830s, just 70 or so years after the original lease was signed, St. James’s Gate became Ireland’s largest brewery. Export trades were expanded to destinations as far-flung as the United States of America and Sierra Leone in Africa. Another porter was brought to the market and another Guinness beer proved its success. This beer is still brewed today and is known worldwide as Guinness Original.

Arthur II’s son, Benjamin Lee Guinness, had taken over the family empire by the 1850s. Under his leadership Guinness’ first trademark label was introduced, the main design features of which are still used today on every can sold. The logo features the iconic harp, an instrument popular in Irish music. The design also features the signature of the brewery founder Arthur Guinness as well as the Guinness name to allow the beer to be instantly recognised.

Annual beer sales increased as did the family’s charitable efforts. Employees of Guinness also benefited from improved living conditions and soon were some of the highest paid workers in Dublin. The brewery also gave them and their families benefits such as pensions and healthcare, along with a two pint a day stout entitlement.

After Benjamin’s death in 1868, Arthur Guinness’ great-grandson Edward Cecil Guinness took over as the head of the business. This was the third handover, and a period of continued achievement for the family-run beer dynasty. Guinness sales had reached around 1.2 million barrels a year, and St. James’s Gate Brewery was declared the largest brewery in the world. In 1886 the Guinness business was floated on the London Stock Exchange and soon became the first brewery in the world to be incorporated. On incorporation Edward became chairman, the start of a new family tradition which lasted a further 100 years.

By the end of the 19th century, sales of Guinness stout had reached 1.2 million barrels a year, the brewery had grown to 60 acres and had its own railway and fire brigade; it was a city within a city.

The export trade was flourishing, but little was known about the condition of Guinness in foreign markets. In the 1890s overseas travellers were appointed. These men travelled the world investigating the markets where Guinness was sold. They wrote reports on their travels and provided valuable information to help the company monitor product quality.

By the turn of the 20th century, Guinness had become an international brand and the largest brewery in the world. In 1901 a laboratory was established, using science to enhance generations of brewing craft.

Edward died in 1927, and his son, Rupert Guinness, became the new chairman. Under Rupert’s chairmanship the business expanded further afield. For the first time a Guinness Brewery was built overseas and opened in 1936, at Park Royal in London.

In 1929, the first official advertising campaign for Guinness was launched. This represented a significant break from a tradition that relied solely on the quality and good name of the product to generate sales. Advertising agency S.H. Benson Limited ran the first campaign.

In 1962 Rupert’s grandson Benjamin became chairman. He was the last member of the Guinness family to hold this position, which he held until 1986.

In 1997 Guinness Plc merged with Grand Metropolitan Plc in a £24 billion merger. A new company was formed called ‘Diageo’ Plc. The name ‘Diageo’ was derived from the Latin word for ‘day’ and the Greek word for ‘world’, because every day, around the world, millions of people enjoy the company’s brands.

Info Box

· Benjamin Lee Guinness became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1851.

· Guinness is available in over 150 countries around the world.

· The key ingredients of Guinness are roasted malted barley, hops, yeast, and water.

· Each St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, more than 13 million pints of Guinness are guzzled around the world.

· The Guinness Book of Records has since been published in 23 languages, in 100 countries. · A pint of Guinness only contains about 198 calories.

· It is estimated 10 million glasses of Guinness are consumed every single day around the world.

· Guinness sells 850 million litres of beer every year.

· An incredible 2,304,000 pints can be fermented in each brewing.

· Guinness has breweries in Ireland, Malaysia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon.

· The most Guinness is sold in UK, followed by Ireland, Nigeria, USA, and Cameroon.

· It is reported that nearly 40% of Guinness is consumed somewhere in the African continent.

· Almost a half of all pints drunk in Ireland are Guinness.

· Guinness has created their own flavoured versions of the popular condiments HP Brown Sauce and Marmite.

· The Guinness logo features a harp. Many years later the Republic of Ireland government also started to use it as their logo, although choosing to have the harp with the opposite orientation.

For another use of Guinness, check out this recipe for Guinness braised short-ribs:


History in Every Glass

In 1759, a young Arthur Guinness signed a 9000-year lease for St. James's Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland. This was the beginning of the now famous Guinness beer. The brewery was abandoned, poorly equipped, and relatively small. But the young entrepreneur saw an opportunity and set out to build a successful and prosperous company that is now recognized around the world.

In just ten years the beer became famous nationwide and he started to export it to England. In the 1770s Arthur Guinness started brewing porter, a new type of English beer. The beer is made using roasted barley, which gives it a dark ruby color. After this successful experiment, he went on to make different beers for different palates.

Arthur Guinness was a very generous person and helped thousands of other Irish people through charitable works. He donated to hospitals and Sunday Schools and helped improve the living conditions of the poor in Ireland.

Arthur Guinness died in 1803 and left the brewery to his oldest son, Arthur Guinness II. He passed it on to his son and the brewery remained in the family for five successive generations. The brewery grew with each new generation and its exports expanded all over the world. It is now available in 150 countries around the world.

Benjamin Guinness was the last member of the family to be chairman of the company. He retired in 1986. The brewery is now owned by Diageo. It is estimated that 10 million glasses of Guinness are consumed every single day around the world.



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