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Pints of Guinness, waiting to be finished. The one on the right is just about ready.
Some American brewers like to think their beers have a mythology. It's a quaint notion, like the idea that 100 years is a long time, and one that doesn't travel particularly well.
has a mythology. The black stuff, as this stout is occasionally called, is 258 years old. The St. James' Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland, which produces Guinness, was leased in 1759 for a 9,000 year term, at a reported £45 per year price. The brewery had its own cooperage (barrel-making) and several company-owned ships for transporting the beer overseas. American beer aficionados have likely heard two things: 1) it doesn't travel well, and 2) sophisticated drinkers (read: actual Irish and Scottish people) will reject an improperly poured pint.
I recently had the unexpected good fortune to visit Dublin, including a mandatory stop at the Guinness Storehouse
itself. The Storehouse is the on-site museum for St. James' Gate, located in a former fermenting facility on the brewery grounds, which now sprawls over more than 50 acres near Dublin's city center. Sadly, I can't authoritatively confirm or deny either of the noted myths. I didn't bring a bottle from the States to compare, and I've only heard secondhand accounts of the latter. But I did learn how to pour a proper pint at the Storehouse, information I'm happy to share with the hope that it will be used responsibly.
The proper pint of Guinness takes about 2 minutes — all official promo materials say 119.5 seconds, if you're really into stopwatches — and requires a clean, dry imperial tulip-shaped pint glass, preferably with a Guinness logo. Put the upper lip of the pint glass against the tap and angle it at around 45 degrees. Aim for the harp logo, if that helps. Pull the tap handle toward you and slowly angle the glass downward, filling around 3/4 of the way up. Again, the logo's a good cheat guide. Set it aside and wait until the beer's mostly clear and there's a clear divide between beer and head. Finish the pint by pushing the tap handle away and filling until the head just domes over the top of the glass.
There's a few things to unpack here. The imperial pint holds a full 20 ounces, and there's a gentle curve to a tulip pint that helps with head and aroma. The logo's positioned as a cheat guide to make it easier to pour a proper pint. That gentle, angled pour helps control the amount of head and preserve the delicate fruity esters in the beer. Guinness' tap handles, unlike most, can be pushed both ways, allowing the beer to be dispensed with and without the nitrogen gas that gives it that creamy head.
Like anything craft, pouring a proper pint is all in controlling the details. If something's worth doing, it's worth doing right, and so often, it's the little things that divide good, great and unforgettable.