An All-Guinness Tour of Dublin—Pubs, Breweries, and Beyond
The top tourist draw in Ireland is not the Blarney Stone, the Cliffs of Moher, or the Dingle Peninsula coastline where the 1992 movie Far and Away allowed Tom Cruise to perfect the most egregious fake Irish accent this side of a Lucky Charms commercial. No, the country’s most visited attraction by a long shot is Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse, a onetime fermentation plant-turned-temple to stout that pulls in an annual 1.6 million visitors—a number roughly equivalent to the entire population of the Irish capital.
Maybe that’s not so surprising when you consider the towering status of "the black stuff" (which is actually dark red when you hold it up to the light, thank you very much) in the pantheon of Irish icons. From its creation in 1759, when beer was considered safer to drink than Dublin’s water, through the establishment of the city’s now-legendary pubs, and on to the present synthesis of tradition and innovation in Ireland’s food and drink scene, Arthur Guinness’s foamy brew has shaped its hometown in ways large and small. Let’s take a look at Dublin through beer goggles.
The heart of Guinness appreciation is of course the Guinness Storehouse, a 1904 industrial building that was transformed in 2000 into a modern museum recounting the history of the brand. The main exhibit spirals up seven floors centered on an atrium meant to resemble a giant pint glass. You end up at the dazzling Gravity Bar (pictured) at the top, where floor-to-ceiling windows supply panoramic views of Dublin well worth the price of admission—which includes, by the way, a complimentary pint.
Reflecting the growing interest in beer-making spurred by the craft brewery trend, the Storehouse has expanded its originally cursory descriptions of the brewing process, detailing the company’s special way with hops, barley, and nitrogen bubbles. Recognizing that not every visitor will be passionate about the properties of yeast, however, the people who run the Storehouse are savvy about catering to casual beer drinkers as well as aficionados—and inventing chances to up-charge both. Depending on which category you fall into, we recommend following one of two strategies during your visit . . .
- If you’re a beer novice: Skim the technical details on the lower floors to get an idea of what makes Guinness unique (roasted barley and magical yeast, basically), before heading up to the fun stuff on the upper stories, where you’ll find a vast display of Guinness marketing materials through the ages, including the company’s first newspaper ad, which pitches beer as a health drink. For an extra charge, special programs will try to make you into a true believer with variations on the norm such as Guinness with sparkling wine, a London invention dating to the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Prince Albert in 1861, when somebody decided that the dark stout should be added to champagne so that even it would appear to be in mourning. The drink is known as a Black Velvet and it’s surprisingly delicious.
- If you’re a beer fanatic: By all means nerd out with all the Guinness minutiae on display. One especially interesting exhibit rescues 1950s brewer Michael Ash from obscurity. He’s the one responsible for carbonating Guinness with nitrogen, creating the creamy recipe that supplanted previous versions as the brand standard. For a splurge, opt for a Connoisseur Experience that features a guided tasting in a private, swanky speakeasy.
All types of visitors can reconvene at the Storehouse’s main restaurant, 1837 Bar & Brasserie, named after the year when British statesman Benjamin Disraeli is credited with making the first recorded reference to pairing Guinness and oysters (pictured above; the bitterness of the beer is said to complement the brine of the bivalve). In addition to that pairing, you can try other classic Guinness-friendly dishes at the eatery, including the most popular, beef stew. The kitchen also churns out a number of fresh innovations, not just in the way of pairings, but also in Guinness-infused cheeses, sauces, breads, chutney, and even chocolate mousse.
And speaking of innovations, if you happen to be in Dublin on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday you can now drop by the experimental Open Gate Brewery (open to the public on those evenings only) to try out a rotating selection of draft beers that Guinness is testing for wider release. Some of the creations that got their starts here, such as the Hop House 13 Lager pictured above, have gone on to be sold in stores and pubs around the world. Others, such as an IPA with overpowering ginger and chili that we sipped on a recent visit, seem destined for the drain. But either way, it’s fun to get an early taste and a glimpse into the audition process.
At No. 1 Thomas Street, right next to the Open Gate Brewery, you’ll find the home of Arthur Guinness, who, in addition to founding the company that bears his name, fathered 21 children with his wife, Olivia (your move, Duggars). The rooms of the house have been preserved but are only opened on special occasions—the same goes, by the way, for Oscar Wilde’s childhood home at Merrion Square. What’s with Dubliners hiding away their treasures?
Arthur and Olivia had their wedding in 1761 at St. Mary’s Church, located at the corner of Mary and Jervis Streets near the lively O’Connell Street promenade. The house of worship has since been converted to a cavernous bar and restaurant aptly named The Church. Several original features remain, including stained glass windows and an organ (visible in the photo above) once played by George Frideric Handel. In the center of the space there’s now a large bar lit in devilish shades of red and orange.
There are Guinness connections at some unexpected spots throughout Dublin. St. Stephen’s Green (pictured), the city’s tranquil answer to Central Park, was once accessible only to the well-off residents of the stately Georgian homes surrounding the leafy rectangle. But in the 1870s, Arthur Guinness’s great-grandson, A.E. Guinness (otherwise known as Lord Ardilaun), became instrumental in opening the park to all the people of Dublin—a change that became official in 1880. Lord Ardilaun also funded an upgrade in the layout of St. Stephen’s Green and was repaid with a statue located on the western side of the square, across from the Royal College of Surgeons. To lay eyes on the medieval harp that became a symbol of Ireland as well as the Guinness logo, head to Trinity College’s Long Room, one of the world’s loveliest libraries.
Of course, the best way to enjoy a Guinness is to raise a pint in a proper pub—preferably one that’s been pouring the stuff for generations. There are about a dozen so-called Victorian pubs remaining in and around Dublin ("so-called" because some were established just before or after the Victorian era corresponding with Queen Victoria’s reign in Britain from 1837 to 1901). These taverns, which include favorites of ours like the Long Hall, the Stag’s Head, and Doheny & Nesbitt, are distinguished by impossibly cozy features such as fireplaces, dark wood carvings, antique fixtures, enclosed booths known as "snugs," and, in place of televisions and piped-in music, the din of boisterous conversation and good-natured blarney.
- Select a cool, clean, clear pint glass, preferably tulip-shaped.
- Angle the glass at 45 degrees under the tap. If you’re using a Guinness-branded glass, point the spout directly at the harp logo.
- Push the tap forward, slowly straightening the glass as it fills with stout. Turn off the tap when the foam is about a half-inch from the top of the glass (or at the top of the harp logo). Avoid at all costs dipping the spout in the beer, lest you suffer eternal disgrace.
- Place the glass on the bar in clear view of the customer and let the bubbly beer settle for exactly 119.5 seconds. Use this interlude to tell a colorful anecdote (truth optional, but discouraged).
- Top off the beer, holding the glass straight up under the tap. Again: absolutely no dipping.
- Present the pint to the customer, logo facing forward if you’re using a Guinness glass.
Sláinte! (That’s "cheers" in Gaelic; it’s pronounced "slahn-chuh").