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Frommer Guide Flashback: Guinness Tourism in Dublin, Then and Now | Frommer's Zac Thompson

Frommer Guide Flashback: Guinness Tourism in Dublin, Then and Now

From pub crawls to brewery tours to sleek multimedia exhibits, Dublin has never had a shortage of ways to celebrate "the black stuff."

The first Frommer’s guidebook, Europe on 5 Dollars a Day by Arthur Frommer, was published in 1957. In our series of Frommer’s flashbacks, we’re revisiting noteworthy places featured in the earliest Frommer’s books to see what’s changed and what has stayed the same in our 65 years of showing you around the globe.

Since opening in 2000, the Guinness Storehouse, a onetime fermentation plant turned temple to stout in western Dublin, has become the most visited attraction in Ireland, drawing in more than 1.7 million tourists each year—which is more people than the Irish capital has residents.

But the Storehouse wasn't the first place where Guinness enthusiasts could pay homage when they visited Dublin. For starters, there were the pubs (there will always be the pubs). Then there was the beer company's famed St. James's Gate brewery itself, which began allowing fans onto the property not too long after founder Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease for the land in 1759. 

"There is a long tradition of welcoming visitors to St. James’s Gate, dating back to the mid-1800s," Guinness Storehouse archive manager Eibhlin Colgan told Frommer's in an email this week. "From the late 1800s to the 1950s, visitors to the brewery were transported around St. James’s Gate via the narrow gauge railway system on specially converted wagons."

(Undated photo of the former visitor building at Dublin's Guinness Brewery | Copyright Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland)

By the early 1900s, according to Colgan, a "Visitor's Reception building" across the road from the brewery's Front Gate employed two full-time guides. Then, as now, tours ended "with a sample of freshly brewed Guinness stout or porter from the Visitors’ Bar within the same building." The sample was "served direct from the cask in pewter tankards."

(1960s photo of bartender pouring samples for attendees of the Guinness Brewery tour in Dublin | Copyright Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland)

The Guinness Brewery Tour Back in the Day

The Guinness brewery's first guidebook mention, Colgan reports, came in 1867. (It wasn't one of our publications.)

Exactly one century later, Frommer's author Beth Bryant took the brewery tour for Ireland on $5 a Day, which was evidently still a doable budget in 1967. Here's how Bryant described the experience:

"In the large and bright reception room, you’ll be given some souvenir postcards and two interesting little guidebooks, one of which diagrams the process by which Guinness is made. As soon as enough people gather, a well-briefed and obviously committed guide will take you across the street to the vast main plant. Depending, then, on how inquisitive the group is, the tour can last up to an hour and fifteen minutes. First you’re shown the barley, hops and yeast, which are the main ingredients of stout, and assured that the water does not come from the Liffey but from the fresh springs of County Kildare. Then you get to see the huge kieves, the metal vats and the world’s biggest fermenting vessel, while the various steps in the brewing process are explained. You see the century-old oaken vats in which the stout is stored for one month; and, in contrast, get a glimpse through glass doors at the immense powerhouse with its massive display of modern machinery.
"But it all leads finally to the Visitor’s Tasting Room, where you receive a quick review of the brewing process by watching a charming model brewery in action and then get to test and pontificate upon the product. Two half pints is the ration, and if this is your first taste of the 'wine of Ireland,' and you don’t react with immediate enthusiasm to the first glass, let me suggest you simply push on to the second. Stout can be an acquired taste and, in my opinion, one worth acquiring. And four million Irish people and myself can’t all be wrong! 
"Guinness souvenirs are on sale in the summer at an outdoor stand and in the winter in the reception room, and you can pick up twin packs of goblets or tankards, embossed with the familiar gold harp, for 7/6 ($1.05). A bottle opener costs as little as 6d. (7¢), while the authoritative encyclopedia of facts, 'The Guinness Book of Records,' goes for 15s. ($2.10)."

(Left to right: 1967 Guinness Brewery ad and 1968 Guinness Brewery invitation | Copyright Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland)

Colgan, the Guinness archivist, tells us the original visitors' building is now a branch of the Bank of Ireland. A new Guinness Visitors' Centre replaced the old one when a fresh facility opened in the Front Yard of St. James's Gate in 1975. That spot was later subsumed, along with the 1966 Brewery Museum, in the Guinness Hopstore, which opened in 1988. 

Then a dozen years later along came the Guinness Storehouse. The Hopstore building is now owned by the government-funded Digital Hub, a cluster of technology and digital media companies. Colgan reports that the working mini model mentioned in the retro Frommer's write-up has not survived, which is a shame because that thing sounded adorable.

(1966 photo of Guinness Brewery Museum in Dublin | Copyright Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland)

The Guinness Storehouse Story

Housed in a 1904 industrial building, the Storehouse is considerably slicker than previous tourist attractions on Guinness property. The main exhibit spirals up seven floors centered on an atrium meant to resemble a giant pint glass. 

The museum supplies an exhaustive account of company history as well as the beer-making process, detailing Guinness brewers' special way with hops, barley, and nitrogen bubbles. You'll learn more about yeast than you ever cared to know.  

(Credit: Guinness Storehouse)

But for all the glossy, high-tech tributes to roasted barley, the most entertaining feature has to be the large, nostalgic collection of Guinness advertising memorabilia on the third floor. Flocks of Guinness toucans and other corporate mascots tout the stout amid vintage print ads, TV commercials, and sometimes head-scratching slogans arguing for the product's effectiveness as a health drink or an antidote to drowsiness.

As ever, admission comes with a complimentary pint of Guinness, and you get to throw it back in the dazzling Gravity Bar on the top story, where floor-to-ceiling windows show off far-reaching views of Dublin. 

(Credit: Guinness Storehouse)

Completed just before the pandemic, a multimillion-euro renovation of the bar not only updated the interior design but also more than doubled the floor space and reconfigured the layout to improve crowd flow. 

Of course, your time in the Gravity Bar should only supplement rather than replace a tour of Dublin's traditional pubs. Following the recommendations of Bryant, the 1967 Frommer's author, you can, for instance, pop into Peter's Pub at No. 1 Johnson Place. 

(Author photo of Beth Bryant, taken at what appears to be Dublin's Long Hall pub, from Ireland on $5 a Day, published by Frommer's in 1967)

Peter's is still going strong, though you will not, these days, be able to repeat our author's impromptu evening in the company of Irish republican, folk singer, and literary matriarch Kathleen Behan (1889–1984), whose offspring included poet Brendan Behan (1923–1964).

"Get the girrel a drink!" Kathleen said upon meeting the Frommer's travel writer, according to the guidebook. "She knew Brendan in New York."

Naturally, the tale ends with a sing-along to "Don't Muck About with the Moon."