The history of Guinness: Ireland’s beloved iconic beverage

The history of Guinness, Ireland’s beloved iconic beverage

Guinness is synonymous with Ireland. Deeply woven into the very fabric of Irish society, Guinness is more than just an alcoholic beverage; it is a national icon full of history and heritage.

First brewed in St. James’s Gate in Dublin in the mid-18th century, Guinness represents the Irish nation. It is forever loved and shared amongst friends (responsibly, of course). People from all around the globe come to Ireland just to taste its sweet nectar brewed on home soil.

Ever-present and freely flowing in every bar and pub across the Emerald Isle (as well as being brewed in almost 50 countries around the world), it is safe to say that Guinness is one of the most successful brands in history.

Let’s now take a closer look at Ireland’s famous stout. Starting from the very beginning, here is the history of Guinness.

The beginning

The history of Guinness: it all started with Arthur Guinness

This story starts with the man in question: Arthur Guinness. He was the son of two Catholic tenant farmers, one from Kildare and the other from Dublin.

When Guinness turned 27 in the year 1752, his godfather Arthur Price (the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel) passed away. In his will, he left 100 Irish pounds to Guinness—a mighty inheritance at the time.

Of course, Guinness invested his fortune and soon began working on a brewery in Leixlip in 1755. Only a few years later, however, he would turn his attention to Dublin city.

St. James’s Gate Brewery

Credit: Flickr / Doug Kerr

In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease (at £45 rent per year) for the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. His plan was to become a top-class beer exporter.

Arthur Guinness began by brewing ales from his factory on the outskirts of Dublin city centre.

Although the site was a brewery indeed, it consisted of only four acres of land and little equipment. Yet, after only a decade of development, Arthur Guinness, as planned, was exporting his produce to England.

The birth of Guinness

Guinness is an Irish stout that developed during the 1770s

During the 1770s, Arthur Guinness began brewing “porter,” a newfound type of beer that had only been invented in Great Britain some 50 years earlier.

The main differentiation between ale and porter is the fact that porter is made using roasted barley. This key difference gives the porter a rich aroma and dark ruby colouring.

As the product developed, it was to be classified as “single stout/porter,” “double/extra stout,” or “foreign stout.”

Originally the term “stout” referred to its strength; however, over time this term changed to become a reference to the drink’s colour and body.

The 19th century

Messenger and cart at St. James's Gate Guinness Brewery circa 1900

A turning point in the history of Guinness was Arthur Guinness’s death at age 77 in January of 1803. By this time, Guinness was a famous beverage favoured by many from all over Ireland and abroad.

The brewery was then passed on to his son Arthur Guinness II. By the 1830s, St. James’s Gate was the biggest brewery in Ireland, with extended export agreements to include the Caribbean, Africa, and the USA, amongst others.

The brewery continued to be passed from father to son for five more generations, as the beloved Irish stout soared to even greater popularity.

Under the fourth generation of Guinness leadership, the brewery went on to become the largest in the world. The site had grown to cover over 60 acres and was a thriving mini-metropolis in Dublin city.

The 20th century

1929 saw the launch of Guinness advertising

By the turn of the 20th century, Guinness had firmly established itself as the leading purveyor of stout across the globe.

In 1901 a scientific laboratory was conceived to enable even greater research and growth for the product.

1929 saw the launch of Guinness advertising, and in 1936 the first-ever Guinness brewery to exist outside of Dublin opened at Park Royal in London.

In 1959, draught Guinness came to light—a mega-moment that would re-shape pub culture for years to come. It was with this development that the style of Guinness, its pour, and its presentation (with its creamy head) would be founded.

By the end of the 20th century, Guinness was a worldwide success. It was being brewed in 49 countries and sold in over 150!

Modern day

The history of Guinness led to the opening of the Guinness storehouse in Dublin

Today Guinness remains an icon of the nation. It is celebrated in countries around the globe and is seen as a symbol of unity and pride on the Emerald Isle.

The Guinness Storehouse launched in 2009—another milestone in the history of Guinness. This interactive experience welcomes guests from all around the world annually. It shares in the history and heritage of the beloved Irish beverage on the grounds of the St. James’s Gate Brewery, where Guinness is produced to this very day.

Impressively, it is said that a whopping 10 million glasses of Guinness are enjoyed every day around the world.

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