Do I drink Guinness? No. I’ve tried Guinness … but just don’t like it. I am, however, in the minority. Guinness is one of the most popular beers in the world. So why am I blogging about something I don’t care for? Because I find their story fascinating. With so many breweries, not only in Great Britain, but around the world, how did this small Irish company become such a favorite?
During the middle ages, beer and ale were the most common drinks in Britain. Because many of the rivers and waterways in the cities were polluted, water, at that time was not always safe to drink. Beer (a much less alcoholic version than we know today) was drunk with every meal, by everyone, every day. Providing the bulk of the caloric intake, beer was also believed to be nutritionally good for you.
Brewing beer at home was quite common and the Guinness family did as well. I’m sure one of Arthur Guinness’s jobs growing up was to help his father with the brewing. Although many families brewed their own beer, it was also commercially available. At inns and taverns, alewives would put out an ale-wand to show when their beer or ale was ready. Gradually brewers began organizing themselves into guilds and as brewing became more reliable, many inns and taverns then stopped brewing and began to buy beer from these early commercial breweries.
When Guinness was 27, his godfather died and left him £100 (over £5,000 today). Having an entrepreneurial spirit, in 1755 Guinness purchased a floundering brewery not far from Dublin. He began brewing ale … an “unhopped” brew. After four years, Arthur put his brother in charge and then purchased another brewery, about 20 miles away at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The brewery industry was beginning to fail, but it didn’t deter young Guinness who took out a 9,000-year lease on a 4-acre, run-down brewery … for a cost of £45 per year. And just ten years later, Arthur Guinness began exporting his brew. It may only have been six barrels to England, but it was ground breaking at that time.
In 1761 Arthur married Olivia Whitmore, who bore him 21 children – 10 of which lived into adulthood. Three of his sons eventually joined him to work at the brewery, with Arthur Jr., his second son, eventually becoming senior partner.
Meanwhile, Londoners were enjoying a new style of dark beer, called Porter or “stout”, named after the river porters who worked in London. Although his brewery was doing well, Arthur made the decision to stop brewing ales and concentrate on perfecting this bold, black beer. In 1778 Guinness started selling only Porter. By his death in 1803, the annual output at the brewery was over 20,000 barrels. With Arthur Jr. now at the helm, exporting became his focus and sales continued to soar … from 350,000 barrels in 1868 (now with Arthur Jr.’s son in charge) to 779,000 barrels in 1876 to over one million barrels ten years later.
With the death of Queen Elizabeth’s husband, the beloved Prince Albert in 1871, a local pub owner decides to create a drink in his honor. By combining Guinness’ Stout with champagne, he created the Black Velvet, a drink that is still very popular today.
The Guinness brewery grew by leaps and bounds and remained in the family for four generations. The original 4-1/2 acre property grew to where it boasted its own medical facility, fire department, railway system and canteens; and it took very good care of its workers. By the 1900s the brewery provided unparalleled benefits for its 5,000 employees, costing the brewery one-fifth of its total wages.
By 1914, Guinness was producing 2,652,000 barrels of beer a year, more than double that of its nearest competitor Bass, and was supplying more than 10% of the total UK market. In the 1930s, Guinness became the seventh largest company in the world.
Some very creative advertising and marketing campaigns were begun at this time.
… The first advertisement featured the slogan ‘Guinness is Good for You’.
… Following this success came ‘My Goodness, My Guinness,’ which featured the now famous Guinness toucan.
… When World War II broke out, all British Troops in France receive a bottle of Guinness to accompany their Christmas dinner.
… And let’s not forget the Guinness Book of World Records, which came about in 1954 when the Managing Director had the idea for a promotion based upon settling pub arguments. Little did he know that this book would go on to become an all-time best seller, and spawned an entire culture of its own.
… To celebrate their 200 anniversary in 1958, Guinness dropped 150,000 bottles into the Atlantic Ocean, from different points, over six weeks. Should one of those bottles reach shore, inside you may have found a certificate from ‘the Office of King Neptune’, or a booklet telling the story of Guinness. Others may have had instructions on how to turn the bottle into a lamp.
In 2000 Guinness transformed the former fermentation plant at the St. James’s Gate Brewery into a magnificent seven-story experience, now the biggest tourist attraction in Dublin. The story of Guinness is brought to life from its humble beginnings through to its modern-day successes.
Today Guinness is brewed and enjoyed all over the world. It may not be a favorite of mine, but obviously I am in the minority. As Irish actor Peter O’Toole once said, “My favorite food from my homeland is Guinness. My second choice is Guinness. My third choice … would have to be Guinness.”
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References: Ranker.com, Guinness, Wikipedia, World Records