Dec 312015


Arthur Guinness began brewing ales in 1759 at the St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin, and on this date in 1759, he signed a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum for the brewery. At the outset he brewed a variety of beers. One of them was called “stout” which originally referred to a beer’s strength, but eventually shifted meaning toward body and color. Arthur Guinness started selling dark beer porter in 1778. The first Guinness® beers to use the term “stout” were Single Stout and Double Stout in the 1840s. Throughout the bulk of its history, Guinness produced only three variations of a single beer type: porter or single stout, double or extra, and foreign stout for export.


Guinness stout is made from water, barley, roast malt extract, hops, and brewer’s yeast. A portion of the barley is roasted to give Guinness its dark color and characteristic taste. It is pasteurized and filtered. Despite its reputation as a “meal in a glass”, Guinness only contains 198 kcal (838 kilojoules) per imperial pint (1460 kJ/L), slightly fewer than skimmed milk, orange juice, and most other non-light beers.


Until the late 1950s Guinness was still racked into wooden casks. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Guinness ceased brewing cask-conditioned beers and developed a keg brewing system with aluminium kegs replacing the wooden casks; these were nicknamed “iron lungs.” Draught Guinness and its canned counterpart contain nitrogen as well as carbon dioxide. Nitrogen is less soluble than carbon dioxide, which allows the beer to be put under high pressure without making it fizzy. The high pressure of dissolved gas is required to enable very small bubbles to be formed by forcing the draught beer through fine holes in a plate in the tap, which causes the characteristic “surge” (the widget in cans and bottles achieves the same effect). This “widget” is a small plastic ball containing the nitrogen with also just a little beer itself. The perceived smoothness of draught Guinness is due to its low level of carbon dioxide and the creaminess of the head caused by the very fine bubbles that arise from the use of nitrogen and the dispensing method described above. “Original Extra Stout” contains only carbon dioxide, causing a more acidic taste.


Contemporary Guinness Draught and Extra Stout are weaker than they were in the 19th century, when they had an original gravity of over 1.070. The current Foreign Extra Stout and Special Export Stout, with abv of 7.5% and 9% respectively, are perhaps closest to the original in character. Although Guinness may appear to be black, it is really (and officially) a very dark shade of ruby.


Guinness breweries pioneered several quality control efforts. The brewery hired the statistician William Sealy Gosset in 1899, who achieved lasting fame under the pseudonym “Student” for techniques developed for Guinness, particularly Student’s t-distribution and the even more commonly known Student’s t-test. These were developed by Gosset for quality control of grains used in brewing, but are now fundamental to basic statistical analysis. He used a pseudonym because Guinness employees were forbidden from publishing research results.

By 1900 the brewery was operating unparalleled welfare schemes for its 5,000 employees. By 1907 the welfare schemes were costing the brewery £40,000 a year, which was one fifth of the total wages bill. The improvements were suggested and supervised by Sir John Lumsden.


The story is told, and substantially confirmed, that on 10 November 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver, then the managing director of the Guinness Breweries, went on a shooting party in the North Slob, by the River Slaney in County Wexford, Ireland. After missing a shot at a golden plover, he became involved in an argument over which was the fastest game bird in Europe, the golden plover or the red grouse (it is the plover). That evening at Castlebridge House, he realized that it was impossible to confirm in reference books whether or not the golden plover was Europe’s fastest game bird. Beaver knew that there must be numerous other questions debated nightly in pubs throughout Ireland and abroad, but there was no book in the world with which to settle arguments about records. He realized then that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove successful.

Beaver’s idea became reality when Guinness employee Christopher Chataway recommended Oxford University friends Norris and Ross McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding agency in London. The twin brothers were commissioned to compile what became The Guinness Book of Records in August 1954. A thousand copies were printed and given away. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that Chataway was one of Roger Bannister’s pacers and Norris McWhirter was the track announcer and an official timekeeper for Bannister’s successful sub-4 minute mile at Iffley track in Oxford in 1954 (

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Guinness advertizing has been well known for decades for its ingenuity and humor. Here’s a small gallery:

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Guinness is a common ingredient in cooking everything from stews and pies to cakes and puddings. Wherever beer is called for in a recipe, Guinness can be used. You can make a Guinness batter for deep frying, steak and Guinness pie, Guinness cake – whatever suits your fancy and your palate. This is the Guinness page for recipes and pairings — For a classic taste I’d try the beef and oyster pie on this page: very Victorian.


I’ll go with Guinness and chocolate ice cream as the weirdest, although chocolate beer is quite common in Belgium and Germany. To avoid copyright infringement, I’ll give the URL for the recipe:

Otherwise, here’s a few ideas:

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