Life Travel

Dublin history on tap: Legendary beer brewed in Ireland's capital since 1759

By Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun

DUBLIN -- Entering St. James's Gate to the Guinness Storehouse makes a beer buff as wide-eyed as Charlie in the Chocolate Factory.

Gazing from the base of world's largest pint glass, where our seven-storey tour winds skyward to an observation deck and shockingly, a Guinness bar, there's activity on every floor, at every turn.

Dublin is dotted with fine museums and sites, but Guinness is Irish history in liquid stout. This isn't just a five-senses journey through the nine-day brewing process, but a fascinating glimpse at the family's legacy in the city, the nation and the 120 countries where the dark stuff is exported.

Cal, one of many multilingual guides, starts us literally at the bottom on the cobblestones of the old fermentation room. One stage up, the 9,000-year lease Arthur Guinness arranged in 1759 is preserved beneath our feet. That's Arthur's signature on every bottle, with the Irish harp modelled on medieval king Brian Boru's (the original is on display at nearby Trinity College).

Arthur and wife Olivia had 21 children -- 10 that lived to adulthood -- and Arthur was one of the first Irish businessmen to see to the well being of workers and their large families. All brewery workers were afforded some sort of housing and pension. The company's early first aid policies were said to have been adapted by St. John's Ambulance, and an archive of employment records of thousands can be seen by appointment.

Guinness employed up to 300 barrel coopers alone, whose casks are still on display, with the miniature trains and wagons that moved them. Coopers were used right up to the 20th century.

To mark its 200th anniversary in 1959, thousands of special bottles were dropped overboard from ocean freighters around the world, containing messages to contact the company for a prize. They are still being found more than a half-century later, with one on display here, amid every shape and size of bottle the company ever used.

Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth and any number of Irish celebrities have dropped by the Storehouse.

One floor is dedicated to Guinness's unique ad campaigns, which started in 1929 with newspaper claims of its low carb health benefits for labourers, soldiers and breastfeeding mothers. The classic, clever posters by artist John Gilroy -- now found in almost every pub in the world -- are featured next to modern TV spots, some interactive.

Now on to the main event. Purified water is piped in from the Wicklow Mountains, not from the Storehouse's indoor waterfall as some ask, or Dublin's River Liffey as many believe. The roasted dark barley and hops at the heart of the process can be handled in the harvesting stage and visitors can then immerse noses in a warm white mist emanating from heating pots of the near-finished product.

We also partook in the "connoisseur's" session, an extra hour hosted by a veteran Guinness barman in a cozy club room with Arthur's family portraits, sampling a range of products. It's ideal surroundings to appreciate the "perfect pint."

Using a branded Guinness glass, the 45 degree-angle pour is gradually straightened until reaching the top of the harp logo. The stormy nitrogen "surge" takes effect, a pause of exactly 119.5 seconds, then the pint is topped with the right amount of foamy head. Novices are encouraged to look to the horizon and breathe in during the first sip, getting equal amounts of foam and stout.

After tales of Guinness lore and a chance to go behind the taps and learn the pour first-hand, it was up to the "rim" of the glass -- the Gravity Bar and its 360-degree unhindered views of the brewery and many Dublin landmarks.

WE'LL DRINK TO THAT

The people have spoken! Beer as a tourist attraction has beaten out ancient wonders of the word! The Guinness Storehouse was recently named Europe's leading tourist attraction in the prestigious World Travel Awards. With 50% of Dublin tourists stopping by the Guinness Storehouse, you know something good must be brewing there.

NEED TO KNOW

-- There is something for all ages on the general tour of the Guinness Storehouse. Adult admission is about $23 with a small discount for students. Kids under 12 get in for about $9. Only those of legal drinking age (19) qualify for the complimentary pint. The connoisseur's tour is a few extra euros but space is limited. For info, see guinness-storehouse.com.

-- For travel information and ideas, see ireland.com.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca