Until the discovery of germs and bacteria, water was unsafe to drink. Europe had it the worst, with so many people and so much industry located near bodies of water that people also drank out of. People were turning to spirits in droves, since it was much safer to drink then the water. Gin was the popular choice; it was cheap, it had some flavor, and brandy had been banned because of England’s on again/off again love affair with France. It was getting so cheap that people were abusing it. At the height of the Gin Craze, the British were drinking an average 2.2 gallons of gin a year. The population was so drunk on such a constant basis that society and the economy were beginning to slip. Beer was being brewed offered by monks and the church as a way to have a drink safer than water and not as harsh and debilitating as gin.
Arthur Guinness, founder of the beer that bears his name, was a good and humble man. His godfather was the Archbishop of Cashel in Ireland, and he was very faithful to the Irish church. So faithful, in fact, he began the first Sunday Schools on the island, and spent a great deal of his time and money helping the poor. He inherited some money, 100 £ to be exact, and used it to lease the brewery at St. James Gate. In 1759, the lease was signed for 9000 years for a price of 45 £ a year. He saw that he could play a part in stemming the flood of gin that was destroying Britain, and began brewing immediately. By 1769 he was able to start shipping his beer to England. Guinness himself passed away in 1803, but his son took up the family business. Not only did he take up the business, he took up the giving philosophy and helping of his fellow man.
The 19th century was good to the brewers at Guinness. It continued to grow despite doing nothing that other breweries were doing to promote their beer. They did not advertise or give discounts, relying mainly on word of mouth to spread the word about their product. They also did not own any public houses, which many breweries at the time did to promote their own beers. Beer was booming in Britain. It was seen as a “healthier” alternative to gin, and so it was not as strictly regulated as gin was. This allowed for thousands of public houses to be opened through the country. By the beginning of World War I, Guinness accounted for about 10% of the beer in Britain. While business was booming for the company, they were also giving their workers benefits that were almost unheard of at the time. They even pioneered quality control techniques that helped them put out a better, safer product. It was adopted by other industries, and is now known as the t-test. The quirkiness of the company also touched a little on its religious heritage; until 1939, if a Guinness brewer wanted to marry a Catholic, he would have to resign.
The 1930’s started off by seeing Guinness as the seventh largest company in the world, and falling steadily towards the end of the decade. The company started looking for a new ad campaign as sales started to slide. They wanted to maintain their wholesome image and still promote the “healthy” benefits of their beer. S.H.Benson was the advertising company tasked with the project, and accomplished artist John Gilroy was the man they gave the job to. The combination of health, wholesomeness, and avoiding the typical beer advertisement led them to…zoo animals. The Zoo ads were incredibly successful for Guinness, incorporating a seal balancing a pint, an ostrich swallowing one whole, and the most enduring image, the toucan with two pints. The advertising campaign went strong for decades, until the early 1980’s when they decided it was dated and retired it. It has been showing up again more recently, making its presence felt again as one of the lone animal survivors of the campaign. The ads helped for a while, but Guinness continued to struggle against the lighter colored lagers.
In the 1970’s the company, who had up until this point been making porters and stouts, stopped experimenting with porters and stuck strictly to stouts. Ever the contrarians to popular sentiment, they began to market their beer as something to be enjoyed by people who desire something a little different, seeking to attain a cult status in the face of their declining sales. They embraced the unique look the beer had when it was poured; a sharp white cap of bubbles on a deep, dark base. It was successful, stopping Guinness’ sales slide and spreading its popularity. The 1980’s brought another distinction to Guinness as well: the can with the widget. Guinness tried to keep as much carbon dioxide as possible out of their beer, preferring nitrogen to add and carbonation to the brew. The bubbles are smaller, helping to not only create a smoother mouthfeel, but it is important in creating the distinct look of a well poured draught. Guinness had been doing canned been since the 1970’s, but did not sell it internationally because is needed an additional piece to inject the nitrogen/carbon dioxide mix. The widget solved that by injecting the gasses into the can when the can is opened; the change in pressure activates it. The widget was a thing of engineering beauty; it even won the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement. Guinness, through clever advertising and its outsider status has maintained its cult status nicely over the last few decades.
A cult status is good to maintain a little bit of mystery. That mystery has lead to some interesting rumors, everything from rats in kegs to making you stronger. The facts are not as sultry, but here they are: Guinness is made of dark roasted barley, hops, water, and yeast. The roast gives it a flavor that ranges from dark chocolate to coffee, and balances out the hops. It weighs in at a very light 4.3% ABV and a respectable 125 calories per 12 ounces. It is not even physically heavy; it is the beer sitting on top in a Black and Tan and its many variants. If you are a strict vegetarian, it is made with a byproduct of dead fish, isinglass. The isinglass is used to separate solids out of the brew, so it very rarely hits the bottle. Some studies have shown it could possibly maybe sort of be a little healthy for you, but not actually that much healthier than other beers. Pouring a pint of Guinness properly, the “Perfect Pint”, takes 119 seconds and two pours at about 45 degrees F. However, with modern technology, that has time has been cut down to four seconds.
On St. Patrick’s Day, put away the green beer and embrace something that has always been a little different from the norm. If you are looking for somewhere to celebrate, head on over to our Events page to see everything that Dayton has to offer on March 17. It is fitting that a God-fearing man created a beer that is a big part of a holiday the Irish use to celebrate a saint. Even as sales for it decline in other parts of the world, the Emerald Isle still loves its native stout. The craft beer revolution may have opened up our palate to other stouts, but Guinness is still the one people think of. And if for no other reason, do it for the toucans.