Sunday, May 6, 2012

Guinness - You Will Be Assimilated

We're in Dublin, and though I managed to avoid it on my previous visit, this time I went to the Guinness Storehouse ("GS") tourist thingy they have at Guinness' factory at St. James' Gate.

(Note: this is the main, original Guinness factory.  Guinness is a big deal here - they practically own Dublin, despite the intense efforts of Budweiser, Coors and Heineken (and to a lesser extent Miller and others) to advertise their way into peoples' drinking glasses - efforts which have met with some success.)

I'm of two minds about the GS.  If you know anything at all about beer and brewing, you're not going to learn a ton from the experience.  In fact, you'll be reminded at every turn of how you just spent a fairly substantial chunk of change to participate in a huge, virtual reality infomercial for Guinness that really amounts to a "marketing re-education/brainwashing" centre; it's designed to make you feel like Guinness is the best thing ever made and that you should spend, spend, spend more money on Guinness.  (Some of it is pretty subtle/artful: for example, they mention how every Guinness stout in the world contains some "special essence" produced by the Dublin factory, which is a pretty way of saying that they produce a wort extract that they ship around the world to other brewers who reconstitute it & brew the Guinness themselves under contract. Guinness says that all North American Guinness stout is brewed at St. James' Gate, Dublin - though they don't say if this means they ship actual tanks/kegs of ready-to-drink Guinness from Ireland to North America, or if uncompleted beer is somehow finished/reconstituted by a local brewer after it leaves Ireland.)

However, if you don't know much about beer and brewing, the GS is a very big, slick operation that gives you a very basic view of the brewing process, with lots of visual candy and some neat architecture.  For example, it's designed around a 7-story-tall atrium shaped like a Guinness pint glass.

To be clear, this isn't a tour of the brewery/factory.  Guinness is a highly secretive operation, like a Molson brewery.  GS is simply a tourist attraction.

Walking to the factory. My those are big, Molson-sized tanks!

Here's Arthur Guinness' original 9000-year lease he signed for the brewery.  They make a huge deal about this - almost as much as the Germans make about the Reinheitsgebot. But to be fair, that's a pretty sweet deal.

Example of the slick presentation - after a field of barley, you get to the water section, which features this nifty waterfall.  They explain how the water comes from the nearby Wicklow moutains to the south, and not from the (not-very-attractive-looking) river Liffey that flows through Dublin.  Then they explain that again.  And again.  Yes, you use potable water, we know!  :-)

The most interesting part of the display to me was the section on Guinness' marketing efforts over the years, which are unique and truly genius.  Like most people, I have a couple of "My Goodness, My Guinness"-labeled items at home.  Above is a vintage Canadian stubby from the display; it was co-produced by Labatts.

 And my favourite - all of the health endorsements published by Guinness over the years.  They also published proper poster-style glossy advertisements featuring quotations by doctors about the benefits of drinking Guinness.  Truly a bygone era.

Part of the Guinness factory, as seen from the top-floor lounge
For your entry charge, you do get a pint and a chance to chill out at the end of the tour.  You can pour your own pint on a lower level (meh), or you can get someone else to pour it at the 360-degree-view top floor lounge, which is what we did.  It does provide the best possible view of the city, short of flying.

Many brewers, distillers and others have similar marketing-based "experiences" like the Guinness Storehouse (e.g. Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin, Heineken Experience in Amsterdam).  If you're new to brewing and beer and/or are willing to pay a few bucks for a nice view and a pint, the GS is for you.  Otherwise, I would skip it & use the money to buy several pints at a cozy pub with some live Irish session music, then take a real (and free) brewery tour at a smaller craft brewery where you're likely to learn & see much more and get to speak with the actual brewers, all without the marketing veneer that comes with big glitzy tours like this.

1 comment:

  1. pretty wicked write up, man. if (hopefully when) we get to Ireland, I'd probably do both--tour the GS, and a small craft brewery too. love that canadian stubby!