March 14, 2007




In America, Miller High Life is known as "The Champagne of Beers."


In Ireland, America is known for knowing nothing about beer.


There, in the emerald-clad land where pint-pouring is a tradition older than America itself, Guinness is the draft of choice; both the king and champagne of beers.


"Guinness is integral in most people's lifestyles over here [Ireland]," says Fergal Murray, brewmaster of Guinness and Smithwick's in the brewery's hometown of Dublin. "A pint of Guinness is something you grow up with. ... Having your first is like a rite of passage."


The story and lore behind Guinness justify its tight ties to Irish culture. The life of the world's first stout began in 1759, when Arthur Guinness bought the abandoned James Gate Brewery and started making his own beer. In time, light ales and lagers gave way to denser porters, which evolved into a new breed of beer; a rich, dark and creamy concoction called stout.


The robust flavor, accented by inflections of caramel and roasted barley, became a smash, first in its hometown of Dublin, and later, far beyond its borders. In the mid-19th century, an influx of Irish immigrants made their way to the United States, bringing with them their cultural pastimes as well as their favorite beverage.


"It [Guinness] was always great in Ireland and big in the U.K., but then we expanded abroad in the 1800s," says Murray, who began his career as a Guinness research chemist in 1983, before becoming resident brewmaster in 1995. "I think there are records of Guinness reaching the U.S. for the first time around 1815. It came over in ships more and more to meet the demand of the growing Irish community."


From there, says Murray, it was an up-and-down stateside ride for the brew, whose popularity surged with immigration, dipped with Prohibition, and escalated gradually thereafter. Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a self-respecting American establishment with a liquor license that doesn't carry the fashionable stout.


"The popularity in the states is due to a whole new group of people coming to the brand for the first time — people who didn't grow up with it, but those who want to appreciate a really good beer," says Murray, who is quick to laud the brand but equally quick to point out the responsibility that comes with selling it on tap.


"It's essential that you enter the Guinness experience correctly. It's a ritual and a ceremony, and bartenders should ensure that they deliver perfectly poured, perfect-looking pints that you can almost drink with your eyes."


To achieve the "perfect pint," Murray swears by a six-step pouring procedure and a variety of hardware specifications to back the action at the spout.


Before you tip the tap and begin pouring, there are some technical points to address. Pre-pour readiness begins with having the correct gas mixture in the lines and keg, the appropriate temperature in the storage area, good hygiene and insulation in the lines that run from the keg to tap, and glasses free of dirt and impurities.


Now comes the pour.


To help illustrate the time-honored technique, we got help from a couple of folks who share Murray's passion for the brew and its proper dispensing — Ireland native John Brady, owner of Brady's at the Station in Ramsey, and his bartender, Sharon Cassidy.


"I've seen bartenders who'll just put the glass flat [below the tap], pull the tap and walk away," Brady said. "It drives me absolutely crazy!"


The proper way to pour a Guinness, as Murray, Brady, Cassidy and any other proud Irish barkeep will tell you, is to fill a clean glass, tilted at a 45-degree angle, to three-quarters up without allowing the tap to touch the glass. Once it is filled to that point, allow the Guinness to settle until some gas escapes and the head reduces (the signature creamy head comes from nitrogen dispensed at the tap). Then fill the remainder of the glass, making sure to tilt it again. If poured properly, the head atop the beer should form a dome above the rim.


During this final fill, festive bartenders may add some seasonal spirit to the Irish stout by topping off its head with a shamrock, a feat achieved by maneuvering the spout's stream in figure-eight-like swirls during the end of the pour.


"The Guinness is $4," Brady joked after topping one off with a lucky three-leaf clover, "and an extra dollar for the shamrock."


The Guinness, which should be served between 38 and 42 degrees, is now ready. The whole process, says Murray, who judged Guinness' 2006 "Pour the Perfect Pint Contest," should take just under two minutes.


"We endorse that you drink Guinness or another Irish beer like Smithwick's or Harp on St. Patrick's Day," says Murray. "But we also endorse that you drink responsibly. These are high quality drinks, so enjoy them, but understand what you're doing when you're drinking alcohol."




The six steps to pouring a perfect pint of Guinness, according to Guinness brewmaster Fergal Murray, and demonstrated by John Brady and Sharon Cassidy of Brady's at the Station, an Irish pub in Ramsey:


* "Take a clean, dry glass."


* "Place it at a 45-degree angle below the faucet or tap and don't allow the faucet or tap to touch the glass. It's not flat or sitting [below], where the beer bounces into it. It's filled so you're in position to control it from the starting point."


* "Allow the beer to flow in nice and smooth and you'll see it start to look brown. The bubbles will start to come out of the solution to create that wonderful creamy head."


* "After you fill it up three-quarters of the way, stop pouring and allow it to settle down. This is the most important point — allowing the settle to occur, which results in the wonderful reaction that allows the bubbles to come out of the solution. Now they can't disappear because the surface tension of the liquid is strong, so they sit on top of the pint. The two-step pour allows the pint to build consistency and strength."


* "Now you want to top off the product and get a dome across the top of the glass. If you try to [pour] it in one shot, you won't get that dome. It won't look as strong and won't look as healthy. If you let it settle until the white becomes black, then you top it off and you'll get that wonderful dome."


* "Present the pint to the customer." (Brady's, like many other pubs, creates a shamrock in the foam.)



Guinness by the numbers

4.2: Percent alcohol by volume in a Guinness draft.

38 to 42: Degrees for a Guinness at serving.

119.5: Seconds it should take to properly pour a Guinness.

170: Calories in a pint of Guinness draft.

1759: When Guinness was founded in Dublin by Arthur Guinness.

8,752: Years remaining on the 9,000-year lease signed by Arthur Guinness on the St. James Gate Brewery.

600,000: Average number of Guinness pints consumed daily in America.

13 million: Estimated number of Guinness pints sold every St. Patrick's Day (more than 150 per second).

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