There are those that claim you’ve never tasted the best Guinness unless you’ve supped one in Ireland, but is this romantic myth-making or are the Irish really blessed with the best black stuff?
The Same Guinness
However hard you try to serve your pub clientele the perfect pint of Guinness Irish stout, be it sourced direct from Dublin, pumped fresh from the cellar keg, poured with patience and care through clean taps, topped with a shamrock and left to settle, inevitably there will always be someone that takes a draught and remarks “It’s good, but it’s just not like it is in the old country.” It can be very maddening because there is really no rational reasoning behind such a claim; you can drink a perfect pint of Guinness anywhere.
At one time you could have said that it’s the water that makes all the difference, because non-Irish Guinness used to be brewed at Park Royal in London using Thames water, but since 2005 production was centralised to St James’s Gate in Dublin, all Guinness water is sourced from the Wicklow Mountains. The Guinness served in a pub in the UK is now exactly the same product as that served in a pub in Ireland.
Higher Local Standards
But product is not everything, equally significant is how the Guinness is handled once it leaves the Dublin brewery. It is in this regard that Ireland stakes its claim on serving the best Guinness.
Beaming with rosy-faced pride for one of their national beverages, the Irish are much more likely to honour and uphold their traditions by serving their Guinness with due reverence and care, and what’s more it’s popularity with the locals means a large turnover and thus fresher beer. You can’t expect a Guinness served in Ireland to be better than a Guinness served anywhere else in the world, but on average you are much more likely to be served a better pint.
Freshness is a key factor in the quality of a pint of Guinness. The drink’s popularity in Ireland means that there is more likely to be a rapid keg turnover with Guinness flowing freely through the pipes. In countries where Guinness is not the chief draw, the black stuff is more likely to have sat in the pipes for longer and become staler.
By this reasoning, you could argue that a popular Irish pub in England could serve fresher Guinness than a particular pub in Ireland where it is not so popular. After all, contrary to popular belief, not everyone in Ireland drinks Guinness; it is the older generations and tourists that provide its chief custom, and it is associated more with the capital than the provinces, where other stouts are equally popular.
The hallowed status of not just Guinness, but of all stouts in Ireland means that you would expect Irish bar tenders to have greater respect for how your beer is served. It’s not simply a matter of creating a shamrock in the creamy head, the beer, for instance, needs to be: kept at the right temperature; pumped through lines that are regularly cleaned; poured slowly; have the correct depth of head; and be allowed to settle.
Outside of Ireland the pubs are less likely to be steeped in stout handling expertise, the bar staff less versed in the art of pouring the perfect pint of stout, and the customer less discerning.
Environment and Ambience
Ultimately, a bar tender eager to serve a perfect pint of Guinness to please everybody should think less about optimum serving conditions and more about how they can move their pub to Ireland. For some, Guinness is better in the old country simply because it is in the old country, with all the cosy ambience, Emerald Isle romanticism and good craic that association implies.
Visitors to Ireland will enjoy their first Guinness that much more than those back home because they are building themselves up for the satisfaction of the ‘real thing’ before it’s even passed their lips, much in the same way that ex-pats ordering a pint of Guinness abroad will be anticipating finding fault.
The factor of authenticity affecting the actual quality of a Guinness is in part a sentimental one, and entirely subjective, but there is at least some legitimacy to the idea that beverages tend to suit the environment in which they were originally created. As much as tequila is suited to the Mexican heat and vodka to the bleak Russian winters, Guinness best suits the mild, rainy, dreary climate of Ireland – but then it also suits the mild, rainy, dreary climate of Britain too.