Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

Review – Guinness Storehouse

 

A classic. The original. The one. The black stuff. Yer only man.

The world over, beer drinkers—whether they have tried the stuff or not—associate Ireland and her capital city with one brand: Guinness. Through the years, this label has become nearly synonymous with its hometown, to the benefit of both. Since 2000, Guinness has welcomed millions of pint-seeking pilgrims into its massive museum to all things beer and branding right in the heart of its historic St. James’s Gate complex. I paid a visit to Guinness Storehouse and explored the tour experiences with my excellent guide and brand ambassador Cal to see what was on offer.

Guinness Storehouse Exterior | Photo: Guinness

The Guinness Gates | Photo: Guinness

That’s One Big Pint!

Every tour kicks off at the bottom of the “World’s Largest Pint Glass,” the central atrium of this multi-story museum—large enough to hold 14.3 million pints. Embedded in glass on the ground floor is the original 9,000-year lease signed by one Arthur Guinness for a plot of land in Dublin’s Liberties neighborhood in 1759. The text of the contract and the iconic “Arth Guinness” signature are still quite readable.

The lower floors are dedicated to the processes and ingredients of brewing; self-guided guests can read as much detail about malting and mashing as they care to before moving continually up through the chronological story of Guinness.

After a brief introduction to the basics, everyone gets the sensory thrill of the Taste Experience. A dark corridor leads to a brilliantly white tasting room with four vaporizers, each one isolating a distinct flavor found in the finished product. After smelling and tasting the scented water vapor, everyone gets a sample mini-pint (with a guided tasting) to see if they can pick out each character.

The Tasting Room | Photo: Guinness

The Tasting Room | Photo: Guinness

After the tasting, I enjoyed a thorough exploration of the Guinness advertising archives. Of course, many of the classic Guinness ads are on display—with life-size models for your selfie-taking pleasure—but I spent more time at the interactive viewing stations watching classic television ads and scrolling through more of the famous poster campaigns. Photo booths allow visitors to insert themselves into an iconic ad and post it directly to their social media pages from a tablet computer, at no extra charge. Experienced selfie artists can also post their own photo for the Social Media Wall—free Wi-Fi is provided throughout the Storehouse.

On the fourth level, the included free drink ticket can be used at the Guinness Academy. Here, guests learn the proper technique to pour a pint of Guinness—yes, there is a technique and yes, you’ll see bartenders in town with varying levels of skill and care. After mastering the perfect pour, everyone gets a souvenir diploma and will know how to watch for sloppy servings for the rest of their stay in Ireland. The fifth and second-to-last level is all about Guinness and food; themed bars and restaurants serve up everything from traditional pub grub to luxury dining.

Nearing the Top | Photo: Guinness

Nearing the Top | Photo: Guinness

From my observation, most use their drink ticket at the famous seventh-level Gravity Bar, the end of the Storehouse experience. The cap on the pint of the Storehouse is a round, glass-walled bar with a 360-degree view of City Centre, Phoenix Park, the Northside, and the Dublin Mountains—the water in Guinness comes from a reservoir near the summit of Mount Kippure. The busy bartenders in the center pull pints as quickly as they can to keep up with demand; the Gravity Bar gets understandably busy. The view is great, and worth a long look even if you use your drink ticket elsewhere. (I liked Arthur’s Bar on the floor below; the view to City Centre was just slightly less breathtaking, and the vibe was much more relaxed.)

Stout Advice

For sightseers, Guinness Storehouse offers a self-guided tour, a guided tour upgrade, and the Connoisseur Experience upgrade—a special guided tasting session in the exclusive Connoisseur Bar. The self-guided tour is the base package and the most popular. Exhibits in the Storehouse are well designed and packed with enough detail—in text and in audio/visual displays—that a guided tour isn’t really necessary to understand, say, the role of hops in beer or the story of Guinness’ barrel-making workshop. To further enhance the self-guided experience, a team of storytellers provide additional interpretive information at various points of the tour.

The Cooperage | Photo: Guinness

The Cooperage | Photo: Guinness

Many Dublin visitors work their trip schedule around a visit to Guinness Storehouse—thousands every day and 1.4 million in the last year—and careful planning is important to make the most of your experience. All visitors are encouraged to book online to receive a discount on the admission price and to skip what can be a very long wait at the ticket line. My guide Cal advised, and I agree, to book your visit as early in the day as possible for a more intimate experience—particularly at the Gravity Bar. If a guided tour or Connoisseur Experience upgrade is in the cards, advance booking is essential to ensure a guide and/or Connoisseur session will be available on the day of your visit.

Now, let’s talk price. Guinness Storehouse is one of the more expensive attractions in Dublin (€20.00; €18.00 if booked online*), and might not fit in everyone’s travel budget. Always looking for ways to maximize my own value for money, I noted several ways to make the most of your admission:

  • Look for daily events: Through the day, watch for special pop-up events and entertainment from additional tastings to traditional music and dance performances. Check signboards for variant tasting schedules to get an extra sample of one of the extended Guinness family—without giving up your drink ticket.
  • Don’t rush: There is so much to see in this huge complex that it would be easy to spend two hours or more just looking at the exhibits, particularly my favored interactive advertising archives. If you have to hurry up to the Gravity Bar for a quick drink before dashing off, your visit will be little more than a very expensive pint with a nice view.
  • Ask questions: Self-guided visitors get plenty of Guinness lore and legend from signboards, but the provided storytellers and Taste Experience guides can provide so much more. Don’t be afraid to approach and ask; you’ll likely walk away with a story or three not told on any signboard.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Guinness Storehouse is open every day (except Good Friday and December 24–26) from 09:30; last entry at 17:00. Self-guided tour admission is €20.00, but you’re booking online to make it €18.00 and save wait time, right?*
  • For a free virtual tour of the Storehouse, find it on Google Business View. Find Guinness Storehouse on Google Maps and click the Explore tab, then See Inside. With this 360 degree view, discover what to expect on your visit.
  • Thanks to Áine, Cal, and the rest of the Guinness Storehouse team for inviting me along for a review visit.

*Opening hours and prices are correct as of October 2015, please visit the Storehouse website before your trip to confirm. See my full disclosure for more about invited reviews.

Bottom of the Glass

My guide Cal was able to answer one nagging question I’ve always had about Guinness. I remember it being marketed and sold in America in cans with a large plastic ball jiggling around inside. Most Americans assumed the ball functioned like a mixing bead in a paint can—Guinness is thought to be thick and viscous by many who have never tried it…it isn’t, by the way.

Cal explained that the bead simulates the agitator in the taps for Guinness Draught. In the two-step pub pour, the beer is forced through this agitator, which rips the nitrogen gas mix out of suspension in the liquid. This makes the foamy first pour so…foamy. After a rest, the glass is topped up without the agitator in place, filling the glass with just the right mix of foam and body.

When the can is poured into a glass, this ball settles in the mouth, disrupting the flow and ripping the small nitro bubbles out of the beer as it pours, leaving you with a serviceable—but still not quite perfect—simulation of a pint in your favorite neighborhood local. Thanks, Cal!

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