Everything You Need to Know to Be a Guinness Expert for St. Patrick's Day

Learn a little about the beer everyone is drinking on St. Patrick's Day.

Guinness St. Patrick's Day

Try to contain your shock, but people drink a lot of Guinness on St. Patrick's Day. Millions of pints are put down for the occasion alone all around the world every year. 

For many, the dark Irish beer—though, the brewery will tell you it's a deep ruby—is synonymous with St. Patrick's Day celebrations. So, we asked Guinness Brewery Ambassador Aaron Ridgeway some of the most-asked questions about the beer that's now celebrating its 205th St. Patrick's Day in the United States. (It was first imported to the US in late 1817.) Though, the tradition of drinking Guinness on St. Patrick's Day dates back all the way to 1759 in Ireland, according to the company. 

What is Guinness Draught?

Okay. This is pretty basic. However, if you're new to the Irish beer, it's a fair question. According to the brewery, it's a beer that was developed in 1959 as a celebration of the famous 9,000-year lease Arthur Guinness signed for the land on which the Guinness brewery sits. It was the 200th year since the lease was signed.

Guinness Draught is carbonated with nitrogen gas and carbon dioxide, giving it a smoother texture than most beers exhibit. (More on the nitrogen in a moment.) The brewery says "it established itself as the top-selling Guinness beer with lightning speed." That's not entirely surprising seeing how beloved it is now and how unique it remains so many decades later.

Why is there a ball in Guinness?

Most Guinness lovers are familiar with that ball rattling around the bottom of their Guinness Draught at this point, but if you're new to the beer, it might take you by surprise. "In 1959, we released Guinness Draught as the world's first nitro beer," Ridgeway says. The nitrogenated beer is carbonated largely with nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide, like most beers you're used to drinking. 

"It took years to get that Draught format to the home market," says Ridgeway. "They cracked the way to do it in 1988 when they invented that ball in the can, which is called a widget." Essentially, the drop in pressure inside the can when it's cracked open starts a chain reaction that releases nitrogen from the ball into the beer. It creates that fun cascade of creamy colors that might be the best part of ordering a Guinness Draught.

The ball is an essential part of making sure your Guinness Draught tastes right.

guinness st. patrick's day

What's the story behind the Guinness logo?

There are a couple of images some consider to be the logo of Guinness, but the true logo is the harp, which was standardized on Guinness bottles in 1862.

"The design of the harp we use is based off the Brian Boru Harp," he said. "Brian Boru was the high king of Ireland in the 11th Century. His emblem was the harp. So, in many ways, it represents Irish unity, freedom, and expression. Guinness used it as a way to show themselves as a product of Ireland."

The harp, sometimes call the Trinity College Harp, can also be seen on the state flag flying outside the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. The major difference between these harps and the Guinness logo is that the flat edge of the Guinness harp is on the left, while the flat edge of the Brian Boru Harp is on the right.

The other image often considered an unofficial logo for Guinness is the iconic toucan, created by artist John Gilroy. "All of these illustrations were done by Gilroy when he was commissioned to create a family to advertise the brand," Ridgeway says. "It's said that he was inspired by the events of the circus to create a cast of animal characters instead. Starting off with the seal in the 30s, the cast grew and grew."

The toucan, of course, became the most recognizable of the series that also includes pelicans, turtles, kangaroos, and ostriches.

"It's important to remember," Ridgeway noted, "that this was the infancy of color newspaper advertising. So, when it came to putting a toucan with the word Guinness on a page, you would get the bright orange beak, that black contrast of the bird, and you'd immediately associate it with the branding."

What are the best Guinness food recipes?

There are loads of St. Patrick's Day-appropriate recipes that incorporate Guinness. They're even a staple at the Storehouse in Dublin.

"For St. Patrick's Day at the Guinness Storehouse, we always put on a massive event and one of the things that we love doing is introducing different variants of Guinness and food to go with it," Ridgeway said. "The amount of stew, Irish stew, that we pass out on St. Patrick's Day is absolutely phenomenal."

If you're choosing which Guinness to use in a recipe, Ridgeway says the Foreign Extra Stout is good for "rich, hearty dishes like casseroles and stews." Guinness Draught, the world's first nitro beer, pairs well with sweets and cakes

Meanwhile, Extra Stout, the original Guinness, pairs wonderfully with oysters. That's a combination that has long earned praise. In 1837, future prime minister Benjamin Disraeli wrote in his diary that he had Guinness and oysters. "Thus ended," he wrote, "the most remarkable day hitherto of my life." It's a good quote, and Guinness has even dropped it in advertising

How much Guinness is consumed on St. Patrick’s Day?

Guinness anticipates that people in a whopping 150 countries will sip the smooth stuff on St. Patrick’s Day. As many as 13,000,000 pints of Guinness are consumed worldwide on the holiday alone (in a non-pandemic year), or 819% more Guinness than usual, according to a 2018 report by personal finance website WalletHub. Overall, beer sales go up more than 150% on St. Patrick’s Day, so it’s easy to understand why it ranks as the third most popular drinking day of the year, per the report. 

Guinness st. patrick's day

Is Guinness better in Ireland than in the US?

There's a widely held assumption that Guinness in Ireland is better than a Guinness anywhere else in the world. However, what's inside your glass is the same product from the same brewery no matter where you're imbibing. 

"Everyone thinks there's some weird conspiracy that to fund our tourism industry we keep all the good stuff for ourselves or something," said Ridgeway. "All of the Guinness you get in the United States is produced in Dublin. The exception to that would be Guinness Blonde, which is the American lager we produce in the United States."

The reason it feels different may be the experience of having a beer at the Guinness Storehouse or elsewhere in Ireland. At least, that's Ridgeway's explanation for the persistent myth. "What makes the difference between one pint of Guinness and the next, for me, it's gotta be the atmosphere. It's the same liquid in the keg. The thing that changes is the atmosphere and the occasion."

St. Patrick's Day is as good a reason as any to make a special occasion and imagine you're taking a taste of a perfectly poured pint in Dublin. 

What's happening in 2022?

The Guinness Storehouse in Ireland will be hosting a St. Patrick's Day celebration from March 16-20. It's the first time the brewery has had its annual celebration since 2019 due to the pandemic. The celebration will include performances by Aoife Scott, Prodijig and the Luna Boys, as well as DJ sets throughout the day at the refurbished Gravity Bar at the top of the brewery. In the Gravity Bar, you'll get a sweeping panoramic view of Dublin.

Ireland has recently made it easier for foreign travelers to visit. If you join the festivities, you'll get a free pint, but don't forget your mask. Face coverings are required in the brewery.

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. He has a Guinness World Record and it has nothing to do with Guinness. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.