The Guinness Factory: A Look Inside Dublin's St. James Gate Brewery
Arthur Guinness brewed his first beer at the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland in 1759, and, having signed a 9,000-year lease, assumed it would be one of many. Today, Guinness is an Irish institution, drunk at all times of day by all types of people. It’s also beloved worldwide, with multiple variations selling 1.8 billion pints of the black stuff a year.
Let's look inside its birthplace.
Completed in 1904, the Guinness Storehouse, located at the St. James Gate Brewery, was the first large, steel-framed, multi-storied building in the British Isles (the second is the Ritz-Carlton in London). Although visitors haven’t been able to enter the actual brewery since 1972, it’s adjacent to the Guinness Storehouse, which is part museum, archive, showroom, restaurant, and bar. Since the storehouse tour is self-guided, you’re free to explore the building’s seven stories at your leisure.
Once you’ve paid and entered the Guinness Storehouse, you’ll immediately run into the gift shop. Although the store is a crucial stop on any visit, you’ll likely feel unprepared to shop straight away. Nonetheless, this is the time to grab a bag of Guinness-flavored chips to munch on while you tour.
The tour features large displays filled with interesting information, ensuring you actually learn something as you move from room to room. For example, Porter—the type of brew Guinness is—was the first drink to use roasted barley, and today, 100,000 tons of Irish-grown barley is used to brew Guinness every year (that’s 2/3 of all the barley grown in Ireland). Along with water, hops, and yeast, Guinness only has four ingredients, and it’s the company’s secret recipe that makes the beer so delicious.
Since the 19th century, some yeast from each beer has been transferred on to the next in order to guarantee consistency. There’s a safe on the St. James Gate premises where some of the special Guinness yeast is kept. In case some beer-hating prohibitionists decided to storm the brewery and destroy all of the yeast tomorrow, the safe stash could replenish the lost stock in just a few hours.
Water is really important to quality brew, and Arthur Guinness knew that. In fact, it’s why he settled in Dublin, where he purchased important water rights, guaranteeing access to a quality water source for decades to come. The water used in Irish Guinness is from the Wicklow Mountains above Dublin (not the River Liffey, a common misconception), and is soft, with a low mineral content.
There’s a whole section of the Storehouse devoted to the machines that make the magic happen. The immense operation is made understandable by the high-tech displays, while some of the smaller pieces of equipment serve as works of art.
There’s a particularly interesting exhibit on the brewery’s coopers, or the highly skilled craftsmen who built the wooden barrels Guinness was originally transported in. There’s also a short video on the different varieties of Guinness available nationwide, like Guinness West Indies Porter, based on a recipe from 1801 and launched in 2014, or Guinness Foreign Extra, the company’s most popular beer, brewed with a high hop and alcohol content for long sea journeys. Today, Guinness Foreign Extra is brewed in up to fifty countries, although it’s still examined in Ireland to meet exacting standards.
Eventually, you’ll enter a Willy Wonka-esque room where you can smell different components of the brewing process. Roasted barley tends to be the most popular aroma, with a dark coffee smell, while the hops have a citrusy, fruity tang, and the malt resembles caramel. In the following room, you get your first taste of Guinness in order to learn how to properly drink it (hint: the perfect temperature is 42 degrees Fahrenheit).
As you ascend higher and higher, you’ll pass a restaurant, a café, and a bar where you can learn to pour Guinness properly. You also begin to truly appreciate how immense the storehouse actually is.
There’s also half a floor dedicated to Guinness’ famous advertising over the years, with a full room of John Gilroy’s famous zoo-themed advertising (“Guinness makes you strong!”). Life-size toucans, lions, seals, ostriches, and kangaroos make for great photo opportunities.
At the top of everything though, you’ll find the Gravity Bar, where you can trade your ticket for an English pint. The Guinness in Ireland tastes vaguely of olives, and has a distinct creamy head, which is why it’s poured and left to settle before being topped off and served. The delicious top is thanks to the high nitrogen levels in Guinness, which is also what makes it such a drinkable, session beer. At 4.2-percent ABV, Guinness Stout also has fewer calories than skim milk and the majority of other non-light beers out there.
The 360-degree view of Dublin from the Gravity Bar is worth the price of admission in and of itself. Once there, you can say “Sláinte,”—Gaelic for good health, or cheers—and linger, enjoying your Guinness with a view.
Kiran Herbert is a writer based in Denver, Colorado. After touring the Guinness Storehouse, she headed straight for the Old Jameson Distillery.