Why Guinness Doesn’t Travel
Guinness doesn’t travel well at all. That’s just the fact of the matter and there are multiple reasons for it which I’ll share with you in a bit.
But first let me tell you why this became something I wanted to write about, and why it matters to creative people.
I’m in Donegal this week with my family, and the other day we were driving from Letterkenny to Narin in the pissing rain.
Ruairí piped up from the back of the car…
“Mam, why is The Gravediggers so popular?”, he asked.
He’s an inquisitive kid, always asking questions. Drives me crazy sometimes but you gotta love it really.
If you’re Irish, especially of you’re from Dublin, then you know all about The Gravediggers.
John Kavanagh’s AKA “The Gravedigger’s” is legendary boozer dating back to 1833 that sits neatly beside the rear entrance to Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin. As such you can see how it got its name.
The graveyard rear entrance is not used very much now, but in the past it was a well worn route for cemetery workers to quench their thirst on the black stuff.
I live nearby and can firmly say, the pint is as good as you’re likely to get anywhere, not only in Ireland but the world.
Some Clarification on “Pint”
It should be noted that when real Irish men refer to a “pint” they mean Guinness. It’s not a general term that refers to just any alcoholic drink served in pint glasses from behind the bar.
In The Gravedigger’s and other old boozers around the country you’ll see the regulars give the barman a nod and call, “pint!”.
They know their clientele and they know how to serve them.
The Gravediggers is such an iconic place people like Ray Heffernan write songs about it.
Anyway, back to the story…
The Gravediggers has been featured many times in TV ads and more so recently, so it’s not unusual for my son to ask the question.
“Well I suppose it’s because it’s such an old pub. And it serves really good Guinness too”, Joanne replied.
“I second that”, I said.
“The pint is great in The Gravediggers son”.
“Why is it not the same everywhere?” he asked.
“Well, there’s a number of reasons for it”, I said.
“Like how long the lines are from the keg to the tap. How frequently the lines are cleaned. What the lines are cleaned with. How fresh the keg is, and many others”.
“But probably the biggest reason is that the pub is so old and the staff are so well trained in the art of pulling a pint”.
“These guys are masters at it. They understand what it takes to serve a good pint. The pint is consistently good and I can safely say I’ve never had a bad one in The Diggers”.
“That tradition of keeping and serving pints can’t be reproduced overnight. That’s the biggest reason Guinness doesn’t travel”.
“What do you mean Guinness doesn’t travel Dad?”.
“Guinness is at it’s best here in Ireland because this is where it’s made. Guinness overseas has been shipped in concentrate form then diluted with local water. That makes a big difference to the taste”.
“Another reason why Guinness doesn’t travel is because most of the people pulling the pint don’t know how to pull it.”
“They don’t have the same love or understanding for the tradition. It’s just another drink to them”.
A Sunday Tradition
We went on talking about the black stuff. Ruairí wanted to know why it was an acquired taste and if he’d need to practice liking it when he was old enough.
It reminded me of when I was a kid, me and my Dad would visit my sister’s grave in Glasnevin every Sunday. Then afterwards we’d go to The Brian Boru pub not far from Glasnevin Cemetery.
I’d have a Coke and a Club Milk. He’d have a pint of Guinness.
I’d stick my finger in the head of the pint and taste the bitterness of it. It was kind of nasty, but nice at the same time.
In the small bar there would be the usual faces of old men drinking pints, smoking pipes and cigarettes. Talking shop, slagging each other from across the room.
They had one of those old black PT payphones on the wall. Remember the ones with the A & B on the front? When the phone rang you’d hear a chorus of; I’m not here!
I’d have conversations with John the undertaker. He really peaked my interest. I wanted to know what it was like for him to work with dead bodies. He’d tell me about the makeup he’d apply to their skin and the gas he’d pump into their veins to make the look life-like.
The older men would hand me a 20 or 50 pence piece to buy something for myself. My Dad would give me the £1.10 to buy him a pint at the bar. It made me feel all grown up.
Part Of The Culture
I am exposed to this way, this tradition, and I become a part of it.
People in other countries no matter how much they become connected to the Guinness brand can not really know this and therefore not really understand what a pint of Guinness stands for.
They only see the clever branding and want to be a part of it. They can never know how to really pull a pint of Guinness or even drink a proper one.
If they ever do want to know it, then they would need to come and spend time here in the midst of Irish culture.
You might find places overseas that do an OK pint, an acceptable pint. You might find people that do a decent job of pulling the pint too.
But you’ll never find one that can do it like we do it here.
That’s just a fact.
Guinness is great, but it doesn’t travel.
Why This Matters To Creative People
We can’t pretend. We can’t copy someone else and try to make it ours. Every creative person understands this.
But the world is full of people who want to copy other people.
Look at teenagers – they all look the same. Look at fashion – every store you enter sells the same stuff.
There’s originality out there but you need to look hard to find it.
It also should be noted from the whole Guinness thing is that something of worth takes time to mature, we can’t force it. When we do we make a balls of it.
I’ve learned this the hard way.
So essentially we’ve got to simply go with the flow. Move with purpose and intent but let the course of things take us where it will.
So now, here’s where I’ll leave you…
If you want to taste a pint how it’s supposed to taste then get your arse into The Gravediggers, or O’Donoghue’s on Merrion Row, or The Stag’s Head, Dame Street or any number of real pubs that know how to serve the stuff.
Just remember not to drink too many of them.
This article originally appeared on Storymaker and has been edited and updates for publication here.