In each monthly installment of Bender, Caroline Ferguson will explore the social, cultural, and historical context of a single cocktail or boozy beverage. From settling which country lays claim to Pisco, to exploring the Carthusian Monks’ Chartreuse caves, Caroline will try to track down all the places your drink has been before it gets in your glass—always ending with a recipe of her own creation. Pull up a chair and a glass.
Ahh, Guinness. Second only to Jameson on the St. Patrick’s Day reveler’s list of preferred libations. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Guinness has become a quintessential symbol of the Emerald Isle abroad. (I’d be remiss not to mention that there are, in fact, hundreds of excellent microbrews coming out of Ireland these days—but this column isn’t about those beers, dammit!)
With 10 million glasses of the stuff consumed worldwide every day, Guinness is one of the most popular beers in the world. It’s also one of the oldest, though it pales in comparison to the nearly millennium-old Weihenstephan brewery. And it has a storied history to match.
Arthur Guinness opened Guinness Brewery in Dublin in 1759, operating out of an abandoned brewery at St. James’s Gate. Guinness leased the space for 9,000 years at £45 per year, though the company has long since bought the surrounding acreage and the lease is no longer in effect.
Guinness started with a simple Dublin ale, but it wasn’t long before he began brewing the London-style dark porters the company is known for. Roasted barley gave the drink its nearly black color, though it retained a quaffable alcohol concentration of about 4.2%.
Four years before Guinness’s death in 1803, his brewery discontinued its Dublin ale to focus exclusively on its popular line of porters. This beer became known as Guinness Stout, as the term “stout” was used to refer to any strong-tasting beer. (To this day the distinction between stout and porter is debatable, and a Guinness could be considered either.)
Arthur Guinness II took over at the brewery after his father’s demise, orchestrating a wildly successful foreign expansion. Guinness is particularly popular in Africa as of late, and Nigerians are the number one consumers worldwide.
By 1886, the Guinness brewery at St. James’s Gate was the largest in the world, producing more than one million barrels of beer per year. About 50 years later, the company’s headquarters were relocated to London, though the St. James’s Gate brewery remained operational.
The enterprising Guinness family saw great success, but they and their company have been no strangers to controversy: the political turmoil that has beset Ireland for the past few centuries intersected with the Guinness company at a few key points.
Perhaps most notoriously, Guinness has actively discriminated against Ireland’s Catholic community for most of its history, refusing to hire Catholics as employees, and not hesitating to fire anyone who married into a Catholic family. (One wonders what St. Patrick would have to say about that…) The company again took a political stance by threatening to cut ties with its Irish identity and rebrand as an English beer in the wake of a string of bombings by the Irish Republican Army.
Of course, to divert attention from any controversies, Guinness has relied on the alcohol industry’s best friend: advertising. In the 1920s, Guinness launched its famous “Guinness is Good For You” campaign, which posited that the brew was actually a nourishing health drink. But it seems controversy has a way of following the Guinness company. They were forced to discontinue the slogan decades ago, but not before a pretty damaging myth had taken hold among pregnant women that Guinness would be beneficial to their developing babies.
That said, there actually is some medical support for new mothers drinking Guinness to help with milk production, provided they wait a few hours for their blood alcohol concentration to return to normal before nursing. And there is new evidence that Guinness may actually be good for you: it’s been found to prevent heart clots, potentially reducing the risk of heart attack.
So adrink up—and maybe throw in a scoop of chocolate ice cream for good measure.
Chocolate Guinness Float
As evidenced by the ubiquitous chocolate stout cake, chocolate and Guinness are a perfect match. That said, this float would also be good with any number of ice cream flavors—for a little variety, try cookies and cream, chocolate malt, or even plain old vanilla.
- 8 oz. Guinness
- 2 scoops dark chocolate ice cream
- 2 oz. Bailey’s Irish cream (optional)
- 2 crushed chocolate wafer cookies, for garnish
Pour Guinness into a large glass. Add the ice cream and Bailey’s, if using. Top with the crushed chocolate wafer cookies and serve.