As I sat in Prom, the restaurant and bar at the Salthill Hotel in Galway, Ireland, I only had one thing on my mind: Guinness. Admittedly, it’s not like me to crave a mass market beer I’ve probably had a hundred times before. But this hotel bar was my first stop during my first visit to Ireland, and I wanted to see if the rumors were true: Does Guinness really taste better in Ireland?
As I pushed my unshaven upper lip through the thick nitrogen-enhanced head of my first pint, I wasn’t sure what to expect: Maybe something creamier, I thought, or with a fresher roasted intensity? Alas, what I got was a beer that tasted just like a Guinness. The exact same stout I remembered drinking everywhere from the college bars in Los Angeles to the authentically Irish pubs of New York City, and even out of a widget-enhanced can at home. The epiphany I had hoped for hadn’t arrived. I may be the first American to ever be thoroughly disappointed with my first Guinness in Ireland. The anticipation had backfired. Not that the beer was bad; I just wanted something more.
I’m not sure when or where the rumors of Ireland and its better Guinness started. Interestingly, though Guinness has been whipping up dark beers since 1759, Guinness Draught – the brewery’s signature nitrogenated dry stout – has only been around since 1959 when the brand decided to enhance its original stout beer with nitrogen gas to celebrate its 200th anniversary. Somewhere along the way, the idea took hold that these pours are perfected in Ireland to the point where you haven’t enjoyed a Guinness until you’ve had one on the Emerald Isle. It’s even possible Guinness itself may have started these rumors; this is the same company that has an entire level of its “Storehouse”/brewery-adjacent-beer-playground dedicated to its savvy marketing.
So instilled in me was this idea, that one non-life-changing Guinness wasn’t enough to convince me. I tried another pint at Garavan’s in Galaway city center. Tried another by the water at The Pier Head in Kinvara. I had to pair one with the intense umami of the Irish oysters at Moran’s Oyster Cottage. Once in Dublin, I grabbed one in the famous Temple Bar neighborhood, and another on the outskirts of town at the Anglers Rest. I even had four (maybe even five) at the Storehouse itself. To my palate, at least (and I am not a trained Guinness expert, but I do write about beer for a living), they all tasted essentially the same. Don’t get me wrong: They were good. I enjoy Guinness. It’s a well-crafted, easy-drinking, relatively-light stout that, for a 4.2 percent ABV beer, pairs amazingly well with cold weather. But after drinking more Guinness in three days than I would have probably liked, I decided there’s no truth to the notion that Guinness is best enjoyed in Ireland. If you like Guinness, it’s best enjoyed anywhere that keeps its taps clean or its bottles and cans properly stored.
So how does Guinness explain the idea that a Guinness tastes better in Ireland? Well, one of the brand's in-house Guinness experts, Alan Maxwell, explained the phenomenon as being twofold. First, of course, is exactly what I experienced: the anticipation. Luckily for most people, however, instead of being skeptical assholes like me, for them, the idea of drinking the most Irish beer on the planet in its home country truly is an elevating experience. The second part of his explanation though, is a bit more logical. In Ireland, every bar that serves Guinness Draught is regularly visited by a Guinness rep for quality control purposes: Is it being poured properly? Are the kegs stored correctly? Does it taste right? Guinness even “incentivizes” serving its best known beer exactly how the brand wants, encouraging everyone in the country to make each Guinness as tasty as possible. (In America, we might call this an “kickback,” but let’s just set that aside.) “We don’t have the resources to do that around the entire world,” Maxwell explained, but in Ireland, every Guinness is hopefully as good as it can be.
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Turns out, even if you look on the frequently asked questions page of the brewery’s website, Guinness addresses this issue as a company. The final question reads, “Is it true that you get a much better pint of Guinness stout in Ireland?” Here, even the brand admits, “Guinness is Guinness – wherever you are.”
Sure, saying something to the effect of, Eh, don’t bother coming to Ireland; the Guinness is fine where you are, isn’t particularly as sexy as saying Guinness is best enjoyed on its home turf. But if you think going to Ireland will help you get the best pint of Guinness of your life, you’re unfortunately mistaken. Luckily, Ireland is a great place with lots to do – including drinking a perfectly normal tasting Guinness just like you always dreamed.