034 - What Makes A Good Pint

Guinness is an iconic brand, but it doesn’t travel. Here’s why;

Guinness is an iconic brand, but it doesn’t travel. Here’s why;

Welcome to the Editor’s Journal; A daily thought on writing, the creative process, art, work, the world and how it all goes together. Every morning I rise early, I sit here in the quiet of my kitchen and I write whatever’s prominent. I have a bunch of article ideas saved, so I’ll either pull from them or write something new. I also write at larrygmaguire.com. I hope you enjoy the read.

I’m in Donegal this week with my family, and the other day we were driving from Letterkenny to Narin in the pissing rain and we got talking about Guinness.

“Mam, why is The Gravediggers so popular?”, Ruairí asked.

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 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.

I can rule out the rest of the world straight away because Guinness doesn’t travel. But more on that in a bit.

John Kavanagh “The Gravediggers”

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!”.

Nuff said.

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”, My wife replied.

“I second that”, I said.

“The pint is great in The Gravediggers son”.

“Why is it not the same everywhere?”.

“Well, it boils down to a number of reasons, like how long the lines are from the keg to the tap. How frequently the lines are cleaned. What the lines are cleaned with. Whether or not the cleaning agent is properly flushed out. How fresh the keg is, and many others”.

“But probably the most significant reason is that the pub is so old and the staff are so well trained in the art of pulling a pint. There’s several hundred years of tradition built up in that pub and the skill of keeping and serving Guinness has been well practiced”.

“These guys are masters at it. They understand what it takes to serve a good pint and they don’t compromise. The pint is consistently good and I can safely say I’ve never had a bad one in The Gravediggers. That tradition of keeping and serving pints can’t be reproduced overnight. That’s one of the reasons that Guinness doesn’t travel”.

“What do you mean Guinness doesn’t travel Dad?”.

“Well, Guinness was first brewed in Dublin in the 1700’s by Arthur Guinness so they’ve had a very long time to perfect the art. 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”.

Arthur Guinness - Wikipedia
At 27, in 1752, Guinness's godfather Arthur Price, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel, bequeathed him £100 in…en.wikipedia.org

“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. Guinness doesn’t do cans well either. It’s best had draught from a tap in a pub who know how to serve it”.

So on we went 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.

Funny that.

The bar inside The Gravediggers, Glasnevin, Dublin.

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 old men drinking pints, smoking pipes and cigarettes.

When the old phone on the wall would ring you’d hear the men shout “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.

So you see as an Irishman 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 it.

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.

All of the above does not suggest that most places in Ireland do it right, because that is just not true. Plenty of public houses here in Ireland serve a terrible pint, so you’ve got to be selective.

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.

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