It occurred to me that, as a beer writer, I felt I really ought to make a pilgrimage to the home of the world’s most famous stout, so Val and I took a weekend trip to Dublin, and booked a visit to ‘The Guinness Storehouse’.
We’d bought our tickets online a week or two before our trip, saving a few euros each; my wife doesn’t share my taste for beer, so while she accompanied me on my tour round the Storehouse, she ducked out of the ‘Connoisseur Bar Experience’ – more of that shortly.
We arrived at the St James’ Gate brewery slightly before mid-day and, while I’d booked for the 2pm Connoisseur Experience, I was offered the mid-day session. I promptly abandoned Val at the café on the first floor and headed up to the fourth floor to meet the rest of my group.
There were six of us, five Americans and yours truly, being tutored by Bill, who hails from Michigan.
The ‘experience’ takes place, behind locked doors, in an exclusive, dimly lit room.
There are portraits of various members of the Guinness dynasty, along with pieces of memorabilia from the archive. The old brewery (grandfather) clock stands proudly, stopped at 17:59 – the year Arthur Guinness signed the now legendary nine thousand year lease on the site.
The bar itself is lit from beneath, to emphasise the colour of the various brews – deep garnet rather than the ‘black stuff’ of merchandising legend.
Over the ninety or so minutes Bill described the history of key brews in Guinness’ history, from Draught Guinness, through Extra Stout, Foreign Stout and the new ‘Brewers Project’ beers – in our case the ‘Dublin Porter‘ (which still doesn’t ‘do it’ for me). Bill was both entertaining and informative, rattling off key dates with flair and confidence.
He also told us that he sourced a fresh barrel of Draught Guinness each morning for the Connoisseur Experience (taking any remaining at the end of the day to another bar) so that the draught Guinness served in the Connoisseur Experience would be the freshest available.
At the conclusion of our session we were all invited to pour our own ‘perfect pint’, having learned the principles of the pour, the surge (119.5 seconds), the top up and the ‘crown’.
This in turn saved each of us a half hour queue for the ‘Guinness Academy’, but entitled each of us to our own ‘perfect pour’ certificate.
Oh, and we all left the ‘Experience’ with a bottle of our choice of brew. In my case it was the rather special 7.5% ABV ‘Foreign Stout’.
If you’re in any way interested in the Guinness ranges of beers, then the Connoisseur Bar Experience is well worth the extra spend.
Back to the rest of the tour, The Guinness Storehouse experience is set on six floors around a huge central atrium, and there is a well signposted route through the various exhibits, describing the history of the Guinness Brewery and its brews, the history and heritage of Guinness advertising, and the heritage of cooperage (making wooden casks). On the fourth floor is the ‘Connoisseur Bar Experience’ and the opportunity to create your own ‘perfect pour’.
The fifth floor is focussed on ‘Guinness and Food’, and while the whole experience concludes on the seventh floor with the ‘Gravity Bar’. This is where most people spend their ‘free’ (you’ve already spent over fifteen Euros to do the tour) beer vouchers. Unfortunately, while the views over Dublin are pretty darned impressive, by mid afternoon on a Sunday it was rammed solid, so we returned to “Arthur’s Bar” on the fifth floor for a couple of drinks.
Arthur’s Bar filled in turn, as a local band played, but we’d grabbed a couple of comfortable seats and while I’m not overly fond of ‘diddle de dee’ music, it was a pleasant enough diversion.
From there we descended by lift down to the first floor and the (inevitable) retail opportunity. This was astonishingly busy, with a zig zag queue to the six or eight cash desks… ker ching!
It’s worth mentioning that, while the experience has escalators to move up through from floor to floor, there are lifts, and the whole thing caters for those with reduced mobility.
The Guinness Storehouse claims to be the busiest tourist destination in the Republic of Ireland (and the third busiest in Europe); looking round the ‘experience’ and the retail opportunity it would be difficult to challenge that claim.
That said, and perhaps most importantly, this doesn’t feel a rip-off, it’s good value for money overall, could occupy a consenting adult for at least half a day.
Even the ‘ retail opportunity’ prices are reasonable, although it’s easy to get carried away.