A pint of plain


WHEN MONEY’s tight and hard to get/ And your horse has also ran,/ When all you have is a heap of debt/ – A pint of plain is your only man.

Today Guinness celebrates the 250th anniversary of the decision by Arthur Guinness, the son of a land steward, to invest some of his £100 legacy in the 9,000-year lease on a rundown brewery in Dublin’s St James’s Gate. And, as another of the striking, often witty advertising campaigns that have been hallmarks of the company reminds us, they will be raising glasses in every corner of the world to Arthur, farmers, llamas, even parsnips. No matter, as long as the glass contains the black stuff (actually dark ruby) – as 10 million do every day, in 150 countries.

There will be a certain amount of national pride involved. No matter that the multinational alcohol conglomerate Diageo which has owned the brand since 1997 is headquartered in London. No matter that the porter is brewed in 35 countries in various guises and strengths (Guinness Extra Foreign Stout in East Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and China. Nigeria has Guinness, Foreign Extra Stout Nigeria, and Guinness Extra Smooth is sold in Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria. Belgians drink Guinness Special Export Stout). Still, Guinness is and will remain quintessentially – if virtually – Irish.

“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline,” Frank Zappa once said. “It helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” And we have a beer. A stout porter, to be precise – “stout” was added to the London term for a dark beer, “porter”, to indicate its strength, and then the word came to be used on its own. But they are one, although all stouts are porters and not all porters, stout.

In these days of industrial, plastic-tasting lagers, Guinness remains the glorious brewing equivalent to the culinary world’s “slow food”. It is poured gently with care, waited on with patience, and then savoured slowly, almost, some might say, worshipped. As Plato once observed, certainly with the Arthur Guinness of his time in mind: “He was a wise man who invented beer.”

Now raise a glass to Arthur. Sláinte.