If you ask someone to play word association with Ireland, one of the first things you're likely to hear is "Guinness." But the black stuff, as it's affectionately known (even though it's technically red, if you look at it in the light), was curiously created by a Protestant family. This might not be such a big deal for most people today, but sectarian tensions have historically played a major role in shaping Irish history. Yet the Catholic-majority island has traditionally held the stout in high regard—even though founder Arthur Guinness was a staunch opponent of Irish independence, and believed the island should remain under British control. Over the course of nearly three centuries, Guinness played a major role in the development of infrastructure across Ireland. It has historically been one of the largest employers on the island, with pathways, canals, and roads between cities specifically designed with the transport of Guinness in mind.
Today, Guinness is a partner in the multinational Anglo-Irish beverage corporation Diageo. Though it's available around the world, people claim it "doesn't travel well" and "tastes better in Ireland." It could be the water — the Guinness in the US, for example, is imported in a condensed form, then rehydrated in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Maybe some of it is marketing; Guinness has always been a pioneer in marketing, famously promoting arbitrary metrics like "the perfect head" and the "perfect amount of time it takers to pour a pint," which are mostly just focus-group-driven ways to make it sound more impressive.
But Irish podcaster Blindboy Boatclub has another theory. On a recent episode of his podcast—titled "Appointive Plane," after Flann O'Brien's famous poem "The Workman's Friend"—Blindboy proposes that the immense Hibernophilic nostalgia power of Guinness is actually of a post-colonial attempt to reconcile the intergenerational trauma of British occupation in Ireland. The Irish, he explains, were not only forcefully dislocated from their homes on the island, but often sent overseas—to indentured servitude in the Caribbean, or hard labor prison in Australia. For those who remained, a job at Guinness was the most reliable work you could get; for those sent abroad, it was the only thing regularly available to remind them of home. Blindboy connects back to the availability of other Guinness varieties across the globe, including the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, a higher-alcohol stout that was historically fortified in order to it survive the trip overseas.
You don't necessarily have to agree with Blindboy's take on postcolonial history, of course. But he makes a compelling argument, rooted in a comprehensive knowledge of Guinness history, and I think that makes it worth a listen.
And don't worry; he has no intentions to "ruin" Guinness for anyone. If anything, he justifies a greater appreciation for it.
Appointive Plane [The Blindboy Podcast]
The Guinness two-part pour is just a marketing ploy [Dan Griffin / The Irish Times]
Guinness Stout: From English to Corporate Colonialism [Sean Dunne / Indymedia Ireland]
Image: Matthias / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)