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My Life in Guinness - Drink What You Like




I first obtained my booze “bragging rights” drinking 4 cans of the black stuff at a house party in my mid-teens. Teenage masculinity was judged on one’s ability to put away alcohol in the early noughties. It appears trite and toxic now but, as a 15-year-old, to hear my older brother’s friends say “Well played mate, I couldn’t down that stuff” was the kind of social praise we devoured.


It didn’t occur to me then that twenty years on the same drink would be causing an industry existential crisis. I wasn’t pondering the reasoning behind my drink choice 20 years ago. It was fairly simple: I drank Guinness because I liked the taste. I differed from my friends in that sense, who chose crates of Fosters and Bacardi Breezers for house parties as it was the done thing. At least two of those present at those gatherings would go on to use the common phrase “Let’s be honest – nobody really likes the taste of beer” in their adult life and expect universal agreement.


It is an accepted oddity that, for some reason, beer drinkers online struggle with. The concept that people drink what they happen to enjoy is lost on many but none as much as those within this tight-knit space often returned to as the “beer bubble.” The adage “drink what you like” is used with such ferocious frequency as though people need to be reminded of this all the time. It is usually the case that it is those making the statement that need the reminder; like a beer industry Dhar Mann sprouting philosophical positivity into the world through gritted teeth, and hoping to reap the rewards for ideologies that they don’t believe in. 


A recent increase in the amount of Guinness related content on beer focused social media has led to a supposed revival in this stout, despite it being the biggest selling beer in the UK. Much of these thoughts were inspired by this list of reasons that people like Guinness by Boak and Bailey. This imaginary resurrection in nitro stout echoes a similar upheaval in lager talk from a few years ago. I wanted to write about that lager furore for a long time but could never find the words without it sounding insulting or patronising. 


But perhaps those are the words that are needed, as people finally come to terms with the age long fact that drinkers actually like the things that they choose to drink. Those that have been choosing Carlsberg - or Guinness - in pubs for years happen to like those things. It isn't because they have poor taste. It isn't because they don't know any better. It isn't because they are close minded. It is the people within this beer bubble that have been ignorant for years. Those suddenly discovering that they like lager or nitro stout or fizzy cider are the embarrassment. If anything it makes their previous attempts to promote craft beer as the only option disingenuous and every bit as pretentious as this industry has been accused of. 


And as for using that new love for these types of products to create a personality that now mocks Craft Beer.... 




Of course, none of this means that you have to like it. 


You can still have a moral stand-off with the product, and the licensing laws in Ireland through this product would lead many to boycott. You can have preferences for similar products (I have always preferred Murphy's over the two personally.) You can just unambiguously not enjoy the taste of Guinness. That is okay.


There are echoes of the current iteration of Bass Ale in attitudes towards Guinness. People drinking a Bass, especially those involved in National Bass Day, cannot survive a pint of the stuff without responses of "It isn't half the beer that it used to be" or "It tastes so much better in <insert location here.>" These are not drinks to enjoy without somebody providing the alternate perspective, like a BBC reporter worried that they'll be fired without it. 


I have no reference for what Guinness used to taste like, similar to my vacant Bass knowledge. It may have been better. It may have been different. But I don't know. My reference point is that last 20 years, so if I like the taste of its current anatomy then I don't need to be told that it used to be different every time I order one.


I do have empathy, however, with those that spurn a product due to its changes, especially if it alters their recollections.


Long standing drinks have memory. They have nostalgia. "One and done" products could never understand. Annual releases can never truly create a connection. When my Nan passed away in 2016, I wrote about the relationship between her, my mother and Irish stouts. Every time I open a can, I am transported to a hundred moments from childhood and early adulthood. There are moments around my Nan's electric fire on a Wednesday afternoon or the kiss goodnight my mum would give me when my dad and her returned from the pub on a Friday night, after the babysitter had put me to bed. There are so many more. 


"This was my uncle's favourite drink." "My Grandad always opened a bottle of this on Christmas day."  "This reminds me of a holiday with my best friend." Stories that are connected to long standing drinks brands that are told the world over. Memory is a powerful high. Maybe some sales are down to a personal connection over the taste. My Gran always used Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire Puddings on her Sunday Roast and so, to this day, I love the taste of them. I don’t care what anybody else thinks.  


Nostalgia can make a product taste better; that needs to be accepted. There is comfort in returning to a taste decades later and finding that it hasn’t changed. That attitude may dilute the product to some but there is something to reliability that is often overlooked the bubble. Whether you like it or not, nothing nails consistency quite like "big beer." 


And Britain has a fascination with big industry, despite modern claims of the opposite. We have a child-like sense of wonder with big factories and machinery; the sort that leads to repeated recommissioning of programmes where Gregg Wallace’s toothy grin explodes at the sight of a double decker bus being built. There isn’t quite the comparison between a look at another railway arch and the tour at St. James’s Gate. 




I was last there in 2019, when I was kindly invited by Guinness for International Stout Day, with various other beer writers. The one part of that weekend that I always wanted to write about was the final talk on yeast with Dan Kerruish. It was the end of the tour. We’d had lunch and beers. Most of us had been up since 4am and earlier for flights. The room was cosy and many in the group were tiring.


Yet I have never heard anybody, anywhere, on any topic, speak with such joy as Dan did in that room on the subject of yeast. The words were all wavering over my head, as so much of the scientific part of brewing does, but the sheer enthusiasm for such a niche vocation was emanant. I left that room hoping to find anything in my life I could be that passionate about.


Compared to the robotic cult that I found in Ellon three years previously, the entire weekend in Dublin was a celebration of a single brand. Some will cry charade but it correlates with everything that the television adverts, unique pouring techniques and oversized foam hats have created around a single drink.


Strip all that away though and you are still left with a beer that has been enjoyed across generations; just ask my Nan, mother and I. Hopefully the recent surge in interest will be the last time that the bubble “discover” a beer that has always been there and use it to gain sales and content. I suspect that it won’t be but if it gets people into pubs then I’m here for it. At least I can alter my memories of those house parties at 15 and think of them as preparation for being a cool craft kid two decades later. Drinking what you enjoy has always been the answer. 





I am aware of the numerous issues with Diageo, including recent strike action at the bottling plant in Fife.  








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