Guinness celebrates 250 years of brewing

You know how the saying goes. Everybody is Irish during this time of year, at least for one day.

We tend to stay close to home with this column, but I can’t resist whisking you 3,600 miles away this week, for a toast to our beloved Guinness. The Irish refer to their most well-known fermented malt beverage, which has been around 250 years, with this level of reverence.

Yikes – 250 years! That should humble even the most devoted Wisconsin beer drinkers among us. The company says almost one in every two pints drunk in Ireland daily is a Guinness.

Veteran bartenders know that the thick, creamy, chocolate-colored brew requires two pours. The first fills a pint glass halfway. After waiting a couple of minutes for the color to settle properly, the remainder of the tumbler is topped off.

“Guinness is good for you,” the company has proclaimed in advertisements. Sure, that’s debatable, but you gotta love the passion that the Irish attach to this product. The brewery, which takes up 60 acres in Dublin, produces 3 million pints of the beer daily.

And the Guinness beer tour is unlike any that you’ll encounter in the United States. I say this with great respect for our own brewers in Wisconsin and beyond: Don’t expect the traditional plant tour and predictable, unending aroma of yeast plus hops plus barley.

Guinness visitors wander on their own through a massive, seven-story structure that until 1988 was the brewery’s fermentation plant. The building’s bold, clean industrial design reminds me of Milwaukee’s new Harley-Davidson Museum, only this attraction is bigger.

Interactive exhibits approach Guinness from multiple directions, addressing company history, products, advertising campaigns, attitudes about alcohol consumption and – yes – the actual brewing process. That includes lessons on the old-time craft of coopering (making wooden casks, which used to store the beer).

Add a large restaurant/bar and souvenir shop, plus a place to quiz yourself about how the body responds to alcohol. Earn a certificate for learning the six steps required to pour the perfect pint.

Tour admission includes a free pint of Guinness, served at the Gravity Bar, a pub of glass walls that is seven stories above ground. Views of the city are tremendous on clear days.

The Guinness Storehouse, headquarters for the beer’s production and tours, can be found at St. James Gate in Dublin. It is the city’s top tourist attraction, and admission is about $20 ($15 for senior citizens and students over age 18). For more: www.guinness-storehouse.com, 353 (1) 408-4800.

I have visited the Guinness Storehouse twice, most recently during a Midwest Travel Writers Association conference in Ireland and Northern Ireland. For more about tourism in these areas:

www.discoverireland.com, 800-223-6470; www.discovernorthernireland.com, 44 (0) 28 9089 5512.
Airfare discounts have been attractive recently.

Hesitant about traveling to Ireland on your own? A Wisconsin-based innkeeper routinely arranges tours to an 18th century country inn that he operates near Athlone (between Galway and Dublin). For more: www.irishinnsandtours.com, 414-272-5273. (We’ve mentioned Rip O’Dwanny’s enterprises before; his Wisconsin inns include County Clare in Milwaukee, St. Brendan’s Inn in Green Bay and 52 Stafford in Plymouth – all of which have strong Irish themes.)

Inroads Ireland, based in Madison, also offers periodic trips to Ireland and Northern Ireland, $2,100 per person for eight nights, plus airfare. Tour organizer Philip Ryan is a Dublin native. For more: www.inroadsireland.com, 888-220-7711.

If you’re a hiker, check out www.uwlax.edu/conted/tours/irelandhiking.html. A June hiking tour of Ireland is filled, but a waiting list is being compiled.

Roughly 34.5 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry, says the U.S. Census Bureau. That is about nine times the population of Ireland. Only German ancestry is more common in the U.S.

For more about St. Patrick’s Day and other Irish celebrations in Wisconsin: http://shamrockclubwis.com. Irish events certainly don’t end on March 17; you’ll find paces throughout the state that feature Irish music year-round.

Or consult the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center of Wisconsin, 2133 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee: www.ichc.net, 414-345-8800.

Last: Head to lakefront Aug. 14-17 for the annual Milwaukee Irish Fest, billed as the nation’s largest (as in attendance) celebration of Irish heritage. For more: www.irishfest.com, 414-476-3378. Consider Irish Fest Summer School, Aug. 10-14, if you long to learn Irish dancing, tin whistle playing or other examples of Irish history and tradition.