Finding the taste of Ireland at Dublin's Guinness Storehouse

January 16, 2018, 12:33 PM · Last month, as I was wrapping up my semester abroad, I squeezed in a visit to the Guinness Storehouse during a weekend trip to Dublin, Ireland. Among my bubble of college-age friends who were abroad across Europe, a trip to the Guinness Storehouse almost was obligatory. Friends from Denmark to Spain had managed to add trips to Dublin into their busy schedules, and nearly every person I knew who went to Dublin visited the Guinness Storehouse. With more than 1.7 million visitors last year, the Storehouse has become Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction, following a 2011 redevelopment by theme park design firm BRC Imagination Arts.

Before my trip to Dublin, I’d seen dozens of pictures people had been tagged in on social media — Facebook albums and Instagram posts of friends cupping Guinness pints in the Storehouse Gravity Bar, grinning through beer-foam mustaches. I didn’t know much about Guinness at the time, just that I liked their beer and I’d seen some cool, old-timey-looking Guinness posters in a few bars that featured cute cartoon animals. However, despite any real passion for or knowledge about the company, my friend Madison and I were quick to book tickets for the Storehouse tour upon our arrival in Ireland.

On our first taxi ride into the city the next morning, we drove by the St. James Gate, which is the entrance to the Guinness brewery. Our taxi driver launched into an in-depth history of the gate. He told us that the gate itself has been popularly associated with the brewing industry since the 1600s, when it was the traditional starting point for pilgrims setting sail from Dublin to Spain. They would get drunk at the gate before heading off on their lengthy and precarious journey. The way he wove this tale made it sound almost like folklore, and I began to think of the Storehouse with an air similar to how I imagine little Charlie thought of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. What’s behind that big famous gate? Why is everyone I know so hellbent on visiting this place... isn’t it just beer?

In a sense, yes, it is all about the beer, but the experience of the Storehouse tour is more than just a long-winded explanation of the Guinness brewery process. When I entered the Storehouse alongside the three friends I was traveling with, we were immediately herded up a staircase, which was pulsing with fluorescent orange lights. The staircase opens up to the gift shop (where we would later spend more money than I’d like to admit), and the tour commences in the first room across the gift shop. The basic tour tickets we had purchased (the price runs from €17.50-25) allowed us to do a self-guided tour, and we had fun going at our own pace, touching all the fun things that made the first floor of the tour the delightfully tactile experience that it was.

Inside the Guinness Storehouse
Photos by Madison Etherington

As speakers around the room explained the vital roles of barley, hops, and water in the brewing process, we sunk our hands into a giant sandbox of barley, strolled past lush rows of hops, and walked underneath a giant waterfall (which really did make it feel like Willy Wonka’s factory). The Storehouse is shaped like a giant cylinder, which made me feel like I was walking my way up a giant glass pint of beer as the tour continued higher and higher up each circular floor. The ending point? An entire floor of bars, where everyone with a tour ticket gets a free pint.

At the suggestion of a friend who was living in Dublin at the time, we scurried up to the top of the Storehouse at the beginning of our 4pm tour so we could catch the sunset from the Gravity Bar (a bar on the top floor with a 360° view of the city - it’s doubling in size under a new €16m [US$18.5m] expansion). We enjoyed our free pints and the view of Dublin, then worked our way down the Storehouse as it got dark outside. I’m not sure if the tour was strategically created to be done from the bottom up, but if we were doing it backwards, I didn't notice. Each floor focuses on a certain attribute of Guinness. The lower floors are dedicated to explaining the basics of the brewing process and the history of the company, and the upper floors focus on advertisements, and the experience of drinking a Guinness beer (complete with an opportunity to learn the proper pint-pouring techniques, in order to maximize the quality of your Guinness drinking experience).

Guinness Gravity Bar

My favorite floor by far was the third floor, the “World of Advertising.” Guinness is known for its plethora of charming advertising campaigns and slogans. From John Gilroy’s zoo themed adverts and the famous whistling Guinness oyster to more modern TV adverts, the third floor is a trip through Guinness history characterized by wacky animal sculptures, stretching screens, and photo booths. The most amazing/ridiculous part though? An animatronic fish riding a bicycle alongside the Guinness ad slogan, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

Playing the Guinness harp

With its numerous restaurants, hands on activities, and captivating visuals, the Storehouse tour caters to all the senses, and we could’ve easily stayed in there all day. With the new expansion currently in the works, I image it will be an even more immersive experience in the near future. We came out around three hours after our tour's start time, draped in souvenirs and awed by all we had learned. I was most awed to learn that the state emblem of the Republic of Ireland is a wire-strung harp, but Guinness had made the same harp its emblem decades prior, so when the Republic of Ireland was creating its emblem they had to flip the image of their harp so as not to infringe on Guinness’ copyright. That’s how integral this company is. They literally had the emblem of Ireland before Ireland did. That being said, a trip to Dublin doesn't feel complete without a trip to the Guinness storehouse. It is a fun, educational, family-friendly experience that quite literally gives you the perfect taste of Ireland.

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Replies (2)

January 16, 2018 at 4:29 PM · This looks like a really wonderful attraction. I visited the Heineken Experience a few years ago in Amsterdam right after that facility got a big refurbishment. It's impressive how many corporate exhibits are taking cues from themed entertainment when designing/redesigning their operations. I'd absolutely visit the Guinness Storehouse if I ever get to Dublin, it looks like a lot of fun.
January 17, 2018 at 1:43 PM · We did the Carlsberg tour a few years ago in Copenhagen, Denmark, and they too have a very tailored experience that is similar to this. We've also done many brewery, distillery, and winery tours in the US and Canada. But let's be real here, all of the theming and storytelling can't top the prospect of free tasting at the end, and if the company can cash in on visitors buying some tchotchkes at the gift shop or buying some extra pours or snacks at a branded restaurant, that's even better.

A lot of food and beverage companies have slowly gone away from the individually guided plant/factory tour led by interns and low-level personnel to corporate brainwashing that these themed experiences achieve. Not only are they cheaper to operate, but they're more popular and consistent in a world where every company is trying to forge their individual brand identity. It also keeps the general public off the plant floor where they can divulge corporate secrets (we once went on a candy factory tour outside of Columbus, OH, and they explicitly prohibited us from taking photos of some of the products they were making because they weren't actually their candy - contracted to make specialty candy for a large candy company), or be exposed to safety hazards of an operating facility.

For some of the bigger companies, they even take these experiences on the road to major cities. I've done a number of Guinness, Johnny Walker, McClellan, The Glenlivet, and many other beer and spirits experiences that have been held in event spaces in my city (Washington DC). It's about as close as you can get to visiting the facility without buying a plane ticket, and the highly trained and uber knowledgeable "brand ambassadors" that host the events are often better than factory guides that live and work with the product every day. Best of all, these traveling brand events are usually free and include some type of take away in addition to plentiful samples and usually a cocktail hour prior to the actual event.

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