Once an industry of a few giants, the beer business has seen a rise in small so-called micro-brews over the past twenty years. Across Europe, Asia, and especially North America, thousands of small brewers have appeared, each with a distinct flavor to add to the always interesting potpourri of the world beer market. One of the old giants, however, has managed to stay on the minds and tongues of beer drinkers and beer aficionados the world over. That beer is Guinness Stout, and this is a short version of its long and storied history.
Guinness is not, as some claim, the original stout. The word “stout” was first applied to a strong dark porter-style beer in 1677, and it was not until 1759 that Arthur Guinness, the son of a middle-class land steward in County Kildare, Ireland, began brewing at all. It is, nonetheless, considered widely to be the “classic” among stouts. It was in that year, 1759, that Guinness made his now-famous lease of the St. James’ Gate Brewery. He leased the old closed-down brewery for 35 pounds per year, for a lease of 9,000 years, obviously seeing the brewery as a long-term investment. In his lifetime Arthur fathered 21 children, a high number even for the time in which he lived.
The distinctiveness and success of Guinness is owed to its unique chemistry and other properties. Unlike most stouts, roasted barley is added for flavor but not fermented, and other processes, some secret to this day, are gone through to add a bitter taste to the otherwise smooth palate. Most casual beer drinkers would be surprised to learn that Guinness actually has fewer calories than the average dark beer, despite its reputation as a meal in a glass. Perhaps the most important chemical quality of a Guinness is the use of nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide in the carbonation process. This leads to much smaller bubbles in the beer, forming the trademark foam instead of individually visible bubbles.
Today, though it is still largely thought of as an Irish drink, Guinness is a truly global phenomenon. It is, surprisingly, one of the most popular beers in Africa, and Nigeria is one of the largest importers of Guinness. The company has taken advantage of this popularity to expand into other markets in Africa, even releasing a full-length action movie across the continent in 2003. In 2001, it was estimated that 2 billion pints of Guinness were served annually worldwide, and over a million in Great Britain alone. This makes it easily one of the most popular beers, and indeed the most popular branded foods, in the world.