Guinness is good for you. That much we know. But there’s a lot more to know about the curious obsidian liquid from Saint James’s Gate. And hell, for a free swig, we’ll listen to anything. And so here we are, sitting over a pint of the stuff at McFadden’s downtown with Guinness brewmaster Feargal Murray. (Fresh off a plane, and conserving his energy for the Saint Paddy’s bacchanals to come, he orders a Coke.) Holding forth about the inimitable drink, now just three years shy of its 250th birthday, Murray says it’s bigger in America than ever.
Of course, in Hibernian strongholds like Boston and New York that’s no surprise. But Murray says Guinness is catching on big-time in unlikely locales like Atlanta and Nashville, too. It’s got an exoticism in cities like those that it simply doesn’t have here. Part of its success, Murray says, can be ascribed to the envelope-pushing (don’t say “Brilliant!”) ads Guinness has been unleashing on the States, with a self-consciously “more contemporary feel, rather than themed Irish.” In the old days, the ads would read guinness makes you strong. Nowadays, the brand strives to portray something different — not virility, but strength of character. “People who drink pints of Guinness,” Murray adds, “seem to know what they want.”
If you’ve ever visited Ireland, you may have noticed that the black stuff isn’t all that popular with the young bar-goers there, who often tend to gravitate toward American macro lagers and alcopops. It’s a function, Murray says, of the fact that “in Ireland, people are immersed in Guinness, it’s not unique enough.” The beer is so synonymous with the country — so omnipresent in its pubs, its advertising, its culture — that it makes sense for young tipplers to rebel against it. In Ireland, Guinness has tried to woo back the youth demo with cheeky ads and gimmicky changes to its presentation like “Guinness Cold,” which is, uh, colder than the regular stuff. I ask Murray if he’s ever feared losing a whole generation of Irish drinkers. Nah. “They all get it eventually,” he says.
And Guinness is in good health. Murray oversees a gargantuan brewing operation that churns out three million pints a day, including the nitro draught you’d find at any of the gazillion Irish pubs in this city, and also Guinness Extra Stout, the carbonated bottled stuff, with a bigger bite, more hop presence, and slightly higher ABV. That one, says Murray, somewhat surprisingly, is the “biggest product we have” — huge in Africa and the West Indies, and in American cities, like Miami, with big immigrant populations.
Before polishing off my pint, I ask Murray a question. There’s a band from Boston, I say, the Dropkick Murphys. They’ve got a song, a collaboration with Pogues dipso Shane MacGowan, called “Good Rats.”It’s about some Dublin vermin with a powerful thirst.
The rats were in a tizzy, addicted to the bone!
The hairy lugs were giddy, they were never going home.
Like a bunch of drunken pirates prepared to walk the plank they drank,
They sang, they took a plunge, and in the beer they sank!