Empire Building

From the Brand Historian’s Timeline: 1759

Early on the morning of September 13th, 1759 a young British general is dying on the battlefield at the very moment of victory. He’s dying from a bullet hole in his chest, but now the French army which he has taken by surprise on the Plains of Abraham is on the run, and not just from Québec but across the whole of North America from the Saint Lawrence to Florida. 

In what has been called the first proper world war, but which is more familiarly known to us as The Seven Years War, 1759 is the annus mirabilis for Great Britain. Across five continents, by land and sea, the British and their allies have triumphed, and their blast of empire building will now transform the world. 

Back nearer home, another great chain of transformations is about to start. Arthur Guinness is just two years older than James Wolfe and both have been brought up in middle class Anglican households. Arthur’s godfather is an Archbishop, and he’s left him a legacy of £100 – no small sum in 1759. But whilst James Wolfe has met his date with destiny on the Saint Lawrence, Arthur Guinness has chosen the Liffey in Dublin, and taken the lease on an old brewery at Saint James’s Gate. He plans to build upon his father’s reputation for brewing good beer. 

It is at this stage that we have to put out of our minds, at least for the moment, the dark black beer with a thick creamy head that we think of when we think of the brand Guinness. We must also have no thought of its famous surge and long pour because in 1759, Arthur Guinness is actually brewing a classic Irish pale ale.

But Guinness has considerable ambition, and a good nose for opportunity. He’s picked Saint James’s gate because it’s close to the new Grand Canal which connects Dublin with the River Shannon and Limerick and will make his supply chain both efficient and economical. Shortly, he will further shake things up when he starts brewing an English style of beer called Porter which is brewed with darker malts. Porter is associated with the labourers who work the London markets and Stout Porter was a popular variant. By 1779, Arthur’s new brews were a success and from now on, he decides that Porter will be the only beer he will brew. By 1821, his beer is called Guinness Extra Stout and it was already selling well throughout the Empire.

Thanks to its founder’s vision, Guinness has always been a brand that celebrates transformations, and today it is one of the world’s biggest and most distinctive brands of beer. It also one of the most innovative, having launched the iconic Guinness Draught in 1959 (with the Nitrogen and CO2 mix), and Canned Guinness, powered by the widget in 1988. The Brand Historian played a small role in this last innovation and has many happy memories of meetings at Saint James’s Gate and Park Royal, eventually being awarded a small pewter trophy with the inscription For Stout Service. 

Today, the Guinness empire still stretches across the world, but it is interesting to list its top five markets by volume which are in order: UK, Nigeria, Ireland, USA and Cameroon. 

Who would have imagined this when Arthur Guinness pulled his first pint at the old Rainsford brewery in 1759, the Year of Marvels?

Music to enjoy your pint with:

Heart of Oak William Boyce and David Garrick

Or check out a poem at:

1 thought on “Empire Building

  1. Love the writing, especially the intro. I think it was a bit of an accident of history that the injection of nitrogen (which has nothing to do with brewing but everything to do with liquid engineering) worked so well with Guinness which had quite a burnt flavour because of the use of roasted (unmalted) barley in the grist. The insipid character of nitrogen, as opposed to the acidic/sharp CO2 which occurs naturally in the brewing process, balanced the sharpness of the roasted barley well. Nitrogen creates much smaller bubbles in liquid than Co2 hence the Guinness head. Inject water with nitrogen and it will pour like Guinness. eg nitrocoffee! Happy memories of signing my name on the top of a pint of draught guiness with a fountain pen in the early 70’s.
    Pure alchemy! They turned beer into gold. Clever eh! And they patented it too. Pure genius!

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