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Guinness: The 250 Year Quest for the Perfect Pint    by Bill Yenne order for
by Bill Yenne
Order:  USA  Can
John Wiley & Sons, 2007 (2007)

Read an Excerpt

* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I grew up in Ireland, hearing the advertising slogan 'Guinness is good for you' often. So - even though I have to admit that stout is not to my taste - I was intrigued to read about the lineage of my grandfather's favorite beverage (he was fortunate in being able to gulp it down to the end, as his hospital geriatric ward served elderly male patients a pint a day - it seemed terribly unfair to me that the old women didn't get any!)

In Guinness, after musing on the brand's claim to be the world's greatest beer and explaining what a Guinness Stout actually is - and the ritual of pouring this 'black magic' to get the surge to a perfect froth on top - Bill Yenne goes back to pre-history and traces the development of the Guinness brewing business - in Ireland with tentacles spreading around the world - and of the family dynasty that was begun by Arthur Guinness, Brewer in the mid 1700s. Its members played significant roles in Irish society through the centuries.

Though the historical detail on individuals was a bit more than I was interested in, there's a great deal here that intrigues, starting from the fact that, despite being one of the gentry, Arthur Guinness 'would become an outspoken advocate of the rights of the Catholic majority underclass.' I learned that Guinness was served to British troops overseas from the Napoleonic War on through the World Wars. The company outsourced beer bottling until the second half of the twentieth century. And they sent agents called travellers around the world doing quality control - a nice job if you can get it!

Another section I especially enjoyed discusses the role of advertising campaigns in the brewing business, from the slogan I mentioned at the beginning (which clearly dates me) to ads featuring an ostrich and the popular toucan. Mystery writer Dorothy Sayers, who also worked for an ad agency, came up with this punny jingle: 'If he can say as you can / Guinness is good for you / How grand to be a Toucan / Just think what Toucan do.' Feedback from the Bottledrop (Guinness messages released to sea in a huge number of bottles) campaign was also fun to read about, and who wouldn't love to Win Your Own Pub in a more recent contest?

I never thought when I drank that first Guinness - at my grandpa's instistence in a Belfast pub - that so much history bubbled through the thick, dark liquid. Whether or not you enjoy sipping a stout, I recommend reading about 'The 250 Year Quest for the Perfect Pint' to anyone interested in beer and/or Irish history.

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