If other breweries want to compete with Guinness’s market dominance they need to accept this key fact: people actually like it.
Once you recognise the truth of it, you can ask another important question: why?
And the answers to that might be because:
…it’s less gassy than other beers.
… it feels different in your mouth to almost any other beer.
…it always tastes the same.
…even the dodgiest pub can’t ruin it.
…it’s a premium product that hasn’t gone up in price too much.
…it’s not Carling or Stella or Fosters or John Smith’s.
…it’s not that keg IPA from the big regional brewer you perhaps thought you liked in 2016.
…it’s the best option when the other choices are Harp or a ‘weird red ale’.
…it’s what you think grown-ups drink when you’re 19.
…it still, somehow, feels vaguely countercultural; a discerning choice.
…it’s what your parents or grandparents drank.
…it’s the most Irish thing you can get in most English pubs.
…‘stout’ has a proud round sound in your mouth.
…it’s cold out.
…the pub is covered in Guinness advertising and your mouth started watering.
…there’s a blackboard that says ‘Best Guinness in Bristol’ and how can you turn that down?
…they like the ceremony, the wait, the shamrock on top.
…it’s the only decent beer at the gig venue, wedding reception, rugby game, racetrack bar, and so on.
…it feels hefty but only has 4.2% ABV.
…they don’t care about beer industry politics.
…stouts from other breweries aren’t like Guinness.
…it’s a habit.
…being A Guinness Drinker is part of their identity.
…alcohol-free stout is better than alcohol-free anything else.
…it slips down easily.
…it makes a change.
…it was good in the 1970s.
…it feels substantial and filling.
…it’s good for you, isn’t it?
* * *
Five or six of the above are statements we happen to agree with ourselves.
Others we’ve heard in conversation, or were suggested when we asked about this on Mastodon and Twitter.
For more on the same subject see also:
- Katie Mather’s newsletter – “Saying you’ve never seen anyone buy a Guinness at the pub is like saying you’ve never seen a Labrador. Have you never been to a wake?”
- Ana Kinsella for Vittles – “The marketing works on me: when my friends and I are drinking Guinness, we will pause to watch its movements before we begin. ‘Beautiful,’ we might whisper.”
- This piece we wrote for All About Beer in 2016
13 replies on “Why do people like Guinness?”
Apart everything I said in my comment to your previous post, I never liked the nitrogen gambit, a product of modern brewing technology.
Yes we all rely on technology. That’s one too far. (The same applies to “beer gas” , for keg beer, which has a lower component of nitrogen, but it is more tolerable there).
Guinness was brilliant to mythologise this. Hence those who admire its “texture”, or how the pint forms its final shape, the two-part pour, the thick creamy head, etc.
Flash and froth to borrow an old Augustan expression.
I want the pre-nitrogen Guinness: real carbonation a la real ale or at least just forced CO 2, as in the non-widget bottled beers.
CO 2 in abundance is still the same gas beer generates on its own.
With my business hat on I admire Guinness. With my maven hat on I rarely give it a second glance. What the bright young things want today is interesting from the former, not latter viewpoints.
We’d love to see ‘old’ Guinness on sale too but it’s easy to see why they can’t be bothered. It would confuse the market, for one thing; and, for another, if it ain’t broke (from a commercial perspective) why fix it?
I remember my early encounters with Guinness back in the late 60’s and the the bitterness and roast barely being almost overwhelming for my young palate. It was, of course, pre Nitro (an abomination) and bottled Guinness was still bottle conditioned. I also recall it being a CAMRA recommended alternative to Cask Ale where none was available. The only decent Guinness now is FES.
Draught Guinness used to be known as ‘road tar’ wh Incidentally there was none of the ‘slow pour’ ritual when I started drinking in the early seventies and drinking it was as much an act of bravado amongst students. I did have a friend who claimed he could tell the difference between that brewed in London and that which was shipped across from Dublin to Manchester for packaging. When I first visited Ireland in 1980 the Guinness there was better (to me) than in GB and the difference I think was lack of pasteurisation in Ireland due to quicker sales. All this ‘slow pour’ and waiting ages for it to settle came in later, in GB at least, as a publicity gimmick.
I did find that if you took the top off a bottle, held your finger over the rim and then carefully (very important!) shook it, you got something a bit like Irish draught.
Sorry the first sentence above should end with “when I was a student in the early 70s”.
“…‘stout’ has a proud round sound in your mouth.”
Not sure this would the reason at all. I have seen people go up to a bar, look blankly at the word ‘Stout’ on various pump clips and ask, “Do you have something that is like Guinness?” In effect, it is a brand that has defined its own style to most beer drinkers.
It is a great example of product differentiation in action, and that’s why I would vote for “…it still, somehow, feels vaguely countercultural; a discerning choice.”
There is a great book to be written de-bunking all the mythology around, including the ‘Irishness’ of it.
You rarely see them if at all in the UK these days but Cork-brewed Murphy’s and Beamish are far superior stouts to Guinness.
Murphy’s for instance is slightly sweeter and nuttier than Guinness and imho has a much more complex taste.
Incidentally many years ago the London Evening Standard took a keg of UK-brewed Guinness to a pub in Dublin and reversed the process for a pub in London.
Drinkers in both pubs didn’t notice any difference.
As always how the beer was kept and poured made a huge difference.
In Ireland every pub now has its lines cleaned regularly by the breweries rather than the pub owners themselves in order to remove the discrepancy in quality of pints.
Theoretically this should make all pints the same but in practice they’re still not.
And that comes down to glassware.If the glass is old and well used, the quality of water in the glass washer ( the very best pubs rinse their glasses before they go in and never mix unwashed coffee cups/food plates etc ) and the use of a cold store room for kegs rather than trying to chill them down from room temperature in the bar all play a key role in quality of the stout.
Fwiw, in Bristol the Golden Lion near the Gloucestershire cricket ground serves a Guinness just as good as any you’d get in Ireland.
I understand the taunting of a brand/beer that is disliked by many ale and beer pro, but it is strange for me that ‘it tastes good’ is not even mentioned among the many reasons people drink Guinness.
But it does!
I have drank all other stouts during my trip in Ireland, they were all different, and all good.
No craft brewery, at least in Europe and the ones I have tasted (by now, quite many), brew something like this. Everybody does good strong porters, imperial stouts, but I have very rarely tasted an at least passing stout under 5%. And none as balanced as the traditional Irish breweries, Guinness very much included.
And the adverts are not even very well-known among general public here (Eastern Europe). So the few of us who drinks Guinness, drinks because it is GOOD. (And you cannot really find Beamish, Murphy’s or other kinds in shops or pubs).
I quite understand that it being so ‘legendary’ can be angering, and I have appreciated the many essays about how Guinness changed over the ages, on this blog and others.
But I think it wouldn’t hurt you to accept that many people really like Guinness, and not because they are gullible, like saying certain words, or because everything else on tap is bad.
We weren’t intending this to be a negative post, Andras, and plenty of the replies we got on Twitter were ‘Because of the taste.’ It just felt a bit redundant to include that because it’s like saying people like it because they like it!
I see, sorry for my (I hope well-behaved) mini-rant then. 🙂
I have never known Guinness to come out well in a blind tasting against comparable Irish stouts, even among test subjects who went in believing it tasted better than the others. I’ve yet to see any evidence that it actually does.
My own experience for years, not admittedly in Ireland but in UK frequently and here doing comparatives of similar fresh product.
But in a blind tasting, the stronger-flavoured beer (or other product) is likely to triumph over the blander one, which isn’t necessarily the case in everyday purchases. The fact that it doesn’t have a particularly challenging flavour is, in practice, a plus point for Guinness.