Root + Bone get inspired at Guinness. The air was rich with the smell of barley roasting in huge roasters. The expressions on my companions’ faces mirrored how I felt. We were in a very special place. We were behind the high walls and deep inside the rustic Roast House of the Guinness Brewery.
The Guinness Brewery at St. James’s Gate, Dublin sits just outside the old walls of the Viking city. This was an area once rife with breweries. Arthur Guinness established his brewery here in 1759, signing a 9,000-year lease for four acres of land. This man’s negotiating skills were equal only to his forward planning.
The brewery has now grown to approximately 50 acres on the same site but Guinness now owns the land. I guess 9,000 years of Dublin rent reviews are not something that you want to gamble with.
Each year 1.2 million tourists from around the world visit the Guinness Storehouse to explore its history and get a greater understanding of their favourite Irish beer. Growing up in Dublin, I have been to the Guinness Storehouse on many occasions, each time trying to capture a glimpse over the high walls or through an open gate at the inner workings.
But this day was different; we were inside the Roast House, in our high-vis vests, steel-toed boots and safety goggles. We were on a personal tour of the brewery with Steve Kilcullen, Global Head of Quality, a man whose previous roles have included Master Brewer. Clearly a man who knows his stuff.
Guinness has been roasting on site for over 100 years, which is testament to their heritage and commitment to quality brewing. We were where the Guinness flavour begins and this is why we were here, to explore these flavours in more depth.
In September we’ll be hosting a BBQ in London inspired by Guinness. Today we had brought with us our favourite purveyor of fire, David Carter of Smokestak, who will be writing a special menu for this exclusive event.
David smelled the roasted barley before tasting it. This was our first taste of Guinness. I was hoping to have had a pint by now but that would have to wait. Steve handed me a small bag of roasted barley to take home. As I snatched it from his hand with enthusiasm I burst the bag and it poured slowly into the crevasses of my camera bag. There goes my chance to homebrew Guinness…
Guinness is the largest corporate archive open to the public in Ireland. Their archivist took us on a journey through the 257 years of Guinness, from the famous indentured lease signed by Arthur Guinness in 1759, to the recipe book dating from 1801 to 1803 with the brew notes for Guinness West Indies Porter reintroduced in 2014. We cursed keyboards for ruining our handwriting when we looked at this legal masterpiece.
We were also able to see one of the earliest advertisements that showed a food pairing with Guinness – Guinness with oysters, a relationship that’s blossomed ever since. David had a chance to study some recipes that contain Guinness as an ingredient, from the popular Guinness stew cooked in every Irish home to the less familiar Guinness Marmite.
Underneath the brewery site are tunnels that stretch hundreds of metres. One is a rail tunnel that carries ingredients, the second carries steam and the third is a passageway for people. The passenger tunnel was constructed in 1895 and runs parallel to the earlier railway tunnel. James Henry Greathead, an engineer renowned for his work on the London Underground, undertook the excavations for the tunnel. Steve led us down a tiled stairwell that resembled a tube station and for a moment we forgot where we were. The tunnel is a straight line under the brewery and it was a good minute before we popped up on the other side of Dublin’s busy Thomas Street, with Guinness’ new Brewhouse 4 standing before us in all its glory.
It’s a giant, containing one of the biggest brewing vessels in the world. Inside the main doors we washed our hands thoroughly like we were about to step into surgery. We looked for a door and turned to Steve, who smiled. I still don’t know what button he pressed but suddenly a section of the wall swung open, and the brewhouse was revealed to us like a magician presenting the card you had chosen. We were in the future. It was beautiful.
We had been awake since 3am to catch our flight. My enthusiasm to drink beer had got me out of bed, but was sucked dry by airport security who made me remove every item from my camera bag to be scanned individually. David, on the other hand, had given them some real work when he forgot to remove the 20-inch Japanese kitchen knife from his carry-on bag. The lady on x-ray duty had a minor heart attack when the blade filled her screen, but she calmed down when he explained he was a chef, and hadn’t finished work til 1.30am. The security team figured the lack of sleep was a good excuse for this oversight – just so long as he put it into checked luggage post haste. I was looking forward to them picking out the roasted barley grains from my camera bag on the way back…
Steve gave us a taste of the wort. This is the black, sugary, delicious liquid made from mashing in the roasted barley with malted barley in the mash tun. There’s no surprise then that this sugary liquid is referred to as brewers’ breakfast. We all had a taste. It was a sugary hit and brought us back to life. We were now more than ready to drink some beer.
A short walk from Brewhouse 4 is The Open Gate Brewery, a new experience for Guinness enthusiasts and one I’ve been meaning to visit since it opened late last year. This is home to Guinness’ smaller experimental innovation brewery where brewers can try new recipes. The microbrewery itself has been here for 100 years in different forms, but this is the first time that the resulting beers have been available to the public. “We have the freedom to experiment, and make mistakes, when we’re happy we scale it up,” explained brewer Aisling Ryan, who was showing us around. Impressive. Sounds just like our editorial policy at Root + Bone.
On Thursdays and Fridays anyone can book a place at The Open Gate Brewery bar and try what the brewers have been experimenting with that month. But this was a Tuesday and we had Aisling. There is a 100-litre kit with plenty of fermenters for test brews. If a recipe makes the cut it moves to the 10 hectolitre kit and then onto the taps at The Open Gate Brewery.
We had the place to ourselves and took a stool at the bar, at which point the founders of this magazine and Smokstak’s David Carter came into their own. Beer Specialists Padraig and Alan were on hand to take our palates on an adventure. Of course we started the proceedings with Guinness Draught but moved into uncharted territory with flights of Milk Stout, Rye Pale Ale, Nitro IPA, Damson Sour and an Antwerpen Guinness, which is a collaboration between Guinness and a traditional Belgium brewery. It’s a beauty and sits at 8% ABV. If you get the opportunity, be sure to treat yourself. David took notes on all the beers and we brainstormed with Alan on tasting notes, flavour profiles and possible pairings for our BBQ in London while satisfying our thirst. Steel-toed safety boots are remarkably heavy and build up a mighty thirst. We drank responsibly.
On our way back to the airport we stopped for a pint of Guinness at one of my favourite pubs in the world, The Gravediggers in Glasnevin. This pub has been in the Kavanagh family for 12 generations and pours one of the finest pints of Guinness you can find. We raised our glasses to Arthur Guinness and thanked him for the blessed day we had. It was time to leave the Emerald Isle but not before signing The Gravediggers guest book.
Follow us on Instagram @rootandbone for more images from this feature, and an inside look into our upcoming @Guinness inspired BBQ in collaboration with @SmokestakUK.
The Guinness Open Gate Brewery
David will be opening his first bricks and mortar restaurant this autumn in London.
Smokestak, 11 Sclater St, E1 6HZ.