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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Guinness

Can you drink so much of it they give you a record? Is the shamrock really necessary? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Guinness! What makes it so goddamn special? How did Sir Alec do Lisa dirty? Let’s pour a delicious pint of truth with a creamy head of Guinness myths and facts!

Lie #1: It’s Just a Beer

Guinness holds a different status to any other beer. While others are referred to by the type of beer they are — lagers, pilsners, IPAs and so on — Guinness is often just Guinness. It’s a dry stout, and plenty of others are available, like Beamish, Murphys and a bunch of smaller-brewery ones. If it’s a stout and doesn’t have some sort of wacky extra ingredient like milk, chocolate, oatmeal or oysters in its name, it’s probably a dry stout.

But there’s something about Guinness — the Irishness, the iconic ads, the compelling jet-blackness — that makes it that much more than just a beer among many. It’s a commercial product like any other, owned by the huge drinks conglomerate Diageo, but there’s a romanticism there. Waxing poetic about the joys of a pint of Guinness is somehow a lot more interesting than some fucking guy going on about how much he loves Coors Light. That excellent picture of Obama enjoying a pint and giving a thumbs up wouldn’t be as anywhere as iconic if it was a shit-ass Budweiser. There’s a gravitas to its opacity, perhaps. 

Science loves Guinness, too. From Osaka University’s studies of Guinness’ “bubble cascade,” to Stanford and Edinburgh’s joint venture into froth analysis, to the American Physical Society’s quest to understand “bubble nucleation,” to the University of Limerick’s studies of its “Gaussian processes,” to Oxford’s study of the surger unit, to this 2020 paper offering up (according to Google Translate) a numerical analysis of rolling wave trains in Guinness, scientists don’t seem to be able to get enough of it. 

Professor William Lee of Huddersfield University in the U.K. has somehow become one of science’s go-to guys when it comes to a pint of the black stuff. “Visually, Guinness is so appealing because of the contrast between the black beer and the white bubbles, which make it easy to see strange phenomena such as the famous sinking bubbles,” he says. “Scientifically, it’s interesting as an example of a class of phenomena called two-phase flows (e.g., liquid beer and gas bubbles), where you can see what’s going on just by looking at your glass. Two-phase flow occurs in all sorts of other contexts such as industrial and geophysical processes. However, from a scientific point-of-view, there isn’t much difference between Guinness and other stout beers. So as long as there is a high proportion of nitrogen by pressure in the gas mix, you should see similar phenomena.”

Lie #2: “I’m Gonna Drink So Much Guinness I’ll End Up in the Guinness Book of Records for Drinking the Most Guinness!”

If only! IF ONLY! Guinness World Records decided back in the early 1990s to retire records based around drinking, as well as those based around things like dudes going, “I am going to become notable by eating this van.” Today, their website prohibits “any record involving the consumption of alcohol as part of drinking contests, binge drinking or speed drinking.” Records involving smoking a lot are also prohibited, as are those that involve eating huge amounts over long periods of time — something like eating as many burgers as you can in 10 minutes is fine, but eating really poorly every day for 35 years isn’t seen as worth celebrating. 

Lie #3: Hey, Cool, a Shamrock in the Top!

A pint of Guinness doesn’t ever need a shamrock poured into the top of the foam. It’s an Irish drink, famous for being Irish, and it’s made in Ireland and forever associated with Ireland, Irishness and the Irish. It has a harp as a logo — an Irish harp, like on the Irish coat of arms, from Ireland — and a bunch of its promotional materials mention Ireland on them, or Dublin, the capital of Ireland. It’s drunk by Irish people in Irish pubs. It’s pressed into the hands of distinguished visitors to the country for photo ops, even if it’s 10 a.m. (the Queen has turned down a breakfast pint or two in her time), as a pint of Guinness is seen as so intrinsic to being in Ireland. It’s very, very Irish, and really doesn’t need to have extra Irishness carved into its head in the form of a shamrock — once you’re etching flora into froth you’re in the realm of big comedy top hats with ginger wigs stitched into them, real culture-as-funny-costume territory. It’s not a drink at that point, it’s a skit.

Lie #4: “We Take Proper Names and Rearrange the Letters to Form a Description of That Person.” “Like, er, Alec Guinness.” “Genuine Class.” “Ho Ho, Very Good. Alright Lisa, Jeremy Irons.”

God damn it, Season Six, Episode Two of The Simpsons. There aren’t any GODDAMN anagrams of Jeremy Irons that aren’t terrible. Professor Taylor — the father of Lisa’s rival Allison — is a piece of shit, giving an eight-year-old girl an impossible puzzle then treating her like a dumbass (“Here is a ball, perhaps you’d like to bounce it”) when she can’t do it. Fuck Professor Taylor. 

There are all kinds of good anagrams of Alec Guinness — look at that selection of letters: Two Es, two Ns, two Ss, all of ING, it’s glorious. You can come up with one for him whether you think he’s great, awful or anything in between. “Acne Ugliness”? “Clan Genius”? “I Cleanse Gnus”? If he was reading this article and finding out what beer all his friends liked, he could be “Ale Censusing.” 

Jeremy Irons, on the other hand, is tricky to anagram (or discuss gay marriage with). “Jersey Minor” would be great if Jeremy Irons was the guy who played nu-metal-loving A.J in The Sopranos, but he’s an elderly British man. About the closest you can get is going, well, he did a great job playing an angry lion in The Lion King, so he could go by “Mr Enjoys Ire.” But, frankly, that’s totally crap! 

Lie #5: This Is Delicious, It’s Like Being in a Pub in Ireland!

Not quite, buddy. According to a 2011 paper published in the Journal of Food Science, for which four researchers from four different countries of origin drank 103 pints of Guinness in 33 cities across 14 countries, the Irish stuff is the best.

Read that again. That’s a scientific paper published in a proper reputable journal. You can pretty much hear the high-fives involved in the planning of it. Obviously, this particular paper is unlikely to have been the primary focus of any of the scientists involved — odds are it was a fun project they came up with when realizing they had a year of extensive travel ahead of them, a goofy side project that would have been a blog if they weren’t scientists. But still.

Every pint was given a score from 1 to 100, and the average of the pints drunk in Ireland was 74, while those elsewhere averaged out at just 57. And it wasn’t just that they expected more from Guinness in its native country — according to the paper, “this difference remained statistically significant after adjusting for researcher, pub ambience, Guinness appearance and the sensory measures mouthfeel, flavor and aftertaste.”

Well done, scientists. Now cure some fuckin’ diseases, you punks!