His name is so merged with his product that we often forget it was a person’s name before it was a stout. His signature is right there on the logo, but what do we know about him? The name Guinness is as closely associated with Ireland as the name Patrick. But before there was Guinness the beer, there was Arthur Guinness the man. Who was he? And how did he develop a beer that became so iconic?
The Guinness story began with Arthur’s birth on September 28, 1725… or perhaps on September 24, depending on who you ask. Arthur was born near Celbridge, County Kildare to Richard and Elizabeth Guinness, who are described by various sources as ‘aristocrats’ and ‘servants’. But there is a logical explanation for that. Richard Guinness was a land steward. He managed the lands of Dr. Arthur Price, Church of Ireland archbishop of Cashel. While he was technically a servant, i.e. an employee, his position was prestigious. One of his duties was to oversee the brewing of beer for the estate’s workers. No doubt young Arthur tagged along and was intrigued by this alchemy.
In addition to being Richard’s employer, Price was Arthur’s godfather. Upon his death in 1752, he left £100 each to Richard and Arthur Guinness. Arthur was in his thirties at the time, and it hardly needs to be said that he had a good head for business and for beer. He quickly invested his inheritance in a small brewery in Leixlip, County Kildare. Once that was established, he put his younger brother in charge of it and turned his ambition to Dublin.
St. James’s Gate and the Very Shrewd Lease
On December 1st, 1759, Arthur joined the Dublin Brewers and Maltesers Corporation. (It took him less than a decade to rise to the role of Master of the Corporation.) Arthur found a disused brewery on a four acre site on the River Liffey right in the city. On New Year’s Eve 1759, he signed a lease for 9,000 years. With one cooper, one tub, one mill and two malt houses, he founded an empire that would be welcomed around the world. Today, tourists flock to the site, which is now known as the Guinness Storehouse.
While Guinness started by brewing ale, but when porter came into fashion, the brewery quickly made a name for itself with its distinctive, rich stout. In 1799, Arthur decided to focus exclusively on brewing stout, and thus began their world domination. Guinness is the best-selling stout globally, and arguably the most iconic.
His September birthday means Arthur’s birthstone is the sapphire, which symbolizes wisdom, loyalty and nobility. That seems very fitting given his shrewd business sense.
He got an amazing lease on his brewery, paying £45 a year for 9,000 years, and he had the insight to seize the moment when porter stout caught on. Once he developed his signature stout, he stuck with it. He learned his craft from his father, and he passed it on to his own children. Customers are certainly loyal the brand!
No disrespect to other brands, but in Ireland, this one certainly is the reigning monarch of beers.