Damn straight Guinness is good for you

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Guinness brewery in Dublin, summer of 1985.

One of the beer world’s most famous advertising slogans is “Guinness is good for you,” which dates to the 1920s and is credited to Dorothy Sayers.

Although certain medical studies credit the positive effects of antioxidants in Stout, it has become taboo in Ireland to make claims of health benefits deriving from alcoholic beverages, and so we’re to surmise that the goodness of Guinness is grandfathered in. After all, “goodness” in the sense of emotional well-being cannot be measured by medical instruments.

“Timelessness” also resists calibration. However, you damn well know it when you feel it.

At some point during the approaching summer of 2023, it will have been 31 years since the first keg of Guinness was tapped at the Public House formerly known as Rich O’s (today known as the New Albanian Pizzeria & Public House).

In point of fact, we were the first draft Guinness account in the history of Floyd County, Indiana. Shortly thereafter, Carlsberg Lager was added (to be followed by Pilsner Urquell) and still later, the rotating “middle tap” debuted with the long defunct Oldenberg’s Outrageous Bock. With this addition, the first keg box was complete, and everything the Public House was meant to be followed in the wake of that historic Guinness.

Three decades later only the old-timers remember what those primitive times were like. There were plenty of taverns, but very few different types of beer. Choice was defined as different brands of the same insipid low-calorie “light” golden lager, with maybe a stray Bass Pale Ale or Watney’s Red Barrel in bottles for the beer snobs.

In the early 1990s, we’d make lists of places where “better” beer was available, comprising the entire Louisville metro area, and the total number of establishments might top out at a dozen. Usually it was fewer than ten.

Back then, better beer tended to be imported, because the revival of American brewing was only just beginning to penetrate the region. There was the Silo, and then Bluegrass Brewing Company. Years later Cumberland Brews arrives. I looked forward to periodic visits to pubs like the Irish Rover, not so much for the Guinness, but because Fuller’s ESB was always on tap.

It’s obviously quite different now. There are a few hundred breweries in Indiana and Kentucky alone, with numerous other American and imported brands available on draft and in a bewildering variety of packages. It has become difficult to find a bar, restaurant, barber shop or Hallmark store that doesn’t carry a selection of canned IPAs.

Beer choice has won out. I’d never seriously suggest that the 1990s were somehow preferable. Certainly it’s always better to have more choices, rather than fewer. At the same time, kaleidoscopes aren’t everyone’s idea of a viable default. Expanded choice and short attention spans have produced a condition akin to beervertigo. How does one choose one or two nice, pleasing beers from a list of 125? No matter how the list is organized, or the extent of one’s personal knowledge of beer charted, the experience can be schizophrenic.

The revolutionaries won, and consumers have demanded greater choice in beer. Now they have it. Constant rotation of draft beer options seems ideally suited to meet this demand, and it has become the norm. Taken together with other societal trends, the effects can be disconcerting. The electronic communications revolution has changed the way we think. Food and drink is categorized, segmented and branded as never before, in part because doing so enables monetization in an era of hyper-capitalism.

But orthodoxies always engender reaction. As a contrarian to the core, my own reaction is to enjoy a lovely pint of Guinness whenever possible. Guinness is good for me.

The Guinness Storehouse tells the story of the brewery since 1759, when founder Arthur Guinness “signed a lease for the St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin. He leased the brewery for 9000 years at an annual rent of £45.”

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) includes Guinness Draught in its style category 15B, Irish Stout.

Overall Impression: A black beer with a pronounced roasted flavor, often similar to coffee. The balance can range from fairly even to quite bitter, with the more balanced versions having a little malty sweetness and the bitter versions being quite dry. Draught versions typically are creamy from a nitro pour, but bottled versions will not have this dispense-derived character. The roasted flavor can range from dry and coffee-like to somewhat chocolaty.

In today’s fractured beer world, draught Guinness will strike many as far too simple a beverage, absent the many bells and whistles seemingly necessary to draw attention to thousands of limited-release seasonals (and guarantee prime placement on “look what I’m drinking” social media feeds), but to me the elemental, low-gravity, human-friendly essence of Guinness is the entire point.

It’s a fundamental beer precept, like teaching kids the alphabet before we turn them loose on novels by Thomas Pynchon.

I like lots of stouts in their varying interpretations — milk to imperial, tropical and extra, barrel-aged or oatmeal. Yet there remains something about Guinness via the nitro pour that is distinctive and dependable, admittedly less exotic than it was thirty years ago, but laden with the beer equivalent of umami, and still capable of eliciting great joy.

And if your beer doesn’t make you joyful, why bother drinking beer in the first place?