Sláinte! 15 Facts About Guinness Beer

iStock.com/Nagalski
iStock.com/Nagalski

Under the guidance of Arthur Guinness and his heirs, Guinness has been brewing pints of its famous stout in Dublin since the mid 18th century. Pour yourself a glass of the black stuff (which actually isn't black at all) and read on for more facts about the legendary brewery.

1. The company originally leased its Dublin brewery for 9000 years.

Arthur Guinness began his beer business in 1759 by renting an unused, four-acre brewery at St. James’s Gate in Dublin for the next 9000 years. He paid an initial £100 and locked in annual rent at £45. However, the original lease was voided when the company bought the property and the brewing operations expanded to 50 acres.

2. The lease included free access to a water supply.

And the owner was very protective of that privilege. In fact, the one time local authorities tried to make Arthur Guinness pay for his water, he is said to have grabbed a pick-axe from one of the sheriff’s men [PDF] and swore at them until they left.

3. There was once an ale as well.

Guinness started his beer company by brewing two beers: a porter and an ale. However, the Dublin Ale was dropped from production in 1799 so brewers could focus producing more on the increasingly popular stout.

4. It takes 119.5 seconds to pour the perfect pint of Guinness.

A bartender pours several pints of Guinness
iStock.com/VanderWolf-Images

There are six official steps [PDF] to pouring a pint of Guinness, including waiting nearly two minutes for the beer to settle between the first and second pour.

5. The beer's official color is ruby red.

It’s easier to see the slight tint that comes from the roasted barley if you hold the pint up to the light.

6. Guinness is brewed in 49 countries around the world.

In addition to Ireland, Guinness also owns breweries in Malaysia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon. The beer is brewed in a total of 49 countries and served in more than 150. All of the ingredients are sourced locally, except for one: the Guinness extract, a secret mixture that is added to a Guinness brewed anywhere in the world.

7. Ireland isn't the biggest consumer of Guinness.

The country ranks third on the list of places where residents tip back the most Guinness annually, after Britain and Nigeria. Every day, 10 million glasses of Guinness are consumed around the world.

8. The bubbles in a pint of Guinness sink because of the shape of the glass.


When a Guinness is poured, the beer flows downward along the side of the glass, dragging bubbles along with it which then move upward through the middle and form the creamy head. This circulatory pattern is created by the fact that pint glasses are wider at the top than at the bottom giving the bubbles more space to rise from the middle as opposed to from the side.

9. Guinness was one of the first companies to offer employee benefits.

Employees who punched the clock at the company in 1928, just one year before the Great Depression, were entitled to on-site medical and dental care—and two free pints after every shift. Guinness also consistently paid its employees 20 percent more than other brewers and gave them full pensions.

10. The Guinness Harp was one of the first trademarks in the U.K.

The harp, along with Arthur Guinness’s signature, made its first appearance on a Guinness beer label in 1862 and was officially registered in the trademark office in 1876. The harp is a nod to the beer’s Irish roots. The same instrument appears on Ireland’s coat of arms.

11. The patent office noticed the similarities between the two harps.

The Storehouse at Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Ireland
iStock.com/powerofforever

The government ran into issues when trying to register the harp as a state symbol under international trademark law because the symbol and the Guinness label were so similar. Eventually, the state and the brewery were able to reach a compromise: the harp on a bottle of Guinness would always face right, while in official use, the harp would always be left-facing.

12. Guinness promised every British soldier a pint of beer on Christmas Day during WWII.

Guinness made the statement before realizing that much of the company's work force was also serving abroad at the time. When the company discovered they needed more workers in order to brew enough beer, retirees showed up at the plant to help out. With the help from veterans and workers from other brewing companies, Guinness was able to stay true to its word.

13. The first Guinness Book of World Records was published to help settle pub arguments.

After a particularly unfruitful hunting trip, Hugh Beaver, the managing director of Guinness, mentioned that the bird he and friends had been hunting—the golden plover—must be the fastest bird in the world. When Beaver was unable to locate a reference book that could back his claim, he decided to create one. He stamped the Guinness name on the cover and handed the book out for free to pubs to help customers settle the debates and bets that happen so frequently after a pint.

14. It has been consumed underwater.

As part of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of Arthur Guinness signing the lease on the St. James’s Gate brewery, the company held a contest that promised the winners would get to drink a Guinness like never before. A submarine bar was commissioned in 2009 and three years later, the winners went under the Baltic Sea in Stockholm to enjoy their pints.

15. Guinness created its own superhero in Africa.

As part of an advertising campaign, Guinness created a full-length action movie called Critical Assignment that was shown in cinemas across Africa. The story follows the strong journalist Michael Power as he tries to stop a corrupt politician from buying weapons with stolen money. Power gets all his strength from drinking—you guessed it—Guinness.

This Innovative Cutting Board Takes the Mess Out of Meal Prep

There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
TidyBoard, Kickstarter

Transferring food from the cutting board to the bowl—or scraps to the compost bin—can get a little messy, especially if you’re dealing with something that has a tendency to roll off the board, spill juice everywhere, or both (looking at you, cherry tomatoes).

The TidyBoard, available on Kickstarter, is a cutting board with attached containers that you can sweep your ingredients right into, taking the mess out of meal prep and saving you some counter space in the process. The board itself is 15 inches by 20 inches, and the container that fits in its empty slot is 14 inches long, 5.75 inches wide, and more than 4 inches deep. Two smaller containers fit inside the large one, making it easy to separate your ingredients.

Though the 4-pound board hangs off the edge of your counter, good old-fashioned physics will keep it from tipping off—as long as whatever you’re piling into the containers doesn’t exceed 9 pounds. It also comes with a second set of containers that work as strainers, so you can position the TidyBoard over the edge of your sink and drain excess water or juice from your ingredients as you go.

You can store food in the smaller containers, which have matching lids; and since they’re all made of BPA-free silicone, feel free to pop them in the microwave. (Remove the small stopper on top of the lid first for a built-in steaming hole.)

tidyboard storage containers
They also come in gray, if teal isn't your thing.
TidyBoard

Not only does the bamboo-made TidyBoard repel bacteria, it also won’t dull your knives or let strong odors seep into it. In short, it’s an opportunity to make cutting, cleaning, storing, and eating all easier, neater, and more efficient. Prices start at $79, and it’s expected to ship by October 2020—you can find out more details and order yours on Kickstarter.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

How Gene Editing is Changing the Future of Wine—and Making it Less Likely to Give You a Hangover

Gene editing techniques like CRISPR are upending thousands of years of wine-making tradition.
Gene editing techniques like CRISPR are upending thousands of years of wine-making tradition.
Massimo Santi/iStock via Getty Images

In the 19th century, a microscopic pest almost brought the entire French wine industry to a halt. Phylloxera, a tiny louse that feeds on plant roots, made its way from North America to France in the 1850s, spreading from one vineyard to another until it had infected the whole country. What became known as the Great Wine Blight killed 915,000 acres of vineyards, damaged 620,000 acres, and cost the French economy 10 billion francs (almost $108 billion today).

In 1870, a solution emerged—though French vintners weren't happy with it. Charles Valentine Riley, an entomologist from Missouri, showed that by grafting phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks onto European grape vines, the disease could successfully be prevented from spreading. But European cultivators felt that grafting would destroy the purity of the wines, impacting their taste and flavor.

Winemaking is an industry steeped in tradition. While enthusiasts typically consider this a good thing, the phylloxera crisis is a historic example of how its inability to adapt almost led to the industry’s complete collapse. Long-standing ideals for wine purity and taste persist today, leaving vineyards vulnerable to new pests—but now, some scientists are applying 21st-century gene-editing techniques to this old problem.

Wine's Ancient Origins, Today

According to a study conducted in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wine grapes were first domesticated around 8000 years ago. Since then, the 10 or so most popular grape variants have undergone little to no evolution.

Evolution occurs in the form of change to an organism’s DNA. The change is a result of genetic mutations and interbreeding that occur over several thousand years. While most cultivable crops, like wheat for example, have undergone countless evolutionary changes since being first domesticated in the earliest years of human history, the most popular wine grapes have remained mostly the same from a genetic perspective.

“There are 20,000 varieties listed in the Vitis International Variety Catalogue, so there is a lot of genetic diversity,” Timothy Martinson, a viticulture specialist for the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, tells Mental Floss. But, he adds, European wine grape variants such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon are all descendants of the same species, Vitis vinifera. They are also very closely related to each other genetically. This makes them susceptible to a long list of pathogens, especially those originating in North America.

The Problem with Hybrids

Pinot noir grapes and vines
Pinot noir grapes are among the least genetically diverse.
photohomepage/iStock via Getty Images

The easiest solution to this problem is to add disease resistance to these varieties by crossbreeding with more resistant varieties from America, but even that presents its own challenges. “Grape breeding is much more time-consuming and expensive than breeding annual crops like corn or wheat,” Martinson explains. “From seed to mature vine takes three years, and a lot more field space and care than an annual crop.”

Moreover, European cultivators haven’t generally been amenable to the idea of interbreeding, and there is a reason behind that too. In the 1870s, before grafting took root as the primary solution to the phylloxera crisis, a lot of winemakers had already started crossing European vines with North American ones. The efforts worked, and eventually, France had a little less than a million acres of land dedicated to these hybrid wine grapes.

But there was a problem. In the absence of advanced technology, grape breeders were forced to rely on an expensive trial-and-error method that yielded poor-quality produce. The cultivators soon realized that the hybrid wines weren’t nearly as good as the purebred ones. Eventually, the French government introduced legislation to strategically discourage the cultivation of hybrid wines and winemakers went back to growing only purebred varieties through grafting. Since then, French-American hybrids have been looked down upon by vintners and wine enthusiasts alike.

Because the crops took so long to mature, it was already too late by the time they realized the wines were below par. That all changes with genetic sequencing.

Sequencing For Success

By taking out a small leaf sample from any grape vine, plant biologists can now figure out the exact sequence of genes contained within its cells’ DNA, which allows them to develop genetic maps and chart out the various pathways for breeding.

“Before inexpensive DNA sequencing,” Martinson says, “breeders were basically using trial and error ... now with DNA markers, breeders can test seedlings and discard the ones that don’t have the appropriate DNA markers early in the process. This makes selection more efficient and fills the ‘pipeline’ with better material.”

Martinson is part of the VitisGen Project, a collaborative initiative aimed at developing better quality wine through genetic sequencing and breeding. The project’s current focus is disease resistance, especially resistance to a widespread fungal disease called powdery mildew. The idea is to reduce the need for pesticides by helping the vines develop an internal resistance to the fungi.

Martinson and his colleagues accomplish this by identifying new genetic markers—DNA snippets that can be linked to specific characteristics, such as resistance to a certain disease—within the plant’s cells.

The progress has been good, but there is one hurdle—wine fans may not be familiar with the new varietal names. When two different wine types are interbred, the resulting plant needs to be called something different. “Consumers want Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon—and new varieties, regardless of how high quality the resulting wines are, will be named something different," Martinson says. For example, UC Davis has released five new varieties, including a red named paseante noir. "Even if it is widely planted and marketed, it will be a long time before consumers go to a wine store and ask for it by name."

Cutting-Edge Wine with CRISPR

Dusty wine bottles in a rack
Old wines are getting a genetic facelift.
porpeller/iStock via Getty Images

There’s a possible solution to that problem, too—gene-editing. The process has been described as a find-and-replace feature similar to that in word-processing software. CRISPR, the most promising gene-editing technology currently available, involves injecting an organism, be it a human or a grapevine, with a chemical containing millions of tiny particles. Each particle consists of a guide molecule to point it in the right direction, an enzyme to edit and remove the target DNA, and a snippet of healthy DNA to replace the DNA that was just removed. 

Introducing a new gene into an existing grape merely changes its traits while the variety of wine remains the same. This process can greatly assist marketing efforts in an industry where sales are mainly dependent on variety, even more so than quality. Given the industry’s devotion to tradition, it can also make the idea of genetic modification an easier sell to vintners and cultivators.

Gene editing technology has already shown a lot of promise in a number of isolated studies involving wine grapes. In the most recent example, Rutgers University researchers successfully used the CRISPR/Cas9 technique in 2019 to develop downy mildew resistance in Chardonnay. They isolated three genes that invite downy mildew outbreaks in wine grapes and successfully edited them to create a disease-resistant version of the crop.

Earlier efforts have also borne fruit. In 2015, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign used CRISPR/Cas9 to genetically modify the yeast used to ferment wine. By doing so, they increased the amount of resveratrol, a component found in wine, that was produced during the fermentation process. The wine didn’t even cause a hangover.

The wine industry's interest in breeding techniques and gene editing stems from its over-reliance on pesticides, which has become a safety concern for consumers. Martinson has written about a case in Bordeaux from 2014 in which 23 students became seriously ill after inhaling pesticides being sprayed in a nearby vineyard.

Since then, governments have progressively loosened legislation to encourage vintners to look for more innovative methods to curb disease resistance instead of relying on pesticides. Martinson says he’s optimistic: The general attitude towards genetic modification seems to be opening up, and people are finally catching on to the consequences of a winemaking tradition so frozen in time.