The House Of Guinness

As Guinness Brand Ambassador, Domhnall Marnell potentially has the best job in the world — working with beer. We caught up with the Irish lad during his Australian visit to talk all things Guinness, their awesome new ale and his beer expertise…

How did you become involved with Guinness, Domhnall?
I started working for Guinness, just out of college in 2011, as a tour guide greeting visitors and guests and telling them stories about Guinness in the tourist attraction Guinness Storehouse. I fell in love with the brand, the people and I’ve loved it ever since. To be in such a small country with such a small population and having this global brand like Guinness, there’s a sense of pride.

Of course. Irish pride! So how did you become a beer expert?
As the years went on, Guinness saw I had a way with the media and I was a good storyteller. They were saying, “Well, if we can get this guy’s beer knowledge up to scratch, then he could be someone we could use”. So, they set me up with a course alongside a team of beer specialists in Ireland. We all took a course with the IBD, which is the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, and I passed my qualification in brewing. And then I studied for the beer sommelier course — yes, in beer tasting and beer history.

Which basically involves you just drinking a lot of beer?
No, it involves learning about issues with brewing, line cleanliness or issues with the age of beer you create. They have samples, create spiked samples whereby you can take a clean lager and then you sit down and taste a few of these – just little sips – and you basically develop your palette.

What happened next?
I passed the brewing course and I was studying for the sommelier exam which took place while I was over here in Australia, so I’ll have to sit it when I go back as it’s part of my training. Basically, I had the storytelling, the Guinness passion and they trained me in beer knowledge. So I’m competent I could brew if I wanted, but I prefer to be front face and part of the team – there are about eight beer specialists currently in Dublin and different markets hire us for different launches and things like that.

Suffice to say, this is your dream job?
Yeah, it is. I get to go around the world and talk to people about what I’m passionate about, get them excited about it, share stories, meet people, see great places… you know, how can that be bad?

Sounds great.
I’m a firm believer in everything that happens, everything you do, any hobby you take up, will eventually lead to whatever path you’re going on. So, my current role is challenging but for the last three years I’ve acted for Guinness on a global scale. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Australia, America, Singapore, Norway… basically, I’ve served Guinness under the Northern Lights, I’ve served it Down Under and everywhere in between.

What’s been your highlight during your seven years at Guinness?
So, so many. The obvious ones would be things like hosting some famous people when they come to Guinness. I’ve taken care of Tom Cruise, Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Brooklyn Beckham and everybody in between. So it’s amazing to be just like, “Oh, hey.” But I would say the most recent highlight is unveiling the brand new Guinness Harp in Australia.

You mean the Guinness logo?
Yeah. You see, in the 1860’s we were exporting all over the world and people were getting confused because there’s no branding, there’s no advertising, there’s no marketing team, there’s no social media – it was word of mouth. For example, you live in Australia and all you’d probably know is your local tavern serves this beer called Guinness. Where’s it from? What’s its background? So we were like, “OK, we need to create a symbol to make sure people know it’s Irish.” In Dublin there’s a college called Trinity College, the university right in the city centre, and they have a library there which houses a harp from the 14th Century called the Brian Boru Harp – it’s a really prominent, iconic Irish image, so we chose that to use for our branding because of its association with Irish folklore.

And that’s how Guinness logo was born.
Yes, but 60 years later we got our independence and Ireland became an international free state. The Irish Government were like, “Right, well we need a symbol, don’t we?” And they said, “We should use the Brian Boru Harp”. Now, this was already trademarked to Guinness. So, as the legend goes, a gentlemen’s agreement was made that basically said, “We’re going to keep the harp as it is and you can use the harp, too… but you’ve got to flip it around the opposite way.” And if you look at an Irish coin, or my Irish passport, the official harp that’s on the symbol of the Irish nation is the Guinness harp facing the other way.

What’s the best way to enjoy a Guinness?
Every sip is a sip of enjoyment. It’s not about consumption it’s all about the flavour, the texture, that first big taste. I always say don’t sip the beer. What I mean by that is there’s a fold on the top of the beer, which is nitrogen gas, and it protects the beer. It rests on top, doesn’t let the oxygen in the air get to the beer. Sometimes when people have their first Guinness, they just nurse the foam – they don’t actually taste the beer. If you just do that, you’re just going to take nitrogen gas. If I handed you a pint of nitrogen gas, you probably wouldn’t drink it. So make sure you enjoying a decent-sized mouthful. Guinness is a very social beer – if you’ve got a bottle of beer, you’ll probably take 15 sips but with Guinness it’s about the big mouthful, leaving the beer down, having conversation then minutes later you come back and take another mouthful and so on.

Why do you think some people don’t choose Guinness as their preferred drink?
The main reason that people don’t drink Guinness is because of the preconceived notion that it’s this heavy, dark beer. They look at the darkness and imagine it to be filling. It appears thick but appearances are deceptive. Guinness has fewer calories than a pint of larger or a pint of semi-skimmed milk. There are 196 calories in a pint of Guinness and 240 in a lager but 300 in a cider. Some people are like, “How do I approach this? Do I sip that?” And after they take their first sip they go, “Oh, it’s so filling and it’s so foamy” and that’s because they literally just drank foam. Once you start drinking Guinness, you’re like, “That’s what Guinness is like?” I always say, if you like coffee, you like Guinness.

True or false: Guinness is good for the blood?
Years ago we used to create beer in casks and the yeast was not filtered out. Years ago people looked at that and saw a source of iron in the yeast. So, the old slogans of “Guinness is good for you” were born from that. It is true, that in Ireland, and again I stress, many, many years ago, doctors would prescribe Guinness to very sick mothers, to the anaemic and to anybody who donated blood and would feel a little woozy afterwards to boost their Irish blood. Now since then the beer has been filtered for clarity, for consistency and there are no traces of yeast anymore. So therefore, I can’t say Guinness is good for your blood.

True or false: The first Guinness Book of World Records came about as a way to settle arguments in bars.
True. In 1951, the then Guinness managing director, Sir Hugh Beaver – his real name – got into a discussion with his friend in a bar about what was the fastest flying game bird in the world. The debate was between the Canadian long-tailed duck and the golden plover. Today, if you asked me this, I would say, “Hang on a second there”… Wikipedia… “It’s this!” Back in the day we were asking everybody in the bar. Everybody had an opinion but nobody knew. So, they asked the bartender. They said, “Come on, we need to check this. Have you got the books?” And, I’m paraphrasing here, but the bartender said, “What do we look like? Do I like a librarian?” There was no source for you to check this information and so there was a spot in the market. So Hugh says, “Well look, if we could fund this, compile everything together and have a source where if you go to me, ‘Who won the World Cup in 1930-whatever? I’d say, ‘Let’s check the Guinness Book of World Records’. So, the inspiration was dropped and in 1955 it was first published. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tell us about the recent launch of Guinness Hop House 13 Lager?
Hop House was the brainchild of brewer Peter Simpson from our experimental brewery – the Open Gate Brewery at St. James’s Gate. He just wasn’t impressed with the lager out there – when he felt like a lager on a warmer day or the food that he was eating suited a lager, he’d look at a draught and go, “Nothing excites me”. There was very little Irish presence in the lager. He went, “Hang on a second, I’m a master brewer. Why don’t I make something?” So he created this beer and named it after the old hop store for Guinness, which was called Hop House 13.

How would you describe this beer?
There’s people who want lager; there’s people who want pale ales; and there’s people who drink lager who’ve heard about pale ales but they’re a little scared to dip their toe all the way to the bar. Hop House 13 is right in the middle. It’s hoppy but only in the aroma and it’s not bitter. When you pour it and when you’re about to drink it, you get a lovely aroma. This is specifically for a Guinness drinker who goes, “I feel like a lager today”.

What’s next for Guinness off the back of this release?
I’ll put it this way – we’re 259 years into a 9,000-year lease. There’s 8,741 years left. We’re in a strong position and we’ve got really loyal fans. Guinness Draught is going nowhere and beers like Hop House 13 will satisfy the lager drinkers and at the same time give the Guinness drinkers more options within the brand. Our Open Gate Brewery has a new experimental beer every two weeks, so we have a lot more up our sleeve. ■

For the full article grab the June 2018 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.

The Size Debate

Hannah Widmer