When I was young, Guinness was what my Irish uncles drank. I rolled my eyes as they griped about feckless young bartenders who couldn’t pour it right, how the head was too big or the lines were too dirty. How it wasn’t the same from the can but they drank it anyway. How Guinness was always shit in London, you should taste it in Ireland.
But now? Things look different. You can’t move for Guinness in the capital. Spring afternoons are spent ordering rounds of Guinness in pub gardens, one for your bearded friend who bangs on about it all the time and another for your Taylor Swift-loving bestie. Bartenders race to change the keg for the third time that day, line up Guinness pints one by one, explode with rage when the request comes at the very end of a round of six gin and tonics.
And try, just try, to find a single Hinge bio these days that doesn’t feature a whimsical description of a perfect Sunday: ‘A long walk with the dog, a roast and a pint of Guinness (or three!)’. That’s it – you can’t. It’s kind of lame if you don’t drink Guinness now. Everyone’s doing it.
One in six pints poured in London is a Guinness. The @shitlondonguinness Instagram account is approaching 300,000 followers. Kim Kardashian even sunk one in Soho the other day. We drew King Charles drinking one, for some reason. But why now? And is the hype here to stay?
The cult of the stout
‘Guinness is iconic,’ says Melissa Cole, a beer writer and author of ‘The Ultimate Book of Craft Beer’. ‘Regardless of how you feel about Diageo that owns it, regardless of how you feel about dominance in the Irish market, there’s no denying that Guinness is iconic.’ But the storm it’s causing right now? ‘Certainly @shitlondonguinness can take a lot of credit for that,’ she says.
That’s the Instagram account, run by Ian Ryan from Cork, dedicated solely to slating pints of Guinness in the capital. Snaps of poorly poured Guinness in Clapham rack up likes in the tens of thousands. ‘The state of it,’ say the comments. ‘Bet that smells like a pocketful of old coins.’
It’s a kind of badge of honour to know where the Guinness is good in London and where it’s bad. ‘When you order a lager, you don’t really care what it’s going to look like,’ says Ryan. ‘But when you order a Guinness, there’s that anticipation. It’s like, “What’s going to happen here?” A fun element to the whole thing.’ The cult of Guinness is all about the experience.
In other words, it sparks a lot of conversation at the pub. The lines have to be clean. It’s got to have a nice thick head. And you know how much we Londoners love talking shit in the pub. ‘The Auld Shillelagh does the best Guinness in London’ is the same kind of low-risk pub chat as ‘You know I got charged £7.20 for a Neck Oil the other day?’ and ‘You know Madrí’s actually owned by Carling?’
The social media frenzy
‘When I started this account five years ago, Guinness was not a thing,’ says Ryan. ‘Like it was a drink, obviously, but people associated it with being like an old-man drink that you’d see in an old-man pub. I certainly see a lot more pints of Guinness knocking around pubs these days than I used to.’
A big thing that’s changed since then? The game. They’d been ‘Splitting the G’ (getting half-way down the logo in one gulp) in Ireland for ages, but it really kicked off in the capital in 2021. Suddenly our Instagram feeds showed video after video of Guinness drinkers. #Splittheg got four million views on TikTok, and we all wanted a go.
Oh, and there’s The Guinness Guru on YouTube, run by Darragh Curran. Where his friends used to roll their eyes at constant Guinness chat, now they join in. ‘Social media was a big thing for getting young people into Guinness,’ says Curran, who rates the black stuff on Instagram and TikTok too. ‘You see a lot more women drinking Guinness these days too.’
It’s not about the taste, baby
Suddenly Guinness was an aesthetic. A bit like craft ale used to be, before that became as mainstream as getting a lager. And Guinness’s marketing? Straight on the bandwagon. In 2021, Guinness brought out its much-awaited 0.0 (said to be the one of the best alco-free beers out there). A few months ago, Guinness launched Nitrosurge in the UK, a £30 device that apparently enables you to pour the perfect pint at home.
You can buy your own Microdraught tap for your home bar for £750, or some Guinness-branded tracksuits for £69. Or you might have already bought into the Guinness x Carhartt collab, featuring Guinness logo beanies. Guinness already had a cult following, but once it became cool, it had hit the jackpot. ‘People always want to be counterculture,’ says Cole of its growth, ‘which ends up always being, well, culture.’
If it’s not Guinness, Guinness drinkers won’t have it. It’s somewhere in between their routine and their personality.
‘The amount of people I know who have tried to replace Guinness with an objectively tastier and more artisan-made beer,’ says Cole, ‘like, it’s on a nitro pour, it gives you that almost black body with the white head on it. It’s good. But if it’s not Guinness, Guinness drinkers won’t have it.’
That’s where Guinness is different to the revolving door of trendy, pastel-coloured IPAs. It’s something you want to be seen with, want to be a part of. Not drinking Guinness is like always having fomo. ‘It’s somewhere in between their routine and their personality. For some people, their whole personality is being a Guinness drinker. It’s that thing again – everything has its moment, right?’ concludes Cole. ‘And Guinness is back to having its big moment in people’s psyche.’