Happy birthday Guinness! The Black Stuff at 250

The famous stout made its debut in 1759, and has left its mark in the worlds of advertising, the arts and the gossip columns. Andrew Johnson drinks it all in

Arthur Guinness

God-fearing Arthur would be aghast at the drink- and drug-fuelled high-octane lifestyle of some of his descendants. The founder of the Guinness dynasty was keen on the Methodist teachings of John Wesley and started the first Sunday schools in Ireland.

The seeds of the Guinness brewery were sewn in 1752 when a young Arthur was left £100 by his godfather, the Archbishop of Cashel, Dr Arthur Price. Guinness's father was a land steward on the Archbishop's estate and helped brew beer for the workers. Arthur and his brother ploughed the cash into a brewery in Leixlip, County Kildare in 1756. Three years later, in 1759, a 34-year-old Arthur upped sticks and took a 9,000-year lease on a dilapidated brewery in St James's Gate, Dublin, in order to try his hand at porter, a brew involving roasted barley that turned the drink black and so called after the porters who drank it.

Even though the Irish, at the time, favoured poteen, whiskey and gin Arthur captured the Irish market and within 10 years was exporting to England.

Adverts

My goodness, toucans, seals, ostriches, lions, all roped in to remind the faithful that it's a lovely day for a Guinness. Guinness has long since been told that it can't claim it's good for you, but the slogan "Guinness is good for you" – as well as "My goodness my Guinness", "Guinness is strength" and "Lovely day for a Guinness" – remains among the most famous of all time, along with the animal illustrations which accompanied the 1930s ads, drawn by the illustrator John Gilroy. Guinness paraphernalia from the period is still highly collectable.

Guinness was also responsible for another groundbreaking campaign in 1999 with the Surfer advert. A team of white horses are seen galloping through the surf to the beats of Leftfield, while a Polynesian surfer looks on. The idea being that good things come to those who wait – Guinness takes a long time to pour.

In the 1980s, the actor Rutger Hauer introduced the term Pure Genius into the English lexicon in another memorable campaign.

Pouring: it's an art

How one groans when a round includes a pint of Guinness. It has to be poured three-quarters full and then left to settle until a clear line between the dark liquid and the head, known as the Bishop's Collar, is formed, before being topped up – the famous two-part pour. The whole process should take 119 seconds, 90 seconds given over to the liquid-settling phase. In reality it is often 15 minutes, as the person behind the bar forgets about the half-poured pint and, having taken your money, starts serving other people. Particularly adept bar persons can draw a shamrock or other design in the head with a flick of the wrists.

The family curse

What is it about Irish families that make a fortune selling booze? The Kennedys have a curse. And so do the Guinnesses, suggesting the famous beverage may not be so good for you if you're related.

It may not have been unusual for a man to lose 11 of his 21 children in the 18th century, as happened to the dynasty's founder, Arthur Guinness, but three grandchildren becoming alcoholics was not normal.

The modern curse kicked off in 1944 when Walter Edward Guinness, the first Baron Moyne, was assassinated in Cairo where he was Resident Minister of State.

In 1966, Tara Browne, the 21-year-old son of Oonagh Guinness, died when he crashed his car in west London, inspiring the Beatles' "A Day in the Life". His sister, Tessa, died of an asthma attack aged 14.

Also in 1966, Prince Frederick of Prussia, who was married to Lady Brigid Guinness, drowned aged 55.

In 1978, Lady Henrietta Guinness jumped to her death off an aqueduct in Spoleto, Italy. In the same year, four-year-old Peter Guinness died in a car crash and Major Denys Guinness died of a drugs overdose.

In 1986 Olivia Channon, aged 22, the daughter of Tory cabinet minister Paul Channon, and great-granddaughter of Rupert Guinness, died of a drugs overdose. Her cousin, Natalya Citkowitz, had died taking heroin in 1978. She was the niece of Sheridan Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, the 5th Marquis of Dufferin, and son of Maureen Guinness, who died of an Aids-related illness in 1988.

Also in 1986, Jennifer, the wife of the banker John Guinness, was kidnapped in Dublin and held for eight days. Two years later, her husband died when he fell off Mount Snowdon, aged 52. In 2004, Robert Hesketh, the husband of Catherine Guinness, Olivia Channon's half-sister, died after taking a cocktail of heroin, cocaine and alcohol.

And, to bring the curse up to date, just last week the Guinness heiress Clare Irby appeared in court accused of causing a drunken rumpus on an aeroplane and allowing a fellow passenger to fondle her breasts. She was acquitted. The Guinness family dismisses the idea it is cursed.

A twist for every market

Guinness is brewed in 35 countries, and often given a local twist. The biggest market is the UK, followed by Ireland, Nigeria, the US and Cameroon. Guinness Draught – of the two-minute pouring – is No 1 in Britain. Then there's Guinness Original or Extra Stout, as close to Arthur's original brew as it's possible to get and sold in Canada, Europe, the US, Australia and Japan. Guinness Extra Foreign Stout is big in East Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and China. Nigeria has its own Guinness, Foreign Extra Stout Nigeria, made with sorghum not barley, and Guinness Extra Smooth is sold in Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria. Belgians drink Guinness Special Export Stout.

More than a hint of style

It's not fair to presume that all Guinness scions spent their inherited lolly on fast living and drugs. Many became philanthropists or clergymen. Garech Browne, the brother of Tara Browne, is a keeper of the Irish music flame and a founder of the Chieftans. Guinness women seem to become glamorous fashion leaders. Perhaps that was started by Diana Mitford, who married Bryan Guinness in 1929 before running off with the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley.

Also in the late 1920s, three Guinness sisters, Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh, the daughters of Arthur Ernest Guinness, lit up the gossip columns because of their beauty, wealth and high-society weddings. Maureen's daughter, Caroline Blackwood, became a novelist and married the artist Lucian Freud, for whom she posed.

Now the Guinnesses are big in the fashion world. Lulu Guinness designs handbags, Jasmine Guinness is a model and fashion designer, and Daphne Guinness is a collector of haute couture and a fashion designer herself.

What's the recipe?

If you have the ingredients for a best-selling drink then, like Coca-Cola, you're going to make them secret and guard them closely. What is in Guinness, however, is no secret. Roasted barley gives it its distinctive dark colour – which, although appearing black, is actually a dark ruby. The rest is water, hops and yeast. The water comes from the Lady's Well in the Wicklow mountains. Isinglass, or fish air bladders, is used to filter the brew, making it unsuitable for vegetarians. Draught Guinness gets its fizz from carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The canned version also contains nitrogen, which is how the "widget" gives it its head (or Bishop's Collar).

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