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Guinness Storehouse: Living history

Guinness – it’s a brand close to many people’s hearts and a name that immediately evokes thoughts of Ireland. Founded in 1759, the spirit of Guinness is still alive today, not only in the city, but wherever the beer is enjoyed. Its story has inspired generations, and the Guinness Storehouse is working to allow interaction with this story like never before. We spoke with Paul Carty, CEO of the Storehouse, to catch up on what is changing for the popular tourist spot, and why he feels there is such a strong relationship between his country and the iconic black beverage.

Arthur Guinness was born in Kildare, Ireland in 1725. When his godfather, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel, passed away, Guinness invested his inheritance in a small brewery a little outside of Dublin. Four years later, he would found a new brewery in the city, and this investment would change not only his life, but the lives of the families of Dublin for centuries to come.

The Guinness Storehouse is a centre for all things Guinness, where tourists can learn more about the brand’s history and secrets in a living, breathing, delicious experience. It is the country’s most popular tourist location; last year, the Storehouse received 1.7 million visitors – about 50% of the city’s total tourists! 90% of the Storehouses’ visitors come from overseas, and according to their polls, 7/10 of these decide to include the tour in their holiday before they even reach Ireland. This shows how connected the ideas of Dublin and Guinness are for many – especially as 20% of their visitors haven’t even tasted the famous beer before! So, why does the Storehouse have such a draw?

We spoke with Paul Carty, the effervescent CEO of the Storehouse. Carty feels that it was Arthur Guinness himself who gave the brand the reputation it has today: “Guinness itself is synonymous with Ireland and Dublin. The whole story of Arthur Guinness, the legacy he created and the philanthropy around Ireland that he inspired – all of that is very dear to people.” The beer used only Irish ingredients, meaning the brewery supported generations of local barley farmers and became an essential part of people’s lives. More than this, it became a loved extension to the wider community thanks to Arthur Guinness’ charitable acts, and those of his descendants. Carty told us more;

“St. Patrick’s Cathedral was renovated by his grandson, and his descendant Lord Moyne donated St Stephen’s Green to the people of Ireland. Arthur Guinness himself was also charitable; he looked after his workers from cradle to grave. For example, he used to take them out for an annual picnic, which would’ve been unheard of in the times of the industrial revolution.” In the 1700s, this ‘personal touch’ was rare, with workers’ wellbeing often thrown to the way-side. In a time of harrowing conditions, Arthur Guinness’ dedication to his employees was rewarded with the love and loyalty of the local people, and it was a feeling that lived on. “When I was a young fellow growing up myself, the respect that my parents had for the Guinness brewery and the Guinness family was clear. It is a brand that is still admired, and indeed loved.”

For Carty, this love of the brand means its authenticity is worth preserving. The Guinness Storehouse is housed in a literal storehouse that the company used to use for fermentation, and this connection with history runs throughout the building’s design. The industrial steel interior is a bright turquoise – a curious choice, perhaps, but one that’s authentic to the building’s original 1902 paintjob. “I think it’s the story that we tell and the authenticity we possess in the Storehouse that keeps people coming. Everything we say and do is grounded in the truth from our archives.”

This dedication to historical accuracy is made possible by the Storehouse’s extensive archives – a collection of news articles, documents and artefacts that date back to the brand’s inception. Eibhlin Colgan, the company’s talented head archivist, joined Carty in speaking with us; “We’re in a privileged position as a brand, in that we’re a brand that’s so old, and we physically have our history. If we were to take everything in the archives and lay it out end to end, the paper materials would cover about 7km.” This huge collection informs everything the Storehouse does, from its exhibits to the décor of the building and the stories the staff tell. It’s a source of pride for Carty; “In all our planning, we go to the archives for guidance, to make sure that everything we say, and everything we train our staff to talk about is grounded in authenticity and truth. It’s a great comfort to me that everything we do and say is absolutely spot-on.”

With this fantastic point of reference, the Storehouse has evolved over the years to present Guinness’ story to the public in a smoothly flowing, interactive journey. The team are constantly working to improve what’s on offer; having spent an original €42 million creating the Storehouse experience in 2000, the company has spent a further €26 million since to update, adapt and ensure that the attraction is as good as it can be. “We’re always working to enhance the storylines. When people leave, we want them to say, ‘Wow, that was amazing, and I got it. I understood the message’.”

One of Carty’s favourite investments was a consultation with American company BRC Imagination Arts, who helped the Storehouse to thematically arrange their floors (which rise around a giant central pint-glass) for the ultimate story-telling journey. In the new floorplan, one of the most popular destinations is the World of Advertising – an entire level dedicated to showcasing the history of the company’s iconic marketing. The brand has often been heralded for its advertising, and the Storehouse quickly found that their visitors couldn’t get enough of it. Designed following popular demand, the World of Advertising includes attractions such as a 180-degree cinema screen where visitors can view some of the brand’s most memorable film adverts and green-screen booths where they can even ‘star’ in their own commercial!

Not surprisingly, the Storehouse’s other popular floors are the ones that allow visitors to interact with the beer itself. When the attraction first opened, visitors wouldn’t actually taste Guinness until they received their free pint in the Gravity Bar at the very top of the building. Since then, the Storehouse has introduced tasting rooms on the second floor;

“They get the introduction to the liquid a lot quicker, and I think that’s right. We teach them how to taste Guinness and how to appreciate Guinness, just to wet their appetite for what they can expect when they get to Gravity.”

On their way to the top-floor bar, visitors will also pass two lower-level bars called the Connoisseur Experience and the Guinness Academy. Having previously learnt to taste Guinness, these bars teach visitors how to serve it by training them in the brand’s unique ‘two-part pour’:

“People wanted to learn how to pour the perfect pint, so we’ve created two academies, and they’re beautiful. Each bar can hold ten people, and they get a certificate and their picture taken at the end. Now, over 40% of our visitors get the opportunity to pour the perfect pint of Guinness.

“This has a huge impact on support globally as well. As a global product, one of the biggest barriers is the two-part pour. It is important that barmen around the world let the pint settle for six seconds, and then top it off with a second pour. When our 40% of 1.7 million go back to their homeland every year, they can influence barmen when they order.”

Predominantly, the Storehouse’s visitors reflect the beer’s markets, with the US, UK and Europe leading the way, but Canada and China on the rise; “Last year, we had 46,000 Chinese visitors, which is a lot, given that I think the total Chinese tourists entering Ireland came to 50,000!” However, the experience can be a powerful one for local visitors too. Eibhlin elaborated: “We offer a genealogy service for visitors whose family worked in the brewery, using the archives and original personnel files. It can be very emotional for visitors, and positions our heritage as something that is still very much a living, breathing part of the brand.”

There are yet more improvements on the horizon for the ever-evolving Storehouse, and one of them is close to Eibhlin and Paul’s hearts – a vast expansion of the archive facilities, to allow more history to be displayed and interacted with at any one time. “Originally, the archives were sort of pushed into a corner. What we’ve realised now is that the archives are central to everything we do at the Guinness Storehouse. There’s a huge appetite from our visitors to see more artefacts on display and engage more with the archives and the history. We’re not a museum by any stretch – we’re a very alive building – but people want to know more about the beer and the brand.” The new archives will be housed in a second building, standing alongside the Storehouse, where visitors can interact with the collection in a deeper and more meaningful way.

The second rooftop provided by this expansion will also support the Storehouse’s other big plan: an addition to the famous Gravity Bar. “Of course, the rooftop Gravity Bar is still the jewel of the crown. Everybody ends up there, and that’s why we’re going to expand and extend the bar. We want to make it more comfortable, so people can dwell there a bit longer, enjoy the views, and enjoy their pint in comfort.”

The expansion will connect a second bar to the first over a bridge, increasing its capacity from 250 to 550. The new, improved bar is expected to launch in summer 2019 – but don’t panic! The original Gravity Bar will be unaffected by the construction work, and the Storehouse are planning to keep the beloved destination open and the free drinks flowing. After all, where would this legacy of brand participation, patriotism and love be without the thing that started it all off – a perfect pint?