Arthur Guinness started brewing ales from 1759 at the St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin. On 31 December he signed (up to) a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum for the unused brewery. Ten years later on 19 May 1769 Guinness exported his ale for the first time, when six and a half barrels were shipped to England.
Guinness is sometimes believed to have invented stout,however the first known use of the word stout in relation to beer appears in a letter in the Egerton Manuscript dated 1677, almost 50 years before Arthur Guinness was born. “Stout” originally referred to a beer’s strength, but eventually shifted meaning toward body and colour.
Arthur Guinness started selling the dark beer porter in 1778. The first Guinness beers to use the term were Single Stout and Double Stout in the 1840s. Throughout the bulk of its history, Guinness produced ‘only three variations of a single beer type: porter or single stout, double or extra and foreign stout for export’.
Already one of the top three British and Irish brewers, Guinness’s sales soared from 350,000 barrels in 1868 to 779,000 barrels in 1876. In October 1886 Guinness became a public company, and was averaging sales of 1,138,000 barrels a year. This was despite Guinness’ refusal to offer their beer at a discount and no advertising. Even though Guinness owned no public houses, the company was valued at £6 million and shares were twenty times oversubscribed, with share prices rising to a 60% premium on the first day of trading.
The breweries pioneered several quality control efforts. The brewery hired the statistician William Sealy Gosset in 1899, who achieved lasting fame under the pseudonym “Student” for techniques developed for Guinness, particularly Student’s t-distribution and the even more commonly known Student’s t-test.
By 1900 the brewery was operating unparalleled welfare schemes for its 5000 employees. By 1907 the welfare schemes were costing the brewery £40,000 a year, which was one fifth of the total wages bill.
Guinness brewed their last porter in 1973.
In 1983 a conscious marketing decision was made to turn Guinness into a “cult” beer in the UK, amidst declining sales.The move was judged successful, halting the sales decline, and Guinness has arguably been marketed as a cult beer in the UK and America ever since.
Guinness acquired the Distillers Company in 1986. This led to a scandal over a £5.2 million kickback received during the takeover bid to one of the directors, Mr Ward, approved by the chairman, Mr Saunders.In the case Guinness plc v Saunders the House of Lords declared that the payment had been invalid.
The Company merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form Diageo plc. However due to controversy over the merge in the same year, the Guinness co retained the rights to the product and all associated trademarks of Guinness, meaning that Guinness co. remained a corporation in its own right as well as being part of the merger that created Diageo. The Guinness brewery in Park Royal, London closed in 2005. The production of all Guinness sold in the UK and Ireland was switched to St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin.
Guinness has also been referred to as “the black stuff” and as a “Pint of Plain” – referred to in the famous refrain of Flann O’Brien‘s poem “The Workman’s Friend”: “A pint of plain is your only man.