Bill Yenne has written extensively on beer and brewing history for two decades. With this newest of his 40 books, Yenne tackles the story of Guinness, a nearly mythological beer around the world. Guinness is so dear to Yenne’s heart, he titled his prologue “The World’s Greatest Beer,” and he makes a case for that claim in the first few sentences: “How can there be such a thing as the world’s greatest beer? I believe there is, and I believe this is it.”
Yenne tells the story of the Guinness family and their beers, beginning before the birth of Arthur Guinness, who founded the Dublin brewery at St. James’s Gate in 1759. It might have been the common ales of the day that Guinness first brewed, but it was his dark porter and eventually his stouts that brought him and his descendents fame and fortune. Benjamin Lee Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh and a member of the third generation after Arthur, became the richest man in Ireland in the second half of the 1800s selling stout, while building what at that point in time was the largest brewery in the world.
The English connection is not to be lost in the Guinness story. Although originally founded as an Irish brewery by an Irishman, the British market for Guinness stout eclipsed Irish demand, making the UK the most important market for Guinness. In 1933-34, Guinness built its first non-Irish brewery, Park Royal, in the section of London of the same name. At one point this brewery, now closed, surpassed the brewing output at St James’s Gate.
Yenne explores the Guinness family history, including a detailed genealogy of the seven generations that played pivotal leadership roles in the brewery, ending in 1987. There is also an appendix of all Guinness Head Brewers and their dates of tenure, beginning in 1759 with the first Arthur. And then there’s the complex and confusing issue of the many names associated with the various Guinness porters and stouts over the last 250 years. But that requires a full read of this book, a must for devotees of this iconic stout.