Is Guinness Actually Better in Ireland?

Many say yes, but is it all just in our heads? Here’s what experts think.

February 16, 2023

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Photo by: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Famously thick, creamy and dark, the original Guinness — Ireland’s national drink — is so inextricably linked with its homeland that it practically conjures up images of rolling green hills and sheep-dotted meadows at first sip. But does the celebrated Irish dry stout actually taste better on the Emerald Isle? A lot of people seem to think so. According to a survey of 103 non-professional testers conducted by the Institute of Food Technologists (yes, that’s a thing), the majority of people preferred the “authentic” ale experience.

There are a few reasons Guinness in Ireland can have a slight edge over beer that’s exported.

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Photo by: NurPhoto/Getty Images

NurPhoto/Getty Images

Freshness

While Guinness has a brewery in Baltimore and will be opening a second U.S. location in Chicago in 2023, Guinness Draught Stout is still 100 percent made in Ireland.

“Think of beer like bread,” says Christopher McClellan, a former Brewery Ambassador for the Guinness Brewery and founder of The Brew Enthusiast. “It’s always going to be better fresh. Any time between when a beer is made and when it’s poured will naturally decrease the freshness. Guinness Draught Stout is, in fact, fresher in Ireland simply because it’s made there.”

Exportation can exacerbate the situation, according to Ethan Fixell, a Certified Cicerone and beverage expert. “Beer that’s imported from overseas may be exposed to variables such as light, temperature fluctuations or intense vibration — all of which degrade beer ingredients and can make it taste worse,” he says.

However, it’s worth noting that Guinness tends to be less vulnerable to these factors for a couple reasons; it’s carefully temperature-controlled throughout the shipping process and, as an Irish stout, it’s less fragile than some other types of beer.

“Guinness has the added benefit of being a beer style with a naturally longer freshness window, especially compared to hop-driven styles like IPAs that dominate the American craft scene,” says Zach Mack, a Certified Cicerone and the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. “Since dry Irish stout is malt driven, it has months of freshness compared to weeks.”

Better Service

Keeping your beer cold and having clean draught lines is critical to serving great beer — not just Guinness, says McClellan. You can’t serve any great beer without cleaning your draught system and lines of elements like yeast, beer stone and bacteria, and ensuring the correct temperature, gas mix and pressure.

“The issue is that there's a lot of retailers out there in the United States who do not treat the beer correctly, and as such, the reputation for Guinness being ‘better in Ireland’ is propagated,” says McClellan. “While I can point to many locations here in New York City where I live that have as good a pint as anything you'll get in Ireland, there are — realistically — more on-premise locations in Ireland that pour a consistently better pint of Guinness than the U.S.”

So while it is possible to find the same quality Guinness in the U.S., expect it to be harder to come by.

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Photo by: NurPhoto/Getty Images

NurPhoto/Getty Images

The Perfect Pour

How much you enjoy your pint ultimately comes down to the proper pouring technique — and it’s not all about the aesthetics of the Guinness foam.

“It’s safe to say most people who think pints of Guinness poured in Ireland taste better boils down to improper pours,” says Mack. “Simply put, it's not like pouring a traditional carbonated beer. Guinness is nitrogenated, which is a process the company invented to help solve the problem of ‘flat’ cask beer that spoils within days. But this technology also comes with a learning curve, even as a centuries-old brand. Those commercials about needing a little more time needed to pour a proper pint of Guinness aren’t just marketing.”

To properly serve Guinness, pour the beer down the side of the glass while holding it at a 45-degree angle until it’s about two-thirds full. Then let it rest for two to three minutes before topping it off for the right proportion of beer to head.

A Certain Something

Freshness, service and pouring technique aside, there’s something magical about drinking Guinness in Ireland, where you can walk into just about any pub and have the pint of your life. There’s no doubt that ambience and context count for something.

“Have you ever tried a glass of wine that you think tastes like hot garbage — only to be told moments later that you’re sipping from a $100 bottle?” says Fixell. “Suddenly the wine doesn't taste so bad anymore, and with a sommelier guiding you, youre now noticing all sorts of wonderful nuances reminiscent of ‘gooseberry’ and ‘violets.’ Context is a hell of a thing. And this, of course, applies to enjoying a tall, frothy pint of Guinness in a traditional Irish pub. Under these special circumstances, you’re focusing and giving the beer the respect it deserves, and it tastes that much better for it.”

Here, beer experts share their favorite memories of drinking Guinness — in Ireland, of course.

“I was lucky enough to discover Dingle, Ireland on a recent trip,” says Mack. “I made my way to what’s called the most westerly pub in all of Europe and drank a Guinness on their back porch overlooking the ocean and surrounding islands. This bar was nothing more than a simple one store building with basic taps, and I’m positive I’ve never had a better tasting Guinness in all my life.”

“Ambience cannot be ignored with a beer like Guinness,” says McClellan. “I’ve drank so many pints of Guinness at small country pubs in Ireland while it’s raining and I’m looking out at a field of sheep. Its romantic, and lovely, and certainly adds to the enjoyment of the moment. The actual quality of the beer itself has little to do with the field of sheep Im looking at, but its a small factor sometimes. A great pub is the best place in the world to drink beer. Its homey, warm, community-oriented, high-quality and keeps you coming back for more.”

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