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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

The greening of Guinness

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 16, 2012 in Green Enterprise, Living Sustainably

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  pints o' Guinness Stout (by: Matthew Kenwrick, creative commons license)

Guinness Stout is one of the world’s great beverages.  It is the darkest of beers, as hearty and full-bodied as they come, with a characteristic cream-colored head on top.  Its color is black with, to my eyes, a hint of dark chocolaty brown.  It’s been brewed in Ireland for the better part of three centuries and may it never change.

Now, perhaps there’s even more reason to love Guinness because, while its visual impression is dark, its metaphorical color is showing signs of green as the company adopts good environmental practices.  “Sustainability and enhancing the environment of the Dublin communities has been a core philosophy of the Guinness Company since it was founded,” said Paul Carty, Managing Director at the Guinness Storehouse, the brewery’s large and historic facility at St. James’s Gate in the Irish capital.  Last year the Storehouse, now a major tourist attraction hosting a million visitors annually, received a three-star accreditation from Sustainable Travel International for its environmental commitment.  (The actual brewing was moved from the old facility in 1988.)   

Among the highlights recognized by the award are these:

  • Adoption of environmental performance indicators
  • Measures to reduce waste, chemical use, and energy consumption
  • Use of paper products derived from sustainably managed forests
  • Advanced lighting technology
  • Local food sourcing
  • Locally sourced construction materials
  • Sustainability training for staff

  casks in the Guinness Storehouse (by: Corey Harmon, creative commons license)  interior, Guinness Storehouse (by: Hazel Coonagh, via Guinness Storehouse)

In the first video below, a company spokesperson says that, regarding food, the company works with Good Food Ireland, which according to its own website “was founded to endorse and promote . . . places committed to local food and to link the food producer, farmer and fisherman with the hospitality sector.”

Sustainable Travel International summarizes a number of criteria used to judge whether companies qualify for certification.  In addition to performance regarding the environment, applicants are evaluated on social and cultural impacts, economic impacts, and “innovative best practices.”  Companies must have a “written policy incorporating relevant criteria under each principle category below appropriate to the location, nature and scale of [their] operations.”  Environmental factors include the following:

“Performance areas include but are not limited to: Ecosystem Preservation (e.g., transportation, endangered species, group size), Pollution Prevention (e.g., air, noise, vehicle maintenance), Energy Management (e.g., carbon management and offsets, business travel, client excursions), Waste Management (e.g., reduction of materials, recycling, supply chain management) Water Management (e.g., reduced consumption, waste water, non-point source pollution), and Chemical Management (e.g., cleaning supplies, paint, pesticides).”

Notably, ratings carry an expiration date, presumably requiring subsequent evaluations to maintain a good rating.

  St Patrick's Day, Dublin (by: Sebastian Dooris, creative commons license)

As a lover of the Guinness product, I have always been struck by the fact that it simply tastes better in Ireland.  I didn’t realize there was an actual difference in the domestic and export versions, though, until I came across an article by Nicola Twilley on the Good website.  It’s apparently a bit complicated, but stout beers such as Guinness require on-site infusion with nitrogen bubbles.  If you’ve bought cans of the brew in the US, you may have noticed the plastic widget inside.  It contains pressurized nitrogen, which is released when the can is opened (so don’t pour it too quickly or the widget won’t have time to work its magic).  Anyway, Twilley reports that researchers at the University of Limerick have figured out a way to get the same result without the plastic widget, which should reduce waste once the new method is production-ready.

So that black beer might soon get greener still. 

We Americans tend to think about things Irish and green on and around Saint Patrick’s Day, of course.  Now, I know some people are intimidated by a perceived heaviness to Guinness.  For you, I recommend Smithwick’s, a yummy amber ale that has gotten a bit easier to find in the US lately.  Either way, now’s the time, and I’m stocked up.  How about you? 

I’ll leave you with two videos pertinent to the story and the occasion, respectively.  First, here’s a look inside the Guinness Storehouse and their environmental practices:

  

And second, here are County Galway’s own Saw Doctors, Kaid’s favorite Irish roots-rock band, singing hearty and well about their home turf:

  

Related articles:

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Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 

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Comments

MattMar 16 2012 10:06 AM

Many beers are brewed in multiple places... and beer snobs will always say there's a difference between the same recipe brewed in different places. I've noticed that with Kona beers - they taste different in Hawaii then they do on the mainland (mainland beers being brewed in New Hampshire).

For lighter Irish beers I'd pick Kilkenny over Smithwicks... though a Guinness now and again does a body good!

I've unfortunately never been to Ireland... hopefully I'll make it there sometime (and drink a "real" pint of Guinness)!

Greg BallantyneMar 18 2012 09:40 AM

Guinness DOES taste different (better) in Ireland. I always attributed that to things other than the brew, but maybe not...... I'll be glad to see the widgets go, they complicate recycling of the aluminum.
However, its interesting to note, I fist saw the widgets in England in carry our beer cans. Maybe more still drink in the pub than carry out, but that may be changing. The pubs will always stay. Places that enjoyable will never go away.

Greg Ballantyne againMar 18 2012 09:51 AM

Perhaps this a good place to relate a story about Guinness and Ireland.
My wife & I were in a pub called The Boat Inn in Oughterard, and I was of course having Guinness. Part way through the evening (and also a number of pints) I noticed a leprechaun next to me, sipping something blue out of a small clear glass through a tiny straw. I asked him, "what are you drinking?" he replied, "Rum." My response was, "I don't believe you." He said, "Here. Taste it." holding up the glass. I tasted it. The drink was quite sweet, and unlike any rum I had ever had. I said, "I still don't believe it." At that point the leprechaun introduced me to his cousin, at the bar on the other side of him. Some pleasant conversation followed. For the rest of the evening, every time a glanced at the bar by my left elbow, another fresh pint of Guinness was waiting. I never noticed exactly how they were getting there......

SamMar 23 2012 10:20 AM

Please stop spreading this myth that Guiness tastes bettter in Ireland. It doesn´t.

In fact Guiness is a highly chemical brew differs only with respect to the alchol percentage (which impacts bitterness) allowed by country. No, these chemicals and additives are not declared on the label, because the brewing giants that depend on it constantly lobby againts this.

If you are in Dublin and want to taste a fresh non-chemical Irish stout, I suggest skipping Guiness and going to the Porterhouse, a local brewpub that has a wide variety of their own beer brewed on premises. Completely different galaxy to Guiness.

The one exception to this is Nigerian version of Guiness, which is made from Sorghum as a base grain and is like 7% alcohol vs the 4% in the UK/ireland. You can buy this as an imported beer in the UK.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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