The Smells from the Guinness Brewery


A pint of Guinness / The Black Stuff / A meal in a glass

In Dublin, 1752, a man named Arthur Guinness was bequeathed £100 from his godfather’swill. Guinness invested the money and in 1755 had a brewery outside Dublin. Four years later he moved into the city to set up his own business and took a 9000 year lease on a brewery at St James’s Gate. That brewery is now the Guinness brewery, probably the best brewery in the world ;)


I have to admit one thing from the very start, I do not like Guinness. It’s just too heavy a drink. It’s a meal in a glass and after the first few sips it, just tastes awful—it’s that tangy taste! Obviously my opinion is in a resounding minority, Guinness is such an iconic drink, brand and flag for Ireland it can not be denied a success.

I have memories of Guinness growing up. At family gatherings, weddings, funerals, going to the pub when I was wee, my uncles and older cousins would be drinking the black stuff. I have a vague memory of tasting it too. And like all children if they have a sip of a drink, they’re reaction is a resounding, “BE-LUCH!”

When I moved to Dublin last year, within the first week or so, I would smell the unmistakable odours carrying heavily across the city—the Guinness brewery at work, roasting barley. Sometimes it would be in the morning and slightly gentle in its potency. You’d step off the LUAS or the bus and it would catch your attention. Other times it would be really strong and you could smell it at your desk in work. What a smell…

Approaching St James’s Gate

Approaching the Guinness Storehouse/Brewery

After all this time I finally got to visit the brewery I was excited because I knew there’d be some fantastic smells in there, just waiting, roasting, brewing away.

As I’ve said before, sometimes the first odours you come across from the Guinness brewery are from the roasting, unmalted barley that carry all across the city centre. More often than not you can smell it best on any of the bridges on the river Liffey. I have smelled it before near St. Stephen’s Green, but the smell sometimes doesn’t carry well through the other smells of the city—the car fumes, the garlicy restaurants, the coffee shops. Those smells are more immediate and closer.

When you get up to the brewery, the roasted barley is sometimes like potatoes to me. I’ve previously written about this, sprouting potato smell before. It’s not unpleasant either, but kind of comforting and as some Dubliners tell me, it is the smell of home to them.

The Giant Pint Glass

It’s worth mentioning at this point, visitors do not get into see the actual brewing of Guinness, which in some respects really disappoints—it’s the reason you go. But you can understand the “closely guarded secret.”

The old fermentation plant is what visitors explore, a giant seven storey pint glass, that, if full, we’re told, would hold 14.3 million pints. Each floor of the pint glass is dedicated to an aspect of not only the drink, but the man, the brand and the brewing process.

The ground level, is about the ingredients. To your left is a huge water feature, the gushing and rushing of the fast-flowing waterfall is slightly deafening, but the smell is like pure clean, crystal water. It’s hard to say how water smells exactly when there’s lots of it, but in this room there is a mixture of copper-like odours. The pool that collects at the bottom is filled with 1, 2 and 5c coins. Wishing coins that I think have mixed with the water.

Water used in the making of Guinness

One level up, is the brewing floor. Here (on videos) you’re shown how the barley is malted, roasted, milled, mixed with hot water and finally, mashed. The liquid is then filtered off and boiled with hops. The yeast is added and the fermentation begins. Fermentation is the best description for the odours in this floor. It’s like stepping into a bakers, before the bread is baked. It’s (yes) yeasty, sometimes sweet and doughy, sometimes sour and sharp. In the other side of the room is a tray of roasted barley. Here, the grains smell like coffee, without the familiar bitter quality. In some ways it was again, bread like. Like a mixture of the two. You can lift a handful of the barley for tasting, and I have admit, it’s like I imagine crunching down on bitter, off-coffee beans. It tastes like really burnt toast too.

Roasted barley used in the making of Guinness

The rest of the floors of the pint glass are pretty nondescript. There’s the advertising floor, the pour-your-own-pint floor, transportation floor, the Drink IQ floor, another advertising floor, and a weird convention floor.

Barrels used to transport Guinness in ye olde times

The Gravity Bar Reward

At the top though is the Gravity Bar, the head of this massive pint glass, and undoubtedly a great end to the tour. With 360° panoramic views of the city, the Wicklow Mountains and Phoenix Park, it’s kind of breath-taking. Here, you are rewarded with your free pint and, on a busy Saturday it’s like stepping into any pub.

Guinness itself, well to me it smells like coffee, iron and bread, and obviously of Guinness—like trying to describe how coffee smells, it is its own smell, as Guinness is its own smell. Guinness smells invitingly creamy too, and smells really nice. I think I had half a pint or so before I had to give it to my friend, and she wasn’t complaining! I don’t know what it is, for someone who is such a foodie, who loves coffee, flavours, spices, sweet things, savoury things, I just can’t like Guinness. I wouldn’t say I’d be forcing myself to like it either, but it’s an acquired taste in some respects.

Some people “poison” it with a dash of blackcurrant cordial. I think next time I’ll choose to poison myself.

Do you honestly think I finished my pint?

Leaving The Brewery

When you leave the building altogether and step out into the street, horse-drawn carts are waiting for tourists. Need I say what a bunch of horses smell like? It’s an unusual (but not unexpected) smell after walking around the brewery. The smell of fresh and old manure, because they’re so different, is unmistakable and not overpowering. It’s kind of befitting. There’s the smell of sweaty horses themselves, dry and dusty and if you close your eyes, like stepping into a time-warp. With all the cobbled streets, and old world features you could be forgiven for thinking you have stepped back in time.

When you walk through the quieter back alleys back to the city centre, on a day like today, you’re presented with another familiar Irish smell, that of burning smoky turf from peoples’ homes…

What do you think?

Tried the black stuff before? I’m sure more people think of its taste than its smell, but what do you make of it? Coffee-like? Iron-like? A good-for-you drink? Or a pint of black shite?

12 thoughts on “The Smells from the Guinness Brewery

    1. Liam Post author

      It’s very coffee like isn’t it! Even in the “grounds” of the factory there’s confusing whifs of coffee-like smells.

  1. Pingback: Art, Location, Perfume | Personal Odour

  2. memoryofscent

    Guiness is indeed a meal in a glass. Definitely a winter drink. Mostly bread and iron for me. the iron part is good because it makes the taste a bit cooler and more refreshing. But the really great part is how creamy the froth is. Thick and contradicting the bitter and metallic taste.

    1. Liam Post author

      Great description and I never thought of the iron being cooling… kind of makes sense when you think of it!

      I liked the head too, the creaminess is nice, but after a few sips it just becomes bitter tasting to me… like I may as well have licked a lamppost lol

  3. Ines

    I’ve tried it here and wasn’t impressed and then I tried it in Dublin and realized I like it. :) Well, as a whole meal that is. I can’t imagine drinking it as I drink beer here. It’s enough to fill your stomach when you’re hungry. :)
    Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit the brewery even though I wanted to. It seems like an interesting (and fragrant) experience.

    1. Liam Post author

      Hello Ines and thanks for your comment. Yes! One more person in the “meal-in-a-glass” camp. It’s just too heavy :)

      The brewery was indeed a fragrant experience and I encourage you next time to give it a go.

  4. moo

    hope your not mocking me hi! if you are i’ll happily throw a pint over when I see ya!! and I’ll scream “BUILD THIIIIS”

  5. moo

    That sounded asum! Really have to get down and see if the back stuff is better than my best pint of it over on Achill Island. Guinness reminds me of firstly pre college days when I first started drinking it. I remember my first sip! I thought, this is my drink! It used to turn my friends hand numb in those early days.

    When I taste it I think of coffee, cream and that lovely tangy after taste. Somehow tho if there is a turf fire on the go somewhere close by, that taste in the air mixed with the taste of Guinness is a force to be reckoned with. ESPECIALLY if you also have a bucket of hot fresh mussels to munch too! NOM NOM NOM!

    1. Liam Post author

      Hola Moo,

      I thought you of all people would have been there already ;) I can see real Guinness lovers loving it around there. There’s lots to see, smell and taste!

      Something tells me though that your pint on Achill is a lot better than the one in the brewery. Roisin said it wasn’t a great pint there that day and that she has had nicer, maybe there’s off days in the brewery?

      Do you really think of coffee too? I can see why you like Guinness now :) Mussels (with garlic and lemon grass ala camping trips), turf and Guinness sounds too good, and NOM’erific

      1. moo

        Did they do the three pours or two?? The place on achill done the three stage pour and it was amazing!! Yeah defo coffee! but with cream rather than milk!

        1. Liam Post author

          They did the two pour hi. Not that I’m aware of three being better hi, but two was palatable hi. Here hi ho hi.

          So coffee and cream then… I’m going to have to keep that in mind next time I’m near a Guinness :)


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