St James's Gate“If it doesn’t score well, it’s not going anywhere.”

As heard on Today with Claire Byrne

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Intrepid Today with Claire Byrne reporter Barry Lenihan ventured out to Dublin 8 to go behind the scenes at the Guinness brewery, as it ramps up production of the black stuff ahead of the opening up of outdoor hospitality on Monday 7 June. Over 5 million pints of porter are being delivered to pubs and restaurants across Ireland and the brewery – like a lot of its customers – is looking forward to a normalisation of production, having only brewed to maintain its yeast during the first lockdown, the first time that had happened since 1916. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of kegs had to be returned to St James’s Gate as they’d passed their best before dates. Claire wondered what happens to all that undrunk stout. Barry put that question to Aidan Crowe, director of operations at the Guinness brewery: 

“Over the course of the entire pandemic, we’ve probably taken back about 600,000 kegs of our beer back to the brewery here. We have tried to ensure that it’s carefully disposed of, so it’s gone to places like anaerobic digesters, it’s gone to willow and Christmas tree farms and it’s gone to pig feed on occasion as well.” 

There are some fine pork products in some lucky carnivore’s future. Happily for Guinness afficionados, Aidan Crowe confirmed that the brewer will not be passing on the additional costs incurred during the pandemic restrictions to customers. But, with production slowing to a trickle, then ramping up, then slowing again and now nearing full capacity again, will the famous brew taste the same as it did before the pandemic put our lives on hold? Barry put the question to Angela Larkin, the leader of the taste panel at St James’s Gate, who, along with her colleagues, tastes the previous day’s product every morning, giving it a mark out of 10: 

“The full flavour, the roast, the maltiness, the level of bitterness, chocolatey – this is the most important quality check that we do on the beer. It doesn’t matter, if it doesn’t score well, it’s not going anywhere. So, this is the key quality control check on the beer before it leaves the brewery.” 

Much like a wine connoisseur, Angela tells Barry that when checking a sample of Guinness, she takes the glass, swirls it, smells it and then tastes it. The beer being tested while Barry was there scored between 8 and 8.5, which sounds pretty good. Meantime, almost 200 quality control experts have taken to their vans to make sure that the taps and the pipes in hostelries around the country are up to scratch. Logistics operations manager at Diageo, Ciara McGowan, shared some impressive numbers with Barry: 

“We expect to deliver in the region of about 60,000 kegs this week, so, just in terms of context, that’s about 5 million pints of Guinness.” 

It certainly sounds like those who’ve been waiting for the proper draught pint of plain experience since Christmas won’t be disappointed. (Other alcoholic beverages are available). 

You can hear Barry’s full report from St James’s Gate for Today with Claire Byrne by going here

Niall Ó Sioradáin 

© The Listener 2021

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