Making Beer at Guinness: TSJ Talks to Master Brewer, Fergal Murray

TSJ TALKS TO FERGAL MURRAY, Master Brewer at Guinness’ St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland, about St. Patrick’s Day, kegs, and the perfect pint.

The Smoking Jacket: What makes Guinness the classic stout?

Fergal Murray: Well it stands out from all the other beers, really. The color is distinctive. The flavor is distinctive. The way a pint is poured–the cascade–is essential to the experience. You do want to drink it with your eyes first. Plus the quality of the product is extraordinary. It’s made with the finest ingredients and brewed in the finest way. So all these things make the beer different and a step above all other beers.

TSJ: How many pints of Guinness are being downed on any given day?

FM: There are 10 million glasses of Guinness served every day, globally. Around this time of the year it does peak a little bit, which is great for us. But it’s not about volume, it’s about people enjoying the experience of having a great beer. And also making sure they drink responsibly. We do like to get that message across.


TSJ: It’s St. Patrick’s Day this weekend, a holiday where Guinness  beer is ever-present. Tell me about Guinness’ involvement with St. Pat’s this year.

FM: This year we’re trying to create the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the world. We’re trying to create a world record, so that we can state that factually, and we have the Guinness Book of World Records adjudicating. All [people] have to do is go to and pledge to us that they’re going to have a celebration on that day, just doing something friendly, like being with their friends and having a casual pint of Guinness along the way. So we’re looking forward to seeing how that goes. Because that’s a great opportunity for us to point out to the world that St. Patrick’s Day is the friendliest day in the world.

TSJ: How much Guinness is actually made in Ireland?

FM: Oh, a lot. We do over 4 million pints a day in Ireland for various markets. The Irish market, the Great Britain market, and all the Guinness draft in North America comes from Ireland. So what you’re drinking in Montreal is a Guinness from Ireland, and what they’re drinking in the US today is also the same.

TSJ: Does it come on a Guinness boat?

FM: No, it comes in a keg! We did have boats years ago, but not anymore.

TSJ: So do you get a lot of free beer?

FM: Most of the time I pay for it because that’s the normal way to do it… But, There’s the odd tasting being done. As I travel around the world, no doubt, every now and again I do have to make sure the beer tastes great in pubs. It’s part of the job.

TSJ: Sweet job. So how did you become a brewer?

FM: Oh god, about 15, 16 years ago is when I qualified myself. It takes a long time to get through the learning. You can be a brewer very quickly if you pass all the tests, but the mastering is what you get when you have the passion and the love for making the beer. That’s the difference. It’s not a bad life, travelling the world, talking about Guinness.

TSJ: Doesn’t sound too shabby, as far as gigs go. Do you still get to work as a brewer?

FM: The odd time. Less and less. I actually need to do a little bit of getting back to it. It would be kind of cool to get back in there and dabble. I miss it.

TSJ: A friend of mine toured the Guinness brewery in Dublin and said the guide explained that apprentice barrel-makers celebrated the end of their apprenticeship by hopping into a barrel and rolling out of the brewery. Is this true?

FM: All myths are true in the Guinness world! It probably was done by somebody but I wouldn’t expect it was part of the process. The coopers [barrel-makers] working at St. James Gate were amazing people. You know the craft of making the casks was extraordinary… and it’s now gone. Those guys probably did all sorts of things to make sure the casks were perfect. Yeah, I’d say there was definitely people put in them and rolled down the streets, yeah! Never say never. Never ruin a good story!


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