Guinness Honours Its Immigrant Roots for Its 200th American Anniversary
The brewery has created the 200th Anniversary Export Stout to mark the occasion.
BY Pete Forester | Oct 12, 2017 | Food & Drink
In the mid 1800s, America was a beacon to poor and hungry Irishmen. At a time of intense taxation, religious persecution, and the Great Irish Famine, the promise of a fresh start called out to the world, and the Irish followed. But once they reached America's shores, two million immigrants found a country that didn’t want them. Stories of N.I.N.A., or "No Irish Need Apply"—which faced long denials that were ultimately disproven—accompanied decades of persecution that followed, even dogging John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign a full century later.
But before they arrived, a different group of Irish immigrants had already landed in America, arriving in the form of large wooden barrels. It was 200 years ago this month that John Heavy of South Carolina received eight hogsheads of Guinness West Indian Porter (that’s 512 gallons), marking the beginning of a trade that still stands today.
"America quickly became one of the most important markets for us," explains Guinness archivist Fergus Brady. As the Irish stepped in as cheap labour in U.S. cities, taking the few jobs they could, the Guinness still flowed. It seemed America didn’t have a problem with Ireland’s liquid exports, even when it despised the hands that brewed it. But the story behind the shipment itself remains a mystery—even to the brewer.
AMERICA DIDN’T FIND A PROBLEM WITH IRELAND’S LIQUID EXPORTS, EVEN WHEN SHE DESPISED THE HANDS THAT BREWED IT.
"In 1817, the number of Irish in America was probably smaller than most people think," explains Brady. "Our archival records don’t provide any context for the decision to export Guinness. Presumably John Heavy was a merchant, or a distributor. But we just don’t have any other information about him in our archives, his sales, or the intended audience for Guinness. Believe me, we have looked!"
Prohibition paused the growth of America’s interest in Guinness (cutting off nearly two generations of beer consumers, according to Guinness Brewery Ambassador Chris McLellan), and the Great Depression fostered even worse prejudice and anti-immigrant sentiments. Despite these setbacks, America's taste for Guinness didn't wane.
"[The United States is] the third highest Guinness-consuming country in the world, behind Ireland and the United Kingdom," says Brady. "The most noticeable impact our relationship has had on us is the extra motivation the American market has given us to innovate and to always push back on what’s expected of us."
Image by Guinness
To celebrate the beginning of the third century of Guinness in the United States, the beer maker has unveiled its 200th Anniversary Export Stout, a beer that draws inspiration from (and uses) the brand’s famous Black Patent Malt. In 1817, when the barrels first landed in the U.S., Guinness used this roasted-til-black malt to create dark, rich, bitter beers–a process made famous by Guinness and replicated by everyone since. The 200th Anniversary Export Stout is sweet and lighter in body than the colour suggests, with toffee and chocolate on the top and a bitter finish. It’s easier to drink than it looks, but still rich and weighty.
Drawing from history, Guinness has brought its famous toucans stateside for U.S.-exclusive cans of Guinness Draught, which feature the iconic billy birds flying high over Mount Rushmore. These John Gilroy illustrations were originally conceived and executed along with the rest of Gilroy’s work, but never made it to shelves because of Prohibition–until this milestone anniversary.
More than 150 years after the initial surge of Irish immigrants, 10 percent of Americans can trace their history to the green isle. Though anti-Catholic fears are no longer holding Irish-Americans back for jobs, America's inability to deal with immigrants continues to be an unfortunate reality. Sadly, the sight of a stranger at the door still moves many to hate before understanding. But as we learned from the Irish, and many others since, that impulse is self-defeating.
"With every pint that’s shared and every new chapter of our story that’s written, I hope the perception of Ireland gets closer to what Arthur [Guinness] embodied," says Brady. "We’ve been through a lot, but we persevered, and we’re still here looking out for each other–just like everyone around the world should be."