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05th Mar 2024

Splitting the G: a uniquely Irish takeover over the UK

Emily Mullen

Pull up a bar stool in London, Edinburgh, Manchester or Dublin these days and you will see a pretty similar sight, pints of Guinness in various stages of consumption. Now, the quality of the pints in question may differ- we will side-step that particular rabbit hole- but the volume cannot be questioned, with 1 in every 9 pints now sold in London, being a Guinness.

At home, the last few years have seen Guinness rise from the thing your Da drank out of a can to the draft on everyone’s lips. As with a lot of things, the black stuff was co-opted by the NCAD-types and then slowly trickled down into the mainstream. While we are in a slightly more adjusted place, let’s be real, we are all still drinking Guinness, a glance around a busy bar in Dublin will show you that it has transcended from once being a cutesy lil accessory or a hardy lad status symbol to the consensus of what we now drink, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve looked around the table and seen a sea of white heads, or spotted lads navigating a busy bar with two handfuls careful not to spill a drop of the black stuff. Our nearest neighbours across the pond are a little earlier on in the process, head to any hip pub in the UK and you’ll undoubtedly see a mullet ‘splitting’ the recently located ‘G’ before brushing off their moustache and adjusting their Stone Island, you could almost mistake the place for Fade street on a Thursday night. The change is acute, especially in a land where larger once reigned supreme, where orders for crisp clear Stellas, Carlsbergs and the real ale once abounded.

The success of Guinness

Refining the success of Guinness down to a simple answer is impossible, the truth is it’s an amalgam of financial, social and historical factors that have bled into the success that is now feeding Diageo’s coffers. Part of the success came from the post-pandemic return to pubs, a large expat Irish population, lower pricing, a rejection of ‘bougie’ trappings and the rise of the Irish soft power. Pointing to an interesting demographic change, Anna MacDonald, Diageo’s Marketing Director for Beer in Great Britain, has attributed this success “to a growing presence amongst women drinkers, growing 24%” alongside “establishing the brand in culture through a strong social media presence”. The centralisation of this rise could be accounted for by the fact that Guinness is owned by Diageo, which is a British-based multinational. It’s easier to market to a market that you know and are working within, right? With further expansion plans a brewing for the UK capital, with Guinness Old Brewer’s Yard, a new “microbrewery and culture hub” located on a historic brewing site, opening in Covent Garden in Spring 2025. It’s not just in the UK where the growth is being seen, the market is also growing outside the UK, with sales increasing 19% across Europe in 2022 and, according to a YouGov survey it’s the world’s most recognisable beer brand, ranking above Corona, Heineken and Budweiser.

Co-option of Guinness and Irish identity

Looking at the enduring narrative that swirls around Guinness you would be forgiven for thinking that it was run by a mom-and-pop company that wants to keep production small, local and profits low. While the reality is pretty far from the truth, there remains a wealth of goodwill towards the brand, a protectiveness towards what it represents and a strong cultural link between it and local society. Take a look at the level of glee that Irish people displayed at the recent demise of Heineken’s foray into stout production with the doomed Island Edge. “Come for the king, and you best not miss” was a reoccurring phrase voiced when the rival stout brand launched, with Irish people openly deriding the porter that dared compete with our beloved Guinness.

Changing tastes

UK beer tastes have indeed changed over the years, with Guinness signalling a bit of a backlash against the craft ale trend of the last decade, typified by labels you’d need a graphic design degree to decipher and a Rennie just to finish. The classical simplicity of a Guinness is in direct rejection of all that faff, the quirky names and overwrought logos, it’s clean, it’s straight to the point and for the most part, you know exactly what you are getting. It speaks to a more holistic move away from fussy food and drinks, a weariness of ‘tweezer food’ and mixologists’ froth, towards classic food and drinks- take your classic wines, your martinis and your oysters. What’s been described as an “anti-bougie” movement has given rise to its anthesis, with expressions of “working-class” food, clothes and attitudes becoming the order of the day. This rise can be seen in the success of reworked greasy spoons, and pie shops and indeed in bloke-core fashion as seen in the football garb and 00s street styles items. It goes without saying that this is an altogether problematic trend, the elevation of the trappings of class which has traditionally been derided by members of the quote-un-quote elite is a fundamental conflict, few are addressing. But Guinness fits into this “salt-of-the-earth” universe, it’s a demonstration that you are more into taste and quality than image and hype.

There’s a participation aspect to Guinness which has sparked intense online discussions, and a cottage industry of (mostly) males reviewing Guinness in the UK, the best of which has to be Shit London Guinness, which documents the capital’s various crimes committed to a pint. This quest aspect which is unique to Guinness, the presence of variables has given rise to plenty of commentary about what makes a good pint. This serialisation keeps fans coming back to the stuff, in an attempt to find the quote-unquote best pint around. Compared to high-end food or cultural reviews it’s a pretty low barrier for entry (£5?) and it ultimately lends lads who drink pints to feel an authority over something.

Kim Kardashian Raises a Glass of Guinness During London Pub ...


The fetishisation of Ireland might be better explained in the context of the political shit show the UK has experienced over the last few years, between the calamitous fallout of Brexit, the televised car crash of Tory rule and the controversies that have dogged the royal family. In a global arena, it’s been a tricky time to hold a UK passport, as GQ author Finlay Renwick wrote, “being English is fairly embarrassing. Being Irish, however, has recently been co-opted into something both cozy and cool.”

The success of Guinness has no doubt helped along by the popular culture machine, spearheaded by the likes of Kim K awkwardly posing with a pint, looking like she was on day two of a hen in Carrack-on-Shannon, David Beckham introducing his 18-year-old son to Dublin pints and Amelia Dimoldenberg hogging a pint during her Chicken Shop date with Paul Mescal. This attitude is no doubt helped along the way by the success of Irish people in so many public arenas, from Cillian Murphy’s seemingly assured Oscar for his performance in Oppenheimer, Irish attorney Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh currently advising South Africa’s legal team on its high-profile proceedings in the International Court of Justice, to the new wave of Irish traditional music (Tonn Nua) justifiably dominating the airwaves at home and abroad. There’s a new wave of Irish people who proudly own their origins across the globe- from fashion designers like Robyn Lynch whose collections celebrate aspects of intrinsic Irish cultural practices from aran jumpers to Irish dancing outfits to the rise of the slightly wheeze-inducing trend of ‘Irish-street food” hitting the UK, which sees chicken fillet rolls and spicebags ascended from a deli counter to the lofty heights of an upmarket London food stall.

There is a fetishisation of the Emerald Isle happening across the board at the moment and we are all more than happy to indulge in it, ‘cos when we go abroad that’s all we want to talk about. Something that Aaron Wall can attest to, he’s the owner of one of London’s most decorated cocktail bars, serving up a new style of modern Irish hospitality, his bar is called ‘Homeboy’ because he’s constantly talking about home. Describing a regular company meeting he would have with a former boss, the operator of some of the city’s finest cocktail bars who would give him 5 minutes to spit all his Irish facts out before they could commence, “he said to me ‘In these meetings, you end up telling me how everything’s Irish’,” Wall said, “so I jokingly, one day, I just rattled off a few things quickly. Che Guevara was Irish, because his grandmother, Granny Rios, he could play football for Ireland. f*cking Zoro was Irish. The submarines were Irish, and the whale in the Natural History Museum is Irish, it was beached up on the beach in Wexford, and the farmer sold it to the History Museum so it’s Irish!”


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Irish-bars of Gomorrah

Pints aside, there’s a new kind of Irish bar that we at home would be pretty familiar with, but that the rest of the world is just realising exists. The newly opened and Michelin-listed Devonshire Pub in London’s Soho is a prime example of this, run by a legend in the industry and with former Kehoe’s bartenders overseeing proceedings. This spot selling ham & cheese toasties with a side of Irish charm continually has queues around the corner, while across the city a Nunhead pub has been named the greatest boozer in London thanks to its “perfect Guinness”, Irish entertainment and mixed crowd of “OAPs” and “chic fashion students”. Over the Atlantic, New York’s The Dead Rabbit has been called one of the best bars in the world, with plans in motion to hop into other US state markets.

These bars are far removed from the generic rowdy plastic paddywhackery Irish bars which can be found in every city in the world, as far away as the Himalayas or outer Mongolia. Sensible marketers are learning that there’s something in a genuine Irish bar, with charm, quality drinks and a welcoming feeling and are trying their hardest to bottle it. Interestingly this takeover is a slight reclaiming of what once originated in the UK (like a lot of things), “that sort of Irish pub thing was hijacked really by British companies when in the 90s, when you had O’Neills and Scruffy Murphy’s and Filthy McNasties and stuff. It became a bit twee, a bit fake and a bit sort of ‘how’s your father?'” Oisin Rogers co-founder of The Devonshire tells us. It’s taken us a couple of hundred years, but we are finally getting around to re-colonising the UK, conquering the conquerors one two-part-pour at a time.


The complexities of our relationship with our nearest neighbours have been well-documented, with public and personal experiences of anti-Irish sentiment felt far and wide. The positive kudos being lavished on Irish public figures, the continued instances of the Brits being at it again (code for them claiming Irish people as their own) and the fixation on tangible aspects of Irish culture, is a refreshing departure for a lot of Irish people in the UK, who have long struggled with an attitude of ambivalence or a culture of misrepresentation made by our UK counterparts. “We have this sort of pride with confidence about being Irish abroad now,” says Wall, who references the experience his father had emigrating to London, compared with his own. The pair had parallel experiences moving to London in their 20s, while his father faced visible signs of anti-Irish sentiment from seeing things like the infamous sign “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish in the door” for example, compared to Wall who was heading over to a job where he was “going to be in charge” given the training and experience to eventually open a business there.

‘Modern Irish hospitality’

For many of us, the quality of service we experience at home is largely taken for granted, it’s only when it’s lacking do we feel it. There is a standard of Irish hospitality that we are well used to, it’s a feeling of being looked after, your needs as a customer being anticipated before you have even thought of them. “The difference is between servitude that you see in a lot of countries and pride in service,” says Wall, “in Ireland, we have this, inherent pride in service, that we want to look after you because we want to show you that we care.” Speaking of bringing his head bartender Will over to Ireland to see Irish hospitality in action, in Dublin’s Dame Tavern on a Wednesday afternoon, they take note of the fifty people in the bar and a sole bartender on, “giving a masterclass in hospitality and service,” watching him they see how he’s working the room, “he’s telling lads to hurry up to get their next round in. He’s apologising to other people about taking a minute to get over to them. He’s getting around in a timely fashion to make sure everyone’s looked after and whilst he’s cleared a few glasses as he goes”. Given this level of genuine care and attention granted to customers it’s no surprise that some of the best English bars are run by Irish people, “some of the best bars in the world are run by Irish people, and have a bit of Irish heritage, a bit of Irish accent and I think it is culturally aligned to how we are, we are a hospitable crowd, and I think hospitality and generosity are very much the same thing, without hospitality there’s no generosity,” says Rogers.

Point of positivity 

The stats are never hard to ignore with the staggering rates of pub closures experienced across the UK, none more acute than in London, which is seeing the highest rates of pub closures across the whole of the UK. The success of pubs like the Devonshire is undoubtedly a point of positivity in an industry wracked with negative press, Rogers has said, “If you look up anything to do with pubs, the narrative is always “Oh it’s a bit shite” Things are closing down, electricity is too expensive, there are fewer customers, nobody drinks in pubs anymore, that sort of stuff,” he added, “nobody is really opening pubs over here, so I think the success of The Devonshire just caught the imagination a bit”. The success of this specific pub is not to be sniffed at, with daily Guinness deliveries and one day 43 (kegs of Guinness) in terms of volume. But for Rogers the volume is not the important thing, the craic is “while we are very pleased and proud of the amount that we are doing, our reason for doing it was not to make sh*t loads of money or to have the busiest pub, it was to have somewhere that we would like to drink, somewhere we would be proud of and somewhere that people could have the craic in,” while the bar has been a massive hit with the locals so too has it been a hit with the Irish away, “we tend to get very successful, people who’ve done very well over here tend to come in here.”

Whatever the means of the rise, it’s not just Guinness rising and settling to the top of the UK-pub-goers psyche. We are living through a distinct age of Irish cache, and with the Irish star rising it’s great to see our countrymen and women capitalise on it. Long gone are the days of our likeness and image being twisted into grotesque masks of supposed Irishness that none of us could recognise, now the intrinsic and prideful points of our culture is being marketed and celebrated on the international stage and sure isn’t that something to be welcomed with no less than cead mile failte?

READ ON: The top 12 pints of Guinness in Dublin