“Being the vanguard of ice cream has vanquished its radical sensation.”

I have a favorite local pub that specializes in offering a wide variety of craft beers that rotate weekly – they have dozens of taps and whenever I go there’s always a couple beers on special I’ve never heard of.  Let’s just say, it’s not the kind of place you order a Budweiser.  But I was surprised when they stopped serving Guinness to focus their selection toward offering unique flavors from a variety of breweries.  As an American pub, Guinness still seems exotic enough to offer, right?

I didn’t want to order Guiness that night and I have never ordered it there before, in fact I barely noticed it was absent from the list. Yet I was still surprised and annoyed that they wouldn’t offer the “classic” or “go-to” stout. C’mon, it’s a classic.  So what if Guinness is the “vanilla” of the stout world?  Ben & Jerry’s has dozens of flavors and yet they always have vanilla.

Of course, I never order vanilla at ice cream shops either because who wants vanilla ice cream?

It’s just so common and plain.  Multitudes of things have vanilla varieties – yogurts, cookies, cereals, sodas, even alcohols.  Then there are the candles, lotions, air fresheners, and body washes.  If there are multiple flavors or scents available for a product, it is likely one of them is vanilla.

Vanilla has become synonymous with “plain” and in contexts other than just flavors.  A “vanilla” person has a conventional and unadventurous personality type.  A “vanilla” computer game is the original game with no expansions or extras.  It can be used to describe anything that is boring, modest, basic, or simple.

But vanilla hasn’t always had such a boring reputation.  It was once worshiped by the Aztecs as a sacred plant, and when Cortes brought it back to Europe in the 1520s it quickly became one of Spain’s hottest commodities.

Europe’s demands were mainly exported from Mexico because it was difficult to cultivate in non-native regions as it required pollination from a local bee species not found in Europe.  The exotic origin of the plant and the difficulty in its growth and acquisition made it all the more desirable and prestigious.

According to the Totonac, an early civilization that lived in Mexico, the vanilla plant sprung the blood of two beheaded lovers, an immortal princess and the mortal she was forbidden to marry.

In the mid 19th century, the invention of hand-pollination allowed the plant to be cultivated anywhere and global production began. But even with production possible in non-native regions, it was still a labor-intensive process: the flower will die within hours after blooming if not pollinated, the pods grow for 9+ months, and then curing processes take several more months.

Even after vanilla production increased, its price and demand, and therefore prestige, stayed high.

So what changed?  When did “vanilla” stop being a widely sought exotic spice and become the bland flavor we see it as today?

Vanilla first came to America when Thomas Jefferson brought it as an ice cream flavoring from France.  Though the flavor was exotic, it is possible it began to acquire it’s “plain” reputation here: Ice cream was commonly flavored with nuts and berries, so although the flavor was exotic, it’s white, plain, smooth texture must have seemed very plain in comparison.

A portion of Thomas Jefferson’s personal vanilla ice cream recipe.

However it is more likely that the high popularity of vanilla is what caused its slow progression towards anonymity and blandness. Vanilla was such a great spice that it was used for everything, but once it was available everywhere it ceased to be special.

Most things now aren’t even made with real vanilla anymore, but rather vanillin.  Vanillin is the main compound in natural vanilla, but while real vanilla extract also contains hundreds of other compounds, imitation vanilla is mainly all vanillin.

Production of vanillin, which started as a profitable use for certain by-products of the paper making industry, further led to widescale use of “vanilla” as a flavoring, where it eventually faded to a background or complimentary flavor.  Now it seems vanilla needs a special flavor partner to really grab one’s eye – Vanilla Java, Vanilla Caramel, Vanilla Toffee, Vanilla Rum, the list goes on.

But it still holds true that vanilla is the one flavor you can get anywhere, so why get it (insert name of the next bakery or ice cream shop you visit)?  Because really, who is famous for their vanilla ice cream? Or their pastries with vanilla frosting?

But who knows, maybe its absence from the food spotlight for a while will respark our love of vanilla. Maybe when chocolate goes out of style?

Although I doubt that’s ever happening.

“Diets, like clothes, should be tailored to you”

Fad diets, as their name suggests, are easy-to-follow and trendy diets focused more on short-term success than long-term maintenance of health and weight. Focus is usually placed on eliminating or emphasizing a particular food group for health benefits.

However these diets tend to be difficult and sometimes even dangerous to follow for long periods of time. The Paleo Diet is considered by many to be a fad diet, which I why I was surprised that it is still a somewhat prevalent.

The Paleo Diet, short for Paleolithic Diet, is based on the diet of the early humans (called hominids) which lived during the Paleolithic era of 2.5 million years ago to 10 thousand years ago. It is believed to follow the general “ancestral human diet”.

It claims that humans are most adapted to the diet of their Paleolithic ancestors – fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, roots, nuts, and wild game. Therefore sugars, salts, oils, and grains and vegetables which came about during the Agricultural Revolution are discouraged.

The claim of the Paleo Diet is that natural selection has not strongly acted on humans since the rise of agriculture, thus humans are maladjusted to the modern diets which they now consume. Hunter-gatherer societies, which still follow the basic ancestral human diets, have overall lower prevalence of disease.

By this reasoning, foods which humans are considered ill-adapted for are partly responsible for the increasing rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.  To help avoid the diseases caused by the “modern affluent diet”, humans should follow the Paleo Diet and avoid modern foods.

But, while abstaining from excesses of sugar and oil is beneficial to human health, the actual scientific reasoning behind the Paleo Diet is shaky at best.

1. Lifestyle is a major factor in any diet, not just the Paleo Diet

The lifestyle that the Paleo Diet promotes is itself healthy – growing or hunting one’s own food, and not eating in excess are healthy additions to any diet protocol.  The main bulk of the health advantages stemming not from what hunter-gatherer peoples actually eat, but how they live, and their diets are a result of their culture.

Basically, hunter-gatherers are more active and tend to consume fresher foods because they must acquire it for themselves.  Any modern American who hunts and gathers their own food will surely already lead a more active lifestyle and is also less likely to consume processed foods and junk food, whether or not they are following the textbook Paleo Diet.

However, the changes that have occurred among urban societies, even in the past century or so, have made following a hunter-gatherer lifestyle next-to-impossible.

2. The Paleo Diet assumes human evolution abruptly stopped at the rise of agriculture

The assumption that humans have not changed or adapted to their environment in the past 10,000 years ignores everything we know about evolutionary change. If adaptation comes naturally over time, why should change suddenly stop? While it is true that natural selection may be acting less on populations now with modern medicine and more consistent food sources, but fluctuations in population genetics are always present.

Furthermore, there is evidence that rapid changes have occurred in human populations since the rise of agriculture, and the evolution of lactose tolerance is a good example. A few thousand years ago there was an increased interest in animal husbandry in human populations, which led to more access to dairy products like cheese and milk. Early humans naturally lost lactose tolerance after weaning, but populations with access to dairy have since evolved a genetic ability to continue to digest lactose into adulthood and therfore retain the ability to acquire nourishment from dairy products.

3. Humans are opportunistic omnivores and are designed to eat a variety of diets

The premise of the Paleo Diet is that humans are specifically adapted to a certain diet and are maladjusted to consuming different diets, which has already been proven false by the evidence of change in lactose tolerance. Furthermore, this assumes that all early human groups ate the same diet, which is wildly blind to the fact that human populations arose all over the world and couldn’t possibly have eaten the same foods. And anthropologists can never be sure of the exact diet of any ancient group because it would have been widely variable based on location, season, and food availability.

Furthermore, the fact that humans only had access to certain foods during their evolutionary history doesn’t automatically mean that they aren’t capable of eating other things.

4. Diet alone cannot guarantee health

There is no specific relationship between genotype (one’s genes) and phenotype (one’s physical traits), so even if humans were specifically adapted for a certain diet, genes are not the only factors which influence final health, and environment and early development can have equally strong impacts later in life.  Hormones, musculature, and metabolism, among other factors, mean that some people will naturally weigh more or less no matter the diet they follow.

So, while the reasoning and science behind the Paleo Diet seems inaccurate at best, this isn’t to say that it can’t be beneficial to one’s health to follow some of the suggestions it makes. However, strictly following the Paleo Diet based on the belief that you are eating as ancestral humans did won’t be anymore beneficial than any other fad diet out there.

“Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity”

And of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcass shall ye not touch; for they are unclean to you.”
-Leviticus 11:8

Having well considered the origin of flesh-foods, and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let man entirely abstain from eating flesh.”
-Manusmrti 5.49

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may learn self-restraint But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves
-Surah 183, 194

Religion can hold a strong sway over culture and it influences how people behave in social situations by placing a strong emphasis on moral behavior and promoting group cooperation. However, the benefits of religion may come at a price and sometimes an individual must forego his or her own personal interests for the good of the religious group, perhaps by becoming a celibate religious leader, payments of tithing, or following dietary restrictions and fasting laws.

Religious taboos that prohibit the consumption of certain foods or food during certain times are particularly interesting because they seem to go against all basic survival instincts that humans have.

  • Judaism mandates that its followers must keep Kosher, which are foods acceptable to eat under Jewish Law, and there are many restrictions and taboos during the time of Passover, including prohibition of leavened bread.

  • Followers of Islam should only eat foods that are Halal or “permissible in Islamic Law” and must abstain from consuming any food during the fasting periods in the month of Ramadan.
  • Catholics may not eat red meat on Friday or during the time of Lent, when it is typical for other forms of luxuries to be given up as well.

Many different explanations for the historical origins of dietary restrictions have been proposed in the past, but research in the fields of anthropology and psychology suggests that the most plausible explanation for these seemingly detrimental rituals is that they signal devotion to a group.

An individual associates with a specific group of like-minded individuals and this membership grants them the benefits of others’ altruistic acts – aid that is given simply because someone is in the “in-group”. Being part of the group therefore provides safety, relationship opportunities, and the possibility of help from a group member. Individuals form a group by entering into a social compact where they all agree to work together and adhere to rules of the group for the greater collective good of all members.

This is known as reciprocal altruism: you help a member of the group because you expect that at some point, they would do the same for you, and everyone wins.

However, this system can only work if everyone follows the rules and if their promises of aid are honest. Otherwise the group breaks down when people invest and are not rewarded. And it is difficult to organize voluntary group cooperation without the risk of some people taking advantage of the system, so-called free riders, that reap the benefits of being in a group without returning the favor.

If a group relies on cooperation and altruism to function, there must be a way to determine who is part of the group, usually through shared behaviors, customs, dress, etc. Common forms of signaling group membership can include clothing style, such as identifying oneself as a Michigan student by donning a blue and maize sweatshirt or identifying oneself as Christian by wearing a rosary or crucifix.

Similar behavior and dress clearly identifies all member of this group as loyal fans to the University of Michigan

Similar behavior and dress clearly identifies all member of this group as loyal fans to the University of Michigan.

The flaw with these signs of group membership is that anyone who wants to take advantage of the benefits to be reaped from group camaraderie can, and by simply wearing these articles of clothing, they can appear as though they too are part of the group.

A so-called "wolf in sheep's clothing" can integrate themselves into a group to benefit from it without any intention of returning the favor

A so-called “wolf in sheep’s clothing” can integrate themselves into a group to benefit from it without any intention of returning the favor.

A group’s capacity to find and then punish or oust cheaters increases the overall success of the group, so a more effective and selective form of group identification is often required. 

Therefore, a more complex way of signaling group membership may arise in the form of a costly signal.  This is a behavior that does not directly benefit the member of the group or the group as a whole, but demonstrates a commitment to the group. If an individual is willing to go out of their way to demonstrate that they want to be part of the group, it is more likely that they have a true vested interest in the group’s outcome.

It can be argued that a dietary restriction or food taboo is an example of this type of costly group signal – health and happiness are not gained by following any such rule (except the happiness one finds in being devout in their religion). Yet, nearly every religion in the history of mankind has requested that its followers obey some sort of dietary law.

An early Judeo-Christian belief held that pork was prohibited because pigs were used by pagans such as the Romans to worship false idols, and therefore the animals were tainted in the eyes of God with a connection to idolatry and were unclean for believers to consume. However, if this were the case, then most domesticated animals should have been considered unclean to eat, because many other animals associated with pagan practices, such as the bull, ox, or sheep were not considered unclean.

This facade from the Ara Pacis in Rome indicates that sheep and cattle were also important animals in Roman ritual, yet there are few Western taboos regarding the consumption of their meat.

This facade from the Ara Pacis in Rome indicates that sheep and cattle were equally important animals in Roman ritual, yet there are few Western taboos regarding the consumption of their meat.

Many different theories and explanations have been proposed for why most major religions demand that their followers obey a variety of dietary restrictions and taboos, and they cite reasons that range from historical symbolism to biological issues.  Clearly, traditions in a religious practice have important symbolic meaning for its followers.  The practices need not require sacrifice in order to maintain this symbolism, but typically, they do.

But it turns out that where history cannot, evolutionary theory can provide an explanation for the persistence of dietary laws: following dietary restrictions is a way to show one’s commitment to a group and indicate a genuine interest in cooperation and altruism.

Any rule that elicits a food restriction immediately divides people into groups of those who follow it and those who do not. Every culture has special protocols or traditions associated with acquiring or eating certain foods, and food taboos figure prominently into many societies around the world:

  • A traditional American thanksgiving would not be complete without the male head of household sitting at the head of the table, ready to carve the family’s turkey.
  • A successful Netsilik Eskimo seal hunt ends when the meat has been meticulously divided among a hunter’s lifelong “seal partners” during a village-wide celebration.
  • A Catholic communion involves the drinking of wine and eating of bread in a highly symbolic and meaningful way, and only members of the Catholic church may participate in this special event.

These rituals are performed in such a way that anyone who is not a member of that group would not fully understand and would thus be disconnected from the others during celebrations. Consequently, it is easy for others to determine which group an individual associates with through their knowledge of food customs, taboos, and restrictions. Furthermore, anyone willing to follow complicated rules that require a sacrifice of luxury demonstrates they are not simply fair-weather followers but devoted members of the group.  

By this obvious outward sign of who is part of the culture, the religion, the “in-group”, dietary laws can function as a way of keeping groups more united because members can be more assured that their fellow group members are equally committed to the group.

 

Anyone interested in reading more on these ideas should definitely check out my inspiration:

Irons, W. 2001. Religion as a Hard-to-Fake Sign of Commitment. Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment. R.M. Nesse (ed), pp 292-309. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Also, researchers conducted a case study of group membership signaling among religious communes.  Their findings indicated that groups which require more commitment, more “inside” knowledge, and more adherence to ritual, were more likely to be successful.

Sosis R. and E. R. Bressler. 2003. Cooperation and Commune Longevity: A Test of the Costly Signaling Theory of Religion. Cross-Cultural Research. 37, 211-239.

“Taste the Rainbow”

Okay, so I’ll start by saying that I know that this is nothing like a typical post from me, but Spring Break starts tomorrow here at UofM so it seemed like an appropriate time to document my adventures in “distilling” a few weekends ago.

Any college student knows the first thing you need for a fun house party is, sadly, a lot of cheap liquor.  Our adventure began at the local Meijer, where much to our surprise and amazement, pretty much all of their alcohol was on sale.  It was a beautiful moment, and yet…

Somehow we still ended up with some cheap beverages that no one really wants to drink…

Luckily, we also purchased skittles.  Cue the making of Skittle Vodka! (I prefer the term “distilling”, it sounds classier but admittedly is not really accurate).  Basically you dissolve skittles into vodka to make skittles-flavored vodka, pretty simple concept.  And it’s a fun way of making decent tasting punch from even the cheapest of vodkas.  And it’s ridiculously easy, so if you are interested, here’s what you will need:

  • 1 handle (1.75L) of a vodka of your choice
  • 1 large bag (~20oz) of skittles
  • 5 clean, empty bottles
  • Coffee filters, cheesecloth, etc.
  • Strainer/Sieve/Colander 
  • Coffee grinder/Blender (optional)

And here’s the process:

1. Sort out the different skittles flavors into separate cups (you can also make awesome flavor mixes like strawberry-grape or lemon-lime)

2. *This step is totally optional, but expedites the process and is definitely the most fun part: grind the skittles into a delicious skittle powder.

— Stop here and quickly find something to coat with skittles sugar, I recommend ice cream or even yogurt. —

Next, add the remaining ground up skittles to an empty bottle, fill with vodka, seal, and repeat for each flavor.

It helps to shake them up every day or so too, to make sure the skittles fully dissolve.

Orange first…

Aaand lemon…

3. If you ground up the skittles, it only takes a couple of days for the skittles to fully dissolve into the vodka.  If you placed them in whole, it might take up to a week for them to fully dissolve.  Once they do, you can filter out the skittles sediment to get a clear and colorful drink.

I recommend using a filter placed in a colander, but there’s a lot of ways to do this.

To speed up the process, we devolved to simply wrapping a filter around a glass and letting it drip into a glass.  This is a bit slower, but you can have multiple flavoring processes going at once this way.

4. After the vodka has completely filtered, place into clean bottles (hopefully you can find some classier ones that we did), and serve!

There are a lot of options to go here, bold drinkers may enjoy a sour warhead version of this, or even vodka-infused gummy bears.  So have fun, enjoy, and remember Drink Responsibly!

“If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?”

The perks of being in a “Human Nutrition and Culture” class is that a bunch of great topics relating to food keep popping up in discussions. Meat consumption is an extremely intricate and variable topic among the cultural groups of the world – just to name a few interesting topics: cultures such as the Inuit live almost entirely off of animal products in a land with no vegetation, many major world religions ban the consumption of pork, a meal isn’t considered complete among Maasai without meat, and there is an arguable vegetarian trend that has been spreading throughout the United States in recent years.

For the purposes of a recent study, I looked at how meat consumption was viewed among different social classes in Medieval Europe and how this impacted their nutrition and health – and was surprised to find a modern day connection to how we identify different meats. (And if you are curious, the lower classes were actually healthier than higher classes because they ate more “cheap” foods such as vegetables and less “high-class” foods such as sugar. If only it were like that today).

Have you ever wondered why some meat is called the same thing as the animal it comes from and some have different names? Well… maybe not… but consider:

  • chicken is called chicken, turkey is turkey, fish is fish

However:

  • cow meat is called beef
  • calf is veal
  • sheep is mutton
  • pig is pork
  • deer is venison

The argument is often made that calling meat by other names such as beef and pork allows for people to psychologically distance themselves from the fact that they are actually eating a once-living creature. It’s easier to eat a steak when your mental image is not of an actual living cow but rather an abstract food term “beef”.

vs.

While this may be part of the explanation, it certainly doesn’t explain why we still call chickens chicken, which is one of the most eaten animals and hence should be the most likely to have a differential name for its consumption.

The difference actually comes from the Norman conquest of England and the resulting mixture of cultures and languages that occurred. When the Normans (French) took over England and it’s government, they became the elite and the nobles of the country. And they used their own words for their food – beouf, porc, and mouton. The commoners still kept the Anglo-Saxon names they used for the animals – cow, pig, and sheep.

Venison follows along this same pattern, as deer were considered royal property and legal only for nobles to consume.

The language differences may have come from a deliberate desire of the Normans to separate themselves from the commoners, or it may have been a natural response of each group to continue to use their native language.

Furthermore, the elites and nobles who used the French words only saw the meat and so called it by their French names, while the commoners who raised the animals – but were probably too poor to actually eat them – called the living animals by the Anglo-saxon names. Over time, as the languages and cultures mixed due to coexistence, both were incorporated into the common language because both developed different implications – beouf, beef, for the meat and cow for the living animal.

“Food for thought”

I am currently in an anthropology class that focuses on how food perspectives, nutrition, and diets have shaped human evolution. It focuses on what we eat and why, and the cultural impacts of these beliefs. Naturally, the phrase “tastes like chicken” came into the discussion on day #1 and it piqued my curiosity about the origins of the phrase and whether it was actually true.

Fried Chicken

First off, the origins of the phrase seem to come from the late 19th century, when a European writer described eating a rat in China as having the consistency, texture, and taste of chicken. Since then, it has become a common, often comedic phrase, used to describe a variety of foods – sometimes describing things that actually taste like chicken, or something that is bland, or something that is exotic or strange.

My first instinct on the possible accuracy of this phrase, being an evolutionary anthropologist, was that perhaps all of the animals that supposedly taste like chicken originated from one common ancestor that tasted like chicken, or more accurately all things that taste like chicken actually taste like this common ancestor.

The flavor of meat can be based on the evolutionary origin of the animal, due to chemical make-up of the animal’s muscle tissues and other factors that influence taste. As it turns out, species descended from tetrapods tend to taste like chicken – i.e. birds and reptiles. Hoofed animals diverged from the tetrapod lineage, explaining why they have a different flavor than the rest of the animals we eat.

This is a phylogenetic tree, or visual representation of evolutionary history, of the species of animals that reportedly taste like chicken.  Note the divergence of the hoofed animals and the differing flavors of their descendants.

This is a phylogenetic tree, or visual representation of evolutionary history, of the species of animals that reportedly taste like chicken. Note the divergence of the hoofed animals and the differing flavors of their descendants.

This brings up the fun theory that because dinosaurs were the evolutionary predecessors of birds, they probably tasted like chicken too.

Tastes like Chicken

Of course, my explanation of the evolutionary theory of chicken flavor was promptly shot down by a friend majoring in biochemistry (you know who you are, buzzkill). He declared that the real reason that some things taste like other things is their glutamate content.

Flavors in meat are partially due to glutamate, an amino acid derivative that seems to contribute to the “savory” flavor of meats. Research shows that chicken has a lower glutamate content than many other meats, which results in the bland flavor that chicken can have, making it a more universally-comparable flavor.

While I agree with his explanation, I disagree with his disagreement of my theory. If studying anthropology has taught me anything, its that there is never just one simple answer to anything. So often, especially in the field of evolutionary biology or evolutionary anthropology, people are quick to judge one theory as being wrong or against their beliefs. But the important thing to remember about evolution is that it is not mutually exclusive of any other fact – instead it works with these facts to help explain how and why they came about.

Which leads me to the last point about this whole article – anything I have said here does not actually make much sense because different subspecies of chicken, age of chicken, cut of chicken, flavoring, cooking method, etc. can all have huge influences on flavor so there is really no way to say that something tastes like chicken when there is really no definitive “chicken flavor”. It’s all really just fun food for thought.

Even foods that say they taste like chicken don't really taste like I imagine chicken to be.

Even foods that say they taste like chicken don’t really taste like I imagine chicken to be.

“Lovely day for a Guinness”

As I mentioned in a previous post, Sláinte, the Guinness Storehouse was one of my favorite attractions in Dublin. I would highly recommend, nay require, that any visit to Dublin be accompanied by a tour. For a mere €13 (student price) we had an entire days worth of entertainment, learning, and of course drinking.

Freshest Guinness possible, straight from the Storehouse

Freshest Guinness possible, straight from the Storehouse

The storehouse is easy enough to find; ask anyone in Dublin and they can probably give you directions. A city bus drops you off almost in front of the old Storehouse, which is no longer an active site in the brewing process and has been transformed into a museum and showcase for all things Guinness. You arrive at St. Jame’s Gate and begin the tour with a walk through the winding streets of mini-factory town.

St. James Gate, Dublin

Guinness Gates

The abandoned industrial feel of the area provides a great build-up to the actual tour, which has the same feel all throughout. You enter through the atrium, which is designed to look like a giant pint glass going up to the 7th floor of the Storehouse and would hold over 14 million pints of Guinness if filled. Immediately you see walls lined with all the styles of bottles Guinness has ever used in their nearly 250 years of brewing. Then, behold, right in the center of the atrium floor, under a giant circle of glass, is the actual land lease that Arthur Guinness signed in 1759 securing St. Jame’s Gate as the home of Guinness for 9,000 years. Here, on this monumental spot, you can wait for a free guided tour that begins about every 10-15 minutes or proceed onward on your own.

Guinness Lease, circa 1759

The tour takes you through the main steps of brewing beer and, in a manner reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, there are mazes of walkways, a room filled with barley (which you will be picking out of your clothing, shoes, and hair for days to come if your friends are as immature as mine), and even a waterfall. Of course its all educational – there are interactive displays for each of the 4 main ingredients that goes into Guinness (water, yeast, hops, and barley) which show where they come from and how they are used to make the magical beverage known as Guinness.

Guinness Barrels

So, along the way you learn about the barley and hops growing process, where the water comes from, how it is mixed and stored and fermented, and the history of beer brewing. You also learn how coopers (barrel makers) play an important role in the brewing process, as well as the farmers, workers, and brew masters.  There’s working models of the old machines used in the fermentation process, and a walk inside a giant barrel reveals a looping video explaining the brewing process from the head microbiologist Master Brewer himself.

Guinness Machines

A few floors up the focus shifts to the transportation of Guinness, and as a quote painted on an exposed steel girder explains, “The story of transporting Guinness stout is the story of transportation itself”.

Transportation

As it turns out because it is exported all around the world, Guinness played a large role in some parts of the Industrial Revolution and the development of transportation technology in the 20th century. There are lots of great artifacts from the trains, planes, ships, and trucks that have all worked to transport this fine beverage all around the world.

After this, you enter the tasting room, where attendants present each visitor over the age of 18 with a mini-pint of Guinness fresh from the keg line and guaranteed to be served at the optimal temperature and pressure, just to get you warmed up for the actual regular-sized pint you can get at one of two places in the factory. The 4th floor offers the chance to learn to pour the perfect pint and you get an awesome frame-worthy certificate upon completing this feat. According to the official guidelines, a pint of Guinness should take about 120 seconds and should be the product of a “double-pour” to ensure the proper volume of stout is added to the glass. This specialized pouring process sparked the famous Guinness advertising slogan “good things come to those who wait”.

And something else you will learn straightaway while touring the Storehouse – the Guinness company is the master of advertising. By the end of the tour I was thoroughly convinced that I should definitely be drinking more Guinness in my daily life. They have had some really great slogans and mascots over the course of their history, not to mention the famous “harp” logo.  In the early 20th century it was a popular argument that Guinness was good for you because dark beers had been suggested to slow the build-up of plaque in the arteries, so “Guinness for strength” and “a Guinness a day” were common slogans.

For Strength!

The company no longer makes claims about the health benefits of their beverage, but the classic advertising slogans remain. My favorite marketing for Guinness is the zoo animals of the 1930’s, which prominantly feature Gilroy the zookeeper and the “Guinness family” of mascots, including the kangaroo, seal, ostrich, lion, and perhaps most famously the toucan.

Guinness Toucan

Lovely Day for a Guinness!

Think of any advertising scheme and Guinness has probably employed it at some point in the past couple hundred years. And the Storehouse features a large advertising museum which houses examples of many of the interesting ads that have promoted Guinness over the years – this was actually more interesting than it may sound because some of the ads are pretty hilarious and outlandish by today’s standards (and some are just plain politically incorrect as well).

Politically Incorrect Guinness Ad

Upon reaching the very top of the Storehouse tour, you find yourself in the Gravity Bar, the top of the pint glass structure, where you can also get your complimentary pint of Guinness if you didn’t get it at the Perfect Pouring Station earlier. The Gravity Bar offers a complete 360-degree view of Dublin and the surrounding countryside and is the perfect finishing touch to the tour (unless you count hitting up the bars of Dublin for more Guinness after leaving the Storehouse like we did).

This was the view of Dublin as seen from the Gravity Bar of the Guinness Storehouse, 360-degree views from the 7th floor!

This was the view of Dublin as seen from the Gravity Bar of the Guinness Storehouse, 360-degree views from the 7th floor!