Guinness and the two-part pour: ‘Ordering a pint and letting it settle ... I think there’s a bit of solace in that’

Does letting your pint rest change the taste? Do bar staff the world over have to learn exact 45-degree angles?

Guinness. It is not really just a drink. It’s an experience.

Picture this: You walk into the local, maybe you have been away for a while, or it’s a cold, wintry day, and you are not quite sure what will tickle your taste buds in just the right way.

Lo and behold, you see that pint of black stuff sitting on the bar settling, getting ready to be topped off and served to whoever is lucky enough to drink it.

“I’ll have a pint of Guinness there, please,” you say, before you even have time to think.

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Suddenly it’s your pint sitting on the bar, settling, mesmerising the next person to walk in, and the cycle repeats.

The two-part pour has long been a contentious issue. Does it make any difference to the taste of the pint? Is it blasphemy to pull a pint in one go? Is it science? Or is it all just a marketing ploy?

On the Guinness website, the brewer says it is “proudly obsessed” with how the pint is poured.

Pour the Guinness into a clean, dry glass tilted at 45 degrees, it says, until it is three-quarters full. Then wait.

There’s nothing on whether a protractor is necessary for this 45-degree angle, or if a few degrees here and there make a difference or not. Presumably it doesn’t, because if that were the case, it would mean bar staff worldwide would need to be able to measure a 45-degree angle freehand before getting a job.

Once the surge settles, you can now fill the glass to the top and enjoy, the website concludes, as the pour culminates “in a beer that’s made to be savoured from your first sip to your last”.

So how closely are these instructions followed in real life?

Willie Aherne of the Palace Bar in Temple Bar in Dublin asks why we are even bringing this up.

“I’d be very much a traditionalist, and I was thinking about it. There was a man here from outside Castleisland, a Co Kerry man, he worked here for over 40 years, and I was a young fella behind the counter,” Aherne says.

“You’re young and you’re eager, and you’re pouring the pint and I’d be kind of standing over it waiting for it to settle and he was there, ‘don’t rush it’, and that has always stood with me to this day.

“I think it’s very much part of a pint of stout, you pour it, you let it settle on the counter. Good things come to those who wait,” Aherne says.

“We live in a world now where everything has to be quick,” he adds, saying that “coming into a nice bar, and ordering a pint and letting it settle, and having a look at it – I think there’s a bit of solace in that”.

Aherne likes the two-part pour, he likes it settled, and brands himself “old school, traditionalist” when it comes to stout.

In other words, if he was handed a pint of Guinness poured in one go, he would be miffed.

“I’d be a bit like Jesus, [they’re] rushing it up to you like it’s coming out to you and it looks like a pint of milk rather than a pint of stout,” Aherne says.

“Now, we’ve had a customer or two here and they might be rushing for a bus saying, ‘give us a quick one, just pour it and drop it out’, but no, I think there’s something in giving out a pint of stout and it’s more or less black, and you look at it and there is something nice about it,” he says.

Peter Roche from Dublin, sitting at the bar in the Palace, says that Guinness is his drink. If he were drinking a short, it would probably be a gin and tonic, but “preferably”, he would be a pint drinker.

He recalls when the pub drew pints from its original taps, before the new taps were installed.

“Today now, in my opinion, I don’t think you should get a bad pint anywhere, and I think a successful pint is to get a pint from the same tap,” Roche says.

“A lot of bartenders tend to, you would get a drink from them and then you get another pint and you get it from another barrel and sometimes it doesn’t be the same, but if you get it from the same barrel it’s consistent and it’s good,” he adds, reiterating his point that “in this day and age, every pub should have a good pint of Guinness.”

To pull a good pint of Guinness, Roche explains, one must pull the pint, leave it for 90 seconds to settle, then finish it off. And he knows his Guinness.

“I tell you one thing, if I got a bad pint, you’d know all about it, a bad pint is bitter, [there’s] a sour taste off the Guinness,” he says, adding that the pint he is currently drinking, poured by Aherne, is “superb”.

“But if you get a bad pint, it’s very hard to describe, but you know when you get a bad pint, I can tell you I’m bloody sure you would.”

Roche would not drink a pint of Guinness that was pulled in one pour, he says.

“There’s no sense in just drawing a pint and putting it up in front of you ... it wouldn’t be drinkable, and it’d be half froth as well, that’s why as I say, give it 90 seconds to get the top on it and then just top it off,” Roche says, shaking his head, “I wouldn’t fancy drinking one to be honest with you.”

Michael O’Hara, from Hull in England, on holidays with his partner in Dublin for a few days, agrees that the pint of plain must be done in a two-part pour.

He drinks Guinness at home in England and says it is a “beautiful” drink.

“When you come across here and you drink it here and then you drink it back where I’m from at home, you can certainly tell the difference, 100 per cent, there’s myth about it, it’s definitely better where it’s made, in Ireland,” O’Hara says.

“My partner just had a little bit there, and it’s miles better. You’re at home where it’s from, so it has got to be better for sure.”

But does he mind waiting for a pint?

“100 per cent, I am in no rush, what’s to rush about? There’s no need to rush in life. If I have got to wait another minute for my drink, I’ll wait another minute for my drink, but as long as it’s nice, there’s no issue.”

So, is the two-part pour all a marketing ploy? Who knows, but to third-generation publican Aherne, and Guinness drinkers everywhere: if it is, it’s a very good one.

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