Why Do The Irish Hate Guinness?

K and I spent ten days traveling in Ireland in August of 2005. One night, we met a couple – Stephen and Debbie – from Belfast who’d hopped the train to Dublin for a weekend change of scenery. It was my twenty-sixth birthday. Turns out it was Stephen’s birthday too – he was turning twenty-one.

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We bought each other a few celebratory rounds. And an odd thing happened each time we stepped to the bar. First, I suggested beers. Much to my horror, Stephen said he’d have a Budweiser (foreign, American beer to him). I ordered a Guinness (foreign, Irish beer to me).


The second time up, it was whisk(e)y. I ordered Jameson (foreign to me). He ordered Jack Daniel’s (foreign to him). See the pattern?

For many Americans who haven’t visited Ireland (and, from what I’m told, the rest of Europe as well), they’re surprised to learn just how popular Budweiser is there. It’s a stunning phenomenon really. For a brew that’s as lowbrow and “bottom of the barrel” as it gets, the Irish, with centuries of history in great beer-making, can’t seem to get enough of it. At almost every Irish pub we visited – and not just in Dublin – Budweiser taps stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the great likes of Guinness, Bass, Smithwick’s, et. al.

So what? Well I can’t believe the Irish are drinking Bud for its fantastic flavor. Even people who like Bud will – after enough popped cans and prodding – admit that it’s quite lousy. It’s merely a cheap buzz, period. But in Ireland, Bud isn’t much cheaper than almost any other (better, more flavorful) beer.

So what’s the draw? I can only conclude that, in their mind’s, it’s foreign and it’s different. Therefore it’s better. Or at least more “exotic” and interesting than plain ol’ Guinness.

Just like Chinese food is just “food” to the Chinese: it’s an “exotic treat” to foreigners, but nothing special to them.

Just like the Sleeman brew I bought in Montreal tasted a hell of a lot better in Canada then it did at my kitchen table.

And just like how the Guinness in Ireland tasted so much better than the Guinness from Zack’s Whacky Packy Liquors near my house (business name changed to protect the innocent), even though it’s the same damn recipe.

If Guinness were suddenly an American import for Ireland and Budweiser were the local Irish brew, would the tables be turned? Would they shun Bud in favor of the black stuff simply because it’s foreign?

I allude to the story above to make a point, but I know this curiosity isn’t exclusive to Ireland. It begs the question: why does “foreign” almost always seem “better”? Why do we place certain foreign foods, places, and people on a pedestal when often we know that similar, yet better, versions exist back home? Is it traveler’s euphoria? Or, in the case of Bud-loving Irish, experiencing something foreign while at home and idealizing it accordingly?

Founding Editor
  1. My brothers drink Budweiser because it’s light. There are many people out there who do not enjoy the rich, flavorful (and bitter, to some) taste of beer. I’m going to guess it’s partly the novelty, like you say, and partly that Budweiser among the lightest beers served there.

  2. I think the same thing happens with Oz’s Fosters, it the big Australian export beer but no one here drinks it. TBH the last time I drank it I was a kid and although I’m not much of a drinker I’ve I don’t recall even seeing it available in a bottle shop.

  3. The Irish DO hate Guiness outside of Ireland, hehe. It tastes completely different in the States, no joke.

    Also, if you are in Co Cork you have to drink the Murphys…the local equivalent to Guinness, or you might get some angry Corkonians looking at you. :)

  4. If your premise were true, Bud would not be the #1 selling beer in the US – which it is. Guinness has always successfully marketed itself over here, but I can’t believe everyone I saw in the pubs of Dublin, Dingle, Doolin and Sligo downing Guinness were American tourists. Having travelled a fair portion of the globe I have always made sure I sampled the local brews, and have rarely been disappointed. Peroni is surprisingly good, but that may also reflect the degree of thirst one generates in Italy. But I have never bought a Bud anyhwere other than here in the US, so cannot verify its exoticness offshore. As to Ireland, if you want the most popular gin, don’t ask for Beefeater’s – ask for Cork.

  5. Your post got me thinking – I’ve posted a response on my blog here:


    One thing I didn’t mention, though: after years of wondering myself, an Irish brewer I met finally explained to me that there is an actual, scientific reason for Guinness tasting different in Ireland: it’s not pasteurized.

    I talked about this in my post on finding the perfect pint in Ireland: http://www.irelandlogue.com/about-ireland/bad-pintgood-pint-rules-for-finding-the-perfect-pint.html

  6. Preya, I’m sure you’re right – Bud’s certainly easy to drink, relative to the full flavor of Guinness anyway.

    Dan, I’ve heard the same thing about Foster’s in Australia (i.e. it’s mostly a drink for tourists). To be honest, I’m a huge beer buff and I think Foster’s is pretty lousy.

  7. Greg, honestly the title was just meant to be provocative =).

    Interesting tidbit though: I read an interview a while back with one of Guinness’ head brewmasters. He said that there are something like forty variations of the Guinness recipe sold around the world – all suited to the particular tastes of a given country/locale.

    BUT: the bottled Guinness here in the States is identical to the Guinness sold in Ireland. The canned Guinness here in the states is NOT the same though. Odd, but true.

  8. Phil, as I mentioned to Greg, I don’t believe the Irish actually hate Guinness. The title was meant to be provocative. I witnessed boatloads of Irish drinking the black stuff while we were in Dublin.

    Regarding Bud being the #1 selling beer in the U.S., keep in mind that Bud here is a fair deal cheaper than in other parts of the world (Ireland included). I know, at my local packy, it’s one of the cheapest beers available. That, coupled with uber-slick marketing and the fact that it’s virtually tasteless make it a cheap, quick and easy buzz.

    I think your experience with Peroni underscores the main point of my post. Personally I find most Italian beer to be, by and large, awful (which is fine b/c they redeem themselves with their killer wines). But I’m sure the Peroni in Italy would probably taste quite good. I believe there’s a bit of psychology at play there.

  9. Mike, thats interesting about the different recipes, I have only had it from the tap and it sure seems to taste different here in the US!

    What you said is true though, and to add to that, I currently live in KY where the horse business has brought in lots of Irish, many of which I have befriended. When I visit my local Irish pub, they all drink Bud Lite, including the hard core, hurling-playing owner. I cant comprehend this with all the good Irish and UK beers on tap!

  10. Mike you are right – the mind set while in Italy is to allow Peroni (or Moretti, or whatever biera nazionale you are consuming in that land of wine drinkers) to attain perfection while at the same time knowing a can of that stuff back in the states is skunk juice. I guess you just have to be there. A cold beer in hot Florence is something to experience.
    Back to Guinness: While in Dublin we toured the Guinness brewery (or ‘factory’ as my wife puts it) a very enjoyable touristical experience with it exhibits of advertising art and whatnot. Once you have ascended the place you are at a skyview bar where your pricey price of admission allows you a pint of the creamiest, most freshest Guinness that can be had anywhere on the planet. However, I had been told by a friend who’d previously been there that I’d be issued tickets for two glasses each. I asked my bartender about this, and was told the sampling had changed due to the fact many visitors couldn’t handle (or want) a second glass, the local prowlers would scarf up the tickets left behind and enjoy a drunk on the proceeds!

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