The perfect pint: the Guinness Guru and @shitlondonguinness on finding the best Guinness in London

All in the dome: Guinness in an old style glass (Damien Eagers/PA) (PA Wire)
All in the dome: Guinness in an old style glass (Damien Eagers/PA) (PA Wire)

On Instagram a couple of years back, Ian Ryan’s @shitlondonguinness account posted a picture of a pint. Said the caption: “10 days until paddy’s day. the day of reckoning. the day of the year where some of the most viciously offensive pints are poured. it is coming”

It is coming. Three words ominously weighted. The post — of a pint with the cream top coloured green — drew some 18,000 or so likes, among them one-time One Directioner Niall Horan, whose “I feel sick at the thought” comment proved his biggest hit in a while.

Things continued last year; the Guinness Guru recently posted a video finding the worst pints in London, which gave the Coach Makers Arms a kicking, which just goes to show even good pubs get things wrong from time to time. But as the Guru said, when a pint costs as much as it presently does, no-one deserves a subpar one.

That a dodgy-looking pint of the black stuff could garner such attention might now seem unremarkable, but a few years back the idea would have been near unfathomable. Back then, drinkers here might have walked into a pub and needed to ask if Guinness was on; it wasn’t guaranteed, with the Dublin native’s reputation as an “old man’s drink” persisting. After decades of declining sales in Europe, especially in its native Ireland, even Obama pictured with a pint in 2011 couldn’t boost the numbers.

But something changed after that — the public’s taste, maybe, or more likely parent company Diageo’s advertising spend (becoming the Six Nations’ full time sponsor in 2019 can’t have hurt). As of this January, one in 10 pints served in London’s pubs is now a Guinness and post lockdown, sales surged 30 per cent as drinkers went out for “a proper pint”. Nice for Guinness, although it doesn’t say much for the canned stuff. Still, the brewer is so confident of its popularity here that it’s in the middle of building a £73 million micro-brewery and event space in Covent Garden. Presumably the gift shop will be a good’un.

Guinness is part session stout — lowish in both alcohol and calories — and part myth of the old kind. Decades of marketing malarkey mean rumours over pouring time and glass style and other nonsense remain.

“I can’t really say too much about being too nitpicky with pints, especially me being an Instagram gobshite,” says Daragh Curran, better known to his hundreds of thousands of followers across Insta and TikTok as @theguinnessguru, “but on the other hand, I think it would maybe ruin the pint — how can you have a talk with your mates?”

Curran is making a valid point; too much beer talk is boring. But there are some rules — call ‘em Guinness Guidelines — that help. Both Curran and Ryan are insistent on a clean glass. “The way you can tell that is, below the head there’ll be a ring of grease —  it looks like condensation, but it’s particles of grease and shite that haven’t washed off properly,” says the Guru. “It changes the perception of the pint in your head because it’s not a super clean glass.”

Wrong’un: the grease marks of an unproperly-washed glass (Pixabay)
Wrong’un: the grease marks of an unproperly-washed glass (Pixabay)

“The worst pint I’ve seen in London was one I got up in Highgate and the glass had been washed in the same machine as the food,” says Ryan. “So there was a full layer of grease on the pint.

“It sort of says that maybe they’re not doing everything properly, there’s more likely to  have other stuff wrong with their pint.”

For both, bubbles in the head are another giveaway that the pint’s not right. “When there’s no bubbles, that’s when I know it’s going to be creamy. You shouldn’t see any when you look at the top or from the side,” says Curran. “The liquid should have to fight its way through the cream.”

The head, it seems, is the giveaway to a godly pint. The depth of it is something you’ll know looks right on sight — “I wouldn’t be going around with a ruler myself,” deadpans Curran — but too much or not enough is obvious, says Ryan: “I don’t like when there’s very little head, where it’s looking a bit decrepit on top.”

For the pair alike, a pint with a domed top is the thing. “Look, now maybe it’s years of marketing, but I’m always disappointed when you don’t get a domed head on the pint. You’re not losing out that much but… it’s always sad bringing one without it back to the table,” says Ryan. “In the Seventies they’d take a knife to [the dome], but times change,” says the Guru. “I want it. It tells me it’s so creamy it isn’t going to spill.”

In terms of the correct way to drink the pint — do you aim for between the harp and Guinness name or elsewhere, and how many gulps should the drink last — both think there’s enough silliness out there already. Shitlondonguinness “doesn’t care about it at all”.

Curran feels slightly more strongly. “Split the G. Anything else is wrong. Go between the harp and the name? That’s the least roll-off-the-tongue thing I’ve ever heard. And you’ve half a centimetre to work with!” He’s not convinced by policing sips. “I never heard the gulp thing here [in Ireland]. Though I do say, if my first sip is down in four gulps, I really, really like it. If it’s in three, it’s fine.”

Horrorshow: a pint with head too large, full of bubbles and no dome (Pixabay)
Horrorshow: a pint with head too large, full of bubbles and no dome (Pixabay)

So: clean glass, no bubbles, and a dome. Any other tricks of the trade? Both recommend asking if a pub has a “regular” Guinness tap, as well as the ubiquitous but less desirable “extra cold” option. Both prefer the “old style” glass — one without the cuts in, that Guinea Grill landlord Oisin Rogers likens, unfavourably, to the football World Cup — though admit it probably doesn’t affect the flavour at all.

Ryan avoids “the first Guinness poured in a few hours; you’ll have a pint that tastes like batteries or old coins”, while Curran recommends waiting between pints, but not taking them too slowly. “You can’t take 40 minutes to drink a Guinness,” he says. “It just goes bad really quick. If I’m having a few, I’ll drink them in 10-15 minutes and maybe wait the same between them.”

Anything else? The green colouring is a given no-no. What about the little four-leaf clover “drawn” into the cream? “If there’s a logo on the foam, walk out the door,” says Curran. The Guru has spoken.

The Guinness Guru’s top five pints in London

  1. The Auld Shillelagh, Stoke Newington

  2. Sheephaven Bay, Camden

  3. The Guinea Grill, Mayfair

  4. Coach & Horses, Covent Garden

  5. Homeboy, Islington

Anywhere to avoid? “Well, there were others I went to that I wouldn’t recommend, let’s say that.”

Shitlondonguinness’ top five pints in London

NB - these are as listed, but Ryan insists they in no particular order.

  • The Auld Shillelagh, Stoke Newington

  • The Coach and Horses, Covent Garden

  • The Guinea Grill, Mayfair

  • Sheephaven Bay, Camden

  • The Twelve Pins, Finsbury Park

Anywhere to avoid? “The Toucan is the most overrated pint in the whole city. I was there the weekend past, it’s just the same pint you’d get anywhere else. Whenever you walk past, you’ll hear people saying ‘this is the best pint of Guinness in London’ but it’s just not.”

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