31 December: On this day in history
What events happened on 31 December in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…
31 December 1759: Ireland’s most famous drink is born
Arthur Guinness launches his beer empire in the city of Dublin
In the last day of 1759, a young man signed a 9,000-year lease on a dilapidated brewery on James Street, Dublin, for which he agreed to pay the sum of £45 a year.
His name was Arthur Guinness and he now enjoys near-legendary status in the Republic of Ireland. He was a member of the island’s Protestant Anglo-Irish elite. His father was a land steward for the archbishop of Cashel, but Arthur had decided to make his living as a brewer.
Since, at the time, there were already some 70 breweries in Dublin, it might have been thought that Guinness stood little chance of success. The country’s most popular drinks tended to be spirits and the quality of its beer was generally low. But Guinness’s business boomed, and by 1767 he had been elected master of the Dublin Corporation of Brewers.
By the time Guinness died, almost 40 years later, his brewery was turning out some 20,000 barrels of the black stuff every year. By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, it was the biggest brewery in the British empire.
The key to Guinness’s success was his embrace of porter, a drink that for decades had been associated with London’s street and river porters. It was a dark, heavy beer, made from roasted barley and much more flavoursome than the thin ales then associated with Dublin’s brewers.
Contrary to popular belief, however, it has evolved considerably since then. Who knows whether Arthur would recognise the drink inside the bottles that, even today, still carry his signature?