The phenomenon of the Guinness rater likely took off before 2019, but that was the year where it took full flight. Several social media accounts search the city and country looking for a pint so creamy and flawless that it would be hard to match. In other words, the ideal pint of Guinness.
If you’re unfamiliar with the format for Guinness raters (usually located on instagram), their posts will include a well taken photo with a rating out of 10 overlaid across it, along with the name of the pub displayed prominently. Sometimes the photo is accompanied by impressions of the pint, a short history of the pub, or a story about their visit.
It’s a fairly simply concept, well executed. It’s much the same content on repeat, so why is it that there is undoubtedly a crowd for it who eagerly await the next review and debate the merits of the last? Of course pubs have kept a keen eye on these raters, eager to be rated highly and dismissive of low rated pints. It’s a controversial field to be delving into after all. It’s not like the old days where pubs were to be avoided for their bad pint. This attitude stemmed from a time where old and new kegs were potentially used for the same pint and when the cleaning of lines may not have been quite as rigorous as it is today. For sure, the overall quality of Guinness in Dublin is exceedingly high, so what small differences are these self designated aficionados looking for? Well, temperature, a clean head, and the level of creaminess (determined somewhat by the amount of the drink that sticks to the glass after each sip. Colloquially known as ‘Shtick’) for a start.
Even the most strict and well observed criteria is going to draw the ire of pubs and customers who may not quite share the opinions of the raters. It’s a tough task though and we can sympathise. A few years ago we wrote an article picking 10 of our favourite places to enjoy a pint of Guinness, combining the twine criteria of the pint itself and the setting. It was by far the most controversial article we had ever written, with strongly worded comments along the lines of ‘How could you leave out X or Y pub. Shambles!’. But with controversy comes views , and that is something the Guinness raters certainly get.
Two of the biggest accounts that we’ve comes across are @guinnessadvisor, and @pints_of_plain . Guinness advisor currently have 23.8 thousand followes on instagram, and Pints of Plain (there are 2 other accounts doing similar things but aren’t close to the follower count) have 21.9 thousand. Guinness Advisor have had great success with a very slick visual presentation of their ratings and have a handy list of all the pubs that they’ve rated higher than 8. Obviously their standards are high, so anything above 8 is a reasonably rare sight. Pints of Plain brought out a book just before Christmas and sales seem to prove that the public value these opinions enough to want a piece of it in their offline world as well.
This recent trend towards rating and observing the quality of Guinness can’t be credited to these 2 accounts, influential though they are. It’s likely that they have grown up and out of an online trend built around facebook and whatsapp groups where friends and strangers comes together to share their photos, thoughts, and ratings of pints from around the city. A hive mind of knowledge is the best way to collate reasonably accurate data, even when it comes to taste. Even we’re (Publin man writing this) in a hugely active stout rating whatsapp group that’s effectively a social club based around the black stuff.
Other social media pages have popped up that celebrate Guinness in their own way. A page called The Guinness Guru just shared a video with a masterclass from Ciaran Kavanagh in ‘Kavanagh’s The Gravediggers’ Pub in Glasnevin on how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness, including a trick for getting rid of bubbles in the foam. @allthingsguinness share photos of not just pints, but Guinness memorabilia, signage, and pubs interiors/exteriors.
Across the Irish sea in London, one Irishman or woman (we presume they’re Irish) have taken it upon themselves to collate and share photos of the worst pints of Guinness they can find. And unfortunately there are no shortage of these photos, committing acts of sacrilege in the eyes of Guinness observers such as the wrong glass, a heavily bubbled head, spillage over the side of the pint, and other nitro atrocities. Is this is the case of an over reverence towards the drink in question or does it show that bar tending as a profession and standards are taken more seriously in the Irish trade than in the chain dominated world of the London pub? You can find the account @shitlondonguinness .
A few years ago we met two guys on a pub crawl we were running who were working on a project called ‘Guindex‘. Their mission was to track the price of a pint of Guinness through user submitted data and to get a picture of the overall price of a pint in different regions of the country. From there you could possibly extrapolate some data on income levels in different parts of the city and other information that is, quite frankly, beyond us. Just as the Guinness raters are providing an overall idea of the general quality of Guinness in the country, the Guindex is providing a pretty accurate guide to its price from pub to pub (just so long as they have enough data).
All of the accounts and raters are designed to give information about pubs in the here and now, giving us a flavour of what to expect when we walk in. This is a modern use of modern technology. There are, however, people using the same means to chart a different aspect of Guinness and it’s relationship with the pub; history. There exists on facebook a group dedicated solely to finding, documenting, and sharing details on old Guinness labels. The group has daily activity from members who have found existing or preserved labels from pubs all around the country. It was once common practise for every pub to bottle their own Guinness on premises. They would receive a keg and bottle it in the cellar. Each pub had to submit a proposed logo to be put on the bottle, with Guinness of course presented front and centre, along with the name of the pub and usually the proprietor. If ever the pub changed hands, a notification had to be sent to head office in James’ Gate and a replacement label agreed upon.
It’s a small community of 200 or so members but it’s very active. They’re creating a digital collection that any University or archive would struggle to put together themselves. While it’s perhaps of not as immediately relevant to one’s enjoyment of a pint as the other groups previously mentioned, it’s a resource that preserves another little bit of Irish pub heritage.
Online conversations about Guinness and the best pint here or there can sometimes be contentious, but it’s only because Irish people are (in their own way) protective of something that they share a collective pride in. It’s hard to deny that the raters have happened upon something that people really connect with and in a time when customers are more and more interested in provenance, technique and standards, they should be getting more mileage out of the concept for a few more years.