Note: Guinness/Diageo extended the sponsorship through June 2017.
As you boot up your computer this morning (not that anyone really does that anymore), you'll notice a new banner ad at the bottom of the site. Some time ago, I mentioned that I would be seeking sponsors for the site. You might have wondered what happened. Well, interesting story. I got a surprising number of inquiries (you know who you are--thanks!). One of them was the Guinness Brewery, which was totally shocking. Even more interesting, they wondered if I would consider them as sole sponsor--an arrangement I'd never considered. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how it turned out--though because one of the largest drinks company in the world was involved, getting that banner up took longer than I expected. We're doing an initial run of two months, so I thought maybe you'd be curious to know my thinking--plus one other informational tidbit.
Guinness is, as everyone knows, one of the largest and most successful beer companies in the world. Nevertheless, not everyone loves them. They are also owned by Diageo, owner Guinness as well as Smirnoff, Crown Royal, Tanqueray, Johnnie Walker, and many others. I have had my own curious relationship with Dublin's giant: Guinness was the only brewery to flat out deny me a tour of their facility, and then I had an awkward call with Fergal Murray, then the face of brewing operations. And finally, many people consider their products bland and industrial.
When I decided to seek sponsors, I wanted companies that would be partners, folks to help me make a few bucks while getting my endorsement in the form of a banner ad. When I heard from Saraveza, General Distributors, and Double Mountain, I was delighted--they're exactly what I had in mind. It never occurred to me that a larger brewery would be interested. Blue Moon, Goose Island--even Bud or Coors might have inquired. I'm not really sure what I'd have done in that case.
But Guinness? A no-brainer for me. I have loved this beer (here in the US, we get a product called Extra Stout that has been a top-ten beer for me) for over 25 years. Many years back, the company ran a promotion to win a pub in Ireland, and friends and I wrote mini-essays with fantasies of moving to Ireland to pour pints of the stuff the rest of our lives. My favorite living author is the Irish author Roddy Doyle, who manages to situate a fair number of his most funny and/or poignant scenes into pubs where characters are gulping Guinness. (A Star Called Henry is one of the best books ever written.) This no doubt led to some inexcusable romanticizing of Ireland's most famous brewery, but then I would not be the first person to romanticize a brewery.
But even more than all that, this is Guinness. It's one of the most important extant breweries on earth. For long decades, it was the only multinational ale brand left, when the world had all gone to lager. It dominates both a national tradition and a nation more fully than any other brewery on earth. Guinness was one of the companies to invent branding. One of its employees, an economist, developed the student t test. Michael Ash, a mathematician, developed the nitrogen draft system. And even if it had done none of that, just surviving since 1759 earns a certain amount of respect.
All of which is to say that I am quite pleased to have that banner on the site. Please welcome them aboard.
While I was discussing this sponsorship idea with Guinness, something interesting happened. The brewery had reconnected with Michael Ash, the man who developed the nitrogen draft system in 1959. Amazingly, he is still well and living in England at 88. The brewery decided to have an event honoring him, which will happen next Thursday [24 March 2016] at the brewery. Guinness has invited me to come along and interview Ash when he arrives, and they've also promised to give me a tour of the brewery. I believe they're inviting an English writer as well.
Guinness are arranging this on their dime, which is the only way it would be possible for me to attend. I hope and plan to get a trove of material to write about, and I expect, with this double arrangement with the brewery, that you might wonder how objective I will remain as I report it all out. And, while I don't have a formal connection to the brewery beyond what I've described, I wonder about this, too. I worry more about the soft influence such largess contributes. (When I wrote The Beer Bible and Cider Made Simple, I paid for all my travel.)
This is a new experience for me, and a bit of a trial run. I will continue to report back how it's going. I hope you watch what I write carefully to see if it passes your smell test. It is certainly not the most ideal circumstance--I would so much rather be living in an era when I was a staff writer at a magazine with a travel budget. Fortunately, Guinness isn't a brewery I write about much in the first place; so except for my dispatches from the brewery in coming weeks, it shouldn't affect things around here much at all. But we'll all be watching.