From its humble St James Gate brewery beginnings in Dublin to its position as one of the world's most recognised beer brands, the black brew with the stark white head can come with some turf wars. Some Guinness enthusiasts may cry "It tastes better in Ireland!", but the black stuff is now brewed in more than 55 countries and the distinction is best settled from pub to pub.
Sydney's raft of Irish pubs may lay claim to the best Guinness in town, but it's sometimes in the spots you least suspect it that the black nectar finds its best expressions. Sydney's pubs host a wealth of bartenders serious about their Guinness pouring but, in the end, the cream rises to the top.
Porterhouse – Surry Hills
233 Riley Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9211 4454
Bar manager Linda Mcelroy takes great pride in her Guinness: I ask why it's so very good under her care and I get a dissertation. She won't reveal all her secrets, but her magic could be distilled down to "Don't be impatient" and "Let it settle". "Our glasses get cleaned three times a week (and of course after use), the lines every two weeks, and we're very particular in the storing of our Guinness, so we keep it well chilled," she says. The cosy Irish pub comes with Gaelic football on the televisions, a rotating army of Irish-accented bar staff and a very fine Irish stew. If that wasn't' enough, Mcelroy reminds me Guinness has some remedial qualities, too: "It's thick, it's rich, it's full of iron, it's good for you."
Lord Dudley – Paddington
236 Jersey Road, Woollahra NSW 2025
(02) 9327 5399
What does it take to pour the perfect Guinness at one of Sydney's most renowned 'English-style' watering holes? The manager, Honor Couche, says it's "hours of dedication in the cellar, clean beer lines and fresh Guinness". The beer lands on your coaster in a speciality Guinness glass, tastes ultra clean and settles quickly into its distinct pitch-black body. Couche says a perfect pour and patience is key. Leather-bound lounges, fine pub fare from the kitchen, an open fireplace and bric-a-brac decorations give you a homely sense of place and, Guinness in hand, you just might be somewhere in country England.
London Hotel – Balmain
234 Darling Street, Balmain NSW 2041
(02) 9555 1377
Drinking a beer on the balcony of the London and watching the flotsam and jetsam of Balmain wander by could be one of Sydney's great pub experiences, but the Guinness transcends our fair shores. Though the beer may be brewed in South Australia, something about the pour here gets one thinking of Ireland. One of the friendly bar staff says it's "because we love our Guinness on tap". "It's one of those beers you appreciate waiting for it, patience is key, and there's a bit of a bonding thing that goes on between you and your customer." An experience beyond the glass.
The Fiddler – Rouse Hill
Corner of Commercial Road and Windsor Road, Rouse Hill NSW 2155
(02) 9629 4811
Once known as The Mean Fiddler and beleaguered by wild party nights, careening bucks and hens, Mad Mondays and general loose carousing, the "Mean" has been replaced by an increasingly sophisticated, family friendly atmosphere. The sprawling network of bars and dining options are a worthy exploration, but one of the Fiddler's best assets is its Guinness. One draw of the dark stuff through that creamy, white head and you instantly get the feeling that the savvy bar crew care about their beer, their beer lines and getting the freshest possible beer into your glass. According to sales data, this is one of New South Wales' biggest accounts for Guinness, which kind of certifies the spotless flavour, smooth texture and wholesomeness of the beer.
Penrith Gaels Cultural and Sporting Association Club – Kingswood
Corner Glebe Place & Phillip Street, Kingswood NSW 2747
(02) 4722 8180
You can imagine that Arthur Guinness himself would approve of the Guinness poured at Penrith Gaels. Attention to detail, a deep, abiding love of the stuff and a Guinness-pour training program all add up here. Bar Manager Linda Mears explains the Gaels award-winning technique: "Tilt the glass and hold the spout against the glass or else you get bubbles. When the beer comes to the harp on the glass, make the staff stop, let them sit for 118 seconds, then back pour, top it up and it's done. The beer should be ready straight away." Tried and tested methodology means the beer is utterly delicious. "We pour a lot of it," she says.