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Posted: March 13, 2014

Chef Laura: Luck o’ the Irish

Got garnishes: Gimmick or tradition?

Laura Cook Newman

Guinness.  Love it or hate it, the black-as-coffee stout with the white top hat has been an institution in every self-respecting Irish pub dating back to 1759.  The pouring of Guinness is steeped in tradition.  There’s practically an operator’s manual on how to achieve a proper pint of Dublin’s finest:

  1. Hold a tulip shaped pint glass (it’s actually 20 oz.) at a 45 degree angle
  2. Open beer tap all the way to allow nitrogen to bubbles to freely flow
  3. Pour ¾ of the way full
  4. Allow to settle on bar for two minutes…ooh, the anticipation!
  5. Finish pouring remaining ¼ of the way
  6. Top off with a swirly shamrock emblem

The residents of County Kildare must have momentarily felt the ground tremble, for Arthur Guinness just rolled over in his grave.  He was peacefully resting until step #6.

The shamrock in Guinness is probably newer than Mickey D’s minty and beloved LTO – The Shamrock Shake, circa 1970.  True beer aficionados would scoff at the gimmicky clover traced in the creamy head of the stout; the logo for Guinness is not even a shamrock after all, but a harp.

However the clever dismount has become somewhat of a trademark of the beer.  Although as easily executable, I’ve never seen a bartender serve a Left Hand Milk Stout with a cute clover on top.  But then again that’s brewed in Colorado, not Ireland.

Signature garnishes are a fun and stealthy way for beverage manufacturers to imbed visual marketing into their products.  Beer goggles aside, not only do customers “eat with their eyes”, but drink with them, too.  The visual cue tells your brain what to expect; salivary glands fire up and euphoric endorphins are sent to the brain before your first sip.

From across a room, if you saw a tray of opaque, amber-colored beers go by and one of them had an orange slice in it, you’d know that one was a Blue Moon. Slice of citrus = walking billboard = (practically) free advertising.

Have you ever been served a Corona without a lime?  If you have, you are at least 54 or rocked a great fake ID.  Because in 1981, a bartender bet his friend he could start a trend by adding a lime wedge into the neck of the bottle. 

His buddy had to pay up as the gimmicky garnish became so popular it helped Corona boot Heineken out of the number one spot for imported beer in the US.  The last time the introduction of a lime was so important was in the Royal Navy, 1850.

Maybe these garnishes originated as a bartender’s way to pass downtime on a Tuesday night.  But now they are the expectation, not the exception.   A lime-less Corona would look naked, a shamrock-less Guinness would be a buzz kill. 

Arthur Guinness can rest in peace knowing that his beloved brew is in good hands, selling 1.8 billion pints annually.  Perhaps that’s in part to a silly shamrock on top or perhaps a little luck o’ the Irish is at play.  This lass is betting on both.


Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at

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Readers Respond

Thanks for the shoutout on scurvy! More Corona and Blue moons, please!!! By Barlow's Disease on 2014 03 13
Ha ha! But what's interesting red the lime in Corona: the Mexican locals never want lime in their coronas. By Ta Tee on 2014 03 13
Stella Artois also has an iconic glass. I hate it when a bartender serves brand A in a Brand B glass. Doesn't taste the same - to your point about perception. BTW, if you order multiple pints, is it 3 Guinnesses or 3 Guinness?! By PF on 2014 03 13
Another Thought - that's udderly ridiculous. By Chef Laura on 2014 03 13
Chef Laura knows her Guinness . . . from Galway to Dublin . . . where you'll hear a friendly publican calling her "GARGEous!" By Minerva on 2014 03 13
This is an interesting article. Another way that brewers are setting themselves apart are the glasses they use. I'm thinking specifically of the Boston Lager Glass that Sam Adams has been pushing for a few years. It is beginning to work, as every time I have a Sam Adams I want to drink it out of their special glass. By A patriot on 2014 03 13
Laura, The appropriate "topper" for the a Left Hand Milk Stout would never be a shamrock, it would either be a hand or a cows teat! By Another thought on 2014 03 13
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