It's a touch after 10am on Monday and I'm supping a pint of Guinness. When in Rome (or Dublin), you might say.
But there's something special about this particular pint of the black stuff. I poured it myself. We're at the Guinness Storehouse; a sleek, multi-storied visitor attraction, part of Guinness' sprawling St James's Gate Brewery, a Dublin landmark, with towering chimney stacks, where about five million pints of beer are produced daily. Usually thronging with tourists, the Storehouse is relatively, pleasantly free of crowds for our private early-morning tour, which we're enjoying on Collette's seven-day Irish Adventure.
There are sore heads aplenty on the Emerald Isle today, the day after the All-Ireland Hurling Final, an annual sporting event that grips the nation and sees a spike in Guinness consumption, whether in celebration or the drowning of sorrows. Our Dubliner guide Stuart, declares himself hangover-free, however, boosted by a "fry" (the Irish version of a "full English").
He loquaciously ushers us through a complex that charts the Guinness story, showcasing an array of antique equipment, iconic marketing slogans and flashy audio-visuals, plus photographs of previous Storehouse guests such as the Queen, Bill Clinton and Tom Cruise. Actors in period costume appear on screens masquerading as key figures from yesteryear, notably Mr (Arthur) Guinness, a brewer from County Kildare, who established the company and signed a 9000-year lease for the brewery site in AD1759.
These days more than 20 beers bear the Guinness name, including porters, lagers and pale ales. However, it's the classic dry stout that made Guinness' name, and another section reveals exactly how it's crafted, its myriad ingredients, and brewing paraphernalia, displayed in inventive fashion against a backdrop of exposed brick and steel. Hops cascade down the wall of this old fermentation plant, where yeast was added to the brew.
There's also a gushing water feature – retired wooden and copper milling and mashing gear. And the large, neon-lit 232°C sign is a reminder of the temperature at which barley is roasted to create Guinness' signature "burnt" flavour, aroma and colour. As intriguing as all this is – amateur brewers will be in their element – most visitors will have worked up a thirst by now (whatever the time of day). Everyone gets a drinks token for the Gravity Bar, a seventh-floor glass atrium that offers 360° views over Dublin. We also have a "lesson" in the Guinness Academy, a tucked-away classroom-bar where students are taught how to pour the perfect pint. Having witnessed some disastrous attempts by barmen in so-called Irish pubs around the world, it's an education to watch Stuart. The whole process should take 119.5 seconds.
Tilting a chilled pint glass, embossed with the Guinness harp logo, at 45°, he pulls the tap handle fully towards him, progressively straightening the glass and pausing when it's three-quarters full. After leaving it to settle, allowing the thick, creamy head to form 10-15mm high, he pushes the tap handle away from him and tops up the glass. Then he encourages us to have a go. My fellow pint-pourers – a mix of ladies and gents, twenty-somethings to octogenarians – are a dab hand at this, with some of the results, you suspect, good enough to grace a Guinness advert.
Talking of which, as Stuart bids farewell, we're free to explore the Storehouse further, pints in hand. While some folk are attracted to the Guinness-themed souvenirs and bottled tipples in the ginormous gift shop, I'm drawn to the vintage adverts that helped spread the Guinness brand across the globe, especially the surreal ones starring a flying toucan that can balance pints on its beak, and the cartoonish zoo animals pilfering beer from their zookeeper. Back in the day, when advertising standards weren't so strict, Guinness posters claimed the black stuff was good for you and though this may have been stretching the truth, it's not entirely ridiculous. After all, there are "only" 196 calories in a 4.2% alcohol by volume pint of Guinness – fewer than many other beers, or an avocado, for that matter.
And we leave the Storehouse with a collective smile and spring in our step, happy with our morning's work and ready for our next activity: a guided walking tour around the pub-lined streets of Dublin.