Today marks 250 years since Arthur Guinness signed a 1000 year lease on the St James's Gate premises in Dublin, and successor company Diageo are throwing a party, with the slogan "To Arthur !". Here are two inventions by the company for pouring its famous black, bitter stout: one famous, one not (yet?) so.
Just about everyone has heard of the GuinnessĀ® āWidgetā. This is the can of stout which on pouring gives a nice smooth head without any special equipment. It works with a device at the bottom of the can emitting gas. It won the Queen's Award for Technological Achievement in 1991 for an invention which had been worked on since at least 1959. The patent application was published as A beverage package and a method of packaging a beverage containing gas in solution. Here is the main drawing.
In September 2002 successor company Diageo trialled a pint dispensing system GuinnessĀ® FastPour which claimed to deliver a perfect pint in only 25 seconds instead of the usual two minutes or so. It was tried out in pubs across London and Yorkshire, but was dropped after opposition from loyal drinkers: they enjoyed the ceremony of waiting.
Then Diageo came up with a new technique which it was promised would give drinkers at home the perfect head to a pint of GuinnessĀ®. The concept had been tested since 2003 in Japanese bars, which are often too small to have the usual keg-and-tap system for pouring stout. It uses a device which emits ultrasonic pulses through glasses holding specially prepared stout. The device is the GuinnessĀ® SurgerĀ® and it went on sale in some Tesco Extra stores in about the end of February 2006 at a price of Ā£16.99.
The patent application was published as the Apparatus for forming a head on a beverage. Here is one of the drawings.
The kit as sold consists of a pint glass and two cans as well as the unit itself. It is plugged into the mains and a little water is added to its metal plate. Special cans of stout (using a different gas mix from normal stout), equipped with batteries, and costing Ā£4.99 for a pack of four, are poured into a pint glass and placed on the device, which is then switched on. It takes between 30 and 90 seconds to create what the company describes as a āvelvet pint with a creamy headā.
The water on the plate is there as, without it, even the best made glass would not be completely smooth at its base, and would therefore have air gaps at its base. This would reduce the contact between the bottom of the glass and the plate. Technically speaking, the ultrasonic transducer produces āexcitationā and hence cavitation of the liquid which encourages the gas in the liquid to come out of solution.
Diageo spent Ā£2.5 million in advertising the concept. The move towards non-smoking pubs may well encourage the existing trend to drink more at home rather than in pubs, so perhaps it is a smart move. Even in bars, many younger drinkers prefer not to wait and just order a premixed drink, and busy bar staff can find it a nuisance taking so long to prepare one drink.
There are likely to be problems. The cost of the apparatus for what may be seen as a laugh is surely a deterrent, and the users will need to remember to buy the correct cans. It will take between 30 and 90 seconds for the SurgerĀ® to work, but then GuinnessĀ® drinkers are used to waiting for, it is estimated, 119.5 seconds for the ritual to end in which the bartender holds the glass at a 45-degree angle, fills it three-quarters full, lets it settle and then tops it off with its signature creamy head -- an Irish variant on the Japanese tea ceremony, perhaps.
The companyās advertising has cleverly made a virtue of the wait, with slogans like āGood things come to those who waitā, and endless television shots of entranced would-be drinkers staring at the stout slowly settling. Diageo says that the device ācreates the theatre and anticipation around the Guinnessā that many drinkers expect and enjoy. It remains to be seen if the company gets the financial reward that they are hoping for.