A Primer On Stout And St. Paddy’s From The Guinness Beer Sommelier

Life Writer

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St. Patrick’s Day is here. All things Irish are being celebrated from Dublin to New York to Los Angeles. Corned beef will be eaten and a lot of Guinness will be drunk (with some American stouts maybe getting added to in the mix).

This beer-centered holiday has a rich history of food, beer, and whiskey that makes for a great reason to party this weekend. To dive a little deeper into why St. Patrick’s Day is such a fun celebration we reached out to Guinness and their certified beer sommelier, Aaron Ridgeway, to talk all things stout, Ireland, and St. Patrick’s Day.

Ridgeway lives for beer and he’s deeply excited about the varying styles they’re producing at Guinness beyond the “dark stuff.” We were lucky enough to get a chance to sit down with the beer somm to talk all things oysters, St. Paddy’s, and Ireland for a few minutes. Enjoy and Sláinte!

Can you walk us through how you got into beer?

I look back now and think that I’ve been working there for nearly 10 years, it’s incredible in a way. I started working for Guinness when I was 21 and I walked in, just as a summer job. I actually went to do the tour the day before my interview to know what I was talking about. So there’s a pro tip for you, straight away, know what you’re talking about.

That’s kind of brilliant. What happened the next day?

I couldn’t believe it when I walked into the Guinness Storehouse — which is the home of Guinness as you know — I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The scale of it all well…

I started off just selling tickets at the admissions booth and serving pints in the bar and giving guided tours. Over time my interest for beer and, I suppose, that flair in talking about it just developed and I started to become obsessed about understanding more of the processes inside, and the flavors, the different style.

You started at the door but now you’re a beer somm. Can you walk us through what it takes to become a beer “sommelier?”

Sure. Guinness has been fantastic in supporting that role. It’s an equivalent qualification to the Cicerone in America. It’s the same kind of structure. You have a foundation. You learn how to judge beer. Then you have your sommelier exam. So there’s actually four different tiers realistically in order to do it.

In the exam itself, you have to identify 15 different styles of beer. They can be anything as well as five different beers spiked with random flavors. So you’ve gotta train your palette, but you’ve also gotta be able to talk about beer.

It kind of feels like you’re living the dream, man. So what is your day to day like right now?

Here in the states, my role is generally talking to people like yourselves which is most of the fun, to be honest with you. I’m supporting the U.S. team as much as I can in whatever initiatives they have going on. So, basically, that’s all about spreading the good message of Guinness.

So, what’s that message?

If you’re celebrating with a Guinness in your hand you’re doing it right. That’s essentially what I’m here to tell people, to encourage that goodwill, but also try and get people onboard trying it perhaps for the first time over the St.Patrick’s Day to celebrate.

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