Fergal Murray: Guinness Brew Master
As the brew master for Guinness, Ireland’s legendary stout, Murray is responsible for quite possibly the most famous beer in the world.
To a lot of people, Fergal Murray has the best job in the world. And he would agree. “Each pint is like a child,” he explained. “You have to mind it through the entire process.” And what a process it is.
From its very first moments as raw ingredients — barley, water, hops and yeast — all the way through to the final bottling stage, Murray is responsible for every ounce of stout that leaves the brewery. “I have [Arthur] Guinness’ honor to keep up,” he said.
It was in 1759 that Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease (at a fixed rate of ₤ 45 or US$ 85 per year) for the then-small brewery at St. James Gate, a section of Dublin. Today, the brewery is like a town unto itself, located in the heart of the city. The factory buildings loom inside the property, surrounded by a high cement wall, not unlike the setting of the 1971 classic children’s movie, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” starring Gene Wilder. Visitors definitely get a sense that something important is happening inside, and Murray is the leader behind it all.
As he sits in a pub enjoying a pint — something he likes doing even after a long day’s work that is all about beer — you’d never guess that he is the head brewer for Guinness. At only 42 years old, with curly brown hair and mischievous Irish eyes, Murray looks like any other Dubliner hanging out with friends after work. But what most people don’t know is that he took the fast track to achieving his esteemed position.
He attended Trinity College in Dublin in the 1980s, majoring in applied sciences, and then received his MBA from Open University in Ireland. From there, he secured a job as a research chemist at Guinness but found that he wanted to be more involved in the whole process. So he enrolled at the Institute of Brewing in London and began a grueling course of study, which led to his Master Brewer degree.
Behind the scenes during the workday, Murray stays focused on producing the world-class black stout. While tourists buzz around The Storehouse, the museum dedicated to everything Guinness, Murray is hard at work in the adjacent factory, which is closed to the public. Occasionally journalists are allowed to enter the facility where the grains are fermented and the beer is brewed. Murray speaks about the beer-making process with a reverent intensity.
It’s clear that he has a passion for Guinness that goes beyond description. “The nectar caught me,” he said, referring to the beer. When describing the brewing process, he refers to the “essence,” an indefinable, yet critical, component of Guinness. “When I’m overseas, I love to see people drinking my beer,” he said. “That extra pride comes out.” Guinness is brewed in 51 countries, and sold in 150. But for the true Guinness experience, there’s nothing like a visit to Dublin.
“I associate Guinness with the feeling of Ireland,” Murray said. “It’s a combination of tradition and heritage and the occasions you drink it,” he said.
That’s why so many people go to the brewery every year. While visitors can’t actually tour the factory, they can spend the day at the Guinness Storehouse, a seven-level building with various exhibits, restaurants and, at the very top, Gravity, a bar that’s the highest point in the city, offering a breathtaking 360-degree view. After spending an afternoon learning about the brewing process and viewing all the colorful Guinness advertising through the years, it’s definitely time to sample the goods.
“This is where you’ll get the freshest beer in the world,” says Murray. And, the most perfectly poured. The barkeeps are trained by Murray to pour the perfect pint in six steps. First, start with a clean, dry glass. Then, hold it at a 45-degree angle, and let the tap do its job. (Never let the tap touch the glass.) Let the Guinness settle, then top it off with the creamy dome. And the last step? Present it. The pint should look like a work of art, with delicate lacing showering down inside the glass and a rounded dome. (And take note at Gravity: the domes are decorated with a foamy shamrock.)
For Murray, the role of the Guinness brew master is a point of pride. He loves his job and he loves his Guinness. So much so, that after work, he’ll visit with friends at a local pub.
“I love the atmosphere of pubs,” said Murray. “Whether they’re loud and electric or nice and quiet, with the wind and rain and the log fire going.”
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