But then what is it, the perfect pint? Where is it happening and how? T here are the questions Ian Ryan, the 26-year-old founder of the @shitlondonguinness Instagram account, asks his 192,000 followers every day. “You could surf those yokes,” reads a recent caption on his profile, referring to a frothy topping, a common practice when drinking pints of Guinness anywhere other than Ireland. “Really shit. Is that E. coli growing on the pint on the right?” Another commenter replies, showing the grand dictatorship being held by Cork City native Ryan at Ireland’s most patriotic pint dinner.
If your drink is a jameSon and Red, you may not have heard of Ryan. At just 23 and keen to work in video game PR, he undertook the Irish Rite the passage and sail to London. After emigrating, he realized the rumors were true – that Guinness just wasn’t that good outside of Ireland. Bulging, headless caves and thick, roaring, lumpy iterations of his beloved pint replaced the creamier fields at home. Soon Ryan started sending photos to friendswhich caused so much disgust that a decision was made to encapsulate such entities as a horrible memory vault in time capsules.
In late 2019, Ryan founded the Caustic @shitlondonguinness, an Instagram account entirely dedicated to documenting the awful pints being served in England’s capital. Almost immediately, the site attracted thousands of supporters, aided by word of mouth and a few celebrity fans (including Niall Horan and Jamie Dornan – the latter “attracting 30,000 or 40,000 new followers in a weekend”), all striving to steer the narrative towards terrible international minds. Currently, the account receives “about 100 submissions a week,” mostly on weekends, unsurprisingly.
In London today, Ryan’s natural accent shines and his words are sensible. You have to be when discussing international relations. But his laughter breaks out as he discusses his busy schedule leading up to Paddy’s Day. “This week has been pretty hectic,” he says.
And it has. He just finished his first photoshoot of the week, second for this publication. The details of the former are under wraps, but perfect casting is a given. Did he ever think his content would make him some kind of Guinness celebrity?
“No, not at all. There’s no real precedent for being ‘Guinness Man’ or whatever,” he laughs. “To be honest, I thought it was something that would kind of tip away and then die down. When I I started running too @humansoftthesesh (a smug overview of the “sesh” culture popularized by young Irish and British youth who buck government norms) so I promoted one after the other and racked up about 10,000 followers in one weekend. Then Jamie Dornan mentioned it further The Graham Norton Show and everything exploded.”
The site’s rolling (and growing) profile appeals to the gallant underbelly of Irish society. Comments almost replace fan-submitted photos with remarks like “This is gonna give me nightmares tonight” and “Kill It With Fire” peppered through the images of mediocre pints and horrid black boxes. Celebrities who drink Guinness get that, too @shitlondonguinness Treatment, notably British politician Matt Hancock and BBC presenter Jeremy Vine.
The Pint of Plain’s inner connections to Irish culture and identity are both vast and boundless. It’s hard to downplay the achievements of the world’s best-selling and best-known stout, the company that acts like a squid, brilliant and moving, whose roots are embedded in the architecture of the Irish capital. However, The Black Stuff’s best kept marketing secret is its insistence on treating Ireland as a full fledged undeveloped country and not just catering to the needs of the capital’s facilities.
With that, Ryan agrees. He credits its consistency and fail-safe solidity in Irish towns and villages and locations often infrastructural forgotten by government officials. “It’s something that’s always there,” he says. “I’m not saying people rush to the pub when they get home, but it’s a constant. I think people are also very proud to be Irish, especially given our history. There is steadfastness and a sense of victory in staying in Ireland when others leave in times of recession or whatever, so I think people in Ireland like to laugh at the bad beers that others get abroad because it’s special feels triumphant and Irish to have a great pint at your local.”
Being Irish means courting grudges, many will say, but for Ryan, commenting on the bad side of casting wasn’t enough. He adjusted himself @shitlondonguinness‘ sister account, @Beautyback in December 2020, in the midst of lockdown, to offer comfort and joy in equal measure and to prove that better days were to come.
Most of the account’s followers (77,600 at the time of writing) and submissions hail from Ireland, with comments praising the “crunchy pints of stout” found here. Ryan says his reports tap into a very Irish desire to celebrate a good pint and condemn a bad one.
“You would never get a beer drinker to comment on the bartender’s standard,” he says. “Like when would that ever happen? But it’s also worth noting that Ireland has a certain appeal for those who no longer live there. We’re proud to be Irish and for a lot of people that doesn’t really matter until you leave. And this is where small things like pints really feel like they mean so much more.”
The conversation soon shifts to the non-combative nature of the Irish. Does Ryan ever send back bad pints?
“I didn’t actually,” he says, “and I’ve often had comments on the site that maybe I should talk to the bartender, but at most I’ve left a pint half-finished or just walked out. I want to say I would [speak to the person behind the bar], but I honestly just don’t think I have it in me. A few weeks ago I had the nerve to ask in a pub if they had Guinness glasses when I saw they would pour into another and they said no. So I stopped asking for a while.
One group that doesn’t shy away from confrontation, however, are the self-assured landlords of London’s establishments, who are fairly consistent in asking Ryan to check them out.
“I occasionally get invites from confident owners,” he smiles. “And to be honest, I’ve very rarely been let down. I’ve only given it a bad review once and the owner didn’t like it, but I have a good relationship with a number of pubs in my area and when friends of theirs invite me out for a pint I’m often pleasantly surprised.”
What wasn’t well received, however, was the series of bins pubs were using to move produce around in lockdown. Submissions have been plentiful during the pandemic, some featuring Guinness in milk cartons, food containers and curved glass bottles known as gluttons to all who survived them. “Oh man, the eaters,” Ryan sighs. “Pure desperation sent us to them. I remember a pub near me was advertised as having Guinness and I picked up two for me and my roommate and then went to Sainsbury’s to pick up dinner. I can still remember the security guard laughing at me when he saw what I was wearing. I only recently spotted her in the back of the press, which reminded me of how good things are right now and that I can never go back there.” I’m not entirely sure, but I think I see him shaking.
As for the future @shitlondonguinness, @Beauty and Ryan join them to go with the flow, picking up and dropping the best and worst pours from here to Timbuktu (previous submissions have come as far as Vancouver, Sydney and New Zealand). “There’s no real plan. I also have a day job,” he laughs. “I don’t wake up at 8am and start looking at pictures of pints. But I am happy with where it is now and look forward to seeing what comes next.”
Until then he will lie in wait, caressing Irish culture with his fingertips and just hoping pubs commit to double pour and he doesn’t accidentally upload a good pint pic to the wrong account again. What a life.
Ian’s five favorite pubs in London
From my point of view you can’t go wrong with it. Although it’s always changing and I’m leaving out some solid hitters. As for the best in Ireland? The gravediggers, no question…
The Guinea Grill, Mayfair. instagram.com/p/CUiabLuM_Ev
The Twelve Pens, Finsbury Park. instagram.com/p/CUft8CosMMF
Sheephaven Bay, Camden. instagram.com/p/CaA0Mj0Mw58
The Auld Shillelagh, Stoke Newington. instagram.com/p/CTC-1GHsbEU
Carriage & Horses, Wellington Street. instagram.com/p/CWQqvhsMSnp
You can find Ian Ryan and his work at @shitlondonguinness on Instagram or @shitlondonguinn on Twitter
https://www.independent.ie/life/meet-the-cork-man-leading-the-hunt-for-londons-worst-guinness-after-jamie-dornan-mentioned-it-on-the-graham-norton-show-everything-blew-up-41454312.html Meet the Cork man leading the hunt for London’s worst Guinness: ‘After Jamie Dornan mentioned it on The Graham Norton Show, it all blew up’