Thursday, 24 January 2019

The Frothy Freshener: James Joyce's Guinness Slogan

'When it came to writing slogans James Joyce proved himself no slouch.
He suggested replacing ‘Guinness is Good for You’ with ‘Guinness –The Free, The Flow, the Frothy Freshener!’

That's a claim made on a wonderful advert for Guinness printed in the Irish Times on Bloomsday in 1982,  Joyce's centenary.  I was one of hundreds of Joyceans in Dublin for the celebration, and I bought a copy of the paper.

1982 was the year that Dublin, at long last, embraced James Joyce. The Irish Times Bloomsday editorial said:

'When Joyce came to publish his books, the censorious Ireland of the 1920s and 30s looked away disappprovingly, insofar as it paid any attention at all. However amends are now being made, as is right. Joyce by his writings paid great honour to the city of his birth, and the compliment should be returned.'

One of the Dublin institutions making amends was the Guinness brewery. They put on a big Joyce exhibition, 'Wine of the Country', which took a 'James's gape at Guinness and Dublin'. The exhibition was named after a nickname for stout in the Cyclops episode of Ulysses. We're in Barney Kiernan's pub, where Joe Hynes is buying a round:

-- Give it a name, citizen, says Joe. 
-- Wine of the country, says he. 
– What's yours? says Joe.
-- Ditto MacAnaspey, says I...
-- Three pints, Terry, says Joe

Here's the narrator's first taste of the lovely pint:

-- Health, Joe, says I. And all down the form.
Ah! Owl! Don't be talking! I was blue mouldy for the want of that pint. Declare to God I could hear it hit the pit of my stomach with a click.

The Guinness advert has another quotation from the same episode. Terry the barman is bringing a 'pony' (a half pint) to Little Alf Bergan.

-- Hurry up, Terry boy, says Alf. 
Terence O'Ryan heard him and straightway brought him a crystal cup full of the foaming ebon ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun brew ever in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. For they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix therewith sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat.

Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun are Edward Guinness, Lord Iveagh, who ran the brewery, and his older brother Arthur Guinness, Lord Ardilaun.
The exhibition, which I visited on Bloomsday, recreated a Dublin pub bar of Joyce's day (using bits of counters rescued from defunct pubs, like Barney Kiernan's) and an iron fireplace where the canvassers in 'Ivy Day in the Committee Room' set their bottles of stout, waiting for them to open with a 'Pok!' (Has anyone ever managed that trick?). There was also a fine performance of Joyce readings by the Dublin actor Dermot Lynskey.



In 2011, Catherine Gubernatis Dannen investigated the background to Joyce's Guinness slogan in the brewery's archives. Here's her conclusion:

'After examining materials in the Guinness archive and talking with the archivist, I have concluded that there is no basis for Guinness's claim that Joyce wrote his own advertising slogan about Guinness stout....In a year of stagnant sales and bad public relations, Guinness took advantage of the publicity generated by Joyce's centenary to advertise its product to foreign customers and to repair its relationship with the public.'

Catherine Gubernatis Danne, 'The Facts and Fiction Behind "the Free, the Flow, the Frothy Freshener": The Guinness Company and the Story of Joyce's Lost Ad', JJQ, Vol. 48, No. 4, Joyce's Lives (Summer 2011), pp. 712

In fact, the proof that Joyce wrote this slogan is in Finnegans Wake. The 'frothy freshener' appears in the 'Haveth Childers Everwhere' episode, published as a book by Babou and Kahane in 1930 - just a year after the first 'Guinness is Good For You' ad came out.

In this speech of self-justification, HCE lists his great achievements as a city builder, all done out of love for his river-wife Anna Livia Plurabelle. One achievement is brewing Dublin stout:

'I brewed for my alpine plurabelle, wigwarming wench, (speakeasy!) my granvilled brandold Dublin lindub, the free, the froh, the frothy freshener, puss, puss, pussyfoot, to split the spleen of her maw'  553.25

Joyce wrote 'froh', which is German for merry, rather than the 'flow' in the Guinness version. HCE says 'free, froh...frothy' because he has a guilty stammer.

Dublin is paired with lindub because the Irish for stout is 'leann dubh' meaning 'black ale' (spelled 'lionn dubh' in the 1920s). Here's the entry from Dineen's 1927 dictionary (thanks to Eric Rosenbloom):

{genitive} LEANNA, {plural} {idem} -NTA, LEANNTAƍ and LEANNANNA {masculine} and {feminine}, liquid, liquor, any lisueous substance;
drink, ale, strong beer, wine (Wind,);
a humour of the body, lymph, phlegm, bile, choler;
LIONN DUBH, porter, stout, {also, alias} black humour, melancholy (LIONNDUBH, {genitive} -UIBH, {plural} {idem}, and LEANNTA DUBHA)

The name Dublin itself comes from dubh linn 'black pool'. This was where the Poddle stream met the River Liffey to form a pool. So Dublin and Guinness Porter are related linguistically as well as geographically! 

When Joyce was getting 'Haveth Childers Everywhere' ready for publication, he was helped by his old University College friend Padraic Colum, who remembers the time in Our Friend James Joyce:

 'What did my contribution to this production amount to? I typed pages. From time to time I was asked to suggest a word that would be more obscure than the word already there. Joyce would consider my offer, his eyes, their pupils enlarged behind glasses, expectant, his face intent, his figure upstanding. ' I can't use it,' was what he would say five times out of six...' 

Mary and Padraic Colum, Our Friend James Joyce, 1958 p.158

Joyce thanked Colum by putting him in the episode:

   — The S. S. Paudraic's in the harbour.  (550.07)

Colum's book was probably the source for the 1982 Guinnesss ad slogan story:

'He actually believed that, on one level anyway, his later work had a public appeal. ''My brandold Dublin lindub, the free, the froh, the frothy freshener' - that really is a good slogan for the Dublin brew, Guinness', and Joyce was actually disappointed that Guinness did not use it instead of the commonplace 'Guinness is good for you.' But maybe they will appropriate it some time – 'the free, the froh, the frothy freshener.'  'Lindub', Dublin scrambled, is the Irish for black ale.' 

Mary and Padraic Colum, Our Friend James Joyce, 1958, p.156

'Maybe they will appropriate it sometime' 

They did, Padraic, they did!
Joyce's disappointment that Guinness didn't use his slogan can only mean that he suggested it to them, or that he expected them to discover it for themselves when Haveth Childers Everywhere was published. Either way, Guinness didn't invent the story as a publicity stunt.


It's easy to see why Joyce would have wanted to write an advert for Guinness. He was always fascinated by advertising, and he saw how it was shaping modern life. Joyce made his hero Leopold Bloom an advertising canvasser, a man who contemplates 'the infinite possibilities hitherto unexploited of the modern art of advertisement' with its 'magnetising efficacy to arrest involuntary attention, to interest, to convince, to decide.' (Ithaca)

Here's the most famous ad in Ulysses, from a recreation of the Evening Telegraph published by Split Pea Press in 1990. The slogan was invented by Joyce.

While writing the Wake, Joyce read the Irish and British papers daily, taking notes for his book. He was often more interested in the ads than the news stories. The very first notebook for the Wake includes newspaper ads for Bird’s Egg Substitute cake-meal (‘a tin with a purpose’), for Hustler soap and for the Colgate Shaving Stick (See Robbert-Jan Henkes great article on the Wake's origins here).

So Joyce would have been interested when Guinness launched their first ever advertising campaign in 1929, with the slogan 'Guinness is Good for You'. He might even have taken it as a challenge.

Soon after, John Gilroy's colour posters appeared.


This Guinness slogan makes three appearances in Finnegans Wake:

'Ghinees hies good fir yew.' 16.31 
('for you' in the published text is a misprint)
'Guinness’s, may I remind, were just agulp for you' 190.07
'We have highest gratifications in announcing to pewtewr publikumst of pratician pratyusers, genghis is ghoon for you.'  593.17

In 1936, John Gilroy launched a new campaign, inspired by watching a sea lion performing balancing tricks at a circus. The new slogan was 'My goodness, MY GUINNESS'

Joyce put that into the Wake too.

'O my goodmiss! O my greatmess!' 237.07
'another guidness, my good, to see' 345.22



Here's a perfect pint of Guinness, from John Kavanagh's ('the Gravediggers') by Glasnevin cemetery. It has a creamy rather than a frothy head.

This thick creamy head was created in 1959, when Guinness brewer Michael Ash had the revolutionary idea of adding nitrogen to the draught beer. Nitrogen's tiny bubbles create a head so dense that bartenders can now draw a shamrock on top. After 1959, Guinness ads described the keg version as 'creamy'.

When Joyce wrote his slogan, Guinness had to be poured from two barrels, a method still used in the 1970s to pour plain porter, a weaker version of the stout (celebrated by Flann O'Brien's 'a pint of plain is your only man'). Here's a film showing the last pints of plain poured in Befast, in 1973. They have frothy rather than thick creamy heads.

This froth could also be called foam, as in 'a crystal cup full of the foaming ebon ale' quoted above. Twice in the Wake, Joyce calls Dublin beer  'foamous'.

'Danu U’Dunnell’s foamous olde Dobbelin ayle.' 7.12
'Ser Artur Ghinis. Foamous homely brew, bebattled by bottle, gageure de guegerre.' 272.26

I learn from the James Joyce Digital Archive of Wake drafts that Joyce originally wrote 'the foamy freshener' before choosing the livelier 'frothy'. Maybe he should have thought of 'the foamous freshener'?

Anyway, Joyce was right to call Guinness 'frothy', and as for 'freshener', here's a 1937 Guinness poster.

Did someone remember Joyce's suggestion?

I think that Joyce's 'frothy freshener' was a very effective slogan. Since I started looking into this subject a couple of weeks ago, I've drunk nothing but Guinness; and every time I've ordered a pint, I've remembered the words 'the free, the froh, the frothy freshener'.


A pint in Davy Byrne's 13 June 2015


  1. I love the rest of the Cyclops quotation

    -- Hurry up, Terry boy, says Alf.
    Terence O'Ryan heard him and straightway brought him a crystal cup full of the foaming ebon ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun brew ever in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. For they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix therewith sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat.

    Then did you, chivalrous Terence, hand forth, as to the manner born, that nectarous beverage and you offered the crystal cup to him that thirsted, the soul of chivalry, in beauty akin to the immortals.

    But he, the young chief of the O'Bergan's, could ill brook to be outdone in generous deeds but gave therefor with gracious gesture a testoon of costliest bronze. Thereon embossed in excellent smithwork was seen the image of a queen of regal port, scion of the house of Brunswick, Victoria her name, Her Most Excellent Majesty, by grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British dominions beyond the sea, queen, defender of the faith, Empress of India, even she, who bore rule, a victress over many peoples, the well-beloved, for they knew and loved her from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, the pale, the dark, the ruddy and the ethiop.

  2. There’s another beautiful passage where Joyce talks about Guinness and froth. It’s from Lotus Eaters:

    Going under the railway arch he took out the envelope, tore it swiftly in shreds and scattered them towards the road. The shreds fluttered away, sank in the dank air: a white flutter then all sank.
    Henry Flower. You could tear up a cheque for a hundred pounds in the same way. Simple bit of paper. Lord Iveagh once cashed a sevenfigure cheque for a million in the bank of Ireland. Shows you the money to be made out of porter. Still the other brother lord Ardilaun has to change his shirt four times a day, they say. Skin breeds lice or vermin. A million pounds, wait a moment. Twopence a pint, fourpence a quart, eightpence a gallon of porter, no, one and fourpence a gallon of porter. One and four into twenty: fifteen about. Yes, exactly. Fifteen millions of barrels of porter.
    What am I saying barrels? Gallons. About a million barrels all the same.
    An incoming train clanked heavily above his head, coach after coach. Barrels bumped in his head: dull porter slopped and churned inside. The bungholes sprang open and a huge dull flood leaked out, flowing together, winding through mudflats all over the level land, a lazy pooling swirl of liquor bearing along wideleaved flowers of its froth.

    One 1922 reviewer of Ulysses found the story of Lord Ardilaun and the lice deeply offensive.

  3. I come from Dublin (Clontarf) and I never knew until now that 'the creamy head has only existed since 1959'.

    1. I only learned that two days ago. It's a fascinating story.

      Before the nitrogen was added Guinness had to be poured using a convoluted dispensing system:

      'Figuring out how to streamline the process was a difficult enough conundrum (they called it the “draft problem”), that even after 20 years no one had solved it.

      To give you a sense of what they were trying to replace, here’s how Martyn Cornell describes Irish Guinness in Amber, Gold, and Black:

      “In the pub, the casks containing this highly conditioned beer were known as ‘high,’ while casks containing maturer, less lively beer were know as ‘low.’ Publicans would fill glasses three-quarters full from the ‘low cask’ and then top them up with foaming beer from the ‘high cask.’ The ‘high’ and ‘low’ cask system was in use until at least the 1960s.”

      Ash recalled this himself. “The barman would take a whole minute to fill one glass. He had to get a low pressure cask over a period of time and then the high pressure one, and he had to mix them. He had to be very skilled, the Irish publican, because it took a minute to get a glass. Every barman had his own process. It was all very amusing.”

      He worked on the riddle of how to replace this system for years. Very early on, he saw nitrogen as the solution. It was “such an obvious gas,” he said. “It’s completely inert and it’s three-quarters of what we breathe. It was perfect for this purpose.” The trick wasn’t selecting the right gas, though; it was designing a keg that would work with it. Inside Guinness, Ash’s quest was regarded as quixotic, and other brewers chided it as “daft Guinness” and the “Ash Can.”

      Eventually, working with a keg designer, he did figure it out. He described it to us. “There were two parts. One part where we had to have a reducing valve, and one part for the two gases, nitrogen and CO2, high pressure, reducing valve, low pressure, flood the beer. When we drew off the beer, the gas would come through the reducing valve giving you a constant pressure.” The keg went through two designs before Guinness started sending it out to pubs, rushing at the end to get the project launched by 1959—the brewery’s 200th anniversary.

      It’s safe to say that Ash’s invention revolutionized Guinness and Irish stout. It’s hard to imagine Irish stout served any other way, now (and not just Guinness), and so much of what nitro brings to the drinking experience has become fused with the brewery’s identity. The “surge,” that period of settling when the bubbles seem to flow down as the head settles, has been the subject of ad campaigns for decades. Pouring a perfect pint, topped with the precise depth of snowy head, is an activity the brewery treats almost like a sacrament.'

  4. Actually, the most memorable mention of Padraic Colum is in "Gas from a Burner" where the printer who refused to set the type for Dubliners declares that "I printed poets, sad, silly and solemn:
    I printed Patrick What-do-you-Colm"

  5. It's not true to say that the creamy head has only existed since 1959: the beer served via the high-cask-and-low-cask method had a lovely thick creamy head, when poured by a skilled barman, as you can see in the video here:

    1. What a great film! - have added it to the post. Thanks for the correction Martyn. Those pints don't look as ceamy to me as modern ones, but I take your point