LAGOS, Nigeria — There are no shamrocks or leprechauns at the Seaside Bar here in the Ikoyi district of Lagos.
Few of the Nigerian drinkers would even recognize their significance on St Patrick’s Day. But on Tuesday night, just like any other, there’s sure to be plenty of Guinness drinking going on.
Across the world, revelers are preparing to raise a glass of Ireland’s most famous brew this week, in honor of the Emerald Isle's patron saint. But many might be surprised to learn that more Guinness stout will be drunk in tropical Nigeria this year than the U.S., or even Ireland, home of the black stuff.
Saint Patrick’s Day, on March 17, is a national holiday and traditional feast day in Ireland and widely celebrated in the United States where drinkers literally paint the town and themselves green — Ireland’s national color. That's when Guinness sales peak.
Here in Nigeria, nestled just north of the equator and steamy-hot all year round, few Nigerians associate the drink in their hand with Ireland.
“I’m a confirmed Guinness drinker. I’ve drunk Guinness all my life,” says Agibola Williams, 43, who’s never heard of St Patrick’s Day. As he sups a mid-afternoon Guinness in a small outdoor bar he explains his preference. “I like Guinness because it is bitter, it is good for you,” he says, “and it gives you power, especially for sexual intercourse.”
Guinness has a strong brand in Nigeria, promoted through television ads, billboards and sporting events that target Nigerian men. Funny adverts like “Guinness gives you strength” or “Rich, dark and deeply satisfying…” are widely understood in Nigeria to be a reference to sexual potency. Nigeria is now the second largest Guinness market in the world after the UK, and according to Guinness, the company is selling more every year.
This year Guinness marks its 250th anniversary, but the dark stout only arrived in Nigeria in the 1940s when the country was a British colony. The brew soon whet local appetites and by 1962 Guinness had set up a Nigerian brewery, its first outside the British Isles. Sales continue to grow steadily, says Guinness Nigeria.
Nigeria is a huge consumer market with a population of 140 million, fueled by a multi-billion dollar oil-based economy. But with endemic corruption, power and infrastructure problems and a legacy of political instability, few global brands have dared to set up operations in Africa’s most populous nation.
Although Nigerian Guinness looks the same as what you'd find in Dublin — the same branding and trademark black brew — Nigerian Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is a very different beast from the original Irish draught.
Nigerian Guinness is a bitter-sweet, syrupy drink. It costs about $2 a bottle and, subject to power cuts, is typically served ice-cold in liter-sized bottles, never draught. And with a 7.5 percent alcohol content, almost double that of a draught in Ireland or the U.S., it kicks a powerful punch.
Even the raw ingredients are different — Nigerian Guinness is made from locally harvested maize and sorghum — not the usual barley.
If many Nigerian drinkers are unaware of the drink's Irish heritage, it could have something to do with the company’s clever marketing campaigns, which have gone out of their way to foster a sense of ownership of the Guinness brand. On billboards in Lagos, the Guinness harp is morphed into an outline of Africa.
Other adverts are aspirational or quaintly appealing, like those depicting Guinness–supping black businessmen in expensive snappy suits. Others feature an African in traditional garb and spear with the question: “Are you the warrior?”
For those drinking here at the Seaside Bar, the answer is yes.
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