Name: Guinness Draught
Style: Dry Stout
The numbers: 4.2% ABV, 40 IBUs
Brewer: Guinness & Co., Dublin, Ireland
Before I write a single word I need to be open about two things. First, I worked for Diageo, the owners of Guinness, for eight years. For four of those eight years I worked on the Guinness brand, in New York. I am pretty biased. Second, while I no longer work at Diageo I am doing some consulting work for them among other things, and that includes consulting on the Guinness brand. There, that’s out of the way.
There’s something else you should know. I love Guinness. And when I say that, it’s not because Guinness paid and pays me money, it’s because I just plain love the stuff. It was my grandfather’s favorite beer; it was my mother’s favorite beer; it was my father’s favorite “mainstream” beer (he was especially partial to Britain’s many cask ales); and, from age 18 (grew up in Britain), it was my beer of choice.
I worked for Guinness because it was my dream job.
As we approach the day of the year when everyone looks to the Emerald Isle for a little lifestyle inspiration, the drinking of Guinness sky-rockets. 15% of its annual sales occur in March – it’s impossible to say how much on 3/17, but probably not far off 6-7% of annual sales. On one day.
As an avid fan of craft beer, something of a geek, and therefore an avid reader of beer blogs, I’ve noticed noise about avoiding Guinness this St Pat’s because it’s not craft, because there are better Irish beers out there, or because it’s owned by the world’s largest premium drinks maker.
To all of that I say phooey, which is technical speak for bollocks. As one of the world’s biggest Guinness fans who’s also a huge craft fan, I felt Guinness could do with a little support. So here’s why, if you’re a discerning beer drinker, you should definitely consider a pint of the black stuff on Tuesday.
- Guinness is very, very Irish
If you have 90 seconds more than the three minutes you expected to spend reading this article, watch this recent Guinness advert that was on TV in Ireland.
I think it’s excellent, mainly because it’s so open about the fact that Guinness is a big beer. There’s no “mystical story telling” or attempts to show two guys running hops through their fingers in some badly lit experimental brewing room. (Okay, there is a little bit of that.) It shows actual people who actually work making Guinness and supplying its ingredients. That’s right, Guinness is made in Ireland by Irish people using Irish ingredients.
And what’s pretty amazing is that every drop of Guinness Draught you drink in America is made at St James’s Gate brewery, on the same site bought by Arthur Guinness in 1759.
Yes, Guinness has been made in the same place, continuously (there was no prohibition in Europe) for nigh-on 256 years. There is NO other beer, Irish or otherwise, that you can buy in America that can make that claim.
- Diageo is Guinness, and proud of it
One of the biggest charges against consuming Guinness is that it’s owned by drinks megacorp Diageo; and, especially among the more fervent Irish Americans, what’s even worse is that Diageo is British. Well, kinda. But, a brief history lesson for you: Diageo was formed in 1997 by the merger of Grand Metropolitan, a British-based food and drink conglomerate, and…Guinness & Co.
People often assume that Diageo, the company most famous for spirits brands like Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Baileys and Crown Royal, must at some stage have bought Guinness out from the Irish. Nuh-uh. Guinness, by virtue of the success of its beer sales, had actually bought a load of those big spirits brands out, and, as a corporate entity, was pretty much 50% of the value of the deal that made Diageo.
And Diageo LOVES Guinness. When I joined the company in London, Guinness was the biggest deal to most people who worked there. It is the most famous of the company’s brands in Britain, had the biggest budget, the most people, and the greatest share of heart among employees. Over here in the States Guinness is a good deal smaller than it is in Britain, but the passion of the people who market and sell the stuff is not diminished.
In Ireland, where Diageo is also a huge deal, Guinness is a major source of employment, export value, tax revenue and plain old national pride. Guinness is comfortably the biggest beer in Ireland, and the Guinness brewery is its biggest tourist attraction.
Oh, and Guinness & Co. was a British company way before Diageo was formed. In fact, Guinness & Co. was never a public company in Ireland, and was registered on the London Stock Exchange as far back as 1886. And I’ll tell you another secret: we Brits actually really like the Irish. And I don’t think they dislike us that much either. In fact we’re pretty good mates. Except when we play each other at rugby.
- Guinness is really good beer
Let’s cut to the chase here. Although people do drink beer because of where it’s from or who owns it, the biggest reason, by far, for drinking a beer is and should be because it tastes good. And Guinness tastes really, really good.
Now, Guinness is not an American craft beer, and nor does it pretend to be. It’s an imported stout – an Irish Dry Stout technically. But as I often joke to people, what the craft beer market could really do with is a well-made nitro session stout. Ta da! – here it is.
Why is Guinness so good? Because highly skilled brewers have been perfecting it for a very long time. The brewery at St James’s Gate in Dublin has recently received significant investment, and there’s a case to be made that it’s actually the most advanced, well-run brewery in the world these days.
The result – the beer – is damn near perfect to me. Of course it’s not the most pungent, the most hoppy, the most exotic or the strongest beer you can buy. What it is is a balanced, nuanced beer, with just the right compromise between texture, aroma, strength and taste.
Guinness Draught (and for those who love a rich, carbonated stout, Guinness Extra Stout and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout are available in bottles) pours out of a tap or can a creamy, deep ruby liquid, full of nitrogen bubbles that are released from suspension by either the tap or the award-winning “widget” in the can.
As the many millions of nitrogen bubbles fight their way to the top of the glass, you get to witness the beer surging and settling, like a big chocolately storm cloud rumbling at you from across the Atlantic.
The tiny bubbles form into an extraordinarily large, bright white head on top of the beer, and if your beer is well poured that head should rise up out of the glass and stand proud of its rim, like a smooth milky dome. Even with the thousands of awesome beers on the market today, I challenge you to find a better looking pint.
As any beer geek should know, nitro beers don’t have a knock-out aroma, so you shouldn’t go looking for it. The bubbles don’t burst in the same way as carbonated ones, so Guinness doesn’t smack you in the nose. Instead it gently charms and intrigues you with soft notes of chocolate, coffee and wholewheat toast. (That’s right, wholewheat.) The unique Guinness yeast (which, legend has it – and no one knows for sure – is directly descended from the same strain used by Arthur Guinness back in the 18th century) gives a few notes of sharp distinction to the nose, a little like spices and new leather.
This beer’s bouquet is a sophisticated number.
And where this beer really rules the roost is with its mouthfeel. No other beer comes near. While there are some frankly remarkable nitro beers being made these days, none can yet match the silky, creamy, fulsome texture of a well-stored and well-served Guinness. It’s rich yet at the same time light, and matches the aroma of the beer perfectly. Its relatively low ABV of 4.2% means there is no burn, no undue weight on the tongue, just a full, dense flavor and a lingering finish.
And that 4.2% ABV means you aren’t knocked sideways by a couple of 20oz pints. Which, given St Patrick’s Day is rarely an occasion where you have all your beer in the evening, is a good thing.
Despite the fact that there are so many great beers out there, next Tuesday I will be enjoying only Guinness. Its long Irish heritage, the pride and passion behind the beer, its wonderful taste and its reasonable alcoholic strength make for the perfect session stout for a day of Irish recognition and celebration. And this year, two weeks ago, they beat my England team at rugby, so I feel I owe them a raised glass or two of Ireland’s most popular beer. And I’m very much going to enjoy them.