IT’S ST. Patrick’s Day, which means by the time you’re reading this, you should already be into your second pint of Guinness Stout.
Forget green beer, forget Jameson’s and Bushmills, forget even Smithwick’s – Guinness is the Official Intoxicant of St. Patrick’s Day. Beer drinkers guzzle something like 10 million pints of it every day – twice that number on March 17, I think.
All that consumption isn’t making us any smarter, though. The famous stout is probably less understood than any mainstream beer in the world.
For example, there’s the matter of its origin.
Yeah, sure – Dublin, Ireland, is where draft Guinness is made. But those cans and bottles? The ones we drink in Philly are made in Canada by Labatt.
And, yeah, it’s a dark beer. But it’s not strong beer. Its alcohol content, about 4.2 percent, is less than see-through standards like Coors andCorona.
Rumors, misperceptions, folk tales – there are plenty when it comes to Guinness. I chatted with experts, including the company’s head brewer, Fergal Murray, to straighten out the mess.
Q: How many different kinds of Guinness are there?
A: According to Murray, there are three basic variants:
Guinness, also known asGuinness Draft, is served from a keg, brewed in Dublin.
Guinness Extra Stout is a more bitter, sharper-tasting version available only in bottles.
Guinness Essence isn’t really a beer. It’s a high-gravity (or condensed) version of Guinness, using the beer’s basic malt and hops, brewed in Ireland. It’s then shipped to the company’s 50 breweries around the world, where water and other ingredients are added to turn it into Guinness for the local market.
But there are more than a dozen other sub-varieties based on those three. For example, Guinness Extra Stout comes in at least four different versions with alcoholic strength ranging from 4.2 percent to 7.5 percent.
Other versions of Guinness include:
- Canned and bottled Draught Guinness, containing a widget that reproduces the famous foam;
- Guinness Original, the Brit version of bottled Extra Stout.
- Guinness Extra Smooth, a creamier version of stout sold in Ghana.
- Guinness Extra Special, a high-alcohol bottled version (7.5 percent) sold in Belgium.
- Guinness Draught Extra Cold, the same as Guinness Draft, but served about 7 degrees colder. Available only in Great Britain and Ireland.
- Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, another bottled version available mainly in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.
- Guinness Brewhouse Series, a specialty line of stouts sold on tap in Ireland. Every six months a new batch is released, each with a slightly different flavor.
- Malta Guinness, alcohol-free stout, sold in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. (Word is Guinness is also testing Guinness Mid-Strength, a low-alcohol stout, in Ireland.)
Q: Is it true that the Guinness made in Nigeria uses sorghum instead of barley?
A: Yes, sorghum plus maize. Barley is not permitted in beer in Nigeria. And get this: Even with less than half the population, Nigeria drinks more Guinness than America.
Q: Does Guinness contain oatmeal?
A: No. Flaked and roasted barley are the main ingredients. The trademark smoothness is largely the result of nitrogen (as opposed to carbon dioxide) bubbles.
Q: Is there any Guinness beer that isn’t stout?
A: In England, you can buy Guinness Bitter, a standard English bitter. Over the years, the brewery tried out a number of other styles, including Guinness Gold and Guinness Pilsner, but they were quickly killed off.
Q: How long should it take to pour a Guinness?
A: About 2 minutes. Standard procedure: Tilt glass 45 degrees, fill two-thirds, let it settle, then fill to the brim.
Q: How tall should the head of foam be?
A: Twenty millimeters (three-quarters of an inch). The height is dependent on barometric pressure, Murray said, so you sometimes face what can be called the “Denver Effect,” where you have to adjust the gas pressure to control the size of the head.
Q: Why do the bubbles go down, instead of up?
A: Actually, the bubbles go both ways. The bubbles surging to the top in the middle of the glass force the bubbles clinging to the side of the glass to the bottom.
Q: Why do so many people say Guinness tastes better in Ireland than in America?
A: “It’s a long way across the Atlantic,” Murray said. “By the time you arrive, you’re very thirsty. Plus, the social atmosphere is different. You go to a local pub, the pints of Guinness are flowing, you’re in a different zone.”
This week’s column was written with a glass of Slaapmutske Triple Nightcap.