GUINNESS is one of the greatest, most valuable brand names in beer. From its familiar harp logo to its stenciled typeface to Arthur Guinness’ famous signature, everything about it is immediately recognizable. Even its bubbles have a trademark look.
You think of Guinness, you think of rich, dark, smooth Irish stout – the biggest-selling, most famous dark beer on the planet.
The problem is, that’s the only thing you think of.
As good as Guinness is, it’s really only good for one thing. Anheuser-Busch, by comparison, sells everything from Bud Light to Clamato Chelada under its brand name. Heineken successfully leveraged its famous brand into sales of light beer, dark lager, even a pilsner.
Guinness? Well, the whiz-bangs in the board room at Diageo – the multinational booze conglomerate that owns the brand – are seemingly working their way through a box of Crayolas. Over the years, they’ve rolled out a procession of largely frustrating, unimaginative failures: Guinness Gold, Guinness Red, Guinness Black Lager. Maybe the latest, Guinness Blonde, will take off.
Meanwhile, I’m more interested in the decidedly highbrow approach under the brand’s new, so-called Guinness Signature Series. The first bottle, released last month, is called The 1759, named after the year that Guinness signed his famous, 9,000-year lease at St. James’s Gate, in Dublin.
It’s described as a “limited edition, ultrapremium amber ale . . . a luxury beer best for sipping and fine dining occasions,” one that “offers more style, sophistication and elegance to better beer drinkers in the U.S.”
I polished off a bottle while lounging on the couch in my BVDs, munching potato chips and watching Daryl slaughter zombies on “The Walking Dead. “
The 1759 is an excellent beer, one that can stand with any dark ale I’ve ever tasted.
Rather than an amber, I’d describe it more accurately as a brown ale, one with a bit of smoky peat in the nose and a medium body with none of the roasted bitterness of Guinness’ beloved stout. Its caramel flavor grows more pronounced and complex as the glass warms, but it’s never sweet; it finishes dry with more of that peaty smoke. Even at 9 percent alcohol, it’s smooth and quaffable.
I’d have to agree with Guinness brand director Doug Campbell, who told me that he thought The 1759 “will surprise people in a positive way and show them that Guinness as a big global brand can do small, special brews like this. “
But what confounds me is that Guinness opted to go all Mr. Fancy Pants on us and package it in corked 750 ml bottles at 35 clams a pop.
Campbell told me that Guinness believes it “occupies that upper echelon space, in terms of quality and distinctiveness, and by being brewed by people with passion. . . . “
He continued: “Honestly, all we’re doing is pushing the boundaries on what people might expect from the brewery. If anything, the question has been: ‘What took you so long? ‘ “
Perhaps, but Guinness is not Johnnie Walker, to name another brand that Diageo has successfully upscaled. This is beer we’re talking about, and even high-priced brands do not claim to occupy a “luxury” niche.
Instead, the wallet-busters tend to be unique, high-alcohol blends (Sam Adams Utopias, $190 bottle), storied Belgian imports (Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek, $28) or limited-production, barrel-aged cult beers (The Bruery Black Tuesday, $50).
“Luxury” means nothing in the world of beer, other than slick, mendacious corporate-speak for “overpriced. “
As good as it is, The 1759 is not so precious that it needs to be corked. It ought to be sold in 12-ounce bottles for no more than $10 each.
Yes, I’m sure there are plenty of jerks out there who will scoop up one of the 90,000 bottles of The 1759 and pour it, as the news release suggests, “chilled in a 6-ounce stemless flute. “
But this beer deserves better than that.
And so does Guinness.