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March 17, 2006 | Getting the word on Guinness
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:
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:
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."