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Nov. 27, 2010 | Now America gets a taste of some good old Guinness
Its harp logo is as familiar as the McDonald's arches. Its dark body and tan, cascading head are instantly recognizable from across the bar. Even beer drinkers who've never left Port Richmond can tell you it's been brewed since 1759 at St James's Gate, in Dublin, Ireland.
It is the very definition of Irish stout.
Turns out, Americans really don't know Guinness.
At least not the Guinness that much of the rest of the world enjoys.
That would be Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the brewery's original stout. Although the variety accounts for more than 45 percent of all Guinness sales, it has not been sold in America since World War II.
Until last month, that is, when Guinness began sending us bottles of what is commonly known as FES.
The beer is remarkably different from the standard Guinness Draught that we've all come to love. The first clue comes when you put your nose to a glass. You'll catch a whiff of that classic burnt-toast aroma, but there's something else: hops - a lot of them.
FES is brewed with far more hops than its cousin. Its original gravity is also much higher to create more alcohol - 7.5 percent by volume, compared with 4.2 percent for Guinness Draught. That's why they call it "Extra."
The biggest difference, though, arrives in the first swallow.
Gone is that soft, smooth body, a product of its careful mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Its intense, full-bodied, roasted-malt flavor begins dryly but finishes with a sharp acidity. Its tartness will come as a shock to anyone who has been nurtured by the smoother, less aggressive Guinness Draught.
This lactic flavor is mainly from FES's unusual production, in which fresh beer is blended with beer that has been aged for 100 days.
Oddly enough, FES is probably closest to Guinness' original stout.
That beer, called West Indies Porter, was devised by Arthur Guinness himself in 1801. The Irish brewery had only recently decided to concentrate on brewing porter, which at the time was largely an English-style ale.
By adding extra hops, increasing the alcohol and perfecting its blending, Guinness had created a beer that could easily survive the long voyage overseas, especially to the Caribbean. (Today, the varieties of FES found mainly in the Southern Hemisphere are made from an unfermented, concentrated wort that is brewed in Dublin and then shipped to local breweries for fermentation and conditioning.)
Over time, West Indies Porter would become known as Foreign Double Stout, and then Foreign Extra Stout, making it possibly the world's longest continuously brewed brand of beer. More importantly, it was this beer that would enable Guinness to grow into a global powerhouse.
FES was originally exported to the United States in 1849, about the time that America was discovering light-bodied German lagers. While it gained popularity as a supposed restorative, the brand tanked as America turned dry. For the record, Guinness says that FES never returned after the Prohibition, but there is ample evidence that it lingered on until the 1940s.
In any case, it's a good bet that there are few Americans alive who have ever tasted the stout - unless they happened upon a bottle during their travels to Jamaica or Nigeria.
So why wait all these years to return to America?
Brand manager Patrick Hughes credits the growing craft-beer market. More beer drinkers, he said, "are looking for beer with substance."
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout has plenty of substance. Enjoy it at about 50 degrees in a wide-mouthed goblet for the full effect.