When one hears the name Guinness, one usually thinks about that famous big, bold, black beer. So when I found out that Guinness was actually brewing a blonde lager and an India Pale Ale (IPA) for the American beer market, I was initially sceptical.
After all, stout is what Guinness does best, and what they have been doing magnificently for 257 years. Why would they need to brew another style of beer? A recent visit to the Open Gate Brewery at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland, gave me the answer to that question.
“Guinness has always had a culture of innovation, and brewing new beers,” says Domhnall Marnell, a man who has arguably one of the coolest job descriptions in the world: Guinness beer specialist.
“After all, Guinness did not make Guinness Draught in 1759, and just continue to make that until now. We’ve gone from ales, to porters, to stouts, to extra stouts, to nitrogenated stouts, and so many others in between as well. Beers like Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (FES), we’ve made since 1801. It’s available in Asia and Africa, but most people in Ireland or the USA would not know it exists.”
A working microbrewery and pub situated within the main Guinness brewery, The Open Gate Brewery, opened its doors to the public a couple of months ago. Before that, it was known as The Brewers Project, a small group of Guinness brewers who were in charge of coming up with new beers, whether by reviving old recipes or by creating their own.
“What’s great about the OGB is that there is no pressure. We bring a beer in, for maybe an eight week cycle, people come and taste it, and if they like it, then we can consider bringing it out again,” Marnell says.
It’s actually a process that makes sense considering that that is what most craft brewpubs do anyway. What Guinness has to their advantage is they certainly have the resources to allow their team of brewers to go crazy with their “experiments” on a larger scale.
“The brewers in here are just having a lot of fun. They’ve got all these resources and licence to brew any beer they want. So any idea they have, they brew it. We’ve had everything from Imperial dunkels, German-styled dark beers with Guinness yeast, milk stout, and just recently, we had a vanilla, toasted-oatmeal ale, which was absolutely gorgeous,” he says.
Among the limited edition beers on tap during our visit to the OGB is an Antwerp Imperial Stout, a 9% alcohol by volume (ABV) full-bodied malt monster of a stout that tasted like bitter dark chocolates; and the Vienna Common Lager, a 5% ABV cross between a California common lager and a Vienna dark malt lager that is a light, easy, refreshing drink with a great balance.
According to Marnell, the current global craft beer movement means that this is as good a time as ever for Guinness to start experimenting with new beers.
“We’ve got 257 years of brewing history behind us, and right now, there is no better time to start brewing different beers. We can really open up our range now because there are more beer drinkers wanting to try different styles and different beers,” he says.
“For many years, Guinness Draught has been our No.1 variant in Europe and the US. Then you’ve got FES in Africa and Asia. So for many years, what we’ve been releasing were just variants of what we already had. The OGB changes all that.”
To further prove his point, we are given a special tasting of the different variants of beers currently produced by Guinness not just at the OGB, but also around the world.
Guinness Draught: What better way to start a tasting than with currently the most famous Guinness variant around the world? Launched in 1959, this version of Guinness is nitrogenated instead of carbonated like other beers, and has become the brewery’s flagship variant, the one that is served most around the world.
The nitrogen makes Guinness Draught a lot easier to drink than the bottled version – wonderfully creamy and rich, with balanced flavours of malted barley, slightly bitter yet sweet caramel notes, and a refreshing, almost soothing finish. Definitely a good starting point for a novice Guinness drinker, and a great regular session stout as well.
Guinness Extra Stout: This is THE original Guinness stout, which Guinness Draught is based on. This is basically the same beer as the Guinness Draught, but carbonated instead of nitrogenated; it has the same characteristics but simply does not have the creamy mouthfeel that the Draught has. It’s still the same beer, though, so you still get a lot of rich, malty, coffee notes and a malty finish.
Guinness Blonde Lager: We now move on to the new Guinness beers that were introduced in the American market recently. According to Marnell, these beers were introduced to fill gaps in a US beer market in which craft beer is currently all the rage.
The Blonde Lager is a crisp, refreshing lager with a somewhat yeasty nose, and is light and slightly citrusy on the palate. It’s got more body than most lagers, and a distinct “Guinness-ness” to it that Marnell says is down to the Guinness yeast they use.
Guinnes Nitro IPA: I have to admit, an IPA was the last thing I’d expect to try in the home of Guinness. But I was surprised by the Nitro IPA. Brewed using five different hop varieties, this is a very easy, 5.8% ABV session IPA that has a pleasantly fresh, hoppy nose, and an easy balance of hops and malts on the palate with a relatively light finish.
Guinness Dublin Porter: Back in 1796, Guinness decided to make their own version of a dark brown ale called a porter, which was extremely popular in London at the time. The new Dublin Porter is a beer based on the old recipes for that historical beer. At 3.8% ABV, it is relatively light and easy for a porter and has a nice sweet, biscuity, malt flavour that lingers on the finish.
West Indies Porter: At 6% ABV, this is a fuller, richer porter than the easy-drinking Dublin Porter. Based on an 1801 recipe from the Guinness archives for a porter that could maintain its freshness for more than a month while being shipped to the West Indies, the old version of this brew was said to be the precursor to FES.
The new one is a medium bodied beer with a rich, malty, cocoa flavour that indeed reminds me of the FES, though more like a cross between the FES and the Draught.
Guinness Golden Ale: Introduced in 2015, this is one of the newest additions to the Guinness family – an ale brewed using Guinness yeast, Irish barley, hops, and amber malt. It is a crisp golden in colour, and is a very easy drinking ale with a good balance of malty, biscuit and nutty flavours, and a decent malty finish.
Hop House 13: It has been a running joke among Guinness enthusiasts that Guinness can’t brew a proper lager. Well, with the introduction of Hop House 13 in 2015, the joke has pretty much stopped.
One of the early successes of The Brewer’s Project, this is a surprisingly tasty lager – hoppier than the usual commercial lager or pilsner, but with rich malty notes that give you that distinct Guinness flavour.
Guinness Africa Special: Now this is a rare one. Brewed by Guinness at their breweries in Nigeria, this beer is made with a combination of malted barley and sorghum, a grain that is common in Africa. While FES remains the flagship Guinness variant in Africa, the Africa Special was introduced as an alternative to FES in a bid to draw younger drinkers to the brand. The sweet sorghum notes are very apparent in the nose and on the palate, and it reminds me of a much, much sweeter version of an FES. Also, depending on whether you like your beers sweet, the sweet soghum can either be unique or off-putting.
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout: As mentioned before, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is a variant of Guinness that has been brewed outside of Ireland since 1801.
It recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of being brewed in Malaysia, and, to date, remains one of Guinness’ most popular yet underrated beers.
Tasting FES after having tried so many of Guinness’ other variants really highlights just how good this beer really is, and how much I’ve taken it for granted in the past.
It has an intense aroma of sweet, almost coffee-like malt, and on the palate, it is one of the most full-bodied variants in the entire range (probably due to it’s relatively strong 6.5% ABV), and has a creamy, sweet, malty palate that ends with a slightly bitter but utterly satisfying malty finish.
The tasting at the OGB may have opened my eyes to the different variants of Guinness around the world, but in the end, the one variant that really stands out for me is the one that gives me a taste of home.
Purchase five glasses or bottles of Guinness at participating outlets throughout March and stand a chance to win one of 12 pairs of tickets for an exclusive hosted trip to Dublin. Also look out for the Guinness St Patrick’s ‘Friendliest Fridge’ at selected Malone’s outlets every Thursday this month – for locations and more details, visit facebook.com/guinnessmalaysia.
Michael Cheang has gained a whole new appreciation for Guinness FES. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page (facebook.com/mytipsyturvy).