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A pint of Guinness in Temple Bar, Dublin
Image Credit: Stinglehammer

Guinness was the first stout I ever had, before I even knew what stout was. I’ve loved Guinness from the very first sip in Boston. Guinness is known for its dark color in contrast to the lighter foam, but Guinness is not really as dark as you might think. Guinness is really a dark amber, closer to red than black. While Guinness is not, technically, a meal in a glass, it does seem like it ought to be; Guinness is very filling.

Guinness is also very firmly fixed in the minds of Americans with Irish ancestry as one of the quintessential Irish totems. Although Guinness was originally Arthur Guinness’ brewery, first in Leixlip, Ireland, then, in 1759, he moved to Dublin, and the St. James’s Gate Brewery, it is now longer Irish-owned. Guinness is now one of the many breweries and distillers owned by Diageo PLC. One of Diageo’s greatest assets is the St. James Gate Brewery—Arthur Guinness, way back in 1759, had the exceedingly good sense to sign a 900 year lease for the property. 

Guinness is International

Since 2005 all Guinness sold in the UK and Ireland is brewed at St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin—but that’s just one of many breweries all over the world, on several different continents, including North America (since 2000), and Africa. While Guinness is more popular than ever in the U.S., it has declined in favor in the beer’s native Ireland. I should mention that the Diageo corporation also owns Harp lager, which is second only to Guinness in terms of associations in the U. S. with Irish beer. 

The Guinness you drink in the U.S. is not the Guinness you drink elsewhere; there are several different varieties, presumably designed to suit national beer preferences. The bottled Guinness is Guinness Extra Stout, while the others are simply Guinness. The Extra Stout is brewed with more roast barley and isn’t quite as mellow as Guinness, and, when compared in a clear glass, is a bit more reddish in color. In Nigeria, where barley is not allowed as an import, the Guinness is made with sorghum. 

Draught Guinness in the U.S. is 4.2% abv. Bottled Guinness in the U.S. is an “Extra Stout” and 6% abv. You will notice that cans and bottles of Guinness in the U.S. often have a little plastic widget in them. That’s an attempt, and a fairly successful one, to implement the effect of the nitrogen fueled kegs. It means that when the Guinness is opened, beer and nitrogen, trapped in the widget, are forced out through the rest of the beer as you pour it into a glass (yes, of course, you drink Guinness from a glass!) producint the striking creamy head that’s expected from Guinness.

The Black-and-Tan

It’s a very common thing to order a “Black-and-Tan.” In the U.S., at some bars, this is regarded as a request for half Bass Pale ale, and half Guinness. I’m here to tell you that is heresy. Or at least not standard in Ireland, where typically a “Black-and-Tan” is Harp lager and Guinness. In some cases, you’ll hear this identified as a “All Guinness Black-and-Tan,” since the same brewery makes Harp lager and Guinness. That said, Bass Ale and Guinness is not a bad thing at all, but it is more properly identified as half-and-half. 

Now that you know the Right and Proper Way to have a Black-and-Tan, you need to know about Guinness and good chocolate. Guinness and chocolate are absolutely fabulous together; mind now, it needs to be a very good 70% or so cacao dark chocolate. I heartily endorse Guinness and really good chocolate ice cream, and Guinness and really good chocolate brownies; particularly brownies made with Guinness. Do use at least Ghirardelli or similar quality chocolate for this; you really will be pleased. There’s nothing wrong with buying a bar of the right sort of chocolate, and chopping it into bits for easier melting.

Guinness on Draft: The Proper Pull

Now then—and this is where we enter personal preferences—Guinness is best on draft. It just is. If you can’t get Guinness on draft, then look for the Guinness Extra Stout in the bottle. If you are drinking draft Guinness, then note that there’s a special technique to pulling Guinness. The barkeep will fill the glass, most of the way, but not completely, then set it aside. This is to let it “settle.” it is as vital a step for draft Guinness as breathing is for red wine. A moment or so later, the barkeep will finish the pull, leaving you with the rich creamy head that Guinness is known for, in stark contrast to the dark beer below. This is because Guinness on draft, like a few others (Murphy’s Irish, and Boddingtons, for instance) is kegged with and carbonated with nitrogen; that means smaller bubbles, and that means that the beer cascades (more like a waterfall than a fountain—the bubbles sink, rather than rise) when it’s poured into a glass. If after your first swig—neither a sip nor a gulp—you do not notice a ring, then something has gone terribly terribly wrong. Note that when you have drunk the first two thirds of your Guinness, you are expected to order the second; Guinness only travels in pairs.

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