Guinness beer is one of the world’s most popular and recognizable beers. The iconic Irish stout was first brewed at St James’s Gate Brewery in 1759. The style has quite a history, particularly in Ireland and Great Britain, where the style developed. Let’s dig into what makes Arthur Guinness’s dry stout a classic beer.
What Makes Guinness an Irish Stout?
The classic Irish stout for which Guinness is known can be categorized as an Irish dry stout, and the brewing company also makes a version known as Extra Stout that is best described as a Foreign Export Stout.
Either of Guinness’s primary stout offerings shares one specific ingredient that makes a stout a stout. Using roasted barley, an unmalted grain that provides dark color and roasty flavor defines the stout beer style. Additionally, stouts are ales fermented at warmer temperatures with top fermenting yeast.
Subcategories of the stout style can range from low to very high alcohol, but Guinness Draught fits nicely in the category that ranges from 3.8 to 5 percent alcohol content as 4.2%. The lower alcohol content makes Guinness Draught a perfect session beer to spend a rainy day inside at an Irish pub.
Is that Similar to a Porter?
All stouts are similar to porter, which shares the stout beer style’s dark brown to black color. Porter is a classic beer style that was brewed in Great Britain dating before its first recorded mention in 1721. Porter was the preferred drink for many years in London. In 1845, London’s second-largest brewery recorded making the equivalent of 260,000 barrels of porter alone.
Porter is another top fermenting ale with dark malts. Stout was a version of a porter known as stout porter or a strong porter, but by the 19th century, the term porter had fallen off the end of the name when ordered in the pub.
The main difference today between stout and porter is roasted barley. For many brewers, a stout is only a stout if the recipe includes roasted barley. Porter, however, does not require the roasty element.
The style initially used 100 percent brown malt. Porters will showcase more chocolate, caramel, and light roasted coffee flavor, whereas stout is elevated with roasty notes and should taste like espresso and bitter dark chocolate.
Guinness describes Draught’s taste as “smoothly balanced with bitter, sweet, roasted notes.” This is very accurate. Smooth is marketing speak for “it doesn’t taste like anything in particular.”
I’m not sure anyone would find “bitter, sweet, and roasted” appetizing, but that might not be bad. Guinness tastes like Guinness. The addition of Nitrogen during conditioning adds to that perception.
I’m not too fond of Nitrogenized beers because of this result, and I find that the smoothness produces an unpleasant watery coffee with too much fake creamer flavor. So I guess that’s what the bitter-and-sweet descriptor they list is.
Brewers add Nitrogen to beer for a few reasons. The first is practical. Pushing the beer through long draw draft lines with Carbon Dioxide alone is costly. Nitrogen is inert and highly hydrophobic, so it can step in to provide pressure in draft lines that are longer than 15 feet. This saves money on carbon dioxide and keeps the beer carbonated without interference from the Nitrogen.
The second use for Nitrogen in beer is to force the Nitrogen into the solution to recreate the real drinking experience without dealing with all of the complexities of cask ales. The result of a beer force nitrogenized with 70 percent nitrogen gas and 30 percent carbon dioxide is a beer with a creamy texture.
Today, all non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks are dispensed “On Nitro.”
I even attended a beer festival dedicated solely to beers that were on Nitro. Here’s the problem: Nitrogen is a wholly unnecessary, non-natural addition to beer. It has the effect of dulling most, if not all, of the beer’s flavor away. Most beers, including Guinness Draught, do not benefit from it, but again, this is just me.
By contrast, Guinness Extra Stout gets bottled without Nitrogen. It’s a revelation. First, it is brewed in a Foreign Extra Stout style, a far more flavor-forward stout than dry Irish stouts. These stouts are very dark, normally brewed to export strength, and can showcase all types of fruity and sweet flavors.
I’m not knocking Guinness Draught for being nitrogenized or a dry Irish stout. Just understand that this technique and beer style is not designed to maximize flavor.
Guinness Brewing Process and Ingredients
Guinness Draught is brewed with water, malted barley, barley, roasted barley, hops, Nitrogen, and yeast.
Water constitutes up to 90 percent or more of a beer. Classic beer styles like dry Irish stout mainly depend on the regional water sources.
Water in most of Ireland is rich in minerals and has high alkalinity. However, many believe it is unlikely that Guinness brews with such alkaline water. It is more likely that for much of its existence, the traditional beer of Ireland was brewed with low-alkaline water, which would reduce the chances of harsh bitterness extracted from the beer’s dark malts.
Guinness lists three types of barley in its recipe, malted barley, barley, and roasted barley. Malted barley is barley grain that has gone through the malting process. This type of barley will contribute the necessary sugars to feed Guinness yeast, creating alcohol.
Roasted barley is typically an unmalted grain that provides color and flavor but little in the way of fermentable sugars.
If Guinness uses additional unmalted barley, it may be in the form of acidulated malt. Brewers would use this malt to adjust the mash Ph and maybe a clue to the Guinness “tang” that many Guinness drinkers report. I find Guinness to have a clean mineral character which also may come from the brewery’s chosen water makeup.
Hops contribute to the bitterness in Guinness. If you really try, you can detect a light, earthy hop character in both the aroma and flavor. This is quite pleasant and works well with the clean malt roast.
Nitrogen gas is added during conditioning, adding a creamy, real ale-like texture to the experience. I previously wrote about my distaste for it above.
The yeast Guinness uses is ale yeast. Any Irish dry stout fermentation process relies on warm temperatures for the ale yeast to thrive and convert malt sugars to alcohol. By contrast, lagers are described as bottom fermenting yeast and are most successful when fermented at colder temperatures. Guinness does make other beers that are these types of beers, but the Irish dry stout is not a lager.
How Many Calories in Guinness Beers?
When most people think of stout beers, they perceive a heavy and highly caloric beer. In actuality, color has little to do with calories. Most calories in beer come from alcohol, so while Guinness is a relatively low-alcohol beer, it has no more calories than similar light beers with the same alcohol content.
Guinness lists Guinness Draught as having 125 calories. For many years, Guinness was promoted as a healthy drink. Today, alcohol companies can’t make that claim, even if there is some truth. Still, Guinness used the tagline Guinness is good very successfully.
Best Way To Drink Guinness: Draught, Bottle or Can?
Guinness beer’s roots are in the pub. While you can still get the Nitro effect or the “Guinness falls” by pouring the beer from a Nitro bottle or can into a pint glass, it just is not the same as having a skilled bartender pour this dark beer into a Guinness brand glass. I am much more likely to order a Guinness draft appropriately poured at a bar; it needs the whole experience.
Conversely, the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout has the flavor I want to earn a spot in my beer fridge.
What To Eat With Guinness, and what can you cook with it?
Guinness stout is one of the world’s great beers to pair with food—a prerequisite for any pub fair and Irish dish. Serve Guinness with roasted meats to complement the roasty stout. Guinness is great with burgers or meatloaf and in sauces.
The “tang’ that beer drinkers described work great with seafood like fish and chips with plenty of malt vinegar or in brine with steamed mussels. One of the best ways to pair Guinness is with desserts by pairing the Irish Stout with decadent, chocolatey desserts, particularly if espresso is in the recipe.
Even better? Add Guinness to fruity desserts! If you ever visit Saint James’s Gate Brewery in Ireland, there is a dedicated pub specializing in all things Guinness pairing and dishes.
What Do Other People Think of Guinness?
Overall, both Guinness Draught and Guinness Extra Stout are reviewed well on both general review sites and beer-centric sites. Untapped and Rate Beer rank Extra Stout slightly lower, while Beer Advocate ranks it higher. Not that they are being compared, but I anticipated more beer geeks would prefer the latter. So I’ll trust Beer Advocate users a little more now.
|Reviewer||Guinness Draught||Guinness Extra Stout|
|Beer Advocate||82 (Good)||85 (Very Good)|
Beers that are like Guinness
Love Guinness? Try these Irish stouts that are similar:
Similar to Guinness Draught (Dry Irish Stout)
- Beamish Irish Stout
- Murphy’s Stout
- Left Hand Milk Stout (Nitro)
Similar to Guinness Extra Stout (Foreign Extra Stout)
- Coopers Best Extra Stout
- The Kernel Export Stout
- Ridgeway Foreign Export Stout
- Southwark Old Stout
Final Thoughts on Guinness
Guinness is the world’s most famous stout beer. The beer’s history is iconic and deeply rooted in culture, history, math, and beer drinking.
Today, the Diageo plc beer brand produces more than its famous Guinness Original Irish Stout. Just as porter fell out of favor for lighter beers, Guinness felt the pressure to create Guinness Blonde American Lager, a light-colored beer produced at their Maryland USA brewery initially. The Guinness brand has also dabbled into lagers with Guinness Black Lager.
Though the popularity of light, crisp beer dominates, I’m glad we can still grab a Guinness for a rainy day or St. Paddy’s Day celebration for some moderate consumption. After all, Guinness is good!