Monday 29 September 2014

What is this Guinness?

There are few beer drinkers more singularly loyal to a brand than Guinness drinkers. They were practically born with a pint of the black stuff in their hands and there it shall remain until the day they leave us. The thought of drinking a rival brand of stout such as Beamish or Murphy's, or anything else for that matter, is simply amoral to them. As long as Guinness exists there will always be those that chose to drink little, if nothing else.

I visited the Guinness production plant in St. James Gate, Dublin earlier this year and marvelled at the extreme size of the place whilst they plied us with endless hospitality. There I met some of the production brewers and while I was well aware that they had no doubt been told to be on their best behaviour I still remarked that they shared the same passion and enthusiasm as any 'craft' brewer I've ever met. That evening we were given samples of a new pilot brew called 'Night Porter' and to be honest, I rather enjoyed it. Hints of drinking chocolate and molasses rasped at the tongue, this was decent stuff.

Fast forward a couple of months and Guinness have just announced the launch of two new porters that are alleged to be based on historic recipes. First up the 3.8% Dublin Porter, resplendent in a sky blue label with an elegant design that gives a wink, nod and tip of the hat to their 18th century branding. It pours Coca-Cola brown with a fluffy white head that doesn't hang around. There's little aroma to speak of so I lunge straight in for a taste. Subtle notes of slightly burnt toast and instant coffee instantly remind me of regular old Guinness. Not draught but the proper stuff my Grandma used to give me half a glass of with my sandwich as I sat on her lawn in the summer holidays of my youth. It's not different enough to regular Guinness to impress me but it's quaffable and it will certainly satisfy the brands zealots. This begs the question, if they can be convinced to drink this, what else might they be tempted to try?

They might well start with West Indies Porter. I'm in love with the label of this 6% ABV beer. Something about the combination of the typeface, that certain shade of yellow and the shield it's assembled on has my mind doing cartwheels. It pours a darker shade of brown than the Dublin Porter and it also manages to produce a respectable nose of cane sugar and sultanas. While not luxurious it does have a depth that I find satisfying. Sugared Turkish coffee plays around with the taste of figs, it's sweet but dry enough to make me want to take another sip. It has more than just a hint of Foreign Extra about it. While there are many beers in this class that are head and shoulders above this in terms of depth and volume of flavour I still enjoyed it and would drink it again. 

These aren't game changers, in fact they're a long way from it but they're not bad beers and they are distinctively Guinness like in flavour. They will win over the Guinness die hards and the supermarket ale suppers quite easily, especially as the immense volume in which these beers are produced makes them considerably cheaper than their 'craft' counterparts. But what of that Guinness drinker that's dared to try something different despite staying on brand? Perhaps that bottle of Fuller's London Porter that they've always skipped on the shelf will now be seen in a completely different light.

These beers will do nothing to take back those that have already discovered how good beer can be with just a little searching. They will however do a lot to open the minds of those that have already made their minds up. As a result this could backfire on the marketing board at Diageo that conceptualised these beers. I can't see these beers still being around in five years time so enjoy them while you can because as far as I'm concerned they're not all that bad and good value for money.

Both bottles were sent to me by Guinness to review but I don't think this influenced my opinion of them. Original photography by Dianne Tanner

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