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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Guinness Anniversary Stout, Reviewed

The year is 1759, the number of democracies in the world, zero. The poet Robert Burns is born. America is yet 17 years of turmoil from birth. The world is near the peak of the Little Ice Age, which means the vast, fir-covered reaches of what will become Oregon are probably well-blanketed in deep drifts of snow, all the way to the coast. Frederick the Great rules the powerful Kingdom of Prussia.

And young Arthur Guinness has just taken out a 9,000-year lease on a dilapidated brewery (try to get one of those in Portland) at St. James Gate.

Two-hundred and fifty years is a long time, in other words. Most modern countries didn't exist then; for a company to have survived this length is absolutely remarkable. Sure, the company has been sold to a corporate empire (Diageo), but still. They're making beer now 250 years on. And so, to celebrate this grand event, Guinness decided to release an anniversary beer. It is on shelves now.

Tasting Notes
Let me admit from the outset that I expected something special. You must come out of the gates strong and offer your adoring public a pint as legendary as your reputation. It is the opportunity to remind people just how astonishing the milestone is, and just what an important part of history your beer has been. You must wow people. You just must.

Guinness didn't.

Guinness 250 Anniversary Stout ("250" henceforth) is a variation on at theme. It's slightly more alcoholic (fiver percent versus 4.2), slightly fuller of body, and slightly "fizzier." From the brewer's mouth:

Designed primarily for the U.S. market's celebration of the Guinness anniversary, Fergal Murray says "I've made a beer that works well through the summer months. It's a one-shot pour, you don't have to do the six steps (though there are still Guinness Stout rituals involved in the perfect pour)." The brew is carbonated, rather than nitrogenated for a more bubbly, "beer-like" effect rather than the traditional soapy head that builds on a stout, and involves two malts in its production. "You get a little different flavor palate, a bit aromatic, perhaps sweeter taste," says Murray, who is clearly excited about the day and life in general. "It still has all the fundamentals of a good stout--the extra barley, the extra hops, but it's a little different on the flavor profile."

My impressions do not deviate much from Fergal's. The pour is disorienting--the head gushes out like one of my homebrews and if you're not careful, you end up with half a glass of what appears to be dish detergent. As it settles, you get a Guinness-y aroma: the characteristic sour/burnt note, the roast. It smells like a Guinness.

If the fizzy head was disorienting, the fizzy palate, carbonated rather than nitrogenated, is as well. The taste isn't a huge departure from regular draft Guinness. It's got a slightly more chalky quality, but then at the end turns quite metalic. Unpleasantly. It's think and tinny. The more I went back for a swallow, the more it resisted me. Perhaps it's not a beer that you want to introduce to a warm room for any length of time.

I'm not actually a huge fan of draft Guinness. It's too thin to support what would otherwise be a rich spectrum of flavors. The Extra Stout is perpetually on my short list of world's best, but it's a very dense, thick beer. The head is brown and the body silky from the heft of all that malt. I was really hoping to see something along these lines, not a product designed, if the masterbrewer is any guide, to appeal to the summer palates of American drinkers. Call it a gentleman's C- on the patented ratings scale. A great shame.

I leave you with one of the more amusing reviews I found of the beer, from a British blogger (salty language ahead):
How to describe it? A bit more flavour than standard draught Guinness. But that's no great challenge. Vaguely milky aroma. A little bit of generic maltiness, too. No roast to speak of. What's the point of it?A slightly different, but equally toothless, Stout. No fucking clue. Diageo have no fucking clue.


  1. good review... I popped open a bottle last week and I formulated similar opinions.

  2. As I rode on the train from Belfast to Galway it passed by the Guinness yard in Dublin. Amazing. I gazed out of the window to see keg after keg, pallet after pallet. It seemingly went on forever. A true Macro corporation. The British blogger says Diageo has not clue. Yeah, right. Diageo has $erious clue. They must laugh at reviews like that all the way to the bank.

    How about this…if they brewed a truly outstanding beer would it shine a light on how macro substandard the quality of their nitro draft is? Wouldn’t they want to continue with their macro policie$ of marketing and production? Diageo/Guinness isn’t about craft quality. To expect that is being romantic not realistic.

    PS. If you misspell Guinness Microsoft Word has the correct spelling in its program. That is Macro, baby.

  3. Thanks for the review Jeff. The more I read, the more it seems that the new beer is very very similar to the Irish-recipe Guinness Extra Stout, which is just draught Guinness with normal carbonation.

    Mr. Murphy, they do brew a truly outstanding beer: Guinness Special Export, which is produced under contract for John Martin's in Belgium. It doesn't shine a light on the crapness of their in-house range, but only because it's so hard to get hold of outside the Low Countries.

    But yeah, the brand identity of Guinness -- the legend, if you will -- is far more important than the beer, and it's daft to expect otherwise.