Tasting reveals Guinness ain't what it used to be
Rumblings that Guinness Draught (a so-called light Irish Dry Stout at 4.2% abv) has changed have been brought to our attention from beer drinkers across the US over the past month. To investigate we sent a crack tasting team to hit The Druid, The Burren, and The Sligo Pub – popular watering holes in the Cambridge/Somerville, MA area.
The team, comprised of myself, Todd Alström (BeerAdvocate.com), and Dann Paquette (celebrity brewer), had our first pint of Guinness at The Druid. At first glance, the pint looked familiar, with its creamy nitro-poured head. However, a closer look revealed a very bright dark ruby color – unlike previous pints of Guinness, which were opaque, near black – allowing no light penetration. The aroma was a bit floral and sweet, as was the flavor. Where was the trademark dry and roasty character? Where was the trademark black opaque body that Guinness has always prided themselves on? Has Guinness Draught been dumbed down even further?
To be sure, we hit The Burren in Davis Square, known for its Irish patrons and flowing Guinness. Two Guinness were ordered, same ruby color. Dann asked the bartender to look at the pints. She did and exclaimed that she was surprised to see that they were not black, and agreed that it’s different. This proved, that at the very least, we were partially sane.
We took our pints to the corner of the bar and decided to ask two gentlemen what they thought of their pints of Guinness. Both were true Irish, long time Guinness drinkers, and absolutely shocked when they examined their pints. They too agreed that Guinness is no longer the same pint it used to be, added that it’s crap in the US, and one of the gentlemen actually forfeited his pint to the bar.
Next, The Sligo Pub. Same thing. Not black, and a much sweeter beer – not unlike other popular nitro-poured ales. In fact, it’s very much like a nitrofied red ale, and the roasty character has been replaced with a generic sweetness for the masses. Satisfied that Guinness had changed, we left our half-full pints at the bar.
It’s also been noted that the Guinness brewery at St. James Gate in Dublin, Ireland creates what they call a Guinness “essence,” which is shipped to contract brewers throughout the world. Sources claim this essence is then blended with a clear beer base (like the Smirnoff Ice base perhaps?) and packaged. And though Guinness is adamant that the Guinness Draught kegs coming into the US are from Ireland, the thought of shipping hundreds of thousands of kegs to the US each year is ridiculous. To boot, keg labels merely state “product of Ireland” vs. “brewed in Ireland” – a result of the essence being manufactured in Ireland, and the rest put together elsewhere?
For the past two years BeerAdvocate.com has tried to contact Diageo, the massive parent company behind Guinness, to confirm or deny all of this, but all of our efforts have gone unanswered. We’ve been forwarded emails from angry Guinness reps in the US, but they’ve been merely robotic denials with no substance and overly defensive tones – as if we struck a truth nerve or something.
If Diageo / Guinness would like to go the record about the production of Guinness, we’d be open to conducting an interview with an actual brewer from St. James Gate. Until that time … we’ll be drinking real Stouts.