At time of writing it's St Patrick's Day (Happy Paddy's Day), so let's address some myths around Ireland's famous export.
“The same as a meal” - It’s often said of Guinness that it is “the same as a meal”, or heavily implied that it’s a rich and heavy drink to consume. This isn’t true. People do tend to drink with their eyes, and Guinness is a visually more imperious drink that it actually is in your mouth. Next time you have a Guinness, try to disassociate your taste buds from what you’ve been told and what you’re holding in your hands. Guinness has a light body, and light velvety mouth-feel (helped by the nitrogen gas - will get onto that), and doesn’t really have any stronger or overpowering flavours or aromas. Personally I’d consider Guinness to be one of the most sessionable mainstream beers. This is backed up by data; a pint of Guinness has less calories (210) than a pint of Budweiser (222). This shows Guinness is low in residual sugar (which would make a ‘thick’ beer), and low in alcohol (which contributes a lot to body and calories in a beer).
“Let it settle” - A lot is made of Guinness’ cascading pour. It does look impressive, and adds a dramatic piece of theatre to buying a pint of Guinness. But what is really going on? A ‘normal’ beer is carbonated with carbon dioxide, then served with carbon dioxide, or a mixture of carbon dioxide/nitrogen at a ratio of 60/40. Guinness is carbonated and served with a blend of carbon dioxide/nitrogen at a ratio of 30/70. The key part here is the nitrogen. Nitrogen creates smaller bubbles, giving Guinness its signature creamy head, but it is far less soluble than carbon dioxide when dissolved in liquid (100x less soluble in fact). So when a Guinness is poured, the cascading you are seeing is actually the nitrogen leaving the pint at a rapid pace. Once the pint is settled, you’re essentially left with a slightly under carbonated ale, with a creamy nitrogen head. Nothing magical here, just gas.
Two stage pour - The two stage pour comes as a direct result of this cascading. It would have been introduced since Guinness doesn’t pour as easily as other beers (two stage pours are common in Europe for lagers for instance, and cask beer in England sometimes), but now plays a key marketing role. Every time a Guinness is poured, it spends a long time sitting on the bar, essentially an advert. So whilst Guinness can easily be poured in one go (trust me I’ve done it hundreds of times), the myth persists that a Guinness poured in one go is inferior, whilst in reality it’s just a handy tool for Guinness’ marketing.
“Good Guinness” - A lot is made of Guinness being better in one pub than another one. To be blunt, the apparatus used to dispense Guinness is no different to any other beer. Guinness comes in kegs which are sealed containers, so there’s very little influence that a pub can have on a beer in that format, certainly no different to any other keg beer. The main variable here is probably how fresh the keg is, or how clean the lines are. But again, this is true of any other beer in any other pub.
“Better in Ireland” - Similarly, Guinness is always said to taste better in Ireland. Whilst there may be some element of truth in this, I still find it hard to believe entirely. The journey from Ireland to the UK is hardly a damaging one for a keg of beer, certainly no different to a keg travelling from Newcastle to London for instance. A stout is also a very stable product, so is way more likely to survive a journey tasting similar. I suspect there’s a historical element to this myth; before the introduction of steel keg, Guinness was served in casks like any other beer. As the mainstream beer market switched to steel kegs and gas-assisted dispense, the cask versions of big brands slowly died out. People who were drinking in the 60s/70s that are here to tell the tale, would have experienced beer switching between formats in real time. Ireland was the last place that Guinness cask was available, so I think it’s likely that this myth has stemmed from the experience of people visiting Ireland and having a “proper Guinness” in its natural habitat. As the old adage goes, the best beer in the world is a San Miguel in Spain. I’d be very surprised if anyone could tell the difference between a Guinness served in Dublin and in Liverpool.
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