Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is a relative new-comer to the Irish market. It took the demands of a growing African community to make Diageo distribute it directly in its country of origin. Before that the stronger Guinness was shipped from St. James's Gate straight to foreign parts and then re-exported back to Ireland in small quantities. A slightly tweaked version, with sorghum, is made in Nigeria for the local market there and occasionally shows up on the shelves in the UK.
It was recently brought to my attention that the new Foreign Extra Stout was not exactly the same product as the re-exported version I was used to. Sure enough, the domestic product is 7.5% ABV, while the export-then-import is 8%. And of course the name is different: Foreign Extra for us, Special Export for everyone else.
Intrigued by this, I decided a parallel tasting was in order, so I'm sitting here with one of each. The Foreign Extra is presented in a distinctive high-shouldered bottle engraved with the trademark harp; Special Export comes in the classically Belgian slope-neck.
Straight out of the bottle, Special Export has a thicker head, though both wind up with just a thin film of foam before long. The biggest difference between the two beers is in their respective mouthfeels, with Foreign Extra offering a prickly fizz, while Special Export is fuller, smoother and altogether more Belgian, frankly.
The tastes are certainly similar, with Foreign Extra drier and hoppier, while Special Export is packed with sweet malty flavours. This one comes down to a matter of personal preference, I suppose, but the export version edges it for me.
So there you have it: I'm not entirely happy with a product Guinness has put on the Irish market. Big surprise, wha'?