Chris was a little bemused when, having offered to bring any beer available in California to Dublin for me, I asked for some Guinness Extra Stout. I make no apology: it's just the way I work. There's a version of Guinness brewed in North America that has often featured in conversations I've had, but I've no idea what it tastes like or how it differs from the Guinness beers brewed in Ireland. That needed putting right, and I'm grateful to Chris and Merideth for providing the opportunity to do so (and for the actual Californian craft beer they brought me out of sympathy and which will feature in a later post).
American Guinness Extra Stout (picture, left) is 6% ABV so I reckoned that the best way to get the measure of it was a parallel tasting with the two strong Guinnesses brewed in Ireland: Foreign Extra (7.5% ABV -- second left) and Special Export (8% ABV -- second right). After the first sip I realised that it would be worth adding Irish Guinness Extra Stout (4.2% ABV -- right) into the mix as well. As an aside, when I went stout shopping in St James's Gate (it's cheapest), I was a little disappointed to find that the gift shop has stopped selling the classic returnable pint bottles, substituting the rather squat and ugly half-litre here depicted.
Back to the Canadian Guinness, then. Much like Foreign Extra and Special Export, the most striking thing about it is a caramel and molasses sweetness. It's a different and lighter sort of vibe though, missing the more full-on liquorice bitterness that balances Foreign Extra. Next to Irish Extra Stout it's a sugar bomb and definitely not fitting the dry Irish stout model. Yet nor is it one of the sweet and chocolatey Irish stouts like O'Hara's: the flavour is more treacle than roasted malt. Only a dry and slightly metallic tang on the end marks its relation to any of Ireland's session stouts.
It sounds like it falls between two stools: neither a punchy export-style stout nor a casual drink-and-forget gulper, and perhaps I'm being unfair by judging it against its brethern rather than on its own merits. The fact is that it is nice to drink. Most craft-brewed versions of the same style would wipe the floor with it, but as an accessible beer with a bit of -- but not too much -- character it works well. Much like the bottled Guinness Extra Stout sold in Dublin, I'd say it's a useful fall-back when there's nothing better available.
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