Thursday, 11 February 2010

Black Tragic

My quiz league travels take me occasionally to places where there is no cask beer. Usually when that happens I'll adapt by drinking smooth mild as I find that, if not exactly enjoyable, reasonably tolerable. Last night, though there was nitro mild, I noted while waiting to be served, that it didn't have the usual Guinness like appearance, so suspecting (maybe wrongly) a gas problem, I opted for Hydes Bitter. Now you can't really accuse Hydes of making extreme beer. Their range is firmly in the middle of the road and has what brewers would call "balance", though with a much bigger nod to malt than hops. Still, it was the best thing on offer, so we all ordered it and despite all our team being cask men, we swept bravely on to victory, while sipping our tasteless fluids.

Going back to the bar at half time, I spotted bottled Guinness on sale. Not the old half pint ones, but the supermarket Guinness Original in 500ml bottles. Now I haven't had bottled Guinness Original for years, so I ordered one. It looked the part, though noticeably more brown than black. It smelled stale, but this bottle wasn't even near its best by date. The nose was caramel and cardboard. It tasted bloody awful. Instead of robust roasted barley there was an unmistakeable gravy browning taste, almost overshadowed by incessant cardboard and huge carbonation. Maybe it was a bad bottle, but somehow I doubt it. More like a cheapened recipe and heavy pasteurisation. It bore no resemblance whatever to the complex beer I remembered. Where was the roast barley? Where were the hops? Nowhere, that's where.

Possibly a clue is to be found on the back label. It mentions the classic taste and a "hint of roast barley". A hint? It used to be its signature. While the demeaned taste of Draught Guinness is hidden by nitrogenation, this beer, with only a heavy jolt of CO2 to lift it zombie like from its grave, was exposed as a poor shadow of its former self.

I hate to see a great beer ruined like this. Shame on them.


The Beer Nut said...

I'm intrigued now. I'd always took this to be almost a straight rebadge of Guinness Extra Stout (though diluted and packaged in the UK, obviously), but Guinness Extra Stout is consistently drinkable, if not exactly exciting. It definitely has a whack of dry roast barley in it (even if it comes in liquid form from a big steel can these days).

Quiz question one: When was the name "Guinness Original" first used in the UK?

Ed said...

I'm not always convinced by the line that bottle conditioned beers are always best but bottled Guinness certainly isn't as good as it used to be.

Tandleman said...

Re Quiz question? I am guessing it was around 8 years ago.

The Beer Nut said...

So presumably part of the Diageo remodelling job. It was ten years ago that bottle-conditioned Guinness Extra Stout ceased production. Though Original would still have been produced at Park Royal when it was first badged as such.

I wonder did they transfer an Original recipe to St James's Gate and are making it differently to Extra Stout. Seems like a bizarre effort to go to.

Tandleman said...

I think when BC Guinness ceased it was till called Extra Stout here, but not many years later it changed to Original. I'm not stating this as fact though. Its just my memory of what happened.

As for bizarreness, isn't Guinness a bit bizarre and secretive anyway?

The Beer Nut said...

No more so than any other big-brand macrobeer whose makers don't want you to know what shite they put in it.

Mark said...

There's such a thing as a "Quiz League"!?

I've never heard of this. Sounds a bit professional and serious. :P


Matt said...

Surrounded as I am on the Stockport/South Manchester border by Holts, Hydes and Robinsons pubs, I'm lucky enough to be in walking distance of an enviable choice of decent - and cheap ! - cask bitters and milds. However, on the rare occasions I find myself in a keg-only pub, the dilemma outlined by Tandleman outlines presents itself.

Here are my solutions in order of preference:

1. Draught Guinness: better than the bottles, especially with decent turnover (i.e. in pubs with a mainly Irish clientele). The main problem is the increasing prevalence of the Extra Chilled Guaranteed To Freeze Your Lips No Taste variety the marketing suits in Dublin have introduced in their wisdom as to what the public wants (?).

I never drunk it but I've heard Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is superior to the Extra Stout/Original you get in pubs/supermarkets.

2. bottles of Newcastle Brown (again unchilled if possible).

3. start on the top shelf: hitting the shorts straight off rather than at the end of the night does make you look like a bit of an alky and if you're used to a session of 'long drinks' there is the risk your legs won't be with you when you come to leave.

4. premium lagers - Stella, Staropramen etc. Not great but still preferable I would argue to awful, imitation 'smoothflow' bitters.

The Beer Nut said...

Can't have you maligning us like that, Matt. Those marketing suits are most definitely in the UK. There's no Extra Cold Guinness here.

Why would the turnover of a nitrostout matter more than that of a premium lager? If there's something wrong with a keg beer -- if it's a wee bit elderly or the pipes aren't completely clean -- you'll taste that in your Staro before you taste it in your Guinness.

Or am I wrong on that?

Cooking Lager said...

It's a pity you've ruined your taste buds with all that cask beer. If you stick to ice cold fizzy lout for the next few months they may return and you'll notice once more the subtle delicate flavours apparent in those "tasteless" fluids. It's all about training the palate to pick up the flavour Tandy.

Tandleman said...

You are a wag Cookie.

Tandleman said...


Your solutions wouldn't have helped that much last night:

1. Draught Guinness:

Rare to get a good one. The heavy hand of pasteurisation, numbing cold and a bastardised recipe don't help, though I do partake from time to time. In last night's case they didn't sell it.

2. bottles of Newcastle Brown (again unchilled if possible).

Ha. If I wanted to stew my own sugar, I'd do it. Horrid stuff.

3. start on the top shelf: hitting the shorts straight off rather than at the end of the night does make you look like a bit of an alky and if you're used to a session of 'long drinks' there is the risk your legs won't be with you when you come to leave.

Wouldn't have been a goer in a quiz situation for the reasons stated.

4. premium lagers - Stella, Staropramen etc. Not great but still preferable I would argue to awful, imitation 'smoothflow' bitters.

Agreed, but they only had cooking. No good to me.

Mark, said...

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, now there's a Guinness with taste.

Tandleman - do many pubs over Manchester way have dominoes teams?

Matt said...

When you say 'us' do you mean Irishmen or Dubliners, Beer Nut? My dad's family is from Mayo, his cousins who live there regard all Dubs as 'suits' but then they are country hicks :-)

I'm not sure about the lack of Guinness marketing men pushing the chilled stuff in Ireland. It's a couple of years since I've been but I've read pieces in the Irish press complaining about it.

I've had Guinness that's tasted a bit 'tired' - I think turnover/clean pipes is why it does tastes better in Ireland - and one of my Stella-drinking mates also says he's had the odd flat/off pint so it's definitely not just a cask/keg thing.

Tandleman said...

Mark. Sorry. I don't know.

The Beer Nut said...

I mean the Irish, Matt. I'm no Dub myself. I can assure you there's no Guinness Extra Cold in Ireland, since about 2002 or 2003. The standard of reportage on beer stories is every bit as good here as it is in the mainstream UK media. Nitrokeg Guinness is certainly cold, as it is everywhere, but there's definitely no "Extra Cold" version in Ireland.

I firmly believe that the notion of Guinness being a sensitive or varying beer is a myth in this day and age. Diageo quality control and their interventionist policy in pub cellars (incidentally destroying the very concept of cellarmanship in this country) would not allow for good pints and bad pints. Where pubs are not keeping their lines properly you will taste it more readily in a tasteless yellow lager than you will in a dark bitter, roasted stout. Surely that's just common sense?

Mark, said...

No worries, my 3s and 5s days were limited, just interested in the different pub games/quizzes oop North compared with darn Sarf (well, in any regional area really). Anyway...

For what it's worth I have 32 Irish cousins and I don't hear any of them raving about Guinness. For me it's stouts equivalent of Smoothflow to my Hook Norton. And I've often found bottles better in the UK as they retain a bit (lot) more of it's roasted character. Still, it's a solid back up when I find myself not very spoilt for choice.

Barm said...

Beer Nut is spot on. I don't think Diageo push the myth that it tastes better in Ireland any more. They'd much rather convince you that it has "the same great taste that it does in Ireland" wherever you drink it.

I could very well be wrong on this, but didn't the naming of Guinness Original coincide with the introduction of the canned nitro Guinness "Draught" ?

Whorst said...

Herr'man, off topic question here. Is the term "pinkie" in the UK understood to mean the little finger on ones hand???

I thank you in advance for your prompt response regarding this question.

You need to come out here sometime. We'll do some surfing followed by a session of both cask and Proper Real. We can let the ladies go shopping while we lift a pint of 15.

Unknown said...

If I remember rightly the test to check for best before dates is to raise the product to a temperature of 28 centigrade. Every week the product is at that temperature equates to a month "in the trade". If after 12 weeks the product is still OK then it can be given a 12 month date. I expect tunes can be played on the temperature and time to get various longer dates quicker.

All well and good, but suppose the product is then stored in a place that actually is at 28 degrees. It would take on a cardboard flavour within a short time and the quality flavours will deteriorate. I've been subjected to a product that has been through this process and the result was very similar to the one you describe.

If a bottle is left on a shelf in a pub, rather than in a cool bottle chiller or cellar, then it could end up awful well before it's best before date.

There, difficult to do that point across in 140 key stokes.

Cooking Lager said...

Crikey Dave. Top stuff. I'm gonna cook a can of cooking and see what occurs.

Neville Grundy said...

Bottles of Guinness Extra Stout used to be a treat in pubs with no real ale. In some places Worthington White Shield was a good option too. It's strange that while real ale is increasingly varied, bottled beer in pubs just keeps getting worse.

Tandleman said...

Good points Dave. I will have to try another, but I'm still betting that beer that been seriously dumbed down.