GUINNESS. I had to get around to looking at this world-famous, Irish mega-brand eventually. But, I’ve never been a huge fan of stout, or dark ale, or whatever you care to call it. Just look at my posts on Murphy’s Draught Irish Stout, Jamaican Dragon Stout and Orkney Dark Island. This left me with something of a dilemma. You see, I could get away with criticising something that only twelve people have heard of. But if I go into a one of my uninformed ‘reviews’ of Guinness, there would be no end of people writing in from all corners of the globe telling me that I was wrong, and that I’m a useless, ill-informed piece of chewing gum stuck to the sole of society. Regular readers will know all this to be true. But it would make passionate Guinness drinkers the world over unnecessarily angry.
What could I do? Could I manage to test nearly all the big name bottled beers on the market with the exception of Guinness? Or could I find an angle where my indifference to stout would be less of an issue? We’re about to find out as I put every variation of Guinness in a bottle to the test. What is the question I’m going to try and answer? Simple. What the heck is the difference between them all? Will all four of them be identical? Will I find a favourite from the bunch? And will there be one to avoid? And, most importantly, which is the real Guinness?
Here’s the line-up. From left to right, they are Guinness Draught, Guinness Original, Guinness Foreign Extra and Guinness Foreign Extra Imported.
Starting on the left, the tall, curvy one with the white neck is Guinness Draught. It is, I think, the bottled equivalent of the ubiquitous Guinness Draught in a can. The can that I very nearly put in its place, until discovering this bottle hidden away in an off-licence in Brick Lane. See the similarity?
If there’s demand out there, I’ll give the can a test drive next time, to discover the differences. If there are any. For now, all I can see is that both of them have widgets in them, and that the bottle has 0.1% more alcohol in it.
The neck label certainly doesn’t tell us much. In fact, it doesn’t say anything. It’s a white band of colour on top of the black around the rest of the bottle. But then, that’s probably all they need to say. If their message is “this is a glass of Guinness right here in the bottle”, then they’ve succeeded. In exactly the same way as they have with the can.
The front label does much the same thing as the can, too. In fact, it isn’t even like a normal bottle label. That’s because it’s repeated over on the other side, the same way that cans do.
Like the can and unlike the bottles, there’s no big cream coloured Guinness roundel. Instead, the harp takes centre stage. With all that black, grey, gold and white, it’s immensely tasteful. It’s minimalist too. The whole thing looks classy. And, thanks to decades of brand building, it’s all as familiar rain. The harp is familiar. The red Arthur Guinness signature is familiar. The “Guinness” stamp style logo is familiar. The year 1759 is familiar, not least because of their latest advertising campaign.
There are a few other differences besides the absence of the Guinness roundel. The bottle is nearly as curvy as Nigella Lawson. Quite a departure from the traditional shape adopted by all the other bottles in the Guinness range. At the bottom they urge you to “Serve Extra Cold”. Which, I think, is colder than with the can. Also down there is the news that this is the typical 330 ml size.
As with cans, the disparate bits of information are grouped together into two thin strips. Here’s the one that doesn’t have the barcode.
The most noticeable thing is the alcoholic volume. Which is a reasonable 4.2%. At a smidgeon higher than the can, the UK units of alcohol is no different. This bottle has 1.4 of those.
Also on this side are some instructions. And they are considerably more involved than with most other bottles. Here, they inform us that “For Best Results Chill For At Least 2 Hours And Remove Bottle Top In One Quick Movement”. This is the first time I’ve read advice about how to remove the bottle top. What will happen if you don’t remove it in one quick movement? With only a single bottle at my disposal, I can’t find out.
They go on to say that it includes a patented widget. Which will rattle. And, that no settling time is required. This is the most can-like bottle I’ve ever seen.
The side of the bottle with the barcode has yet more information.
At the top is a big, prominent symbol telling you to “Drink Straight From The Bottle”. Not only does that cement it as the most can-like bottle ever, it’s also hugely unusual. It also poses a problem. You see, I like to pour beers into a glass so that you can see what it looks like. I also like to give everything a fair chance by following the instructions. So, here’s the plan. Later on, I’ll pour a little bit into a glass to see what it looks like. I’ll then drink the rest from the bottle and describe how it tastes. That way everyone wins.
Next to the barcode, they describe it as “Guinness Draught Stout”. And, unhelpfully, that it’s “Brewed in Dublin And London”. Gaaa! Which city did this bottle come from? Dublin or London? I’d like to know that sort of thing.
Lastly, at the bottom of this ‘side’, is the web address. Something that we’ll probably see on all the bottles to come. The address they give is www.guinness.com. It’s another Flash heavy, corporate website where you first have to enter your date of birth. Cleverly though, it figured out that I was visiting it from Great Britain, so it immediately served up the right language and matching promotions. In all, a perfectly adequate big-name, international brewery website.
That’s Guinness Draught covered. On the outside, at least. The next one up is the considerably more traditional Guinness Original.
Not only does it look like a normal bottle of ale. But it has a proper neck label. It has a proper front label with a roundel. And it has a back label too. All of which are reassuringly traditional. Take the neck label.
It has all the big Guinness imagery. And a cream colour scheme. Very nice. It’s much the same with the front label.
There is nothing on it that you wouldn’t expect when you buy a bottle of Guinness wanting the real thing. It has the iconic, cream coloured roundel. Upon which is all the Guinness imagery that is so familiar. The only thing worth mentioning about it, are the words around the border of the roundel. “Genuine Quality” sits at the top. And “St. James’s Gate Dublin” proudly announces where it comes from. It’s almost like the label is nodding and winking, knowing that you know what it’s all about.
The back label has lots of juicy details. All very easy to read. And all very well laid out.
Could Guinness Original be the real Guinness? Yes, according to the back label, which describes it as “The one that started it all”. They go on to describe the drink itself as having a “deep-dark colour”. And that it has a “crisp hint of roasted barley, the fresh breeze of hops. The refreshing bite. The bittersweet reward”. Not short of confidence, are they? And “refreshing bite”? Isn’t that a lager trait? I’d never have associated it with a Guinness, but I’m expecting some surprises with this test.
What other facts are on there? A lot. To summarise, they describe it as “Guinness Original Stout”. The address is from North-West London, but they also say “Brewed in Dublin”. Which is good to know. The web address is unchanged, at www.guinness.com. The bottle is the regular 330ml size. The alcoholic volume is the same 4.2% as the Draught bottle. Which brings it to a moderate 1.4 UK units of alcohol. There’s a consumer helpline telephone number. And they even have a table breaking down the nutritional information. Female readers will be interested to know that Guinness Original has 0 grams of fat.
Guinness Original does look very appetizing. But there are two more to go. Next up is Guinness Foreign Extra. The Foreign Extra that wasn’t imported.
You won’t confuse it with Draught or Original that easily. The bottle has more curves than Original, bit not as outrageously so as Draught. If you look at it very carefully, you’ll also spot harps embossed around the shoulder, and the “Guinness” name embossed around the bottom. But both are hard to see. If it were a person, it would be someone wearing flared trousers.
What can we say about the neck label?
Nothing. It looks almost identical to Original. Hopefully the front label will say something helpful.
No. It doesn’t really. The only thing separating it from Original are the words “Foreign Extra” in place of the word “Original”. To be fair though, it is prominent. Unless you’ve got the carelessness of a pre-credit crunch mortgage salesman, you won’t confuse it with much else.
Helpfully, there’s more than enough detail on a huge back label to clear up any confusion. It really is packed with information.
They open the description with the intriguing assertion that “Foreign Extra Stout is a beer like no other”. To learn why, I read on. They describe it as “The most full-flavoured of all. Singular and striking. Uniquely satisfying. Brewed with extra hops and roasted barley for a natural bite. Bitter and sweet. Refreshingly crisp. Always rewarding.” Before ending with the tag line they used on the other bottle: “Pure beauty. Pure Guinness”. What will all this mean? It looks to me like they’ve done the same thing they did to make Original. Only more so. They’re trying to make a good thing better by doing more of it. A bit like King Size chocolate bars.
As usual, there’s a whole pile of detail, also on the back label. To summarise, it was “Brewed In Ireland”, but imported by Guinness & Co. in North-West London. Their address is on there again if you want to write them a letter. The web address is unchanged at www.guinness.com. There’s a telephone helpline if you want to call them. The nutritional information is broken down in a nice table. Which again indicates no grams of fat. If you’re an overweight Guinness drinker, it won’t be because of the fat in the drink.
All very boring. The really interesting bit is the alcoholic volume. By upping the ante, they’ve upped the volume considerably. Instead of hovering around the 4% mark like the others, this comes in at sizeable 7.5% alcoholic volume. For this small 330ml bottle, that weighs in at 2.5 UK units of alcohol. If the bottle were much bigger, you’d exceed your daily units in just one drink. Correspondingly, if you notice bad spelling and grammar in this post after I’ve done the taste test, you’ll know why.
The last bottle in this little round-up is possibly the most intriguing of all: Guinness Foreign Extra Imported.
On the face of it, there’s little difference between it and regular Foreign Extra. The bottle is the same size and shape. The harps around the shoulder and the “Guinness” name around the bottom are embossed with better definition this time around. Yet again, the neck label doesn’t give anything away.
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anything to distinguish it from the others. To find any difference, you need to look at the front label. And even there, it holds its mystery.
It’s a different design to the others. Subtle is may be, but is it lighter. And it’s somehow more up to date looking than the roundel on Original and Foreign Extra. Look hard enough and you’ll start to see signs of what makes this one different. Around the top border, they describe it as “Foreign Extra Stout”. And, in red, at the bottom of the roundel, is the all important word “Imported”. But from where?
As usual, the back label is the place to look for clues. But this one looks entirely different to either Original or Foreign Extra.
The big round thing dominating most of the back label is unusually vague. Instead of answers, it witters on in marketing speak about how Guinness is enjoyed all over the world. And how the “finest quality barley, hops and malt” give Guinness its “rich and satisfying good taste”. One thing that isn’t satisfying is that description.
Reading on for more clues quickly reveals the answers I demand. Written vertically on one side, we learn that Foreign Extra Imported was “Brewed under licence by Guinness Nigeria Plc, 24 Oba Akaran Avenue, Ikeja”. Yes, you read that correctly. This comes from the same country as all those people who kindly try to relieve you of all your money through Internet scams. A fact that’s confirmed elsewhere on the label with the line “Stout: Imported from Nigeria for its unique taste”. This then, is a bottle of Nigerian Guinness. What do you think of that? Comments at the end of this post please.
Reading on, and the ingredients are “water, malt, sorghum, wheat, barley” and “hops”. What is sorghum? And why is it in this bottle? Over on the other side of the label, we learn that this bottle was imported to the UK by Kato Enterprises Ltd from Surrey.
There’s no big table breaking down the nutritional information this time. But the details are still on there. And there’s still no fat.
What about the vital statistics? Well, the alcoholic volume is the same as regular Foreign Extra at a strong 7.5%. Oddly, the bottle is a tiny bit smaller, at 325ml instead of the ordinary 330ml. And there’s no UK units of alcohol. But there doesn’t need to be. You know it’s going to be a big number.
With all the tattle about bottles and labels done, it’s time now for the fun bit. What will they taste like? Will they all be different or all the same? Which will I like most? And which is the real Guinness? Time for me to get pouring.
First thing that struck me was that they don’t look the same. They didn’t respond the same way either. First, the widget powered bottle of Draught started frothing up. Pouring the small amount into the glass was tricky because all that came out was froth.
As they went from left to right passing through Original, Foreign Extra and Foreign Extra Imported, the heads became darker and darker. Draught has a thin white head. It looks the like an actual pint of Guinness. Which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.
Original had a cream coloured head. And both of the Foreign Extra’s had dark brown heads. One or two of them frothed right up, but died down after a few minutes. Of them, Foreign Extra had the wackiest head. All of them became quite reasonable after a couple of minutes.
They had different consistencies too. Draught poured and feels fairly light. Thick for a beer, but lighter than the rest. Original poured slightly slower and seems a little bit thicker. As for Foreign Extra and Foreign Extra Imported, they have the consistency of tar. It was like pouring treacle.
How do they smell? Broadly the same. It’s the strength of that smell that changes. They all have that rich smell of roasted barley. And it smells rich, full and delicious no matter which variety you sniff. Draught is the most delicate and lightest. As well as the roasted barley, there was something vanilla-like about it. Original has a stronger, yet balanced smell of roasted barley, combined with the other ingredients. Foreign Extra and Foreign Extra Imported smell almost identical. They both have the richest, strongest, most full-on smell of roasted barley I’ve ever witnessed. Of the two, the regular, non-imported Foreign Extra seemed a little stronger. I quite like it, but I can see the smell of the stronger brews putting some people off.
Right, what do they taste like? Let’s start with Guinness Draught.
Okay, so I poured some when they said drink from the bottle. But that was only to satisfy my curiosity about what it looked like. So, I’m trying this one from the bottle. First impressions are that it seems like it’s trying to escape the bottle. Which would be the widget doing its thing. It tastes of roasted barley. That’s the flavour. And it’s there in the aftertaste too. The aftertaste leaves you with a lingering bitterness. But you can taste the ingredients through it all. The whole thing is lighter than and not as strong as I feared. Guinness Draught could be the stout for the lager drinker. It really is that light and drinkable.
Does it taste any different from the glass than from the bottle? I’ve just taken a sip from the glass, and, I didn’t expect to say this, but it does taste different. I don’t know what that widget is doing or what effect the bottle is having, but it tastes much better from the bottle. From the glass, it tastes sort-of vinegary. Like bad red wine. From the bottle, it tastes a bit sweeter. And definitely fizzier. All of which makes drinking Guinness Draught from the bottle seem perfectly acceptable to me. If a little gassy.
Then again, I haven’t compared it to anything yet. So, here is Guinness Original. Poured into a glass and drank from a glass.
I’ve just taken a sip, and the experience is quite a lot different. A gulp seemed entirely the wrong way to take this one, so sips are the way to go. It’s much thicker than Draught. And considerably less fizzy. This makes Original a much more sedate experience. The taste profile is balanced a little differently too. You get a flavour of roasted barley. Not a particularly strong flavour. Maybe just a notch higher than with Draught. That’s followed by a bitter “bite”. It’s a stronger “bite” than I was expecting. It feels more like a lagery “bite”, and it leaves a bitter aftertaste behind. That bitter aftertaste lingers too. You can still taste some of the roasted barley, but this is a strange experience. It’s like drinking an ale-lager hybrid.
How can I explain it? Draught had the Guinness flavour I expected, but in a light and fizzy lager style drink. Original has more of a bitter lager style “bite” and aftertaste, but in something that feels like a rich, thick ale. My stomach is telling me that it isn’t enjoying Orignal as much. And I have to agree. It might be the “one that started it all”, but it will need some time to grow on me.
How do the Foreign Extra’s fair? Let’s turn the dial up to eleven with Foreign Extra.
First sip and it takes a few of seconds to realise that Guinness Foreign Extra is Guinness in a whole new gear. The roasted barley and bitter taste I had in my mouth from Original is swept away in a tidal wave of flavour. This has flavour. Masses of it. It tastes of barley that has been thoroughly roasted. It’s fuller, richer and stronger than almost anything else on the shop shelf. Only Marmite gets anywhere near. And that’s not even a beer. Somehow, they’ve made it so that the flavour holds its place in your mouth for a couple of seconds before the aftertaste appears. An experience a bit like jumping in the air, and then waiting a couple of seconds before gravity pulls you back to the ground.
The aftertaste that does come along is much less of the lager-style “bite” than Draught, and particularly Original have. It’s more like a crisp bitterness. And it’s a lingering bitterness that can do nothing to shift the strong flavours from the back of your tongue.
My stomach is no longer complaining. And therefore neither am I. Guinness Foreign Extra is strong, crisp and full of Guinness flavour. I rather like it.
Last is our most quirky Guinness. What will Guinness Foreign Extra Imported be like? Time to find out.
One sip in, and Foreign Extra Imported tastes different to every one of the above. I expected it to taste like Foreign Extra, but it doesn’t. For one thing, the flavour phase of the sip is different. It still tastes, strongly, of well roasted barley. But different somehow. As if the flavour mellows and changes before going. I’m going to say that is has complexity.
Oddly, those strong and interesting flavours aren’t replaced by much of an aftertaste. I couldn’t detect any “bite” at all this time. Just a strangely tangy bitterness that rolls into your mouth. All of which leaves you with a mouth that tastes bitter and still has a strong taste of roasted barley.
If Foreign Extra Imported was a track of music, is would be Foreign Extra, the Imported mix. Different things are emphasised in it. It’s very strong. But not too difficult to drink. And that complexity, taste and balance are fantastic. I like it.
Where does all of this leave my questions? The answer to the question of how similar or different they are is simple. They’re all different. Sometimes, very different to each other. Even Foreign Extra was quite a different drink to Foreign Extra Imported. That’s great news. I’d hate to think that they were just tweaking the brew around the edges. What you get instead are four different mixes of Guinness. It also gives you a great excuse to go out and try them all to find your personal favourite.
Which do I like most? That’s tricky. Guinness Original might be the original, but I didn’t get on well with it. That “bite” was just too lager-like for me. It even made me feel queasy. With it being the “Original”, I’m sure that there will be bazillions of readers complaining of my stultifying lack of taste. But this is my blog and my opinion. Original is down in last place as my least favourite. It’s just too awkward, especially compared to its cousins.
In third place, I’m going to put Draught. It’s light and drinkable, but still tastes the way I think Guinness should. If I were out and about one night, I’d happily choose a bottle of this stuff. And another. And another. This is your night out bottled Guinness option.
That means my first and second choice is going to be one of the Foreign Extras. But which one? That’s a tough call to make. As bottles of beer go, they are both excellent choices. There’s no doubt that either will give you much to savour on a cold, autumn evening. But which one is best?
After extensive sipping, I’m going to put Foreign Extra in second place and Foreign Extra Imported from Nigeria as my favourite Guinness. I’m as surprised as you are.
Why did I make this decision? They’re both terrific stouts. I may as well have flipped a coin to decide. But Foreign Extra Imported just had the edge. It’s got a more interesting flavour. The balance of bitterness and other qualities makes it easier to drink than the non-imported stuff. And it’s from Nigeria and therefore a total mystery.
The last big question is, which is the “real” Guinness? That’s simple. Going by the labels, Guinness Original is the real thing. It’s the only one that boasts the more than 200 year heritage. Frustratingly then, it’s my least favourite. I wish I could report that it and not the Nigerian Foreign Extra Imported was my favourite. But I can’t. What I will do is ask for pints of Guinness while out and about until I get used to it. Surely it’s only a matter of time before I get used to that taste?
How can I sum up this massive experiment? It has been an eye-opener. Before the round-up, I thought they would all be the same. They weren’t. Not by a long shot. Sure, they all tasted of roasted barley in that uniquely Guinness way. But the product itself was so utterly different each time. If you’re as curious as I was about Guinness, there is no substitute for trying them all until you find your favourite.
Did I get comprehensively sloshed? A little. But not as much as I expected. Most of them are just too thick and syrupy to drink quickly. Lots of them are too difficult to drink easily. Which is why, as I write this, a lot of them are still in their glasses and bottles, waiting for me to finish drinking them. Honestly, it’s all made me feel more queasy than inebriated.
Have I learned to love Guinness? Not yet. Although I can see why it’s one of the most popular stouts out there. All of them were distinctive, tasty and very high-quality.
Have you tried Guinness Draught, Guinness Original, Guinness Foreign Extra or Guinness Foreign Extra Imported? What did you think of it or them?
What did you think of my first group comparison?
Do please leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, requests and recommendations here.