Archive for October, 2008

Olympic Victory Parade Starting at Bank/Mansion House

16 October, 2008

IT’S October the 16th, 2008, and I decide to make the most of living on the City fringe by attending the start of the Olympic Victory Parade. Hearing that it would be starting at 11am, I set off early. Only to be greeted with traffic that barely moved and a bus that diverted much earlier than expected. This made me think I would get there too late, so I leg it for Bank and find streets strangely deserted of traffic.

There was a crowd of about one deep along the fence at Threadneedle Street. Luckily, I snagged a spot on the curb at the corner of Threadneedle Street and Princes Street.

There’s wasn’t at first. There were the usual Police.

And there was a camera on a pole.

And a lot of school children down Queen Victoria Street to Mansion House. Plus a banner saying that the City of London congratulates our Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Within a couple of minutes of my arrival, things started happening. What looked like the Queen’s Guards started marching to their starting point at the end of Princes Street. And various media and press started buzzing around.

Behind them, we got out first glimpse of the floats.

Next, Olympic and Paralympic athletes were led out to the big junction that is Bank. Their role would be to wave the flag and start the parade. Something they would rehearse once or twice.

All the while, helicopters hummed around in the sky above.

At 11am drew nearer. And then passed, the excitement mounted. More and more crew arrived and got into place. Notice the boom microphone man moving around.

11:05am, and everything is lined up and ready to go.

The athletes are about the wave the flag…

…And the parade is on!

The guards march past playing their instruments.

Then, the first of what would become many, many floats.

At this point, I realise that I can’t name them. Whoever they are, I, and every once else in my cheering crowd was delighted to see them.

That was the float on which Chris Hoy was standing. And yes, you could see him from where I was standing. Even though the camera wasn’t good enough to capture the moment.

The bit in-between each float was unexpected. There were people carrying tape featuring the sponsors names and logos.

Float number two, and this one is packed full of athletes. If only I knew who they were. Even though my camera is awful, you can still see their medals.

Float three brings us a more sparsely populated, but no less welcomed float of athletes.

Float four approaches…

…and passes all too soon.

The fifth float arrives moments later.

On this one, the camera man at the back of the float is easier to see. When I got home and switched on the TV, I’d discover that these were for Matt Baker and Sur Barker to interview the athletes with.

The fifth float leaves the scene…

And the sixth float arrives. A lot of our excellent Paralympians on this one.

All too quick, the seventh float arrives.

And leaves.

Where do they keep coming from? I had no idea there were this many athletes. Here is float eight.

Float nine promptly follows.

Another float quickly appears. This would be float ten. Incredible.

My ancient camera is rapidly running out of memory. But I keep clicking. Here comes float number eleven. It was good to see athletes in every float taking photos of us, as much as we were of them.

All too soon, the twelfth and final float arrives. This one has the gorgeous Rebecca Addlington, even though my camera was too slow to capture her. Of all the floats, this one is one of the most attractive. And gets a lot of cheers and whoops from the crowd.

With all the floats passed, next come all the support vehicles.

Most hilariously, a man on a bicycle follows. Only to get told by a policeman not to.

And that was my fun, if chilly morning cheering our talented and good looking Olympian and Paralymic athletes.

If you were an athlete on a float, leave a message below of what it was like from your perspective. Do please email me your photos if you took any.

Leave a message too if you were one of the crew or someone who happened to be standing near where I was.

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Beer Review: Courage Directors

15 October, 2008

IT’S been a long time since I’ve had good British ale, hasn’t it? It certainly feels like it. That’s why I’m delighted to have here a bottle of ale from a brewer I haven’t tried before. Here is Courage Directors.

It gets off to a good start in the looks department. The bottle looks the right shape. It looks like a miner excavated it from a seam and then chiselled it into the what we have before us. It also has things embossed around the shoulder. Pictures of hops make an appearance. As do the welcome words “Independent Family Brewer”.

Around the unusually long neck, is an equally long neck label.

Courage Directors front neck label

It tells us that this ale was originally brewed for the “directors”. And that it’s “now brewed with distinction for you”. That’s an excellent story. But it belongs on the back label. The neck label is where you expect to find information about what sort of drink it is.

The neck label doesn’t end there though. It has a back.

Courage Directors back neck label

The small writing on this side of the neck label tells us that it was brewed by Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Limited in Bedford. Which, is a bit disappointing. I was hoping that Courage would be independent. Especially as that’s what it has embossed around the bottle’s shoulder.

For the curious, they have their postal address and web address both printed on this label. Their web address is at www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk. It’s a pretty good corporate brewer website. No annoying Flash. After a bit of searching, here is their page about Courage Directors: https://www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk/wellsandyoungs/beers/ales/courage-directors-bitter

The front label is one, big, good-looking roundel. That combination of purple and gold looks very classy.

Courage Directors frotn label

First up, the “Courage” logo. Why does it feature a cockerel? Near all the hop and barley imagery is also a date: 1787. I don’t know about you, but that’s more than enough heritage. Things are looking good for Courage Directors.

Under the “Directors” name are a few bits of vital information. First, they describe it as a “Traditionally brewed superior quality ale”. Which doesn’t tell me quite as much as I’d like to know. Not that I’d necessarily understand it, but I like to read details. Especially if they baffle me. Under that, and standing most prominently of all is the alcoholic volume. This ale weighs in at 4.8% volume, which is neither very strong nor weak.

Courage Directors back label

The back label has some more information. But not as much as you might think. That’s because most of it is taken up with a few small details being repeated in half a dozen different languages.

It starts well enough though with a decent background and description. We learn that Directors was originally brewed for the directors of the brewery. That they describe it as an “amber ale”. Which is confusing because they describe it with different words on the front label and on the website as a bitter.

Fortunately, they dive straight into a detailed description of what it tastes like. They describe it as “full of character, with a distinctive spicy hop aroma, the perfect balance of crystal malt with crisp, fruity, butty hops and a lasting finish”. Crikey, that sounds complex and delicious. Exactly like an ale should be. My mouth is watering.

Underneath that, they give a refreshingly complete list of ingredients. To quote the label again, it contains “water, malted barley, sugar, hops, yeast, colour, E150C”. I like to see a full list of ingredients. Even if colour and an E number are an unwelcome sight. You’ve got to respect the honesty. I just hope it won’t taste artificial.

Below that, the details become even more mundane. You’ll probably have guessed that this bottle is the typical 500ml size. And that, together with the 4.8% volume brings it to 2.4 UK units of alcohol. All very boring.

What you want to know is what does it taste like? And will you like it? There’s only one way to find out.

What with them describing it as an amber ale, I expected an amber yellow colour. That is not how Courage Directors looks. It’s more of a light shade of brown. It looks like how I’d imagine a straightforward bitter to look. As for the head, there isn’t much. Just a patchy layer of creamy white.

The label described it as having a “spicy hop aroma”. Whatever the aroma is, you’ll have a hard time identifying it. It’s not very strong. From the little I could smell, I’ll happily go along with “spicy hop aroma”. It smells kind of ‘bitter’ in a hoppy way, and in a tangy way. Which, I’ll call ‘spicy’. It is weak smelling though. But is it weak tasting?

After a couple of gulps, Courage Directors tastes like a good bitter tasting ale. The label described flavours like malt, fruit and nutty hops. After a few more sips, I’m detecting some flavours of maltiness, a small bit of fruitiness and a tiny taste of hops. With so many flavours on the label, I expected an onslaught of interesting flavours. But that’s not what this ale is about. Apparently.

Yes I can taste hints of all of those things, bit it’s the lingering, bitter, hoppy aftertaste that Courage Directors is all about. Of the many, many promises on the back label, a “lasting finish” was one of them. And that’s where it truly delivers. You get a decent, medium intensity, hoppy aftertaste that doesn’t go anywhere. You can taste those “nutty hops” form some time. It’s going to stick in my mouth until I Listerine my mouth before going to bed.

What am I enjoying about this bottle of Courage Directors? Quite a few things. I like the blend of flavours and taste which I haven’t tasted elsewhere. That’s something that scores it points for distinctiveness. The taste is rich. The hoppiness is nice and easy to get used to. So much so, a regular beer drinker can enjoy this. It’s smooth and not at all gassy. Strong enough, too. All in all, a well made, honest, hoppy, bitter ale.

What aren’t I enjoying about this bottle of Courage Directors? Well, it could be incredible if the flavours weren’t hidden by the blanket of hoppy bitterness. It really is dominated by that side of it. And that makes bores me. Even so, I know a lot of you will love it for that down to earth bitterness. Also on the list of downsides is how hard it is to find. This bottle came from a wine shop in Cockfosters, North London. And it was the first bottle I had ever seen. At £1.99 pence, it’s expensive too. Aside from those things, there’s not much to dislike.

How can I sum up Courage Directors? It’s an ale with the emphasis on bitterness. If you like your ale to focus on the straightforward bitterness, this is one to try. It’s probably also worth a look if you like the big name bitters sold in cans in every supermarket. Personally, it’s interesting and unusual flavours that do it for me. So I probably won’t be buying up lots of bottles of Directors. But if I find this on tap, then why not?

Rating: 4.05

Have you tried Courage Directors? What did you think of it? Do you know anywhere to buy it in your area of the world?

Do please leave your corrections, opinions, information, advice, requests and recommendations in the small boxes below.

Beer Review: Classic Gingers Beer

13 October, 2008

POLAND has given me a great many beers to try. Many barely adequate. Some quite good. And all very ordinary. This one looks a little different though. Here is Classic Gingers Beer, procured from the same Polish shop on Cambridge Heath Road in Bethnal Green as yesterday’s Bosman Full.

It’s a strange looking thing. It doesn’t look much like a bottle of beer at all. I thought it was a bottle of non-alcoholic normal ginger beer until I studied the back label closely.

The neck label didn’t help a great deal.

Classic Gingers Beer neck label

The name, for a start, doesn’t make any sense. “Gingers Beer” for example is like a bad translation. Which is probably what it is. Yet again, I’m stumped by the Polish language. To the translators out there, do please leave your translations and pronunciations in the comments at the end of this post. This neck label has the words “Oryginalny Imbirowy Smak”.

The front label is even more unusual.

Classic Gingers Beer front label

What, for heavens sake, is a tornado doing on the label of ginger beer? Who thought that was a good idea? Is it so strong and gingery that it will taste like a whirlwind in your mouth?

The logo doesn’t answer many questions either. Is the name of the brewer “Classic”? Or “Gingers”? Helpfully, there is some English language writing on it. In the red at the bottom are the same Polish words as from the neck label. At the top however are the words “Original Ginger Taste”. Is that the same as what the Polish text says? Either way, the only thing you learn from the front label is that it tastes gingery.

Will the back label answer any questions? Only if you can read Polish.

Classic Gingers Beer back label

Not one to be deterred by a lack of linguistic ability, I press on. The first thing you notice is the anti-drink-drive warning message. Normally these get in the way. But this time, it’s what told me that this was an alcoholic ginger beer. If it wasn’t for that message, I would have put the bottle back in the cooler and gone back to looking for beer.

The big block of text is Polish. But that’s never stopped me trying to figure out a few words before. And this one starts with a welcome combination of words and numbers. I think this ginger beer has a moderate 4.1% alcoholic volume. The polish word for ‘pasteurised’ makes an appearance. And this seems to be the produce of Kompania Piwowarska SA. So that’s who brewed this beer. The same Kompania Piwowarska that cooked up the average Żubr and below average Dębowe Mocne. This isn’t a Mocne. And it isn’t a typical lager. So I’m keeping an open mind with Gingers Beer.

What else is there on the label? That it’s 500ml. That they have a Polish telephone information line. And that it goes for 2,95 zl. Besides that, there’s nothing on there to talk about. And that means it’s time for the fun bit.

What will Classic Gingers Beer taste like? Should you buy one? Let’s get pouring.

What’s wrong with this picture? Besides the terrible camera that I’m stuck with, you might have noticed the mammoth head. Fortunately, it was dying down very quickly, so after a few more pours, it looked like this.

After a few more moments, there was no head at all. It looked as if it had never had a head. The colour is a slightly gingery shade of amber. I think it looks like a cheap non-alcoholic ginger beer. The sort you could buy from a supermarket in a huge plastic bottle. It smells the same way too. It smells gingery. But not the rich and strong ginger smell you get from the high-quality ginger beers. This one smells like the cheap ginger beer you buy from supermarkets to go with the sausage rolls when you have your cousin’s family visiting.

But what does it taste like? It tastes a lot like cheap, non-alcoholic ginger beer too. If you’ve drank the widely available, mass produced ginger beer you can find in supermarkets and corner shops across the land, then you’ll know what to expect. It’s a fizzy drink that tastes mildly of ginger.

So, it has a flavour of ginger. What about aftertaste? Yes, it has a mild one of those, too. It leaves your mouth tasting mildly bitter and, of course, of ginger.

Is there any sign at all of the alcohol? Just about. At only 4.1%, it was never going to be easy to find, but it is there. Barely. Somewhere around the point where you gulp it down, you receive a mild kick. A bit like being kicked by one of those tiny Lego men. You can barely feel it, but it’s there. For something similar, try adding a tiny amount of vodka to regular non-alcoholic ginger beer. I dare say the experience will be identical to drinking this stuff.

What are the positives? It is light, refreshing and very easy to drink. In exactly the same way as soft-drink ginger beer is. It is beer, sort of, and beer with a flavour. That flavour is pleasant too. There’s no unpleasant aftertaste or “bite” to worry even the squeamish among you. This is the sort of beer a responsible adult would let their young teenage children drink at meals and special occasions. It also scores points for being unusual and distinctive.

What of the downsides? It’s weak. And the beer-ness is so hidden by the soft-drink flavour, that it may as well be al alcopop. That head is a pain. You’ll either end up with froth on your table or half-empty glasses when it’s died down. A chore if you’re trying to pour it out for an extended family of house guests. Next, although it has flavour and taste, neither will satisfy the demands of the ale drinker. But then, what will? Lastly, it’s a bit on the gassy side.

Where does all of this leave Classic Gingers Beer? In an unusual niche is my answer. If you want an alcoholic ginger beer, this could be the one for you. It’s also one to look out for if you like unusual beers. Or the tangy flavour that only ginger can provide. I liked the thing. I think it has a time and a place and is worth keeping a bottle of it around for the right moment.

The nearest rival that I can think of, apart from non-alcoholic ginger beer, is Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale. That tasted of ginger. But it was also an ale. It had the same flavour, but it delivered it in an entirely different way. That was an ale that had a ginger flavour. This is a ginger beer that happens to be alcoholic. It is nice though.

Rating: 3.15

Have you tried Classic Gingers Beer? What did you think of it? Where can you buy it in your area? And can you help with the translations?

Do please leave your opinions, information, advice, corrections, translations, pronunciations, requests and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Bosman Full

12 October, 2008

WHAT do you normally do when you feel like having a high quality bottle of ale? If you’re like me, what you actually end up with is a can of Polish lager. That’s right, I’ve done it again. This time, from a Polish shop on Cambridge Heath Road in Bethnal Green.

What can I say about the front? Well, at the top it says “Premium Quality”. But as we know, that doesn’t mean much. The roundel looks bold an interesting. There’s a picture of a ship. Which must mean something good. There are some medals at the bottom of the roundel. But I don’t think they are real medals. Below them, we learn that this has been going “Since 1948”. Which is a respectable run.

Also into the roundel are the Polish words “Browar Szszecin”. Which could be the name of the brewer. Once again, if anyone can translate or provide pronunciations, do please leave a comment at the end of the post. I for one would love to know how you’re supposed to pronounce Szszecin.

Around the can on the side that doesn’t have a barcode are some words and symbols.

Bosman Full non-barcode side of can

The symbol is familiar enough. That’s the anti-drink drive symbol you find on all Polish drinks. But the words “Od Lat Ten Sam Wyjątkowy Smak” are beyond me. “Smak” rings a bell from other cans and bottles, but translators, here is your chance to shine.

Over on the side of the can with the barcode are a few more bits and pieces.

Bosman Full barcode side of can

One of which is an information telephone line number. Another is that this is the usual 500ml size of can. Much of the rest is in Polish, but I’m going to give it a go anyway. I think it’s telling us that it has an alcoholic volume of 5.7%. Which is high. But thankfully lower than the universally revolting “Mocne” lagers.

A little further along is a word that I think is “pasteurised”. Under a line of writing that I can’t make head nor tail of are some familiar names. It transpires that this is another Polish beer produced by Carlsberg Polska. And that is comes from Warszawa. Or, as we call it, Warsaw.

There’s a web address too, which is www.bosman.pl. It all looked lovely when I visited. At least the half which I could see did. That’s because my screen resolution was too low to get any further. Which left me stranded at the front page, unable to get any further. Some tweaking of settings, and I’m in. It’s another Flash heavy corporate website with annoying background sound effects. There didn’t seem to be an English language version either.

Never mind, that final detail rounds the description part of this review off. There really is barely anything to say about the exterior of this can. Time now to sample the contents within. As a reminder, Perła and Leżajsk set the standard as my favourite Polish beers so far. The big name Tyskie, Żywiec, Okocim, Żubr and Lech were all adequate and all the “Mocne” ones were outrageously bad. Let’s see how Bosman Full compares.

Pouring is drama free. There’s no insane head to contend with. Everything looks good so far. It has a deep amber colour and a head. Albeit a rather inconsistent one.

How does it smell? It smells fresh and a bit lagery. Maybe it’s because of today’s warm weather, but I like it. Most lagers have some take on the malted barley mixture in their smell. This one is as richly malty as any lager I’ve sniffed. It deserves brownie points for that.

What does it taste like? A couple of gulps in, and I like it. It has a good, honest flavour of malted barley. Not a strong one. And it’s far from sophisticated or complex. But it is modestly pleasant. That down to earth flavour is replaced by the gentlest of bitter aftertastes. It lingers for a while. And if you piled on the pints of this stuff, it would make your mouth start to feel unpleasant. But it’s much lighter than lots of others, and the bitterness won’t bother even the squeamish drinkers out there.

So what am I enjoying about Bosman Full? In short, a surprising amount. It’s light, fresh and crisp. At least mine is after it spent the day in the fridge. It has a light, down to earth, generic beer flavour. Which, if you just want a cold beer, hits the spot nicely. It also doesn’t seem to be a Pilsner style lager. I thought it would be, and that it would be terrible. But is just isn’t. There’s no foul, lagery “bite”. It has a teeny bit of flavour. It’s smooth and not gassy at all. If, like me, you like beer and don’t much care for yet another boring lager, this is one to add to your shopping list.

What aren’t I enjoying about Bosman Full? If you’re going to compare it against European beers and British ales, it won’t match them for flavour. Nor will it match them for distinctiveness, character and complexity. It is a generic, boring, ordinary beer. If it were a haircut, it would be a side parting. It’s also hard to find in the UK, although that’s been changing.

How can I sum up Bosman Full? It’s considerably better than I expected. It’s much better than most Polish beers I’ve tried. Is it better than Perła and Leżajsk? I’d say it’s about even with them. Or just a notch below. It’s a bit like Bangla Premium Beer too by being a good all-rounder beer. If you like lager and you like it Pilsner style, you might not like Bosman Full. If you like interesting and unusual beers, ales and stouts, Bosman Full could be too boring for you. If you just want a good, ordinary beer, Bosman Full fits the bill nicely. Just drink it before it reaches room temperature. Mine has just warmed up and tastes worse for it.

Rating: 3.6

Lastly, I’ll keep a look out for Bosman Full in bottle form. Expect a quick update at the bottom of this post with photos if I find one.

Have you tried Bosman Full? What did you think of it?

Do please leave in the comments below your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests, recommendations and places to buy this stuff overseas.

Beer Review: Guinness Draught in a can

11 October, 2008

DID you catch my last post comparing every type of bottled Guinness I could get my hands on? In it, I group tested Guinness Draught, Guinness Original, Guinness Foreign Extra and Guinness Foreign Extra Imported. If you came here the normal way, it should be directly under this post. If you didn’t, then CLICK HERE to read that post first. That’s because this post is tidying something up.

You see, that group-test nearly happened with a can of Guinness Draught instead of the bottle. Yet, I still have that can of Guinness Draught. I thought about just drinking it. But then decided to try answering a couple of outstanding questions. What is it like and is it better or worse than the bottle of Guinness Draught? Let’s find out.

Just like the bottle, it’s cleverly designed to look like a glass of Guinness. On the front, there’s precious little apart from the world-famous branding and words “Serve Chilled”.

There’s a few odd details on the ‘side’ of the can without the barcode.

Guinness Draught side of can

Among them are Guinness & Co.’s North West London address. Those reassuring words “Brewed in Dublin”. The www.guinness.com web address. And all the patents and trade mark information you could hope for.

Fortunately, the barcode ‘side’ of the can has a few more interesting titbits.

Guinness Draught barcode side of can

They open by describing it as “Smooth & Creamy”. And by declaring that this “Guinness Draught Stout” has an alcoholic volume of 4.1%. Which, in this 440ml can, brings it up to 1.8 UK units of alcohol. Which is a little more than the bottle. Mostly because it was smaller.

There’s no complete list of ingredients on here. Just that it “Contains Barley”. Under the Drink Aware messages, is the note that this can contains a floating widget. This source of all it’s powers also means that you can hear it ratting in there, and that you shouldn’t shake the can. Not unless you’re particularly cruel and intend on giving that shaken can to a victim. Not even their consumer helpline number could help you there.

And that’s all the detail there is to report. There’s noting left to do now than pour it into a glass. Something that they recommended against with the bottle. But that they haven’t said anything about on this can. Time to get pouring.

That was one of the most pleasant ‘pouring from a can’ experiences I’ve ever had. Opening it immediately triggered the widget, and I could hear some fizzing going on in there. Pouring into the glass was very smooth. There was absolutely no glugging. Presumably because it’s so much thicker and syrupy than the usual lager you get in cans, it came out at it’s own pace. Which made it very easy indeed. Even I managed to get it to look about right.

It also answers the question of whether it looks similar to the bottle of Guinness Draught. The answer is, it does. It also looks like a pint of Guinness poured for you at one of our countries fine public houses. Which, incidentally, is exactly what Guinness Draught seems to be aiming for.

What does it smell like? It smells of roasted barley with a hint of malt. Which is about how is should smell. And it’s as strong as you’d want Guinness to smell. Does it smell like the bottled version? Mostly. I remember describing the bottled version as smelling slightly of vanilla. Don’t know what I was picking up on there, but there is something a tiny bit different about this can. Otherwise, it smells right.

What does it taste like? It’s time to give it a couple of sips. Well, it’s rich, smooth and creamy. You can’t fault the description on the side of the can. A few more sips, and I begin to make sense of the flavour and taste. You can taste the flavour of slightly malty roasted barley. But it’s not as full-on as I was expecting. That would be Foreign Extra having raised my flavour expectations to impossible heights. What hits me most is that taste and aftertaste. It’s got a bit of “bite” to it. That “bite” gradually transforms into a warm, lingering bitter aftertaste. And an aftertaste that’s not particularly hoppy. Just bitter.

What will you like about Guinness Draught from a can? By my extremely limited experience, it’s one of the best ways to get a good stout from a can. I like bottles. But one thing you can say about cans, is that they’re portable. Guinness Draught from a can, then, is your Guinness or stout option that you can take with you on a train journey or buy in bulk from a supermarket.

You might also like Guinness Draught out of a can if you happen to love Guinness in all its other forms. I know there are a lot of you out there that do. If, like me, you don’t necessarily love Guinness, but you like a good bottled stout or dark ale, this can isn’t a bad option. That’s because it’s got much more body, flavour and quality than most tin based options. And, not even I could mess up the pouring of this one. It’s also as widely available as cigarettes and usually cheaper.

What won’t you like about Guinness Draught from a can? If you don’t like Guinness there might be problems. If you don’t like stout or dark ale there could be issues. And if you don’t like strong flavours and tastes, you may be disappointed. But, if you’ve purchased a can and have drunk it, you probably know all of these things already. So what isn’t there to like here? If you’re new to this style of beer, are a lager drinker or a woman, you’ll probably be scared off. And that’s no bad thing. I have been for a long time, but I keep coming back. And you know what? It’s starting to grow on me.

Guinness Draught from a can is, in my uninformed view, nearly identical to Guinness Draught from a bottle. Both of which are probably very similar to a pint of Guinness. I say similar, because I haven’t yet had a pint in a pub. But I am now looking forward to trying it.

How can I sum up Guinness Draught? If you love Guinness already, you’ll probably like this. If you don’t, then you won’t. If, like me, you’re new to the stuff, then it’s a good way in. Nearly at the bottom of the glass now, and I’ve rather enjoyed this can.

Rating: 4

Have you tried Guinness Draught from a can? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your comments, thoughts, corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations, and, for our overseas readers, places to buy this drink.

Bottled Beer Review: Guinness Draught vs. Guinness Original vs. Guinness Foreign Extra vs. Guinness Foreign Extra Imported

10 October, 2008

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.


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