The Brewers Project, Chapter 3

Hop HouseNo personal cab, no mystery location but nevertheless a nice Christmas present, the latest chapter of the Brewers Project from Guinness, Hop House 13 Lager. The first things that have to be said are that the branding looks great and that this lager is not really aimed at me.

What do they say about it? “This double-hopped lager is the next chapter in that project. It’s decidedly modern and totally different. With more ingredients comes more character. 100% Irish-grown malted barley. The distinctive Guinness yeast. A mixture of Australian and American hops runs as an undercurrent through this incredibly deep beer, which is fresh at the surface and complex at the bottom. Our brewers set out to create something that would stimulate your palate and senses alike. From first sip to the lingering finish, this beer is surprising. Sample Guinness Hop House 13 and you’ll experience a lager made with so much more. More hops. More character. More taste. It’s a lively sip with accents of apricot and peach. The flavour deepens into subtle malt with a medium body. Combining our famous Guinness yeast with Irish-grown barley in a lager brewing process, our brewers changed the game.”

What does Rich say about it? That’s all a bit OTT above. What exactly does double-hopped mean? It has Topaz, Galaxy and Mosaic which is a nice mix of hops but there is no noticeable bitterness. Starts quite sweet and I did get the hint of apricot and peach, then a touch of malt and a slightly drier finish. 22 IBU apparently which doesn’t really add up to a crisp finish. The Guinness yeast, who knows?

Well what did you expect? This is a mass market lager, not a craft offering (lagered for 5 days apparently). It is definitely not different or surprising. I’m willing to believe that a lot of care has gone into this and it is not faulty in any way (and it comes in a brown bottle). It’s way cooler in terms of branding than the hideously outdated Fosters (who does drink this nowadays?)  which I’d guess is one of the closer competitors. I wish it well in its sector.

As a salesman of genuine craft keg though, I plead to publicans to put it on the ‘commercial’ lager lines and not use up one of your precious ‘craft keg’ lines for this. The crafterati will not be fooled.

The Brewers Project, Chapter 2

Guinness ST JAMES'S GATEPersonal cab, mystery location. Woot! I am still on the Guinness PR agency guest list for The Brewers Project. Regular readers might know that I enjoy the beers but positively gush over the marketing and event organisation from the ‘boys from the black stuff’ and the lovely ladies in their British PR firm.

It’s clearly an abandoned and long closed pub in a dodgy part of the East End. But no, enter and you find it has been cunningly transformed and used by those nice guys from The Disappearing Dining Club who provided the venue for the first launch of the porters. Excited hubbub downstairs as we revisit the porters we tasted last time (and the porter cocktails).

Then upstairs to a carefully lit room filled with the aroma of hops. And Condiment Junkie. These are the guys behind Heston Blumenthal’s Sounds of the Seashore and other sensory ways of changing our perceptions of food. Yes, our heads were going to be messed with.

At this point the cycnical amongst us might have thought this was going to be to mask any lack of substance in the beer itself. Mmm, maybe, but the touch was light and deft, everyone was there to be entertained and have a good time, not to be sold to.

We tasted the beer with selected foods with different sensory elements – green light/low frequency sounds to emphasise the hop bitterness, red light/high frequency sounds to emphasise the sweetness, sounds of the meadow to emphasise the hops (really?), an extremely malty (and lovely) dessert to emphasise the malt in the beer (dominate perhaps). Did it work? Well the green light/bitter thing worked for me but ultimately it was the food pairings that had more effect, as I guess they should. I would have liked to try the food and light combinations the ‘wrong way round’ to check.

Then back downstairs to try a cocktail made using the beer, Canadian rye, some maple syrup and citrus juice, topped with cream and a malty wafer. Sounds horrible doesn’t it? It was gorgeous as a ‘dessert cocktail’.

What was the beer Rich? Did you like it? So, this was the launch of Guinness Golden GUINNESS GOLDEN ALE BOTTLE [HI] halfAle. So far, so bad. I always think of golden ales as being insipid tasteless things designed by cask ale producers to compete with the lager market. So the good news is that this isn’t a golden ale imho. It’s made with ‘specially selected amber malt’ or ‘amber malt’ as the brewer put it. The hops are pelleted Celeia, one of the Styrian family used typically in English ales. A good bittering hop but not an awful lot else.

This isn’t a complex, micro batch, collaboration craft beer so let’s not overcomplicate the tasting notes. It’s malt rather hop led – Guinness sticking to what they know – and as such tastes like a good English pale ale or ‘ordinary’ bitter. Any sweetness seems to come from the malt flavour alone so it is not at all insipid.

Now I’ve had a few bottles at home I’ve decided that I really enjoy this beer on a simple level. Provides a nice balance with most food also. Will I be buying it? If I want a reliable session bottle at home then yes maybe. In a pub, only if they release it on draught.

I’m still slightly puzzled by the choice of Golden Ale though. Is it because Guinness believe this sector has lower competition in terms of both quality and quantity? Well, that is certainly true. Is it because ‘golden’ is a more aspirational word than ‘amber’? Also true.

Here’s a thought, what about an ‘Irish Amber’?

Full disclosure: I had a great free evening out and was given 6 bottles. The above article is unpaid and unsolicited.



Guinness Porter Review – brand new, old beers!

The SchtickGuinness ST JAMES'S GATE

The Brewers Project is a rather clever idea whichever way you look at it. Ostensibly it is a collaboration between the brewers and the archivist to recreate beers of long ago. However I am guessing that it was cleverly orchestrated by the marketing department who knew exactly the products they wanted – not that it is a bad thing at all. Full marks for identifying a gap in the market and using unique heritage to exploit it. It gives the brewers some fun times to play with real beer making in the pilot brewery instead of pressing buttons in the main brewhouse. It gives Guinness a chance to use their tremendous heritage and archive to best effect.

Porter and then ‘stout porter’ were the precursors of the stouts we know nowadays. After starting with ales, Guinness moved on to making porters. Early on there was a ‘town porter’ and a ‘country porter’. The country porter as its name suggests was the product shipped outside Dublin. It had more hops to preserve the beer over a longer time and, certainly once the products were exported, a higher alcoholic strength for the same reason.

To provide a counterpoint for this review, it’s also time to introduce Intoxicated Shep, he’s a brewer, so might be expected to know more about these things than me. But in his own words,
Intoxicated Shep says, having been asked to give my considered opinion on Guinness’s foray into, let’s call it the more artisan end of the beer drinking spectrum, I’ve thought back to what and how people are reviewing on various websites and social media. From “Nom, nom, nom” on Untappd, “A juicy banger” on Twitter and even recently “sexy sticky black and smells of vanilla laced treacle tart and patchouli oil”, which certainly isn’t on Mark Dredge’s crafty craft wheel of beer flavour or any wheel of beer flavour for that matter. As a child of the 80’s I have little idea what patchouli oil is, never mind what it tastes like (Can you drink patchouli oil? Ed: They will only serve it in thirds I believe). I know what sticky black is though, and what it tastes like. So this is going to be a straight down the line “say what you see” describing the organoleptic experience and maybe try to explain why, from a, dare I say, technical point of view.

The Beers

Dublin Porter , ABV 3.8%, available in bottles and keg.

GUINNESS DUBLIN PORTER 2Intoxicated Rich says, I decided to compare the bottle with a bottle of Guinness Original, so far so sensible. Then I made the noob mistake of having them in the fridge too long. Both beers improved dramatically as they warmed up, below, say 10oC, they have little character. Immediately the difference is in the head. The Dublin Porter had large quickly dispersed bubbles, not a traditional Guinness head (which will hold some volatiles nicely). The mouthfeel also reflected a highly carbonated product. Quite sweet and more biscuit than really toasty, I found this a simple pleasant beer. ‘Guinness Lite’? By contrast the Guinness Original had a crisper initial flavour, much bigger mouthfeel and altogether a more satisfying mouthful.

GUINNESS DUBLIN PORTER FOUNTNB: At the launch I also tried the keg version. A much better head and could see this as being a pleasant session porter in its own right. And it also makes a great adult cream soda when topped with a Guinness ice cream float!

Intoxicated Shep says, , pours frothy, loose head and has a faint aroma of roasted malt and very little else , if pushed, a little toffee. On taste, there’s very little sweetness, not much malt character, thin and leaves a drying astringency, I’m searching for more things to describe, to adjectivise, but I can’t.
In their press release, Guinness informed us that this beer was “fermented at a high temperature”, the dryness and lack of any roasty-toasty body is a symptom of this, the fermentation has been vigorous and probably too long, using up any residual sugar from the insufficient malt bill and giving birth to a beer that in the grand scheme of things is like a warm Diet Coke.

West Indies Porter, ABV 6.0% available in bottles only.

GUINNESS WEST INDIES PORTERIntoxicated Rich says, I compared this with two versions of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (FES), Dublin and Nigeria bottled versions. These weigh in at a hefty 7.5% ABV. They had a brief chill but they were much happier at room temperature than a few degrees below. All had a proper head, the WIP creamy and the FES more capuccino coloured. For aroma the Nigerian FES won hands down with great volatiles, but the head was quickest to dissipate. So, tasting the WIP it is a lovely smooth drink delivering toffee and slightly chocolate notes. All good until you try the Dublin FES, my favourite Guinness incarnation. A big boozy start, then bitter, then deep, complex and lingering – all in harmonious balance. Somewhat reminiscent of Nwankwo Kanu the Nigerian version flattered to deceive with it’s lovely aroma, proving to be altogether thinner and less complex – albeit still with the same boozy whack upfront.

Intoxicated Shep says, this seems a bit more serious, darker, thicker with a moussy head and a waft of dark fruit and chocolate. As expected, this is sweeter, (lactose sweet) and fuller than it’s poor cousin, the bitterness comes from the roasted malt, perhaps a hint of spice, smoke and a pleasant tangy linger. Not the travesty I thought it would be and for 6% in your local shops, not a bad fallback. Just for the record I had an FES too, …dark, boozy rum, molasses aroma. Very thick, lots of body, fruity sweet, coffee, chocolate, spice, a little bit of alcohol burn but smooth and delicious.

GUINNESS DUBLIN PORTER AND WEST INDIES PORTER 2Was it fair to compare these porters with their stout brothers? Probably not. Both the style and the age of the recipe are the precursors to the stouts so the stouts certainly should be ‘better’ in some respects. But enough wittering from us for a moment,

What will they think of them?

Dublin Porter

The beer geek – doesn’t drink 3.8% session porters
The old bloke in the pub – the 3.8% will appeal, crisper than a mild, different from a bitter, not as full on as a Guinness, he might like the keg version.
The girls night out – my feeling (having never been on a girls night out) is that if they want Guinness, they’d order Guinness
The supermarket bottle drinker – a bit boring to sit with by yourself at home? Nice label though.
The ‘interested’ drinker – it’s the back story that attracts and would be a must on any comparative tasting

West Indies Porter

The beer geek – might have fun working out the differences between this and FES but will come with a dose of big brewery scepticism, will end up preferring the FES
The old bloke in the pub – doesn’t always want the volume, sat by the inglenook on a winter’s evening with a bottle of this, nice.
The girls night out – sharing cool looking bottles of this might appeal
The supermarket bottle drinker – want a stronger ‘sipping beer’? This hits the spot.
The ‘interested’ drinker – worth trying but probably a stepping stone to FES

And I haven’t talked about food pairing. Do try WIP with a sticky toffee pudding.

To sum up…

Unlike some new beers I can see a place and an appeal for these beers. They are not ‘me-too’ beers or for ‘me-too’ markets. They fit nicely with Guinness existing range and aren’t a knee jerk reaction to go off on a ‘crafty double IPA’ tangent that would be out of character (Greene King take note). There is no serious aim here to try for the ‘craft’/beer geek/Hackney Hipster market, what they want is pub goers and home drinkers to have a new alternative with a great story behind it.

Disclosure: I was invited to a launch of these beers and asked if I would write about them

Guinness: Textbook marketing through the years

Guinness-original-logoEveryone likes Guinness, even the people who don’t like Guinness. Why’s that then Rich? Marketing! Oh, and a good product and factual story to back it up.

Marketing can be seen as a dirty word but done well, everyone’s a winner with one proviso – the marketing needs be backed up by the product, without that it is just ‘puff’. For years the advertisements have been both contemporary and legendary (Ed: Can you be contemporary and legendary at the same time? Rich: Semantics, you know what I mean.) There must be a Guinness pump in over 90% of the pubs in the UK, saturation point? No, some Genius comes up with the idea of serving an identical product two degrees colder. This gave Guinness the chance to double brand awareness at a stroke. (If you don’t believe in the subliminal effect of brand awareness look around you next time you are in a Brewdog bar, count the Brewdog logos, count the other logos you can see.)

Bitter (style, not attitude)drinkers who wouldn’t touch a pint of ‘nitrokeg’ or ‘creamflow’ bitter will often drink Guinness happily as a fallback such is the affection for the brand. People who don’t drink Guinness still like the brand. Only a smidgin of this love can be attributed to the UK’s fondness for some softly spoken, self-deprecating Irish blarney.

I have had the unalloyed good fortune to be the recipient of Guinness hospitality recently. On the first occasion this was as part of the European Beer Bloggers Conference (my advice – start a blog, attend, you won’t regret it). This included a sneak look at their big, shiny, new brewhouse (the fourth brewhouse they have built at St James’ Gate) followed by a reception at the Storehouse, the most prominent building on the site, with panoramic views over Dublin. Now you expect a professional presentation and a bit of free Guinness, right? This was so much more. All versions of Guinness including the two different export, higher strength versions were on offer together with some other beers and most interestingly, Night Porter. This was the winner of an internal brewing competition, a lovely chocolatey, tarry mouthful for a relatively modest 5.5% ABV. I always mention this because I would just love them to commercialise it. I digress, each stout was matched to a different food station – oysters naturally but lots of other good stuff. Apart from the quality of the beer and food, the most impressive thing were the staff. All were knowledgeable and informed, keen to talk about the product but not in any sort of pushy way. This doesn’t happen by accident, it is the result of excellent training and employees buying into the ethos of the company.

Then, a few days ago, I was invited to a Guinness event of ‘discovery’ at a ‘secret location’. My arm didn’t need twisting. Again, I was expecting a nice evening but was unprepared for how good (and exclusive) it was. I won’t make you green by describing the evening, let’s concentrate on the facts. It was to launch their new West Indies Porter and Dublin Porter, presented by the brewer and the archivist. There were some shadowy suits and little black dresses that indicated marketing people in the background but it turned out they didn’t bite and were indeed, without exception, quite charming.

GUINNESS SERVE 1These two new beers are based on old recipes, recreated as best they are able, from the archives. Sample problem, how big is a bale? From the brewing side this has been labelled ‘The Brewers Project’ and gives the brewers, technically skilled at producing consistent, large volume stout a chance to do some more interesting stuff than the day-to-day routine. All very well, but just another beer to market? No, all the Guinness marketing Genius is here. This is the brewer with the biggest heritage in the British Isles but it’s something they have cashed in on before. The style is one that was incredibly popular, witness the archives, yet is under represented in pubs nowadays. Pubs that are committed to a regular range of bitters might have no problem putting a porter alongside and it’s not a stout. Well, cynics might say it is ‘stout lite’ but when Guinness pull this type of stunt we just smile indulgently. And the markets they are aiming for don’t compete with their existing ones. Nice old labelling. It all comes together into a great marketing package – based on facts and real stories.

Diageo, owners of Guinness are primarily a spirits company. Kilkenny, Smithwicks and Harp complement Guinness in Ireland and North America. In Africa they have some local lagers to complement the famous Foreign Extra. However they have not dipped their toes in the murky waters of ‘craft beer’ either by acquisition or pilot brewery before. Wisely the word craft doesn’t appear here either, it’s about heritage, a far more tangible label. Nevertheless this is just a tiptoe into some markets where Guinness might not have been seen before.

So very neatly Guinness have avoided confrontation with best bitter or modern IPA. They haven’t engaged in the craft vs cask war. They haven’t gone for anything ‘new’. Competition for these new beers is relatively low in a market that is becoming increasingly saturated.

This has been rather gushing, hasn’t it? It is for the marketing. Guinness could be used as a textbook (also for exporting, but that’s another story). Sadly I am too much of a thrill seeker to drink a lot of Guinness nowadays but I love what they do.

A review of the actual beers is here.

In the meantime, a useless fact: My favourite time and place for a pint of Guinness is the open air, but covered bar underneath the Gold Cup restaurant at Cheltenham racecourse on Champion Hurdle day prior to racing. Watch the excited crowds stream in for the first day of the Festival, read the Racing Post, feel the anticipation of the winners and enjoy a pint of the black stuff – bliss.