Why Guinness tastes better in Ireland

Originally published at: Why Guinness tastes better in Ireland | Boing Boing


Nigerians make the best Guiness imho.

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That’s not quite the way to put it.

Roughly speaking there are two stages to making beer.

Brewing. Where you extract fermentable sugars from the grains.

And fermenting. Where the sugary wort produced during brewing gets introduced to yeast, turning it into alcohol.

What Guinness has been doing for a good long while is doing the brewing step in Ireland. And concentrating the resulting wort.

That’s exported globally to be watered down and fermented locally. They basically do this so that they can keep labelling the product as imported from Ireland, while actually producing locally like most big conglomerates do.

That absolutely has an impact on the flavor and quality of the beer.

Before they started doing this (bout 20 years ago) the main Guinness (dubbed Guinness Draught in most markets) was actually a different product for Ireland and the US market. With the US formula version being sent to most other parts of the world.
With the home market version being lower ABV and a slightly different recipe.

That version of Guinness only dates to the 80’s.
What’s currently labelled “Extra Stout” in the US is the older “original” recipe home market Guinness. If I’m remembering it right it’s called Foreign Stout currently in Ireland and many other markets.

So there’s a generational break as well. People who emigrated before the 80’s, and Americans that visited before the 80’s. But aren’t aware of the change, get a powerful nostalgia thing based on their memory of an entirely different beer.

Then at base all beer tastes better closer to where it’s brewed. Pasteurized or not (and almost all European beer is pasteurized). Two months in a container ship before it even hits a wholesaler isn’t improving things.


So, Guinness is a kit beer?


Someone from the UK in the U.S.: I don’t drink Guinness outside the UK, it does not travel well.

Someone from Ireland in England: I don’t drink Guinness outside Ireland, it does not travel well.

Someone from Ireland in Ireland: I don’t drink Guinness outside Dublin, it does not travel well.

Someone from Dublin in Dublin: I don’t drink Guinness outside the Dublin factory, it does not travel well.

It’s mostly BS, but it comes down to three things:

  1. Beer in general tastes better when it is fresh. So it is not the travel part of it, but rather the ageing.
  2. A lot of pubs outside Ireland do not use nitrogen (they use CO2 like all their other beers), that makes a HUGE difference
  3. The pour. One has to pour it 2/3s, let it settle, then pour the rest, let it settle.

Why Guinness tastes better in Ireland

Same reason retsina tastes better in Greece.

But the black stuff, as it’s affectionately known (even though it’s technically red, if you look at it in the light), was curiously created by a Protestant family.

Is it really that curious? Protestants were the economic and political elite in Ireland for most of the period from the Tudor conquests to 1922. IIRC, Church of Ireland members are still over-represented in the landowning classes, the professions, and the civil service.


Basically. Unless you are in Ireland, I don’t think they even export finished beer to the rest of Europe at this point. Maybe kegs.

With Brexit I’d be willing to bet the UK won’t be getting the Irish market versions either. Diageo has a lot of facilities in the UK. If it’s cheaper to send extract across the boarder they will.

I believe extra stout and however it’s labelled elsewhere are still legitimately brewed in Ireland. But it’s hard to keep the different variations and labels straight.

It’s also not odd that Arthur Guinness was pro independence. That was a mainly protestant position until the late 19th century. And Protestants were a core part of the Republican movement straight through the War of Independence and Civil War.

Protestant as automatically pro Union is a modern take, mostly based on the state of things in Northern Ireland in the 20th century, and active promotion by the Brits in the same time frame.

Irish Passport recently did a 2 part series on the subject.


I looked (briefly, if I’m being honest) for information about this wort extract delivery and haven’t been able to find anything, but I’m really interested to learn more. Can you share a link?

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If you’re wandering around Dublin early mornings (not these pandemic times), you can often see big transports rolling a dozen+ kegs of guiness into pub cellars, they go through them like water in the desert, so fresh from the brewery, fresh from the keg, poured by people who know how.

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I thank Guinness for long (long) ago introducing me to stouts, but have no interest in it now. American craft brewers produce far better stouts nowadays.


As an all-grain homebrewer, and beer drinker, I was really excited to have a pint at the source. Or at least as close as you can get at St. James Gate.

On a dreary day 3 years ago, I did the (semi-interesting/semi-over Disney-ified diorama) tour. Went up to the glass observation deck and had a pint. I was expecting it to taste so different. I took a sip and my wife, who hates Guinness, asked if it tasted any different. I took another sip. (dramatic…pause). Maybe.


The real question though, was does it taste any better.


Having a pint at the brewery on a dreary Dublin day… it was spectacular! One of the best pints I ever had.

(But it still tasted about the same).

As a side note, the beer we saw throughout Ireland… Coors Light.


Google being generally trash these days the results are crowded with results about the opening of their very large Baltimore brewery.

The info is out there though if you keep digging for it, and I don’t really have time to dig it up for you. In the meantime one quick thing I found is an Irish op ed from '03 that mentions how few people are employed at St. James and how much of the company’s revenue is tied to concentrate production.

Large companies hide this sort of thing. But it’s documented if you look. Most North American Guinness comes out of Canada (not Connecticut), under contract from Labatt. The company only claims kegs shipped to NA, the UK and Europe are produced in Dublin.

The Baltimore facility is supposedly exclusively for the production of Blonde Ale. But it doesn’t really make much sense to build such a large facility for a third string product.

I wouldn’t go looking for “concentrate” or “extract”, most publications don’t really know the terminology or details about brewing.


In fact when we toured the Guinness plant in Ireland, this is exactly what they told us. It was a point of pride for them, even- that Guinness is effectively a “local” beer wherever in the world you drink it. Of course, they emphasized that’s also why it does taste better in Ireland.

I imagine they also do this as a cost saving measure. Shipping water is very expensive so companies will always find a way to not do that.

It did seem like Guinness tasted better there than in North America, but that could easily be in our heads. I doubt we could tell the difference if blinded. It’s great either place though. :grinning:


Been to Dublin, did the whole tour with the hagiography of the black stuff. Did the “how to pour a perfect pint” part. Listened well to the talk about the roasting of the malt. About how the nitrogen part was a 1950’s innovation. All the crunchy bits that they made tourist-friendly.

And then spent the evening drinking at the Temple Bar in Temple Bar, which bragged that its oyster porter had real oysters in it. “Not vor vegetarians!” is what they proudly proclaimed. My Irish friends stuck to German style lager.

Can’t tell if the Guinness in Germany is imported from Dublin or not, as it’s within the EU, but like @VeronicaConnor notes water is heavy. It might well be brewed at St. James’ Gate, and then fermented in Bremen or Munich for all I know.

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Pint of Smithwicks with a Guinness head is my drink when visiting my Irish cousins


I heard most oyster stouts use oyster shells for some minerality, had a few that stated that (never actual oyster flesh, bleh)… I’ve always heard that oysters and stout work very well together, I just can’t stand the slimy things.


Blindboy gets into this on the podcast as well (he actually prefers the Foreign Extra Stout). But otherwise: yes, your brewing specificity is much more correct than my simplistic explanation.


“Disneyified” is also how I describe the Guinness tour … but it is comprehensive and stunning enough that I think it’s still worth visiting, even despite my usual contempt for tourist-y things.