St. Patrick’s Day is upon us, meaning that a whole country’s worth of functioning alcoholics are set to flood bars and pubs everywhere and chug pint after pint celtic potables like Jameson and Bailey’s Irish Cream (your definition of how authentic these are may vary). Now, if you’re planning on drinking this St. Paddy’s Day, you’re probably going to drink a Guinness. And chances are pretty good you fall into one of these categories:
1) You only drink one, because “It’s so thick. It’s like having a meal.”
2) You drink 400, because you’re an Irish-American bro or lady-bro, and you’re “celebrating your heritage” while listening to Flogging Molly for the only time all year.
3) You’re a craft beer snob who has decided to wholesale revolt against Guinness, largely due to the two other groups.
Now, all of you. Cut it out.
No matter what, this suggests one thing: a whole lot of you aren’t judging Guinness on its own merit, for better or worse. Instead, a lot of you are falling prey to either extraordinary marketing campaigns (who didn’t know someone with a Guinness poster in college?), erroneous word of mouth, or other tainted information. Today, we seek to dispel these myths, and show you how beautiful a pint of the black stuff can be. In other words, we’ll show you the proper way to appreciate your Guinness this St. Patrick’s Day.
How Heavy is Your Guinness?
As hinted at above, how many of you have heard one of these statements about Guinness?
“It’s so thick!”
“It’s liquid bread!”
“Ugh, it’s like a meal”
“You can only drink one.”
Let me count here — all of you? Yep. Looks like all of you. Ok, let’s set this myth to rest.
Most of us judge Guinness based solely on the color of its grain. And that, my friends, is beer racism. Now, sure, Guinness is a stout, and stouts are notoriously heavy, generally speaking. But just because they’re part of the same family doesn’t mean anything. It just shows you how much the grains have been toasted before brewing.
Put another way: suppose I toasted the ever-loving soul out of a thick, New York bagel. Now suppose I burned the heck out of a tortilla as well. Both charred and black as night. But one is a lot thicker and more dense than the other, right? The only thing they’d really have in common is the burnt flavor. A similar principle is at play with stouts. A dark colored beer doesn’t really tell you anything about alcohol content, hops or anything else. It just says they used super toasted grains, that’s all.
And if that’s not convincing enough, consider this. Here’s some nutritional info on a couple of beers. Can you guess which is which?
Give up? Beer #1 is Guinness — that thick, black stuff of pure, concentrated evil. Beer #2? That’s Corona. You know, the light, easygoing beer you drink in order to cool down on the beach. Yep. That’s about as heavy as Guinness.
“BUT WAIT!” you might say. “YOU DIDN’T PROVIDE THE SERVING SIZE! You could make ANY two foods or drinks sound similar without a basis of comparison!”
Oh, yes. How silly of me. See, the Guinness measurements are from a 14.9 ounce can. The Corona is from a 12 ounce bottle. That means, ounce for ounce, Corona is a heavier beer than Guinness (12 cal/oz vs. 10 cal/oz). So the next time you hear someone complaining about how heavy a Guinness is, ask them about their beach beer habits.
How Fast Do You Drink Your Guinness?
Let me ask you something: when you’re in a fancy schmancy restaurant, do you cram food down your gullet like some kind of hobo on a reality show? A reality show about eating?
Of course not! You use a fork and knife. And lest you predict that I’m going to try to fancify your Guinness drinking experience — relax. After all, Irishmen order this by calling it a “pint of plain.” It’s not high-falutin’. Plus, it’s been enjoyed by slump-shouldered Dubliners for 250+ years. Nobody’s going to make you use a cloth napkin. BUT! There’s something to be said for the cultural experience of enjoying something. Going back to that fancy restaurant metaphor: would you choke down your food? No. Likewise, at a fast food restaurant, you’re not going to expect classical music and soft candle lighting. The experience is part of, well, the experience.
Enter Guinness. Now, I’m not going to tell you not to enjoy more than your fair share. I’m just saying, look at the feeling they’re trying to produce. For instance, what does a Guinness glass look like? You’re all picturing it now, aren’t you? Slightly tulip shaped nonic design, right? Seems like the kind of thing they’d want you to slow down and appreciate. And if that’s not evidence enough, tell me: how long is it supposed to take to pour a Bud Light? I don’t know about you, but I have no idea. What about Guinness? Chances are, you’ve heard the legend of the perfect pour (119.53 seconds, according to Wikipedia, frequently including a pause to let the head settle). Does that seem like the type of thing you’re supposed to pound?
Finally, as a quick aside, if you’re going to drink Guinness, look for a place that has a nitrogen-based tap system. The short version of the science is that nitrogen will create smaller bubbles — so small, in fact, that they make the head on Guinness seem thick and creamy! (Incidentally, nitrogen is what hides in that little “widget” inside of your cans of Guinness, Old Speckled Hen, Boddingtons, and the like). You’ll know you’re not enjoying a nitrogen Guinness if the head is grey, peppered with thick bubbles, and decidedly unremarkable.
This St. Patrick’s Day, I think you should enjoy your Guinness. I just suggest taking your foot off the pedal from time to time. From the rich, creamy head of a properly poured pint, all the way to the broad, sweet flavors that express themselves better at warmer temperatures, I submit that slow is the way to go.
How Crappy is Your Guinness?
I know you, Mr. Craft Beer Snob. I know you because I was you (believe it or not, this is me in my reformed state). You say things like “Of course Guinness tastes better in Dublin! American Guinness comes from a brewery in the Caribbean! The lime content is different in the water!” etc. In fact, you’re probably not even going out this St. Patrick’s Day, are you? You’re going to sit silently in a craft beer bar, where nobody says a thing. Occasionally, someone will mention that they taste a hint of blackcurrant in their Belgian dubbel, but that heathen shall be hushed! One must listen to the beer. Closely. After all, how else can you tell how quickly the protein in the lacing is degrading?
Or maybe that was just me. But as I’ve long said: if you’re getting to the point where you can’t engender good conversation, share the experience of life or even just enjoy a ball game with a tasty beer in your hands, you’re doing this all wrong. And for the folks that decry Guinness as being “too light” (a stark contrast to our first group) or “over-produced” or “over-marketed” or whatever — dudes. Relax. This one time a year, everyone is putting down their Bud Lights and trying something different. Plus, if it’s authenticity you’re looking for, you won’t find any drink as intertwined with the history and culture of a place than Guinness. Nope, not even you, Yuengling. You’re overrated anyway.
Plus — for all you budding cicerones out there — Guinness makes an excellent food pairing. Try a Guinness float with vanilla ice cream, or drink it alongside some New England clam chowder (and swish it around your palate! The creamy chowder blends perfectly with the roasty stout). I’d bet it does wonders with creamier cheeses too, like brie, mascarpone, or, well, cream cheese.
So. You’ve got a historically important beer, which serves as a craft bridge for typical macrobrew enthusiasts, as well as a hell of a food pairing. Isn’t that what you want out of a beer? Now, has it lost a step or two of quality over the years? Probably. But who cares? You could say that about any small business that breaks it big.
So my advice to you this St. Patrick’s Day: enjoy your Guinness. Enjoy more than one. Take the time to appreciate it. And don’t get so caught up in the search for brewing authenticity that you can’t have fun on a holiday dedicated to drinking and hanging out with your fellow human beings.
In the meantime, I wish you all a happy St. Patrick’s Day. Oh, and if my contact at Guinness is reading this, you can make the check out to B-R-I-A…
Brian Cullen writes about beer year round! If you’re still stuck in winter mode, check out his take on winter beers. Or, if you’re looking ahead to spring, here are some ideas for spring beers. Follow him on twitter @bucketcullen