Porter Tasting: Batch 3 — Guinness

Guinness vintage-style cap.

The purpose of this exercise, for those who missed the previous posts, is to find a beer that suits us, with a view to selecting finalists for a ‘taste-off’ before buying a case to see us through the winter. It’s not ‘the best’ but something much more floaty and subjective.

One of the triggers for our current focus on porters was the launch by Guinness of Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter under the banner of The Brewers Project.

We’re including them in this tasting, despite the fact they’re not British, for several reasons. First and foremost, they’re our rules and we can break them if we like. Secondly, and less petulantly, the parent company is also UK-based, and the beers are being sold in mainstream stores across Britain, not only through specialist importers. Finally, there’s the significance of Guinness Porter in the story of British beer.

Guinness stopped brewing porter in the early 1970s — they had been producing a tiny amount for a dwindling Northern Ireland market — thus rendering the style temporarily extinct until it was revived by one of the first microbreweries a few years later. (Brew Britannia, Chapter Four.) So, there is a certain emotional appeal to Guinness using the word on the label of a beer, even if there’s no real difference between porter and stout, and even if, despite claims to be ‘inspired by’ recipes from 1799 and 1801 respectively, they aren’t really historic recreations.

* * *

For our tasting, we decided to throw standard bottled Guinness Original (4.2% ABV, £2.15 for 500ml at CO-OP) into the mix to check whether (a) the new Guinness porters actually taste any different and (b) just in case it turns out, within the parameters of this project, to be just what we’re looking for. It isn’t, but it really doesn’t taste bad at all: it’s quite nice. Too sweet (for Boak’s taste in particular), rather watery, and definitely lacking in wow factor, but not as grim as some critics, who are perhaps tasting the corporate structure, might have you believe.

Dublin Porter (3.8%; our bottle was sent to us by their PR people, but currently £1.50 for 500ml in supermarkets) is definitely quite different. Despite it’s lower ABV, it seems to have additional ‘oomph’, being drier and more bitter, with some milk chocolate notes where Original has only brown sugar. Only by contrast, though, not in absolute terms, and compared to the other porters we’ve tasted so far, it’s a fairly one-dimensional beer. It’s fine, tasty enough, and reasonably good value, especially if you’re after something vaguely mild-like. But it’s not a contender.

West Indies Porter (6%; pricing as above) does have a bit of star quality. In fact, it struck us as almost as good as the Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter which we’re benchmarking against. It has a firm, almost chewy body, and a pleasing acid-sweet-bitter balance — black forest gateaux territory. But… Smith’s is better and weaker, at 5%. Then again, GWIP is more readily available and, for now at least, cheaper — £18 for 12 bottles as compared to £31, plus delivery. That’s not a saving to be sniffed at. (Theatrical pause, tense music.) It’s a contender and it’s going through to the final taste-off.

On balance, we’d rather Guinness put the energy and effort that’s gone into these into sprucing up their standard range — why not make Guinness Original a more distinctive product, bottle-conditioned, at a higher ABV, and give that a sexy vintage-style label?

We’ve got a few more rounds of this to go. Next up: Kernel Export and other animals.

23 thoughts on “Porter Tasting: Batch 3 — Guinness”

  1. I have the answer to one of those questions: James’s Gate is a sterile production facility [insert global conglomerate gag here]. Everything that comes out of it must be pasteurised. The way the brewers tell it, doing bottle-conditioned beers would effectively require an entirely new brewhouse, which wouldn’t be worth their while.

    1. The Indies or the Dublin? My Dad loves the Dublin Porter, which he and Mum discovered without our help, perhaps because he’s a mild drinker by inclination and it’s in that territory.

  2. I reckon standard Guinness is way way better in can than bottle. A bottle of FES may have been a better comparison for this test perhaps 🙂

    Really like the Windies one.

  3. Oh, gotcha. Thought you meant we should have tested FES against the Dublin and Indies — FES would win that!

    (And we don’t mind being criticised… we often deserve it.)

  4. Very interesting, but if Taddy’s Porter, only adequate in my opinion, trumps the new West Indies Porter, this is an opportunity missed for Guinness. Creating a genuine, early 1800’s export porter should take it well beyond the Taddy Porter range, this is based on having tasted numerous recreations of 1800’s porters and stouts from different sources. Nonetheless I will try these beers when I see them.

    Thanks again for these reports.

    Gary

  5. Nice post, but I had a quick question about what you meant towards the end:
    “On balance, we’d rather Guinness put the energy and effort that’s gone into these into sprucing up their standard range — why not make Guinness Original a more distinctive product, bottle-conditioned, at a higher ABV, and give that a sexy vintage-style label?”

    You mentioned in the “comments” that the “FES” would have won if tested against these other competitors. Isn’t that because it is an example (like the “ES”) of what you mention above? (Minus the bottle-conditioning).

    Bottle-conditioned FES with a vintage label actually sounds like what they should produce next, now that I think of it.

    1. But it’s *too* strong! Something at 5.5%, for example, would be great, and fill a gap in their range, as ESB does for Fuller’s.

  6. I read this with astonishment. I thought both these new porters were really poor. Sweet, overcarbonated, thin and hard going. We had a tasting of both in the Baum last week and almost nobody had a good word to say.

    It’s broad church indeed is beer. Still. All the more for you and Adrian!

  7. Have to agree with TM. No one at the tasting I did liked them either. Pretty poor was the best response!

    1. We’ll have to see how the WI does I’m our final taste-off. It might be that, when drinking it alongside other contenders, we reach the same conclusion.

      1. I hope you reach the “correct” conclusion next time you taste them.

        Remember, when tasting beer, its not about what you like, its about what you think Tandleman and co would like.

  8. I personally quite liked the WI, much less so the Dublin. Can those who disliked recommend a better porter that is available for around £1.50 for a 500ml bottle? l can think of loads at double the price but struggling in that price bracket

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