Tag Archives: guinness

Guinness vintage-style cap.

Porter Tasting: Batch 3 — Guinness

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 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.

Beamish & Crawford's Cork Porter Brewery.

GALLERY: Brewing in Ireland c.1902

The invaluable and labyrinthine Internet Archive (archive.org) recently made available millions of public domain images from old books, searchable by keyword, on Flickr.com.

This gallery comes from a 1902 book called Ireland: industrial and agricultural which has a substantial section on brewing in Ireland.

(We’ve tidied the images up a bit and flipped them all the right way round.)

The Moment Guinness Won

Bottled Guinness stout.As long as we’ve been aware of beer, we’ve known that Guinness was the draught stout, utterly dominating the UK pub market. Even the lager market, with its many very similar products, is not ruled by one single company to the same extent.

Their rise to dominance over the stout market happened quickly in the nineteen-fifties and especially in the sixties but, at the end of that period, there was one last serious attempt to challenge it.

Bass Charrington, the biggest group of its kind, and Watney Mann, the Red Barrel concern, will at the month-end launch a test market of Colonel Murphy’s draught stout at 500 pub in the Manchester and Brighton areas. Within a year, they expect to have enough information to give the new product national coverage… If Colonel Murphy’s is a success it will be a blow to Guinness, because between them Bass and Watney control more than 16,500 of Britain’s 60,000 pubs and it is reasonable to assume that the majority of these will be closed to draught Guinness. (The Financial Times, 26 June 1969.)

Unfortunately, the challenge came too late; the summer was hot; and, though they spent plenty on advertising, it wasn’t anywhere near enough to build from nothing a brand to compete with Guinness. Only six months later, the Charrington-Watney alliance conceded defeat. They not only withdrew Colonel Murphy’s from sale in their UK but also signed an agreement to sell draught Guinness in all of their pubs. Guinness had won.

Fittingly, they announced the end of hostilities, and their unconditional surrender, on 11 November. Beer geeks welcomed the conquerors with open arms.

The Original Irish Theme Pubs?

Guinness.

For now, the only biographical information we have about Patrick Fitzpatrick, founder of Godson’s, London, c.1977, is in some old cuttings Ian Mackey kindly shared. One article, from 1978, says that Fitzpatrick, at 23, was ‘one of the third generation of the Murphy family who have run a string of pubs in East London for 50 years’. We knew we’d seen the name Murphy in connection with London pubs and dug through the old paperbacks until we found this is from The Evening Standard Guide to London Pubs by Martin Green and Tony White (1973):

Since the demolition of the Duke of Cambridge on the opposite corner, the White Hart is the only remaining old-style Murphy’s in the East End, apart from the tiny Manchester Arms in Hackney Road. (The Old Red Lion, Whitechapel Road, and the Mackworth Arms, Commercial Road, have both been dragged struggling into the Seventies.) Murphy’s is not, as some people think, a brewery, but a firm which was originated in 1934 by a Mr J.R. Murphy from Co. Offaly who pioneered draught Guinness in the East End of London… Murphy’s, Mile End, remains an honest-to-goodness East End pub… where you can hear Irish music and choose from a wide range of draught beers, including… what is probably the best kept pint of draught Guinness in the East End.

That bit about ‘old-style Murphy’s’ suggests they were quite an institution. That’s supported by the fact that modern pub review websites also say that the White Hart is ‘known locally’ by that name. And yet there is surprisingly little (easily accessible…) information about the pubs or J.R. Murphy & Sons. Company listings suggest that the White Hart was the group headquarters, at any rate, and that it was formally dissolved in 2010.

What we’re especially interested in is whether the ‘fifteen or so’ pubs the Murphys owned constituted the original Irish theme chain — or was it a chain of pubs that just happened to be founded by an Irishman? We’d need to see photos or read descriptions of the interiors to get a sense of how much set dressing there was, but the Guinness and Irish music mentioned are clues. If these pubs were self-consciously Irish, to what extent did they provide a template for the chains that followed in the eighties and nineties?

Do you remember Murphy’s pubs? Or know Patrick Fitzpatrick? If so, let us know below. UPDATE 10/7/2014: we found Mr Fitzpatrick and interviewed him.

The status of Guinness

Guinness promotional clock, South London.

Our post about the Big Six a while back prompted an interesting response from US beer blogger Bill K, aka the Pittsburgh Beer Snob: the gist was that our list of big brewers looked much cooler than the American equivalent. In particular, Guinness (the seventh member of the Big Six…) is still viewed pretty positively around the world.

But what is its standing in the UK? Well, funnily enough, that subject came up again yesterday.

Pioneering beer writer Richard Boston had this to say in his Guardian column of 22 June 1974:

As you know, “draught” Guinness nowadays is a keg beer, while the real thing is to be found in bottles. The reason draught Guinness is so superior to any other keg beer is that (apart from being a better product to start with) it is delivered not by pure CO2 but by a mixture of 36 per cent CO2 and 64 per cent nitrogen (which is not absorbed by the beer).

In his memoir A Life on the Hop (2009), beer writer and CAMRA leading light Roger Protz recalls his wonderment at drinking draught (keg) Guinness for the first time, describing it as ‘a revelation’. He quotes his CAMRA colleague Barrie Pepper as saying that if all keg beer had been so good, CAMRA would never have got off the ground.

Was Guinness really, really good? Or was its cult appeal partly down to the fact that it was different? By our count of those listed in Frank  Baillie’s Beer Drinkers’s Companion (1973), there were fewer than 60 stouts on sale in the UK in the early 70s, all of them bottled, and most of them of the relatively weak ‘sweet’, ‘nourishing’ or ‘milk’ varieties. As the post-CAMRA microbrewing boom kicked in, and breweries began to released new porters and stouts, perhaps Guinness came to seem less interesting: it ceased to be the most beautiful girl in the room.

By the time we started drinking as students in the 90s, it had a hardcore following of people who identified themselves as Guinness drinkers — a bit quirky, more grown-up than everyone else and ‘pretty chilled out’. It was also the fallback beer of choice for beer geeks in mediocre pubs — reliable and with at least some character, compared to Foster’s or Carling.

As recently as the last couple of years, though, that remaining hint of credibility seems to have all but disappeared, and bars and pubs increasingly signal their ‘craft’ status by announcing that they’ve ripped out the Guinness taps and sourced an alternative stout — perhaps even one made in blatant imitation, with not much more flavour.

What a turnaround.

We don’t have a unified corporate line on Guinness: Boak can’t stand it, while Bailey is always pleasantly surprised by how little its gross monopoly and smug marketing are manifested in its flavour.