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.

    1. A bot­tle of FES may have been a bet­ter com­par­i­son for this test per­haps”

      How so?

  3. Just seems like the best com­par­i­son to an exist­ing Guin­ness brew to me. Not crit­i­cis­ing!

  4. 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.)

  5. 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.


  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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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