Ginny With the Light Brown Foam
I have discussed Guinness a number of times from different standpoints. It was a “real ale”, or naturally conditioned in the barrel, in Ireland until the 1960s. Bottled Guinness too was a live, natural drink in Ireland, also England, until some 30 years later.
Exported Guinness both draft and in bottle, except to England for the bottled, was subjected to modern processes of filtration and pasteurization at different points from the 1930s.
But in 1900, all Guinness anywhere was unfiltered and unpasteurized, thus “real”.
It is always interesting to get period assessments of its quality. One from the 1800s speaks of a “brisk, sub-acid” quality. One from about 1920 speaks of it as a complex black wine again with a touch of lactic flavour. These latter two were recorded in England and probably for the bottled type.
A person with some experience of beer and international travel reported on Guinness, and also Bass pale ale, in 1903 in a Catholic newspaper in Rochester, NY:
And if interested in processes of manufacture the visitor would do well to pay a visit to the famous Guinness’ Brewery, where he would see enough of stout to satisfy him for the rest of his natural life. There is no stinting of ” sample glasses” as one does the round of the immense plant, but it is well to be on one’s guard about these, or disaster may attend the footsteps on reaching the outer air. The stout supplied within the brewery is a very different concoction to that which crosses the seas, either to England or this country. It may be only a detail, but I noticed the collar of foam on it to be invariably white, instead of a dirty brown, as is often noticed in the case of imported bottled stout. Speaking of bottled stout I am reminded of the saying that Englishmen are to be tracked round the world by the heaps of Guinness’ stout, and Bass’ beer bottles left here and there on their trail. Stout is a favorite drink both in Great Britain and Ireland, especially at the midday lunch and the late supper. Wonderful nutritive powers are attributed to it by its devotees, and there can be little doubt that the most forbidding thing about it is its color. Like Bass’ ale it never tastes so good as in the place in which it is brewed and before it is aerated in bottles. In connection with beverages of an alcoholic kind, if one must take them, I have noticed it to be advisable to take the sort most popular in the country you happen to be in at the time. It will be generally found best suited to the climate. Lager beer is just as unpalatable to the English or Irish taste, as English beer or ale is to the American. It is astonishing bow a short residence in a new country will alter the tastes, both in food and drinks.
This beer fan noticed the different foam colour in domestic and export stout. I’d guess the exported version he was familiar with used some amber malt, whereas stout drunk in Dublin however termed (the names changed over time), used just pale and black malt. (Those who want more details should consult David Hughes’ 2006 history of bottled Guinness).
My sense even today is, porter and stout which use some form of caramel malt can acquire the brown tint when foaming up. I could be wrong and if Doug Warren or another brewer reading knows, please comment.
The 1903 writer’s sense that Bass was better before being “aerated” (carbonated) is rather jolting considering the world reputation bottled Bass had at the time. In effect, we are being told draught Bass was better. Or maybe it’s not such a surprise, as cask-conditioned beer would have been less gassy, probably less acid and perhaps less afflicted with the Brettanonyces (wild yeast) flavour.
But net net we are being told Guinness tasted best at the brewery. Is that a surprise? It’s an adage repeated untold times today, even when all Guinness is well-filtered and pasteurized. Is it right? I can’t say, as I’ve never been to Ireland except once in Dublin airport on a layover. I did have a Guinness there, it was iced and tasted exactly as here, but that wasn’t a fair trial I think.
I’ll be in Paris soon and plan to look for Guinness Special Export Stout there. That was a great drink 30 years ago, but the last time I had it, about seven years ago, it was disappointing, tasting much like regular Guinness Extra Stout but stronger. Maybe that was a one-off or my taste buds were off, I’ll try again.
Rather than organize anything elaborate in the matter of beer on this trip, I’ll just take it as it goes, see what I run into. There will be one visit to Sous Bock, off Rue St. Honoré as I recall as it specializes in French beers, but that’s it for the organized part (and looking for that Guinn-esse).
I did all the big cerevisical trips years ago, one with Michael Jackson, a week in Lille and environs. It was fun, especially in the Nord, but now I get as much enjoyment when running into a fresh glass of Pelforth Brune, or finding that Guinness, say. On verra.
P.S. The Catholic Journal’s writer was wrong, à la longue, about lager, it’s the staple drink today in Ireland and England. And conversely, ale and porter have a good market again in America albeit still a minority of sales. It’s not just residence, today, which forms habits, it’s conscious choices resulting from a fulsome consumer society. International commerce also has a certain amount to say about what people will drink. Still, some things don’t change, and he had his finger on some of them.