In parts of Canada including Ontario, Guinness is available as an import, canned or draught, and locally-made brew. The local one, from Labatt (Anheuser-Busch InBev), is Extra Stout, a form Guinness Dublin has long exported to the United States and the U.K.
Interestingly, the Canadian Guinness is also sold in some U.S. states, but in different channels than the import Guinness.
The first Guinness I ever had was the Labatt version, some 45 years ago in Montreal. The second was Extra Stout as exported to the U.S. Both had a strong characteristic flavour, with an edge in richness and character to the Dublin import.
In contrast, the imported draught, which I also first tasted back then, seemed rather milder – and not much changed today, in fact.
Tasting the Labatt Extra Stout again after a hiatus, it seems reduced in character from the 1970s. While quite pleasant on its own terms, the stout “character” was hard to detect. Although I did drink it quite cold.
I’ll try it again warmer, but I think a porter or stout should have a frank characteristic taste at any temperature.
In its favour was a good body – better than the import, IMO – and interesting dryish/acidic finish. It’s not so much a roasted (burnt, charred, etc.) taste as a drying one, if that makes any sense.
Guinness apparently still relies on “Guinness flavour extract” to impart the Guinness character to a local pale brew. The essence is exported around the world to this end.* Bill Yenne in his Guinness history explained it in fairly non-technical terms, see here.**
The main difference, today, from the canned “Pub Draught” and barrelled import seems to be carbonation. Extra Stout has a full, fizzy character, probably all-CO2 driven. The others have a restrained, nitrogen-influenced carbonation that derives from the pre-1960s, naturally-conditioned or “real ale” era.
So where does it leave me with five beers to go in the pack? Actually, I’m chill, although the second one to taste won’t be – more around cellar temp, let’s say. The last four will be put to good use in home blending.
As always I have a variety of stout and porter of different strengths and origins – local craft, import, etc. I like to blend them to get the kind of taste and strength I like. For example, 10-15% bourbon barrel Imperial stout can add a lot to a 5% ABV porter, or a mix of them.
A mild-tasting beer such as Labatt Guinness can work well to smooth out a blend of flavours, or to reduce the alcohol level.
This often can produce something better than the parts – so Beer et Seq judges. And who can gainsay that?
*I could ask Labatt or Diageo, but my interest is not that acute. If Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and the newer Guinness stout iterations were sold here, I’d be much more interested. It is a sticking point with me that these are not available in Ontario.
**For the more detail-oriented, David Hughes’ “A Bottle of Guinness Please” is indispensable.