Irish Drink in the Diaspora

Today is as good as any to ruminate on the state of Irish drinks by which I mean, the kinds we get in Canada, a typical export market one assumes.

First and foremost in visibility and lore, Guinness Stout. I’m sure the draft and “widget” (black can and shaped bottle) versions please a lot of people, which is good for them and Guinness, but in my view, from a craft/artisan/historical standpoint, it’s rather plain stuff. In particular, the sizable raw grains content, maybe 40% based on reading over the years, doesn’t do them any favours.

Guinness does make some sterner stuff, but doesn’t send it here, not even a special release as a nod to the franchise. No Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. No West Indies Porter. Not even Dublin-brewed bottled Extra Stout, a better drink than draft Guinness and the widgets. At least, I’ve never seen them in Canada.

Still, I’ll try the draft occasionally, and given the turnover for Guinness this week, chances are of getting it as good as can be outside Ireland. But Guinness will never have my real attention until they release something much closer to the roots of the beer: all-malt, very well-hopped, and containing a measure of aged or vatted beer. It could do this as a premium draft, or premium bottled beer.

Fortunately, the craft world offers many beers in that tradition. Ontario-brewed Clifford Porter is an excellent, full-flavoured standard strength porter, it’s replete with historical character.

There are a few c. 8% abv stouts you can get locally which probably deliver a taste quite close to the 1800s heyday of London and Dublin porter. So options exist, but I find it odd that Guinness, with its charter origins in creating that kind of beer and long history, doesn’t want to go there.

Certainly it is a pattern in consumer products companies, but not all of them follow a similar path. Heineken restored its original, all-malt formula about 20 years ago (all markets) and the beer is better for it.  AB-InBev makes a number of craft beers via its programme of backing into the business. Molson Coors offers Creemore Lager in Canada, and so on. There`s the mass market, and the niche. The niche reinforces the main franchise, it`s win-win as I see it.

As to whiskey. In my estimation, the standard brands aren’t as good as they were and that includes most of the premium versions. I know them since the 1970s and they all were more oily and “fresh leather”-tasting than now, whether blends or single pot still.

The only one I had recently that had the old taste, and was truly outstanding, was Redbreast 21 year old. Perhaps this is simply that it was made at a time when the classic mashing formula, barley malt and raw barley, was allowed to express its full character. It’s a great whiskey, but to paraphrase Ogden Nash ( I think it was), “[great] whiskey is nice but has a price”.

I’d assume as for Guinness, the idea to extend and expand sales internationally has resulted in adjusting the palate for broad appeal. Fair enough. Business is business, and if they’re making a good return I can`t gainsay it, but will look to other options for whiskey of expressive, traditional character.