When most people think of stouts, they only think of one beer.
It’s so much the “stout” that many people are surprised to learn that it’s really not a heavy beer at all.
A stout, generally speaking, is a dark beer made using roasted malt. The term “stout” comes from the traditional usage of it for the “strongest” or “stoutest” porters. However over time, it became more of a style of its own, and does not necessarily have to be a high alcohol beer.
Guinness Draught, for example, clocks in at 4.3%, much less than the normal average of 4.8-5.0%.
Of course, the first thing you notice about Guinness is the black color with that thick, light tan, creamy head. It’s iconic, basically. Other beers are black, and other beers have a thick foam, but the combination is decidedly Guinness.
When drinking it, that foamy head retains better than just about every other beer out there. There will be foam all the way down, until the last sip. It has a smooth, rich taste. Slightly sweet, with hints of coffee, chocolate, and roasted barley. That roasted and unmalted barley gives it a distinctive tang that some other stouts lack. However, Guinness Draught is not a complex beer at all, really. It tastes pretty much the same all the way through, without any real variation towards the end.
Guinness Draught is also a low-calorie beer, with only 123 calories per glass. That’s actually lower than skim milk or orange juice. Some people say it’s a “meal in a glass”, but it’s really not heavy or filling at all. It has fewer calories than almost every other beer you’ll find in the bar.
The unusual head on the beer comes from the use of nitrogen in addition to carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is still in the beer, but in a lower quantity, so it’s a more “flat” beer than usual. When poured, nitrogen is added to pressurize the beer, and then it is poured through a fine grate in the tap handle. This creates the characteristic bubbles and downwards flow around the edges, and also creates the very fine frothy head. Nitrogen is used because it is less soluble than carbon dioxide.
In canned versions, Guinness invented the “widget” which has much the same effect. The widget is a small plastic container which contains pressurized nitrogen. While the can is closed, this pressure is contained by the can and the liquid in the can. When the can is opened, the pressure is released and a small hole in the plastic is created. The nitrogen rushes out this tiny hole, creating the same small-bubble effect and giving it the same characteristics as the tap version.
Yes friends, Guinness is science.
It even extends to pouring systems. Obviously, if you’re a fan of Guinness, you know that they recommend a certain style of pouring a draft beer. The style is to pour about 3/4th of the beer first, then allow it to settle before pouring the final amount. Their tap handles reflect this by having two modes (forward and backward), but the truth is that those modes do basically the same thing. The forward mode just allows for a faster initial pour, while the backward mode gives more control. The ideal pour is to have the foam forming a dome shape across the top of the glass.
But they also support the “Exactap” systems. If you’ve never seen these, then you should watch this video. This system pours a full beer in about 4 seconds flat, including Guinness. I’ve seen them in use mainly at stadiums and other sports arenas, and they are pretty nifty.
Guinness on tap is something I look for specifically when I travel and visit bars, and usually my second choice of the evening. It’s a great beer. Not the best stout, and not the best beer, but always a solid contender and a smooth beverage.