Home > Beers > It’s Saint Patrick’s Day. Guinness, anyone?

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day. Guinness, anyone?

Back in the days when I lived in England, one of the ways many of my friends would judge a pub was on the quality of their Guinness. It seems that it is one of those draught beers that will either suffer or benefit greatly from its treatment in the cellar. Now Guinness itself barely needs any introduction – it’s well known the world over for its almost black, dark-chocolate colour, its rich and creamy body, that almost-sweet, slightly bitter flavour with a hint of espresso.

So why is it that people are fussy about it? Is it true that “Irish” Guinness is better than that brewed elsewhere? Is is de rigeur or a faux pas to serve it ice-cold? Well, some of this is historical, some of it is cultural, but all of it hinges on one’s view of what beer is.

Why are people fussy about it? Well perhaps it’s because it sums up all that is good about the darker beers. Less sweet than the London Porters it sprang from, it has a full body without being cloying. It has a complexity that’s not overpowering, there’s a terrific flavor and of course, that creamy head that’s such a delight to watch form. In short, if you appreciate its unique qualities, you tend to demand the best circumstances to enjoy them.

Let’s take the “Irish-is-best” question next. At one time, Dublin Guinness was the One True Stout, pretty much brewed and bottled (or encasked) in Ireland. Then gradually, as the the beer’s fame and export market grew, brewing began in other countries. At the time I heard this, Guinness was being brewed in both London and Dublin, but the Irish beer was not pasteurised, as the English beer was. Hence, the difference in both flavour and texture. Nowadays, the British know only the Dublin brew, which is pasteurised – a step backward, but that’s marketing progress for you.

Now, the thorny question of temperature. There are those in the UK who will tell you that any beer should only ever be served at “cellar temperature” of about 52°F (or 11°C). Equally, some will tell you that Guinness can be served cooler than that, and those who insist on its being damned close to freezing point, in an ice-frosted glass. Now I know that I will upset many of you with this next statement: all of the above can be correct. Yes, that’s correct. Most of the real ales I drank in England were close to the ideal cellar temperature – largely because the pubs had cellars in which to store the beer (which was usually hand-pumped up to the bar). This was before the advent of “Guinness Extra Cold” (which was, in the words of one critic “Guinness for people who don’t like Guinness”), served at close to freezing point.

Now it turns out that Guinness tolerates lower temperatures quite well. I’ve heard that cellarage at 40-45°F isn’t harmful, but most of the people I’ve spoken to, and stuff I’ve read, indicate that the best serving temperature is 45-50°F, close to the average cellar temperature mentioned above.

Now, I hear the cries of dismay from those who live in the tropics, or similar hot climates. Of course you have but two temperatures; bloody hot, and the temperature inside your fridge. In extreme cases like this, I have only one thing to say – find a beer designed to be served ice-cold, and stick to that.

Categories: Beers Tags: ,
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  1. 15 June, 2009 at 21:24

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