Saturday, 14 July 2012

Guinness – A Product Of Fond Memory

While craft and microbrewing is about variety and innovation, at the other end of the brewing scale, it’s all about brands. Big brands. The bigger the better. Brands that, with the help of relentless promotion and image management, transcend changes in fashion and taste and just keep on rolling. And in today’s world of beer brands, there’s none bigger than Guinness.

It was not always so. The beer more correctly called Guinness Extra Stout – stout being at first merely a description of soundness, and only later meaning a dark beer brewed with roasted malt – was certainly well known. But the ad-mans’ juggernaut of today was a long way off. And most Guinness was historically sold in bottles, which is where the fond memory enters.

That is because the beer left the brewery in its natural state – yes, this was real ale – before going to be bottled. Not all bottlers of Guinness left it that way, and that is why I keep banging on about Hey and Humphries. Getting your Guinness, especially the pint bottles, with the “HH” red cap, meant that your beer was still maturing in the bottle. There would be yeast at the bottom of that bottle.

And this was a premium strength beer, around 4.5% ABV, so in the days of Very Few Other Such Beers (especially in Yorkshire), it was to be treated with respect. Other bottlers also left their Guinness to condition in the bottle, but John Smiths at Tadcaster most certainly did not: what came off their bottling line was dead, and it wasn’t a pleasant drinking experience.

All of which will be news to those whose sole experience of Guinness is of the nitro-keg variant. In this, it was a leader: for many years, Guinness was the only mass produced nitrogenated keg beer. This was then joined first by cans, then cans with widgets, then disposable bottles of pasteurised beer. And so it was that the real Guinness quietly left the stage, never to return.

Meanwhile, the mega-brand Guinness juggernaut rolls on, bolstered by one witless advertising campaign after another, but happily, more and more breweries – and not just in the micro and craft area – have figured out that stout is a style of beer that is well suited to being offered in cask form. Some pubs and bars are actively suggesting that their customers try those beers instead of keg Guinness.

It’s entirely possible that there could be a Guinness cask reverse ferret in the future. But for now, naturally conditioned Guinness Extra Stout is no more than a figment of fond memory for those of us who have achieved A Certain Age.

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