A Night on the Black Stuff


It’s not exactly new news that Diageo wants a slice of the craft beer pie and their latest attempt is with a couple of new bottles that are interpretations of beers brewed by Guinness in the 1800s.

I was quite interested when I heared that there would be two new beers being added to the Guinness range, Dublin Porter at 3.8% and West Indies Porter at 6%. Especially as, at first glance, it looked like they might be historical recreations. It’s a shame then, that Diageo didn’t go the whole hog and give us a glimpse of what Guiness used to be like, but plumped for the safer, and dare I say more boring option, of mere interpretations. So we are still left to imagine what Guinness tasted like back in the day.

I’ve been meaning to write about these beers for over a month, but life sort of got in the way. They were on special offer in Morrisons at £1.50 a bottle, for a limited time period. The nearest Morrisons is a bit of a trek, and the first time I popped over, they were out of stock of the West Indies Porter (a bit unsurprising really given that you were getting 500ml of 6% ABV beer for £1.50). Guinness Original Going back the following week, I managed to procure bottles of both beers, but drank them with friends, so didn’t take any notes.

I finally managed to get back out to the local Morrisons the other week, only to find the promotion had finished and, again, there was no sign of any West Indies Porter and only a couple of bottles of the Dublin Porter left on the shelf, at an increased cost of £1.89. So I decided to buy some ordinary Guinness and as I had to swing by a Sainsbury a few days later, I also picked up a bottle of Foreign Extra Stout (FES) and decided to drink them all on one night (partially inspired by Boak and Bailey) to see how they differed.

I thought the Guinness Original was quite effervescent in the mouth, with the carbonation raking the insides of the cheeks. There wasn’t much in the way of body or flavour. I was expecting a touch more roasted malt, but it was all quite restrained and wishy washy. The aftertaste was initially sweet and watery, but started to dry out and leave a slightly sweet, roasted maltiness behind. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I was expecting, but I wouldn’t rush out and buy another.

It was interesting to sit down with a bottle of the Dublin Porter and actually think about what it was like. Guinness Dublin Porter The previous bottles had all been drunk in a social setting and we’d all thought that they weren’t bad. They had slipped down nicely and were relatively tasty, it’s interesting how the taste of a beer can change depending on what you’re doing when you drink it.

It felt pretty similar to the Guinness Original, but with less body and carbonation. It was slightly lighter in colour, with more of a red tinge to it. The flavour was milder, softer and longer lived. While it’s undoubtedly a brain off quaffing beer, it was much nicer to drink than the Original. The aftertaste had hints of treacle and wasn’t anywhere near as sweet or dry; it also lingered for longer.

  • RateBeer Diageo
  • Guinness Dublin Porter, 3.8%, 500ml

I was quite looking forward to trying the Foreign Extra Stout, as it has a good reputation. I’m not sure I’ve ever had it before, maybe I’ve had a bottle in the dim distant past, but it would have been so long ago that I’ve forgotten all about it.

It wasn’t as dark as I was expecting, you could see through it as it was being poured, I was expecting something pitch black. I was also expecting it to be thicker, more viscous, with legs that would coat the glass when it was swirled around to release the aromas. It was far more restrained than that, with not much on the nose, and only pleasant levels of treacle and molasses in the mouth. It did have a tickle of bitterness that was lacking in the other two though, which was nice.

The best thing about the Dublin Porter and the West Indies Porter was the price. You really couldn’t argue with £1.50 a bottle, especially for the West Indies Porter. According to the Morning Advertiser, they are going to retail at £3.65 for the Dublin Porter and £4.00 for the West Indies Porter, which is just bonkers. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout Neither were good enough to justify that kind of price, especially when you consider the cost of a bottle of something like The Kernel Export India Porter, or Harveys Imperial Extra Double Stout.

I was also seriously disappointed by the FES, I was just expecting something bigger and better. Again, I’m not sure why you’d buy one over the two beers I’ve just mentioned, other than for the fact that you can buy FES in a supermarket. I’m not going to say much about the Original, other than I baked a Chocolate Guinness Cake the other day, and used Fuller’s London Porter, as I actually wanted to enjoy the half of the bottle that didn’t go into the cake.

Will Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter survive more than a few months on the supermarket shelves at that price? Will new interpretations be forthcoming from this Guinness Brewers Project, or will it be swiftly and quietly discontinued? It will be interesting to see where Diageo take this.

How Bad Can It Be…? Canadian Cherrywood Finish

Innis & Gunn Canadian Cherrywood Finish

I was given this be the kids for Fathers Day, they picked it as it’s Scottish. I hadn’t quite got round to educating them as to why one doesn’t by any beer from Innis & Gunn, so it languished at the back of the fridge for months.

I was originally going to just pour it down the sink, but it couldn’t be that bad though, could it…? Surely they’ve finally managed to get round to having a beer contract brewed for them, that doesn’t tasted like melted vanilla flavoured butter? There was only one way to find out, mainly as there was no other beer in the fridge to drink instead.

I’ll be generous and say it was much better than I was expecting, I still wouldn’t hand over any of my own money to buy one though. At least it didn’t taste of vanilla butter, which is an improvement as far as I’m concerned. Everyone has now been educated as to why I don’t drink beer from Inns & Gunn and I’m hopeful that next year, the kids will pick a beer from a Scottish brewery that I’d actually like to drink…

Richmond Brewing Company

Richmond Brewing Company

During July, I found myself up in Yorkshire chasing the Tour de France. It helped that my brother is currently based at Catterick Garrison, so I had somewhere local to kip between Stages 1 and 2. On the Saturday, my Sister, Brother, Brother-in-law and I were all out on the course together, standing around for hours to watch the worlds best whizzing by in a blink and you miss it moment.

It was while we were all standing around that that they all mentioned a local microbrewery in an old station in a town nearby. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough to visit the Richmond Brewing Company after all the excitement and as I was up early on the Sunday to chase the tour down to Sheffield, I didn’t have any time to track any bottles down. Luckily for me though, my parents, came down to visit a few months later and brought me a three bottle presentation box containing Swale Ale, Station Ale and Stump Cross Ale.

I was going to write a load of tasting notes, but it’s been a while since I actually drank these, so I’m not going to bother. All three beers definitely fell into the traditional mould, if you’re looking for something new wave, progressive and hop forward, then these probably aren’t for you. While I’m not generally a fan of malt driven beers these days, I didn’t think any of the three were that bad. I’m not sure these bottles were in the best state though, two were a bit lacking in carbonation and I have a feeling that all three would be much nicer from cask.

Even though they’re not my usual cup of tea and I didn’t think I would, I did enjoy drinking them. Hopefully next time I’m up visiting my brother and his family, I’ll be able to fit in a quick visit to the brewery and hopefully try some on cask. If you find yourself in the Richmond area and like tradition malty beer, then check them out.

Doctoring Beer

Pimms o'clock!

After finding out that my tongue was intact, I didn’t want to throw away the remaining Stella and Heineken, but neither did I want to drink them. So I decided to doctor them with Pimms after seeing the idea floated on Twitter.

It turns out that lime cordial or lemonade aren’t the only things you can use to turn macro lager into something that’s vaguely palatable. The French have a thing called Picon bière, which is a flavoured bitters, that is drunk as an apéritif to accompany beer in the East and North of the country. While Pimms being a fruit cup, isn’t strictly a bitters, it does have similar qualities, evidently (I’m not sure I’ve ever had bitters before, so don’t actually know). After Yvan wondered aloud on Twitter about using Pimms in beer, I had to give it a go and see what it was like.

As we had the majority of two large bottles of Stella and Heineken left over from our, not so, blind tasting, it was the perfect opportunity to see if either would be improved with a dash of Pimms. It's not worth it, really, it's not... I did consider buying some lime cordial, but thought that might bring back too many memories of being seventeen and drinking Skol and lime; a time I’d rather forget about, if I’m being honest.

I did try doctoring a whole bottle of Budvar, but I put too much Pimms in and to be honest, it wasn’t very nice, as the Pimms trampled over everything. I found that even with Pimms added to the Stella, it was still pretty rank, but turning it into a shandy with a load of lemonade at least made it drinkable. I didn’t try putting Pimms into the Heineken, as it was drinkable as a lager tops, so it seemed like a waste of Pimms to doctor it further.

So yes, it looks like you can use Pimms to pep up an otherwise underwhelming macro lager. To be honest though, it seem a rather expensive and convoluted way of drinking beer. It would be a lot simpler and easier to just buy better beer to start with.

“Have they had their tongues cut out?”

Which is which...?

According to a flurry of media reports at the backend of last week, drinkers can’t tell the difference between Stella, Heineken and Budvar. Obviously this didn’t go down too well with the folks in České Budějovice and they responded by questioning whether the mere 138 participents used in the blind-taste test had “had their tongues cut out?”.

Always one for a challenge, I decided to see if I could tell the difference between the three and seeing as how I already had a bottle of Budvar in the fridge, it was just a matter of purchasing the other two from a local supermarket. Now, I don’t have proper blind tasting equipment, black glasses, rooms with red lights, etcetera, so all I could do was get my wife to pour the three of them for me so I didn’t know which one was which.

If you’re going to try this yourself, I wouldn’t recommend having all three poured and lined up like I did, as you can tell which is which just by looking at them. The Stella is anemic and the lightest of the three, while the Budvar has the deepest colour and the Heineken is the one with the most bubbles. I tried to ignore how they looked and just tried to concentrate on how they smelled and tasted.

Surprisingly there wasn’t much to differentiate them on aroma, especially the Heineken and Budvar. Taste wise it was obvious which one was the Stella, it was much thinner and didn’t taste like something you’d want to actually drink. C, B, A... I was surprised by the Heineken, it was actually quite drinkable and I think if I’d done a proper blind-taste, I might have struggled initially to separate it from the Budvar. Having said that, for me, Budvar has more body than the other two and doesn’t get noticeably nastier the more you drink of it.

I’m pleased to say that, while it wasn’t exactly a proper blind test, I correctly identified the three glasses that were in front of me. Did I learn anything though? Yes, Stella really is quite nasty, Heineken smells pretty much the same as Budvar and is quite nice in small quantities and that I’d much rather drink Budvar than the other two any day of the week.

AG #11 – Binary Star: Nelson Sauvin, Citra


This brew was originally supposed to have happened at the start of July, mainly so I could enter it into the Thornbridge, Waitrose homebrew competition. Best laid plans and all that though; my entry into home brewing competitions will have to wait.

I’m normally quite excited when I get to homebrew, but for some reason I really wasn’t feeling like it for most of the day. I was very tardy in setting up and could’ve and should’ve, started a couple of hours earlier. I was also home alone with the kids, so had to juggle the brewing with looking after them, which complicated matters somewhat. This is the recipe, which is essentially the same as AG #09, except for the hops:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Crisp Lager Malt 3.5 EBC 3269 grams 87%
Thomas Fawcett Pale Wheat Malt 4.9 EBC 326 grams 8.7%
Crisp Cara Gold 15 EBC 161 grams 4.3%
  5 EBC 3756 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 90 8 15 30%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 15 9 8 15%
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 15 12 12 25%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 10 12 8 15%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 5 22 8 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 80°C steep 20g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 80°C steep 20g
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% dry hop, days 7 to 11 29g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% dry hop, days 7 to 11 18g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 20 litres
Mash 90 mins at 65°C 120 mins at 65°C
Original gravity 1.040 (9.8 Brix) 1.042 (10.3 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.002 (4.2 Brix)
Attenuation 81% 96%
ABV 4.3% 5.2%
GU/BU ratio 1.25 1.19
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling

I used the same malt bill as last time, mainly as I had to buy a kilo of Cara Gold, which was enough for six batches of this beer. But also as I blew hot and cold with the last batch, sometimes it was great, other times, a bit meh. I thought it deserved another couple of chances before deciding if we should keep it, or go back to what I was doing before.

I’d used oat husks in the mash on the previous two brews and it had a massive difference to the run off during sparging. This time it didn’t, with the run off petering out with a third of the sparge liquor still left in the mash tun, on both sparges. It wasn’t that the grain bed had set solid either, as when I emptied it, it was nice and fluffy underneath that nasty grey top.

I’m not really sure why it happened, but it meant that the wort in the boiler was rather on the murky side, as I had to jab a hole through the grain bed to get the run off going again. Which I have to say, it did really easily, so maybe that grey top on the grain bed was the issue.

Alternatively, it could be the fact that the tap on the mash tun is crap and is either on or off. It’s practically impossible to get it to trickle, as when you turn it, it jumps halfway round; I must buy a replacement before I brew again.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just the mash I had issues with, as my boiler decided to play up as well. It would boil fine for a bit, then start cutting out and just simmer, even on full power. This meant that the first twenty minutes of the boil, it wasn’t exactly boiling; I think there maybe something loose in the bit that controls the temperature, so I’ll have to look into that before brewing again. It did work correctly for the majority of the ninety minutes though (after a bit of waggling), so hopefully everything will be alright, there certainly seemed to be some hot break, so fingers crossed.

I did remember to take a pre boil gravity reading though, unlike the last two brews where I’ve forgotten. It was 9° Brix, or ~1.036, with about 25.3 litres of wort in the boiler. There was quite a bit of liquid left in the mash tun, but given how prone my boiler is to boiling over, it’s best not to go far past 25 litres. This means that the mash efficiency was somewhere in the region of 76% to 77%. I’ll need to do a proper calculation to work it out correctly though, as I don’t trust the website I entered the details into.

The last time I brewed this malt base, I forgot to do an 80°C with the hops. It does add an extra half hour or so to the brew length, but it’s worth it I think. Hopefully it will add an extra layer of flavour to the finished beer along with the dry hopping that is still to come.

After chilling, I transferred it to the fermenter, I was aiming for 19 litres and got 18.5 litres, so not too bad. The gravity was a touch high at 1.046 or there abouts, so I liquored back with a litre and a half to bring it down to about 1.042, which is still slightly higher than the 1.040 I was aiming for. This all meant that the final volume in the fermenter was 20 litres, so hopefully that will mean around 18.5 available for bottling, after losses to yeast trub and dry hops.

Now it’s just a case of being patient while letting the US-05 do its thing. I’ll admit to sneaking out the the brew shed to check on it, it’s smelling wonderful. I do like the smell of fermenting beer.

Update: 08/08/14
I’ve been a bit lax with tracking the gravity on this batch, in that I haven’t checked it since putting it into the brew fridge. I should probably have check it on Wednesday evening, but the Great British Bake Off was on the telly box and I was tired. So I checked last night and the gravity had dropped to 5.2 Brix, or 1.007 or thereabouts, so I probably should’ve dry hopped it on Wednesday night, but better late than never…

So it’s three days at 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling, which means bottling should happen on Tuesday night. Except I normally go for a 100+Km cycle on Tuesday nights after work and I’m off down the pub next Wednesday, so I think I’ll have to revisit what I do when next week as I don’t want to leave this too long in the brew fridge.

Update: 13/08/14
I turned the brew fridge down to 2°C ±1°C on Monday morning, due to forgetting on Sunday evening. When I checked it after work on Monday, it was only down to 7°C, so I was a bit worried, as this was the second brew on the trot, where the fridge hadn’t got down to the required temperature. I then noticed that the fridge dial was only set to 2, so switched it all the way round to 5. When I checked again on Tuesday morning, it was finally down to 2°C. Not sure why I had it set so low, obviously it needs to be all the way round to enable it to go cold…

The bottling went without any issues, thirty 500ml and twelve 330ml bottles is quite a good return. It was interesting to see that the gravity drop quite a bit further from what it was when the dry hops went in. An alleged attenuation of 96%! US-05 is a funny old beast…

The Dimpled Mug

The dimpled mug in its natural environment...

Twitter has been alive with chatter about the dimpled mug today, after an article appeared on the BBC website heralding its return. I didn’t realise that the one true beer glass had gone anywhere…

I jest a little when I say it’s the one true beer glass, as certain styles of beer do require a certain type of glass. However, I’m not a fan of what the BBC article calls a Tulip and I positively loth the Nonic. The humble dimpled mug has been my favorite for as long as I can remember, certainly way back into my childhood. There’s just something about a tankard with a handle.

I was going to just have one sentence in this blog, essentially:

If you don’t like a dimpled mug, then you don’t like beer.

But each to their own; I’m also rather partial to a goblet and I loved the two TeKu glasses I brought back from Italy in 2010. I’m sure the hipsters will eventually tire of it and move onto something else, leaving the devoted to their one true beer glass.

You can read the article on the BBC website here and see what people have been chirping about here.