Guinness gave a simulated tour of its famed St. James’ Gate Brewery at the Altman Building in New York City last night. Though the actual brewery is, of course, in Dublin, the Guinness folks provided a virtual tour via video screens, and talked the audience through a brief history of the company. Founded in 1759 by Arthur Guinness, who signed a 9,000 year lease at St. James’ Gate, Guinness is now watched over by master brewer Fergal Murray, who is in charge of making sure the dark, creamy beer maintains its consistent texture and flavor. One of the most interesting things I learned was that the famed harp logo associated with Guinness also happens to be the logo of the Irish government. If the harp is facing right, it’s Guinness; if left, it’s the government.
According to the official slogan, it takes exactly 119.5 seconds to pour a perfect pint of Guinness; that half a second is allegedly the difference between a good pint and a perfect one. After being given a perfect (and, more importantly, free) pint upon entering the event, an announcement was made that “our show will begin in 119.5 seconds,” at which point a countdown began. Charismatic comedian Dan Soder then appeared onstage to give us some background on the classic Guinness draught we had just imbibed, which is nitrogenated, a process that sets it apart from other beers and gives it that unique, smooth texture. He also gave us some helpful hints on how to mix Guinness with other beers made by the same company, such as Harp Lager and Smithwick’s Ale: Guinness mixed with Smithwick’s is a “blacksmith,” while Guinness mixed with Harp is a “half and half.”
We then proceeded to try mini-pints of a few special brews developed by Guinness. First up was the Foreign Extra Stout, a tasty brew with slightly more bite to it than the classic Guinness and also a bit more sweetness, giving it a flavor similar to very dark chocolate. The Foreign Extra Stout contains more hops and more alcohol (7.5% ABV) than any other Guinness brew, because it was originally developed to be shipped long distances overseas, and alcohol and hops both act as preservatives. The last beer we sampled was Guinness Black Lager, which was my personal favorite of the three. It is cold brewed with roasted barley, giving it a crisp, clean taste that is lighter and more refreshing than the standard thick, creamy finish of the brew for which Guinness is best known. Though not as strong as the Foreign Extra Stout, it is definitely a better summer beer, and one that I will likely sample again in the coming months.