Cloned Beer Reviews: Guinness Original

Published on 28 November 2022 in , ,

A can of Guinness Original next to a plain, unbranded brown glass bottle
Guinness is good for you?

There was a time where, if I was in a pub and there was no real ale, or if there was and it was absolutely terrible (gone off, poorly looked after, or whatever), I’d go for a pint of stout.  And that usually meant Guinness because – basically – they’d elbowed Murphy’s and Beamish off the bar. 

Then they introduced Extra Cold.  Often there’d be two pumps – one serving normal, one extra cold.  And then the original version started disappearing.  Extra cold was all there was.

I am not a fan of Guinness Extra Cold.  It’s, well, too cold.  The cold removes all the flavour.  It takes away all the stuff I like about stout. 

My drinking of Guinness is now a very rare event.  If I saw it on a bar and there was no ale, I doubt I’d reach for the Guinness now when I could have some IPA or whatever that will probably be there these days.

But I still like a stout.  And recently when perusing my homebrew books, I came across a recipe for one.  And I was tempted.  It was for Watneys Cream Stout.  It’s not been brewed for a long time, and Watneys now has a terrible reputation in peoples minds.  For quite good reason.  About 10% of the ingredients for a batch of beer would consist of things like sludge from the barrel, returned beer (beer returned to the brewery for whatever reason), and other things that would hardly help beer quality.  But the recipe was highly recommended by the book, and didn’t involve any dodgy material.

I’d never made a stout as the methods I’d used for homebrewing (extract brewing for those in the know) didn’t really work for stouts.  But I’d bought some fancy pants new equipment (a device called The Grainfather) meaning I was no longer constrained. 

The resultant brew was pretty good, even if I did make an error whilst brewing and had added slightly too much water.  The results suggested lurking under all the crap the brewery did, their Cream Stout could have been pretty good. 

It got me thinking of doing another stout.  And I thought of Guinness.

Rifling through my homebrew books, I found two different recipes recipes, and picked the one from a book called Brew Your Own British Real Ale, by Graham Wheeler (mainly on the basis that it was a slightly simpler recipe) and got brewing. Several weeks later it was ready to drink. And that meant only one thing. I needed to compare it against the real thing.

Now Guinness comes in a couple of different forms – the two most common being Guinness Original and Guinness Draft. Draft’s the one you’ll see in pubs, as well as in cans. Original’s supposedly based on the original recipe from 1821 and comes in cans and bottles. Based is probably doing a lot of heavy lifting there are modern Guinness uses roasted barley as an ingredient, and they only started using that in the 20th century. Anyway, I digress…

Whether there’s much difference in the recipe between Original and Draft, I don’t know. But there’s one major difference in how they’re dispensed. Cans of draft have a widget in them that mixes in nitrogen, like the taps in the pub do. Cans and bottles of Original don’t include nitrogen.

As a homebrewer, I don’t have a way to include nitrogen in the dispense of my beers, so comparing my beer with a can of Guinness Original was the way to go. This also made sense because my homebrew book said the recipe was for Guinness Extra Stout – which for many years was what Original was know as.

I poured out glasses of each at the same time and prepared for a taste test. But first, some comparisons.

A glass of homebrewed stout stood next to a glass of Guinness Original.
Homebrewed stout on the left, Guinness on the right.

Both beers were very dark. Black even. The colour of mine was pretty much identical. If there was a difference in colour it was in the head of the beer – the beige-brown was perhaps a tad darker in my version, but really there was so little in it.

Both beers poured well – the head of the proper Guinness being a bit bigger. Possibly that was due to how I poured it. I don’t know.

Aroma next? Well both smelt very similar. Stout isn’t very hoppy and in my experience you never get a burst of smell on the nose. With stout, I find everything comes from when it hits the tongue.

So let’s go for the taste. The proper stuff first. The roasted barley in the recipe really comes through, complemented by the relatively light hopping. Stout is a beer that’s all about the malt and barley. And it’s a fine brew. There’s also a bit of a twang. A little sourness. And it leaves a dryness on the tongue.

My brew? It also has a fine roast barley flavour. I suspect it’s also slightly stronger in the strength of that flavour. The roasted barley really shines through. It’s perhaps a little drier. But there is a difference. The twang isn’t quite there.

The more I sup of each beer, the more noticeable that lack of twang becomes.

Reading up on it, there’s several suggestions for replicating the twang. My other homebrew book suggests using acid malt. But apparently what Guinness do is mix in some soured beer after the beer has fermented (let us not ask why they started doing that…) The homebrewer might – some web forums suggest – take a bit of the beer, put it to one side for a week to sour it, then mix it in. Well it’s something to do.

Even without the twang, my version is a fine beer. I am not convinced I would have noticed it had I not been tasting them side by side. Or if I’d been comparing against Guinness Draft, which I’ve never – ever – noticed that twang in. If I was comparing against Extra Cold, I certainly would have struggled to tell the difference.

What I am happy about is how close the two beers were. Compared to some of my previous cloned beers, this was really close. I’m definitely happy with it. Would I brew it again? Absolutely. Would I bother to sour some of the beer to make it a better clone? Possibly. Depends on what mood I was in. Like I say, I’m not sure I would have spotted the missing twang so much had I not been supping one beer, then the other at the same time.

I’ll tell you one thing though. After not drinking much of the stuff for a long time, it’s made me appreciate the quality of Guinness Original. It’s a great beer. It’s a shame that the marketing people have essentially tried to hide what makes Guinness really nice by doing things with widgets, or serving it so cold you miss the flavour. But all credit to Guinness for the fact they kept a “purer” version of the beer on the market. Obviously there must be a demand for it, but it would have been easy for the company to stop selling Guinness Original – to just focus on the Draft version of the beer. But they didn’t.

Guinness may be a mass market beer, but it’s a cracking one.