Irish Beer: Guinness Gives You Mid-Strength; Mulligans Of Poolbeg Street
On our last day in Ireland, Kate and I went to see the Book Of Kells (the main problem with which, as an exhibit, is that it’s a book, and it’s therefore only open at one place at any one time), following which we fancied a final pint in a traditional Dublin pub before catching the bus to the airport.
We decided on Mulligan’s on Poolbeg Street, a dark, slightly bare looking pub with horse racing on the TV above the bar. The Dorling Kindersley Guide To Ireland made the bold assertion that it was generally regarded amongst locals as pouring the best pint of Guinness in the city.
Now, given Guinness’ method of dispense, I am aware that there is actually likely to be bugger all difference from pub to pub. It’s not hard to keep and in my experience is actually pretty consistent even in England, if you ignore all that “Guinness doesn’t travel” business.
Over the course of four days in Ireland I had naturally consumed Guinness in a number of different pubs: Moran’s Oyster Cottage in Kilcolgan; O’Riardins in Oranmore; McDaid’s off Grafton Street. Each of them were good and, for the avoidance of doubt, none had a frigging shamrock drawn on the head.
However I had noticed one variation: in around half of the places I had it, the Guinness had a slightly alcoholic kick in the back end of the aftertaste. I hadn’t noticed this before but Kate recognised it as well. I’m not sure why it would be present in some places but not others, and thought it might be related to different batches, different ages of beer or perhaps a slightly quicker turnover. In any case, I quite enjoyed the slightly boozier hit.
The Guinness we had in Mulligan’s didn’t have the alcohol aftertaste, and went perfectly well with a packet of cheese and onion crisps. However they also had a variation on Guinness that I hadn’t tried before: Guinness Mid-Strength, a 2.8% version of draft Guinness, which is normally 4.2%.
When we ordered a half for a side-by-side comparison, the barman said that he didn’t think it tasted any different. He wasn’t far off. Guinness doesn’t smell or taste of very much relative to bolder stouts and porters, so there wasn’t much of a loss in the taste department. However, there was very slightly more watery mouthfeel. All-in-all though, I think that any normal drinker, including myself, probably wouldn’t notice it was a different drink to normal Guinness if handed a cold pint in the pub. Erm, unless it said “Guinness Mid-Strength” on the glass.
It seems to me that a lot of thought has gone into making a beer that tastes as near as possible to normal Guinness but 1.3% less. It does beg the question as to why they bothered: were people really clamouring for a weaker Guinness? I know in some quarters it has a reputation for being a stronger beer than it actually is, but at around 4.1% it’s within most people’s definition of a session beer.
It seems that Diageo have been trialling Guinness Mid-Strength for five years now, and It’s being aimed at a market that want to drink during the week, for instance watching the football, but without suffering the “consequences”. I’m not convinced that further tinkering so close to a core brand that makes much of its long history, tradition and authenticity is the most sensible thing to do, nomatter how much that beer has actually been tweaked, altered and the method of dispense completely overhauled over the years.
With beer duty being halved in the UK for drinks of 2.8% or less produced by large brewers (small brewers don’t get any additional benefit), there’s more incentive than ever for Diageo to attempt to launch Guinness Mid-Strength in the UK. However, if the experience in Ireland is anything to go by, the saving on duty will go straight into Diageo’s profits and won’t be reflected in the price.
See this post for my reviews of a couple of more muscular versions of Guinness, which I hope survive the rise in beer duty for “superstrength” beers.