Well, you knew it had to happen eventually. The Irish Challenge. And so, inexplicably, I decided today was the day, after a lovely glass of Rose Champagne. Go figure. Now, here comes the BIG caveat. The following reviews in NO WAY conclude this challenge. That only happens in the pubs of Ireland, which I PROMISE YOU faithful followers, I will someday complete. Trust me on this one...
Today is quite frankly the only way at present for me to compare these brews on equal footing, that is to say in nitro cans. Finding these three beers, Guinness, Murphy's, and Beamish on draft in the same place in New Orleans is IMPOSSIBLE, as I would guess in many American cities. That is why it is my solemn, hand to God word to someday write from the dark, yet vibrant, music-filled pubs o' the Irish. One day, my friends. One day...
That being said, I will before the end of the challenge, drink and review a draft Guinness not for count(despite my drinking at least 30 or so just for s's and g's throughout the month at pubs-I didn't count those). Because let's be honest, it's the ONLY way to drink a Guinness, as you will soon read....
So here's how this fun little challenge transpired. I decided a blind tasting was the only logical way, without prejudice, or pre-determined opinions, to select the best beer of the group. So I volunteered Jon, Patrick O'Flannery, an Irish laddie, and myself as guinea pigs to this act of genius.
On deck: Murphy's, Beamish, and Guinness in the cans, and Guinness Extra Stout in the bottle. All poured into Riedels, then mixed around like cups over nuts, all of our eyes closed, yammering away to detract focus. Then a good sniffing of all four, pick the favorite. Then a good slugging, pick the favorite. The winner?
Murphy's Irish Stout: ABV: 4% The hands down winner in the flavor category, and tied for the aroma contest. Why? Lots of smooth, round chocolate with roasted nuttiness and milkiness on the nose and palate. Definitely the smoothest of the nitro cans and the one bottle included. A super-easy Irish stout drinker. Would love to have this on tap.
Started in 1856, Murphy's is not the new kid on the block. I will spare you a joke about Jordan Knight. Although if you ask around, there are still alot of people that are unfamiliar with it. Now, while it carries nowhere near the name recognition of Guinness, it is nonetheless sold in 40 countries! (Note to self: Make sure you can name at least 40 countries if someone asks.)
Check out this excerpt from their website. I got a good hearty laugh, and admittedly was a little jealous of the guy involved:
"In 1913 the No. 5 Vat at "lady's Well' brewery burst and sent 23,000 galleons of porter flooding throught the brewery and out on to Leitrim St. The Cork Constitution, the local newspaper of the time, wrote that "a worker had a most exciting experience and in the onrush of porter he had to swim in it for about 40 yards to save himself from asphyxiation" "
Well that picture is just awesome. Ahhhh to swim in beer. Pretty sure that's been in a dream or two of mine...
Beamish Irish Stout: ABV: 4.1% Not a winner in this contest, but in the defense of Beamish, I have heard tale of those who have had it on draft in the merry land of Ireland, say it is heads and shoulders above Guinness. And leprechauns. So, I shall reserve judgement until I am afforded the same chance.
Here, there just wasn't much of a nose, especially compared to the roasty,nutty, toasted cocoa of Murphy's. What nose I got was of tobacco and bitter chocolate, which followed through on the palate. Now if you like the tobacco thing, this is your stout. The body and mouthfeel struck me as lacking in richness. It's ashame, because the reviews I've heard and this product just don't match. It is frustrating that there could be such a variance within the same beer.
Guinness Draught: ABV: 4.2% Uhhh. Noooo. I DON'T LIKE. It has a confusing nose. Metallic and off-putting. It just doesn't smell like a Guinness! Where is the chocolate? The maltiness? And especially against the much more favorable Guinness Extra Stout in the bottle, this guy is a sad tragedy in a can. Please for the love of all things that are wonderful about Guinness, DO NOT drink this beer out of a can. It was a struggle for me. Moving on...
Guinness Extra Stout: ABV: 6% This beer tied for 1st place in aromatics and was second in flavor. I liked the nose on this one, as it was measurably different from the rest. Lots of meaty notes, with pepper and spice. Full flavored with a carbonated kick that definitely set it apart from the nitro can beers. Nice dark color, but nowhere near, of course, the creamy milk chocolaty looking pours and heads of the others. Still, all in all, I drank this beer with no real complaints. Point being, if you just HAVE to drink a Guinness, and you can't get it on draft, then save yourself the disappointment and drink the Extra Stout. Or for heaven's sake, think outside the box, and get a gnarly American craft Imperial Stout!!! Go craft brews!!!
Pasted on to this fun little Irish challenge, were two beers I drank on Sunday while THANKFULLY NOT having a nail-biting, heart stopping, hoarse throat coronary watching the Saints game. My heart thanks you Saints.
Pike XXXXX Extra Stout: ABV: 6.6% I enjoyed this the first time I drank it a few months ago, but was honestly worried about how my opinion of it might change, after having all of these other incredible brews. Would it hold up? Has my taste changed and now this one is less than deliciously decadent?
Well, I was more than pleased to discover that I still found this beer to be tasty and interesting. In fact, I thought the nose was one of the most balanced and well put together of many of the beers I have tasted. Big round notes of blackstrap molasses (and I mean SPECIFICALLY blackstrap), charred wood, soy, burnt caramel, and dark chocolate. Remember how I said that Young's Double Chocolate Stout was like a liquid brownie? Well, cook that brownie, and there is your smell here. I swear! The nose continues to develop as it sits and takes on rich coffee notes as well.
And believe me, all of these luscious, full notes continue through to the palate. This is a well-made beer, reminding me of those wines that are right on the money from start to finish. You can smell and taste the careful craftmanship that goes into making a beer or wine this solid. Well done, Pike. I look forward to trying your IPA and Kilt-Lifter Ale.
Alaskan Smoked Porter: ABV: 6.5% I thought after trying that incredible Islay barrel-aged stout Saturday, and devouring a bag of BBQ potato chips with the Saints game, I was in the mood Sunday night for something smokey. Having already had the Stone Smoked Porter, I was eager to see how this one would stack up.
Welll, I gotta say I am not a big fan. And YES, I realize, as they tell you on the bottle, it has won a ton of awards. It just didn't do it for me. And you can't accuse me of not liking smokey beers, cause if you can find a beer smokier than that Islay, I'll applaud you all the way to the circus.
My problem here was it was a different, less appealing kind of smokiness. Instead of that meaty, yet subtle smokiness of Stone, or that peaty, smoked barrel aroma of Brewdog, this one smelled like smoked wood chips. (There are some nice tobacco, campfire notes here, but mostly chips) And I am instantly skeptical of any brewery or wine maker that uses or seems to use wood chips to impart woody, smoky notes instead of barrels. To me, it just cheapens the product. Now, I REALIZE Alaskan is using a food smoker with wood, and not just dumping smoked wood chips into their beer. And I applaud them for being the first to introduce smoked beers into the United States in 1988, and I fully appreciate that "Alaskan Smoked Porter is one of the most award-winning beers in the history of the Great American Beer Festival and a perennial winner at the World Beer Cup." I'm just telling you what it smells and tastes like to me and that ain't my cup o' tea.
(I could be wrong here, but I imagine it is much more acceptable in the brewery world than the wine world to use chips. Stone does it with the Oaked Arrogant Bastard and they are a national hit. (which by the way, I am interested in trying).
My point is, with wine, it is considered cheaping out when you use chips to lend your wine oakiness. People, I am not heartless, I fully understand that not everyone can afford wine barrels and must resort to chips. But my retort would be just make unoaked wines, or produce only what you could afford to put in barrel. I guess I am drawing a hard line here, but in my experience in the wine business, and based on the many dreadful oak-chipped wines I have tasted, this is not a fly-by-night conclusion I have come to.
Now, as to beer, we might be dealing with an entirely different ball of wax, which I suspect we might be. So, the forum is open, and I WELCOME your opinion and knowledge on this, because mine hasn't even been remotely formed yet. I could be COMPLETELY wrong here, and that would be fun. So let me know folks what you think. For me, this is definitely a To Be Continued conversation...
As an end note, today I smelled the glass the Smoked Porter was in, and I actually liked it and wish it had been the smell all along. What was it? Bacon, my friends. The yummy, delicious, aromatic meat that turns vegetarians into carnivores, bacon. Why couldn't it have been that all along? And who could wait that long for that smell?
Slàinte!! (thats Cheers in Gaelic folks)