Friday, March 12, 2010

the Guinness exBEERiment

Thursday, March 11, along with a couple other people, I went out attempting to find what bar in downtown Champaign has the best Guinness Draught.

Before we went out, I put together a little information on Guinness (most of the information was from Wiki)

Guinness Drought is a stout, specifically a Dry Irish Stout. Originally the beer was called a porter and was brewed by Arthur Guinness at the St. James’s Gate brewery in Dublin. In 1759, Arthur signed a 9,000 year lease on the St. James’s gate brewery at 45 pounds per year. The St. James’s Gate brewery covers 64 acres and has (at times) been the largest brewery in the world; it is still the largest stout brewer.

All Guinness Draught is brewed at the St. James’s gate brewery. Other versions can be brewed elsewhere. The Guinness extra stout that you purchase in stores is brewed in Canada. There are several versions of Guinness: Guinness Draught (served in kegs, cans, and bottle); Guinness Extra Stout; and recently the Guinness 250th anniversary.

Guinness is served on nitro (you can tell by the long black thing on the tap). Nitrogen provides the creamy head and creamy mouthfeel. Draught Guinness is served with a nitrogen/carbon dioxide mixture (normally 70/30 in USA; in Ireland 80/20) The nitrogen isn’t as soluble in the liquid as is the co2, so that the beer doesn’t have a co2 fizzyness. On tap the beer is pushed through a plate with holes to help in the formation of the “surge”.

Flavors that can normally be detected while tasting Guinness are coffee, possibly chocolate, and a "roasty toasty" flavor. Guinness has an ABV of 4.1 to 4.3%. It is made from water, barley, hops, and brewer’s yeast. Additionally, it is treated with isinglass finings that help to remove solids in the wort prior to fermentation. Isinglass finings are made from fishes’ air bladders.

The “perfect pint” (according to Guinness) should take 119.53 seconds to pour. It should also be a double pour. Draught Guinness should be served at 6 C (42.8 f)

*soft history* The double pour comes from previous traditions of serving people a mixed aged beer (three threads?) Old beer was poured into the glass until it was ¾ full, then let stand. Then newer gassier beer was added which produced the foamy head.

Guinness is owned by Diageo.

So, with a little bit of info about the beer we headed downtown to attempt to try Guinness on Draught at as many bars as we could find it on.

The group had a person who loves Guinness (Jon); a person who hates Guinness (Kristy); a person who used to like it but is now indifferent (me); and a person who doesn't really seem to have an intense like or dislike for it (Brandon). Andy, GM of Seven Saints also accompanied us to another of the bars. We took a thermometer with us and asked the bartenders as much info about their Guinness as we could.

+ We started out at Seven Saints. 7S sells Guinness in an Imperial Pint (20 oz) for $4.50. According to Andy, the keg we were drinking from had been tapped 3 days prior. He said they normally go through about a keg and a half a week. Their nitrogen to carbon dioxide mixture was 75/25, which seemed to be the norm in downtown (as opposed to the 70/30 mixture that was mentioned in the wiki article). Andy said they clean their beer lines every other week. The beer was served at 41.9 degrees.

Since this was our first stop, it served as the baseline for the evening.

Kristy: "looks like a milk shake"
Andy: (biased but still valid) a perfect pour, has a finger of foam
Jon: dark with foam rising to the top, about 3/16" foam above the glass

Jon: little coco smell, bread
Brandon: slight bread
Me: a bit chocolaty, coffee, and roasty
Andy: balanced hop, roast, acid and barley

Andy: perfect head and body
Kristy (an imperial stout lover): thin
Me: creamy, kinda thick, drying
Brandon: smooth

Brandon: smooth, kinda roasty
Jon: bitter, foamy
Kristy: bitter finish, slight coffee aftertaste
Me: Dark toast, bitter, subtle vanilla

Me: Not a bad pint, gets "burneder" as it warms
Jon: an OK Guinness
Andy: "nothing wrong... we'll see if someone is more right"

+ Our next stop was next door, at Mike N' Molly's. Murph was bartending and knows his product. He was also very accommodating to our questions. He believed the keg went on Wednesday at around 9 pm. They do a 75/25 nitro/co2 mixture. They normally go through about 4 or 5 kegs of Guinness a week. The beer was $4.75 and served in an imperial pint. It registered at 41.9 on the thermometer.

Me: 1/4 inch of head
Jon: Foam travelled to the top fast (the surge)

Me: almost has a sour/tart smell
Jon: has a woody smell
Andy: less bready, more acidic

Andy: perfect feel
Brandon: good
Jon: feels good
Me: creamy, feels colder, drying
Kristy: thin and smooth

Kristy: not as roasty, not as strong
Me: Not as roasty, finishing bitter
Jon: little smoother with a slight dark barley aftertaste
Andy: less bready in flavor, more round, more acidic finish

Kristy: seemed weak
Jon: tastes like Guinness
Brandon: not as enjoyable as Seven Saints
Me: not bad
Andy: weaker flavor, colder?

Noted differences:
Me: no chocolate flavor at first, warms up with a bitter chocolate flavor
Andy: weaker flavor, colder?

+ Our next stop was Jupiter's (Classic). Andy got called back to work, so he wasn't able to spend the rest of the night with us. Jupiter's also uses a 75/25 mixture (we didn't' get any other answer, so I'll be leaving out the nitro mixture from now on). The keg had been changed out on Wednesday. Jupiter's goes through about a keg and a half a week. The beer was served in a normal pint (shaker) glass, it didn't appear to be a cheater shaker glass, so it should have been around 16 ounces instead of 14. It cost $4 for the glass. Jupiter's is running a special for $5 you can get it in an imperial pint and keep the glass, and there are $4 refills; this special runs through St. Patrick's Day. Ours was presented at 45 degrees.

Brandon: presented with a clover, which is not as pretty
Jon: beer glass instead of a Guinness glass
Me: 1/2 inch of foam with no apparent surge
Kristy: not a good pour, settled weird

Kristy: smells funny
Me, Brandon, Jon: smells fishy

Jon: normal, compared to the others
Kristy: slightly thicker
Me: thinner but still creamy... gritty

Kristy: a little bitter
Me: astringent, not as bitter, almost grape-y
Brandon: not the funky aftertaste of Mike N' Molly's

Noted Differences:
Me: thinner, less flavor, bleachy
Brandon: weird

Jupiter's was the first place where the differences in the beer were really apparent. When we were there, the bartender didn't know any of the answers to our questions about the age of the keg, and how many they go through. Jon went back later, and asked one of the managers and got the answers. He also got an imperial pint in the keeper glass, and said that the fishy smell was gone.

+ The next stop was Guido's Bar and Grill. We talked to Foo, he said they go through about 1 or 2 kegs a week. The keg we were drinking from was probably put on, on Sunday. Based on the frothy-ness of the pour, he assumed it was near the bottom of the keg. Due to it being so foamy, the pour took significantly longer than 119.53 seconds. When we got our beer, it registered 56 degrees. It was served in a regular 16 ounce pint/shaker glass and cost $4. Did you notice I said it was 56 degrees when we first started drinking. I thought the thermometer broke, so we got a glass of icewater, and that registered 31 degrees, so 56 is probably close to correct.

Me: similar
Kristy: little head

Brandon: I could smell that one
Jon: not much smell
Kristy: no smell

Me: thinner, less creamy
Brandon/Jon: warm
Kristy: thin, warmer than the rest

Me: sweeter, oddly not bitter
Kristy: not a lot of bitterness
Jon: like a warm Guinness

Overall Impression:
Jon: not any kind of bitterness
Brandon: not as smooth
Me: "wow, hot!!!", almost like a Pepsi

Noted Differences:
Brandon: warm Guinness
me: way to hot

+ Our next walk was down the street to the Blind Pig Brewery (the Piglet). The bartender was busy, so we didn't get the opportunity to ask any questions. The beer cost $4.50 and is served in an imperial pint. It came to us at 41.6 degrees.

Kristy: good pour, nice head, really thick head
Brandon: good head
Jon: thick foam
Me: thicker head, probably a more recent keg

everyone: there is no smell

Jon: little more satisfied than the last
Kristy: thicker
Me: milkshakey

Jon, Me: bitterness is back
Brandon: not fishy
Kristy: bitter, smooth

Overall Impression:
Me: this might be the best of the night
Jon: m m m good
Brandon: I like it

Noted differences:
Me: It's a much better experience when not by the upstairs shit tube.

+ We left the Piglet and headed to the main Blind Pig, right down the alley. As we were walking down the alley, we said "candyman" three times, and of course, he appeared. Brandon talked to the bartenders, and Blind Pig goes through a keg about once every other day. It was served in an imperial pint for $4.50. Our beer was 43.4 degrees.

Kristy: good pour, nice thick head
Jon: looks like Guinness
Brandon (seeming to lose interest): yummy
Me: 1/3 inch head or so

Jon: not much
Brandon: same, not fishy

Kristy: thin
Jon: cool and refreshing
Brandon: smooth

Me: kinda like a cream soda
Kristy: bitter, smooth
Jon: bitter with a barley aftertaste
Brandon: (sticking with his new adjective) yummy

Overall Impression:
absolutely no comments

Noted differences:
Jon: similar to the brewery
Me: bitter chocolate, not a bad pint, some vanilla tones

+ The final bar that we managed to get a Guinness at was the Esquire Lounge. According to our bartender, Esquire goes through about 3 kegs a week, almost one every other day. It costs $4.50 for a traditional pint/shaker. It was served at 43.5 degrees.

Me: good dimpling, surge still present and visible (downward moving bubbles) with a shamrock
Jon: normal
Kristy: nice pour, good head, thick
Brandon: had the down buttles

Jon: like Guinness
Brandon: similar

Kristy: slightly thicker
Brandon: not as smooth
Jon: normal

Me: coffeer, more roast, more acidic
Kristy: more flavorful on the front end
Brandon: a little more coffee

Overall Impression:
Brandon: ehh... meh...

Noted differences:
Esquire has peanuts available.
Kristy: don't eat peanuts with the beer
Jon: not good with peanuts
Me: doesn't work with peanuts

+We then walked down to Bentley's pub. We walked in and the bar seemed completely full, for Karaoke. We didn't anticipate it being that full right around 10, and we had hoped to save Bentley's for last, as they probably go through as much Guinness as any other bar. However, due to their being full, and no place for us to sit and do our exBEERiment, we weren't able to finish there.

Overall, there wasn't a hugely clear cut winner. The best of the night was probably the Blind Pig Brewery. Any of the bars serving Guinness in an imperial pint were perfectly acceptable beers. I was pleased that many of the bartenders and managers knew what they were talking about with the beer. They seemed able to guess the fullness of the keg based on how it poured, which I found interesting. A foamier glass usually meant the keg was getting empty.

There definitely was a big loser on the night. Guido's definitely had the worst beer. It was warmest, by about 10 degrees, and had the most differences in feel, aroma, and taste. Based on the rate they go through kegs, I would recommend never going there on a Thursday night for Guinness. If they go through 2 kegs a week, then pretty much every Thursday will be the end of a keg. If it's changed out on Sunday morning, then the keg will routinely run out around the end of Thursday night, and then they will go through a keg on the weekend and put a new one on, on Sunday morning.

Other lessons learned are that in the case of Guinness on Draught, the newer the keg, the better it is going to be. If it's older, it just seems to be not as lively. It's had more time to interact with the nitrogen and carbon dioxide. It doesn't seems as good.

Also, don't eat peanuts while you are trying to drink a Guinness, nobody enjoyed that.

We believe the Jupiter's fishy smell was probably from a dirty glass. Kristy claims that there is a distinct onion smell in both Jupiter's downtown and at the Crossing that gets into her clothes. Even though the glass is glass and shouldn't absorb smells, it seemed to have something distinctly off. We believe this may be because any washcloths that are used to clean/dry glasses will also have absorbed the onion smell. As Jon's keeper glass was never used before, it didn't have the opportunity to get the onion smell.

The bars didn't really know that we were coming, so it was almost a surprise inspection. Murph at Mike N' Molly's was aware we were going to be doing it at some point, and Andy definitely knew we were coming, but they didn't do anything special. If an average person just walked in off the street, the beers we got were representative of what they would have gotten. This could have been their impressions.

From best to worst, the Guinness that evening would be:

1. Blind Pig Brewery
2. Blind Pig
3. Mike N' Molly's
4. Seven Saints
5. Esquire
6. Jupiter's downtown
7. Guido's

2-4 are pretty much interchangeable.

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