Posted by: Jeffsayyes | September 3, 2009

Guinness in NYC – What’s the difference?

Saw a great post on Chowhound.com related to drinking Guinness in NYC. I contacted the man and asked a few questions:

“The key thing with Guinness is the first pint… if you can get through the first pint the rest taste better as the night goes on… It’s just that first pint!”

have you worked a bar or been in the field somehow?
No, my work is in multimedia/websites/video production etc (www.mee3d.com) but as a freelancer I spent many hours in quiet pubs across London and over the last 3-4 years in Galway on the west Coast of Ireland. Ireland is a very changed place since the influx of money (the Celtic Tiger economy, which has now all but died), but in the rural parts of the west coast it’s still possible to find a remote pub where you can be the only one in the bar during the day, and at night there may only be a few old boys that have a wealth of knowledge on the “black stuff”… I have spent many hours listening to stories as old as the hills about Guinness… and many tall stories fueled by Guinness!

Have you liked any beer here so far? have you tried any that was *supposed to be good, but wasn’t?
No not yet… I gave up the lager many years ago in favour of stout, mainly because getting older I couldn’t do the 10 pints (or 15 bottles) a night on larger anymore. I guess If I can’t find a good pint of stout here I’ll have to try the beer but over the years I have visited NYC many times and always found the beer here to be fruity in taste…. Other then Belgium beers, most beers in Europe have a dry taste, so I’m not that used to it. I’ll give the hunt a few more months and then I’ll try other stuff!

and here’s the post that started it all:

I’m ‘London Irish’, born in London, UK to Irish parents. At 40, I have drunk my share of Guinness around the world! Having just moved to NYC after 4 years living in Galway… I can tell you there is a huge difference in the taste and quality of the Guinness in America – so far I have yet to find even a passable pint of Guinness in NYC!

Here is what I have learnt from various publicans in Galway:-

Guinness is 6% Alc/Vol in Ireland, Guinness for European export is capped at 4%… so don’t get into a drinking match with an Irishman – you’ll lose! (I kept wondering why I got drunker quicker in Ireland?!). Guinness in the UK tastes as good as the Guinness in Ireland but is less alcoholic which is why all the Irish construction workers in London can knock back 15 pints a night!

Guinness for the American market is pasteurized and further reduced in Alcohol content to approx. 3.3%… Irish people traveling here often refer to this as “doesn’t travel well”.

There is only one Guinness (there are occasional ‘specials’ but these are different recipes)… the Extra Cold Guinness is just regular Guinness cooled at the tap by 5 degrees – No Irish person past the age of 40 drinks Extra Cold and the further West you go the less you see the Extra Cold taps (no Extra Cold taps in Galway for instance). This is purely a marketing campaign to bring in the kids and personally I think it ruins the taste.

Years back Guinness was brewed in various places around the world and shipped locally but pretty much all the breweries have been closed – all Guinness is now shipped worldwide from Dublin, other then Nigerian Guinness, which is a completely different recipe and actually not affiliated with the Guinness Company.

What I have found here in NYC is that generally the pint taste bitter and the texture is ‘thin’ resulting in what is called a ‘wet’ pint. Here are the qualities of a good pint of Guinness, as told to me by various Irish bar tenders in Galway (note, you can still get a bad pint poured in Ireland!).

As you drink, the foam head should leave perfect rings around the glass each time you tip the glass to drink and then put the glass down between gulps. The finished pint glass should be stripped with left over foam right to the bottom. A clean glass means the Guinness was ‘wet’.

Here’s the funny one… a good pint of Guinness has a whiter head and a dryer, thicker, creamier texture throughout, and strangely feels lighter to lift then a poorly pulled pint, which has a more coffee coloured head with larger, looser bubbles. The texture of a poorly pulled pint feels ‘wet’ and ‘thin’, like drinking a bitter (pale ale) and leaves little or no residue on the empty glass.

Guinness is actually dark red in colour, not black but appears black due to the consistency. A poorly maintain keg or watered down Guinness (by any tube cleaning contaminants etc) will result in the pint being red in colour… if you can see colour in the liquid, return the pint.

I would dispel the whole ‘clean glass’ thing… Often in Galway when the pubs were packed you would get a glass straight out of the jet wash and the bar tender would poor you a pint in the wet glass and it would still taste lovely.

With regards the size of the head… bigger is better, the head of a good pint should be at least an inch tall (and bright and creamy). In the States I see bartenders pour a pint in one shot resulting in little or no head… If that happens I return the pint. Guinness should be poured in two goes… the longer the gap between pours the creamier the pint and in fact in Ireland sometimes you can wait 5 minutes for your pint and there’s no way you would complain!

Also it’s important to pull the first pour to a certain marker on the pint… many people pour the pint past the marker and then ‘top’ the pint, this also results in little or no head – in the west of Ireland, in rural bars you can order a ‘medium’ which is just the Guinness poured to the marker, this harks back to poorer times when bartenders charged less for a ‘Medium’.

I have also witnessed bartenders slam the pint down on the bar between pours.

My personal belief is that I doubt I will find a good pint of Guinness here in NYC, not specifically because the bartender didn’t pull it right or the pipes are clean or unclean, just because the process of getting the keg from St james Gate to the States requires the drink to be compromised – Murphy’s is a better bet here!

Mal Meehan
Máel Coluim Ó’Miádhachaín


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