Does Guinness travel well?

Well, beer in general doesn’t travel well, so I’m going to guess “no”.

I ran across an article about a study by the Institute of Food Technologists (link in the sidebar) which sought to find out if there was any truth to the idea that Guinness served in Ireland tastes better than that which is served elsewhere. Their preliminary results indicate that, yes, Guinness served in Ireland tends to score higher in flavor preference to those outside the country, even after accounting for various variables.

I’m not surprised. In fact, I bet this is the case for most any beer in the world: it’s very likely going to taste better the closer you are to the brewery. This is because there is less transportation and time required to get the beer to various parts of Ireland compared to the rest of the world, meaning less time for the flavor to deteriorate from oxidation and aging. Also, Guinness probably has more influence over local bars and how they maintain their tap lines. This is also related to proximity; there are probably more Guinness reps combing the pubs of Dublin than there are in Boston. They also mention the affect on popularity and the effect on freshness: Irish pubs will probably be going through more Guinness than pubs elsewhere, meaning there is fresher beer on tap since the turnover rate is higher. All of these factors should be no-brainers.

Other thoughts I had when I read this was about the methodology. I haven’t read the paper, but I’m going to assume that all 4 researchers tasted Guinness in a number of different countries, and overlapped their territory, because otherwise there would be no way to control for the “assessor” variable during the analysis. I also note that in the abstract, they say their researchers were “non-expert”. I would have hoped that they would have had some level of beer flavor training, however basic, before undertaking this project. Another thing I wondered about is how they controlled for the “ambiance” variable. While they did mention the possibility that ambiance could affect the assessment of the beers, in the abstract they say the statistical significance remained even after controlling for ambiance. Now, I’m not sure how you can control for ambiance without tasting all the beers in a single location; it doesn’t make sense to me.

I was also a bit irked at the tone from the following passage, which seems to assume that the Journal of Food Science, or beer research in general, might be considered a non-scientific discipline:

That the Journal of Food Science is a serious publication can be inferred from some of the other material in the March issue. One feature is headed: “Technological Optimization of Manufacture of Probiotic Whey Cheese Matrices”. A second reports: “Improved Sauerkraut Production with Probiotic Strain Lactobacillus plantarum L4 and Leuconostoc mesenteroides LMG 7954”.

It’s almost like they needed to convince themselves that Food Science is actually science…

PS: the pint of Guinness I had at the Panorama Sky Bar at the end of the Guinness tour was the most expensive “free” beer I’ve ever had: 17€. But they poured a little shamrock in the head of the beer, so that’s got to be worth something, right? Of course the 17€ was for the tour of the “brewery” (read: “museum”), but really the only worthwhile part of the tour was the view at the top and the pint in your hand.

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6 responses to “Does Guinness travel well?

  1. Isn’t Guinness sold in the US brewed in canada through a contract with Labatt? It saves on transport and they can still put IMPORTED on the label,

    • I’ve had a look around, and what I’ve come up with is that Guinness is actually brewed in a number of different plants around the world (mostly, it seems, to target different alcohol percentages – often by blending various pale beers with unfermented Guinness wort). This does complicate the above story a bit, but some truth still remains for certain products:

        all draught and widget Guinness products are still brewed at the St. James Gate brewery in Dublin.

      If anyone has any other information, I’d love to hear it.

  2. IrishSensoryPanellist

    As a sensory panellist in Ireland I may be able to shed some light.

    The Guinness brewed in Canada is Extra Stout (albeit a different recipe to the Dublin brewed Extra Stout with considerably different character), and is sold bottled. This is indeed the case for many Guinness poducts brewed across the world. However, as far as I can tell this study was testing Guinness Draught in countries where it had been imported from Dublin.

    The fact that the researchers were “non-expert” does seem a little odd, although perhaps employing sensory experts would have led to little need for the study, as the obvious conclusion is that beer generally tastes better the closer you are to the brewery for exactly the reasons you mention.

    I seem to get the impression that it was more a case of “Is Guinness more enjoyable in Ireland”, rather than a proper sensory evaluation.

    • Wow, great to hear from our colleagues overseas! Thanks for the information. It’s pretty well in line with what I’ve come to known, but it’s good to hear the real story from someone in the thick of it.

  3. brett mccluskey

    The Australian BUL (brewed under licence) is so tasteless it’s sad. The Foreign Export is to die for.And don’t mention the Irish theme pubs they’re served in ..lol

  4. Thomas Barnes

    My understanding is that Guinness is brewed in different plants around the world and that the local formulations vary: Irish Guinness is different from UK Guinness is different from Canadian, U.S. or Australian Guinness. I can’t imagine that, even for widget-draught or kegged Guinness, that Diageo would brew its entire world production just in Ireland. It seems to be cheaper and more sensible to contract-brew. That said, they’re fairly coy about the location of their operations, so anything is possible.

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