Guinness is a company I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, they make and sell one of the worst beers I've tasted and not only that, they've managed to make it their best seller. Guinness Draught is horrid no matter how much pint-pulling expertise the barman claims to have, and this has marred my view of the brewing giant. Recently, having come across a 4-pack of their new 'Black Lager', I immediately made my mind up that it was toss and moved on with my life, without so much as sniffing a drop. What's more, it's unlikely that I ever will, considering you've to commit to a 4-pack to try it. If nothing else it's a marker of how I feel about Guinness. It's not about principle or ideals or anything like that, it's just what I've come to expect from a brewer who seems to no longer need to put the effort in. On the other hand, however, you've got Guinness Foreign Extra. This reasonably priced and readily available 7.5% stout is one of the things that makes me look twice at the Guinness harp icon; once with head shaking disapproval, and once with an inexplicable pride. Also, their marketing and iconography has always been top notch, from old-timey ads as Gaeilge, to modern commercials with Micheal Fassbender. I especially like the sneaky wink that suggests that as soon he's finished the reconciliation pint with his buddy, he's almost certainly going to ride that girl he was with.
OK, maybe I'm bigging it up quite a bit here - it's not even my favourite stout. I was just excited that I could pick up a Guinness in Dunnes Stores for around €2 and thoroughly enjoy it back home. Don't let me convince you that this is the only good Guinness product though - Guinness Extra Stout (Original) is a fine drink, and represents great value for money, while Guinness Special Export, made chiefly for export to Europe, is something else entirely. I'm only now developing the same enthusiasm for stout as I've had for all other beers, so you can imagine how I felt about the style back when I started out in craft beer. Furthermore, you can imagine how under-prepared I was for a stout of such intensity as the Special Export, and I'm ashamed to say that my first bottle went down the drain. May she rest in peace.
Forgive my distraction.
Guinness Foreign Extra pours absolute pitch black with a two to three finger dark tan head. This is exactly how I like my stouts to look. Forget that artificially acquired thick white cream on top of the draught stuff, this is a truly gorgeous beer. Equally impressive is the aroma - an extremely well balanced and complex selection of roasted coffee and chocolate malt with liquorice and herbal qualities, as well as a nice fresh grassy hop smell. There's also a curious similarity to a Belgian Quad or strong dark ale. This is replicated in the taste, with dark fruit and brown sugar sweetness softening the intense coffee and smoke tastes that remind you you're drinking an Irish stout. Chocolate and toffee malt also make an appearance, and there's a slight bitterness to the end of the sup, followed by a mild alcohol heat. The body is medium, edging on full, and that's about the only weak point of the beer.
While it's not as complex, deep or mind-blowing as some stuff I've had in the past (including stouts), it's very enjoyable and truly satisfying, with a good complexity and depth of it's own. Try it if you haven't.
If you have, why not try it again?