[March 14, 2016]–Suggesting the ubiquitous Guinness Stout for St. Patrick’s Day is the beery equivalent of coals to Newcastle. But how about a pair of Guinness Porters? Guinness won’t mind; its new/old porters, available in the UK for some time now, have just been released in the U.S.–the sessionable Dublin Porter at 3.8% ABV, and the heftier West Indies Porter at 6.0%, both in 11.2 oz. bottles.
I’ve been looking forward to trying the beers since seeing photos of the bottles with their appealing labels and their old-timey suggestiveness, which is indeed their provenance. The Brewers Project is the Dublin brewery’s in-house experimental arm and to come up with these sort-of new offerings they tore a few pages out of the company recipe logs (or what Guinness archivist Eibhlin Colgan calls the “Brewers Diaries”).
The Dublin Porter comes from a more than 200-year-old recipe, from 1796, a beer that Arthur Guinness had made for shipment to England. But it’s not a slavish recreation, with a shorter maturation period and fewer hops than the original—and American hops at that, Yakima and U.S. Golding.
In the glass the brew is a virtually opaque brown. It has a plummy nose with mild suggestions of black malt. But the flavor is immediately husky, a sensation of bitter chocolate and a mildly sour tang. The body is light as might be expected, but the huskiness leaves a puckering finish. With but 11.2 oz. in play the beer is gone all too soon, but at 3.8% the consolation may be that you could drink a gallon or so of it and not be tempted to rewrite your will.
The West Indies Porter comes from an 1801 recipe, then called West India Porter and which eventually evolved into Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. The latter beer is still around at 7.5% ABV, while the facsimile of the original comes in at 6%. More highly hopped to withstand a month to five-week voyages back then, the recipe has been re-imagined for more quickly-fermenting yeast, a shorter maturation period, and U.S. Golding hops.
Neither of the beers have any suggestion of hop aroma, which is appropriate enough. The West Indies Porter is dead black but with a brownish head and more malt, roast and some chocolate notes streaming out of the glass. There’s some raisiny fruit in the entry, a fuller mouthfeel than the Dublin Porter to be sure, but a similarly husky and bitter chocolate bite. The slightly sour Guinness characteristic is there, which tends to thin out the beer toward the finish.
Of the two, I think I preferred the lighter beer, and the thought that I could pound away on it over a good portion of an evening.
I’ve been critical enough of some of the relatively recent Guinness product introductions (see Related stories below), though as I note in the case of the Guinness Blonde American Lager, not as critical as some others. The Blonde and the Guinness Nitro IPA came out of what was called the Discovery Series, now folded into the Brewers Project. (Presumably the Signature Series, which resulted in the luxuriant Guinness the 1759, still stands on its own?)
But a tip of the cap to Guinness for the effort here. I like the idea of unearthing old recipes with a thought to understanding what beer might have tasted like way back when. It’s not necessarily a new notion—Dogfish Head trundles out ancient recipes on a fairly regular basis—but it’s usually interesting, at least. I lament anew the demise of the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, which devoted some of its output to beers of old in the Once Upon a Time series, in consultation with beer historian Ron Pattinson.
I didn’t love either of these porters, though I’d be happy to try them both again, preferably on tap, and with a regular Guinness on hand by way of comparison. Which would show, I’m fairly certain, the razor-thin (if not invisible) line between porters and stouts. Either of which will do quite nicely, naturally, on March 17.
Name: Dublin Porter, West Indies Porter
Brewer: Guinness, Dublin, Ireland
ABV: 3.8%, 6.0%
Availability: Nationwide, currently pegged as a limited release
For More Information: www.guinness.com/en-us