- Associated Press - Sunday, August 28, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — Guinness is about to dip its dark-hued brew into the cold end of the booze pool.

In fact, listening to the brew master for Dublin’s most famous export describe how to best taste the company’s latest line goes down as smooth as shooting a pint of whiskey.

Guinness Black Lager must best be enjoyed cold.

“Even on ice,” said Guinness master brewer Fergal Murray.

Hold it. Guinness on the rocks? What’s next, James Bond ordering cosmos?

Every image of a Guinness is about the seduction of the stout, from the slender black can that pops on the shelf to the beckoning curves in its signature glass, and the detailed ritual of the serve to get a frothy, oh-so-perfect pint.

All sipped and chugged or used as a savory landing space for a shot of Jameson at room temperature.

Scratch that. Save the stouts for winter hibernation and crank the dial down inside the beer fridge.

Guinness is making a bid for wider appeal in the crowded American beer market with the introduction of a lager. Guinness, long known for its distinctive color and creamy head, wants to compete pint-to-pint with a clean, crisp beverage that only needs bikini-clad girls or a talking pooch as pitchman to truly scream, “We’re an American beer!”

Americans spent $101 billion on beer last year, according to Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. Diageo-owned Guinness is the third-largest imported beer in the U.S., but its numbers are dwarfed by generic giants Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. Guinness had 1.3 percent of the marketplace in the U.S. and shipped 2.66 million barrels in 2010, according to Beer Marketer’s INSIGHTS, Inc, the leading source of information about the U.S. beer industry.

Guinness is moving slowly with its new lager - after serving the new brew in two test markets, the national rollout kicks off in time for football on Sept. 1. Guinness Black Lager is not available in Ireland, the company’s home and one of the hardest-drinking countries in Europe.

“Is it a Guinness or is it not a Guinness?” Mr. Murray asked. “It is a Guinness lager, and it’s going to be positioned against other lagers in the marketplace.”

That could be tough to swallow for the devotees of the iconic stout, who make the pilgrimage to the brewery in St. James’s Gate in Ireland to bow their heads in reverence - before they’re slumped in a stupor - to a beer that dates back to the 1700s.

Of course, trends change through the centuries. Guinness believes its latest beer - with a suggested retail price of $8.49 for a six-pack - helps the company keep up with an expanding marketplace. But will consumers buy it or see the company as pandering to American taste buds? It is, after all, a brand built on dark beer stouts, a drink that hasn’t always enjoyed wide appeal among Americans who prefer to drink out of a 12-ounce can.

“No, no, no, no,” Mr. Murray said. “It’s in line with everything we’ve ever done in terms of getting great beers out there in the market.”

The reality is, Guinness isn’t breaking tradition - simply adding a new lineage.

Still, it feels a bit strange.

After all, the Guinness websites includes how-to steps for the perfect pour straight out of algebra class (“glass tilted at 45 degrees, until it is three-quarters full”).

For the new stuff? Simply use the cheap bottle opener on your keychain and crack the cap. The only pour should be the one from the 11.2-ounce bottle straight into your mouth.

“The days of room temperature pints are long gone,” Mr. Murray said.

Perhaps the sudsy shift will settle easier in a super-sized country that likes a new twist on familiar products (thank you, deep-fried Twinkies!). Would Peter Griffin swap his Pawtucket Patriot Ale for a six pack of Guinness Black Lager?

One mid-afternoon suds sipper, who prefers her beers golden, got a preview taste and enjoyed the newfound chill.

“Oh,” she says, surprised. “I actually like it, and I’m not a big Guinness drinker. It looks like you’re drinking a Guinness, but it tastes like you’re drinking a lager.”

In Philadelphia, where taverns boast of adhering to the brewing recipes of the founding fathers, few bars are worth a stop for a late-night belt like Fergie’s Pub. The cozy, simple Irish bar, which boasts no TVs and great beers on tap, is a stout defender of Guinness’ pour system for a draft beer.

Owner Fergus Carey, who’s made a name around town as a beer connoisseur, took several sips of Guinness Black Lager before issuing a verdict.

“I get a Guinness bottle taste for it,” he said. “It’s like a lager and Guinness mixed together.”

So, would Mr. Carey serve the latest lager?

“Ummmm,” he said, before taking a long pause, “Probably not. It’s new and gimmicky.”

Gimmicks sometimes are a hit. Guinness is counting on the roasted barley flavor with a bit of hops kicked in to attract the masses who only think of the brand as a dark, heavy beer.

“What they’re trying to do here is make more money,” Mr. Carey said. “Have another product on the shelf. They’ve done a lot of things before. I don’t know. It’s not bad.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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