Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In the glass: Mysteries of Guinness Revealed

I love a pint of Guinness, and we usually have a few of the nitrogen-charged draft cans in the fridge. Beer Advocate online has an interview with Fergal Murray, Guiness Brewmaster. It's an interesting read, even if you're not a beer geek (I swear I'm not). Snip:
Murray explained that the recipe for Guinness has undergone only minor adjustments over the years. Every keg of Guinness Draught imported to the US comes from St. James’s Gate in Dublin (though Guinness Extra Stout is made in Canada). It contains water, malt, roasted barley, hops and yeast - and that’s it. Like many major labels, Guinness relies on “high-gravity brewing,” which involves large batches of wort (unfermented beer) high in fermentable sugars (note to beer geeks: the goal is a final gravity of 1072). Eventually these are watered down to attain a 4.2 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). The brewers also blend batches to aid in consistency, and the beer is pasteurized.

What Guinness wouldn’t confirm or deny is the rumor that a portion of each batch is aged in very old oak tuns populated with Brettanomyces and lactic acid bacteria to lend Guinness its characteristic touch of sourness. Supposedly, it’s then pasteurized and blended into the remainder of the batch.

As for the hops, the vast majority hail from the US, with some European hops to round things out. The brewers look for high levels of alpha acids (these are the source of hops’ bitterness) in order to get more “bang for their buck,” as Murray put it.
It’s commonly believed that dark beer is heavy beer. Guinness’s super-creamy head only adds to its rep for richness. (The head is the result of a special gas blend of around 60 percent nitrogen to 40 percent carbon dioxide; cans and bottles of Guinness include a specially designed widget that disperses a nitrogen blend.) But Guinness has only 125 calories and 10 carbs per 12-ounce serving - fewer than pale-yellow Budweiser.

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