12 October 2007

The stouts of wrath

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is a relative new-comer to the Irish market. It took the demands of a growing African community to make Diageo distribute it directly in its country of origin. Before that the stronger Guinness was shipped from St. James's Gate straight to foreign parts and then re-exported back to Ireland in small quantities. A slightly tweaked version, with sorghum, is made in Nigeria for the local market there and occasionally shows up on the shelves in the UK.

It was recently brought to my attention that the new Foreign Extra Stout was not exactly the same product as the re-exported version I was used to. Sure enough, the domestic product is 7.5% ABV, while the export-then-import is 8%. And of course the name is different: Foreign Extra for us, Special Export for everyone else.

Intrigued by this, I decided a parallel tasting was in order, so I'm sitting here with one of each. The Foreign Extra is presented in a distinctive high-shouldered bottle engraved with the trademark harp; Special Export comes in the classically Belgian slope-neck.

Straight out of the bottle, Special Export has a thicker head, though both wind up with just a thin film of foam before long. The biggest difference between the two beers is in their respective mouthfeels, with Foreign Extra offering a prickly fizz, while Special Export is fuller, smoother and altogether more Belgian, frankly.

The tastes are certainly similar, with Foreign Extra drier and hoppier, while Special Export is packed with sweet malty flavours. This one comes down to a matter of personal preference, I suppose, but the export version edges it for me.

So there you have it: I'm not entirely happy with a product Guinness has put on the Irish market. Big surprise, wha'?


  1. I heard that the reason the Special Export is 8% is because the Belgian importer has an agrrement with Guinness to have the strongest version made.

    Everywhere else in the world - and Foreign Extra Stout is available all over the place - it's 7.5%.

    If you go back before 1916 Foreign Extra Stout and Extra Stout were essentially the same beer with the same OG. The only difference was that Foreign Extra Stout was slightly more heavily hopped and was matured longer so the alcohol content was slightly higher.

    I'm lucky enough to be able to buy Special Export at my local offie. It's a great beer. If Guinness could be persuaded to produce a bottle-conditioned version, it would be one of the best beers in the world.

  2. In the UK you can find Dublin-brewed and Nigerian-brewed versions of FES, depending on what store you shop in - I did a taste test at


    of three different 33cl versions, though in my experience the Nigerian 50cl version beats the 33cl ones - less air, proportionally, to oxidise the bottle contents ...

  3. Interesting. I'm faintly gratified that the one made just beyond my back yard came out on top.