13 December 2017

The blackest day

I confess that I have been most remiss in my marking of International Stout Day up until now. 2017's iteration would likely have passed me by also, were it not for the invitation from Diageo to attend worship in St. James's Gate. The feast day's founder (get well soon Erin!) led the ceremonies at Open Gate Brewery, and for the occasion our hosts had created a couple of new stouts themselves and brought more in from around the world.

Headlining was Guinness's Stouta This World which I got to late in the evening. It's a 6.4% ABV stout with vanilla and bourbon. It didn't do it for me, having too much fizz and not enough flavour complexity. The additions gave it little more than a sweet milk chocolate bar character; maybe a Cadbury's Crunchie on a good day with the wind in the right direction. I'm all in favour of keeping things subtle when it comes to bourbon, but this one omitted even that much.

The best of the house offerings on the night was Guinness Burnt Sugar & Sea Salt Stout. Yes it's very much a pastry stout, totally lacking in bitterness or roast, but it delivers exactly what the long name promises. Sweet and sticky toffee popcorn is the opening gambit, then a long caramel middle, followed by a briny lacing of real salt on the tail. It's hard to argue with the sugary intensity when the sugar is owned up to on the label. A small glass was plenty, even at just 6.3% ABV, but I really enjoyed the unabashed silliness.

Bringing up the rear was Guinness Chocolate and Mint Stout, again at the roughly six-and-a-half per cent ABV mark. This also delivered on the promises but not in a good way. The mint is insanely overdone, so from the first sip it tasted more like toothpaste than beer. When that fades it leaves a savoury herbal effect, like sunflower seeds and fresh grass. It's not offensive, just too weird for my tastes. Sweetening it up might have helped balance it better.

On my very first post on The Open Gate Brewery, back in 2015, I reviewed their Milk Stout, which didn't impress me. Some form of the recipe has now found its way through the Diageo corporate system and emerged as a new, bottled, Guinness Milk Stout. It's still badged with the name of Open Gate, though it would have been brewed using high gravity techniques at the industrial-sized Guinness plant across the street. The ABV has taken a frankly merciful dip from 6.4% to 5%.

It looked good as it poured, a properly dark tan colour to the head. Milk stouts are sweet so I was surprised to find the aroma quite harshly bitter: herbal, with a certain meatiness. The taste is remarkably dry for the style; unacceptably so, I would say. There's a twang which is half iron filings and half smoke, and very little under that, other than plain fizzy bottled Guinness. I used to think that Mackeson's was the basic bottom end of milk stout, but this is a new low. Whoever brewed this must have been a stranger to Left Hand's.

We'll return to Stout Day at Guinness for the next post, to check out the roster of guest beers.