Jeff's view from behind the taps

by Jeff Levine
brewer and beer
takes on the
challenge of
rating Irish
Stout -
An extra-dark, almost black, top-fermenting brew, made
with highly roasted malts.

This month I'll be responding to the many e-mails I've received
asking that I do a review of stouts, the Irish kind anyway.  Which
reminds me, keep the mail coming in.  It gives me something to read
while I'm drinking.

Most people wanted a review of stouts that are readily available
around the country so I decided to do a side by side tasting of the
three largest selling Irish stouts in the US.  All three are draught
stouts, which means that by way of technology, they all simulate a
draft pour.

The draft pour is accomplished by the famous Widget ( it's an actual
trademarked name).  A widget is nothing but a small container with
one or more tiny holes it in.  Before the beer is put into the bottle or
can, a widget filled with liquid nitrogen is dropped into it.  The
can/bottle is then filled and sealed normally.  The pressure within the
can/bottle  keeps the nitrogen inside the widget.  This pressure is
released only at the moment that the can/bottle is opened.  Once
this happens, the nitrogen quickly escapes from the widget through
its pinholes , causing the familiar surge of nitrogen that we all love in
the real draft stout.  Because this technology is quite expensive you
have never seen a microbrewed Draught Stout, though I hear
rumors we may see it soon from one of the larger US specialty

First up in my test was Murphy's Irish Stout
(  This was packaged in a 14.9 oz.
Draught Can. It was brewed in the UK by Whitbread.  It had a
claimed 199 calories and 4% abv.  It poured black with a good
surge.  The head was very stiff and cream colored.  It had almost no
aroma (very little hops - this is normal).  The flavor was slightly
coffee with a hint of roastiness.  Overall it was a little bland for my

Next I tasted a Guinness (  The package was
the 11.2 oz. bottle.  It claims to be brewed in Ireland.  In fact, the
Guinness website says that although Guinness is brewed in 51
countries worldwide,
ALL Guinness in North America comes from the
famed St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin (wink, wink - tell that to the
brewers at LaBatts in Canada).  The bottle said it had 126 calories
but had no alcohol information.  

I poured the Guinness into a glass even though the bottles are
made for drinking straight out of.   By the way, those no-glass
needed, widget carrying bottles are one great advertisement for
Guinness in a bar, on a beach, or any place where glasses aren't
handy.  The beer poured with a good surge and was black with a
cream colored head.  It filled my pint glass about 2/3 of the way.  
The head was not as stiff as the Murphy's.  There was no aroma and
the flavor was slightly roastier with a faint touch of sourness that
balanced it well.  (Guinness used to claim that although their stout
was brewed around the world, a portion of sour beer straight from
St. James was added to every brew to give it that distinct Guinness

Finally, I got to the Beamish Irish Stout (  This
came in a 16 oz. Draught Can brewed in County Cork, Ireland.  The
can had no calorie or alcohol info at all.  Now before we go on
honesty demands that I admit I have a slight bias toward Beamish.  
It is a beer that you will usually find in my fridge, but I'm going to try
my best to judge it fairly.  Besides, I also drink an awful lot of
Guinness, but mainly because few bars carry Beamish.

The Beamish poured beautifully, filling my imperial pint glass to the
top.  It was black with a good surge and darker, cream colored
head.  It had no perceptible aromas.  While its taste was much
roastier than either of the other stouts it did not have that
distinctive Guinnes sour bite, though for me the heavy roasted
flavor made up for it.

Well, all in all, having done this tasting side by side, I am still, for the
official record, a big Beamish fan.  Guinness is an acceptable
substitute when I can't get Beamish, and as far as I care, the
Murphy's can can sit on the shelves of liquor stores collecting well
deserved dust.

That's my report for this month.  Unless my hangover says
otherwise, I'll be back with a new
Jeff's View From Behind the Taps
next month.


      Jeff can be contacted by writing
for more
than just  
St. Patrick's
or breakfast