Celebrating stout beer (not just for nursing mothers and athletes…)

So, today is International Stout Day. I recently discussed stout beer, Guinness in particular, on Arthur’s Day, the 28th of September. But what the heck, I don’t need too much convincing to return to this lovely, dark, malty style of beer again. And of course Guinness, despite being the most famous of the stouts, is far from the only stout beer out there.

Lovely day for a Guinness! 🙂
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Guinness is an example of an Irish Stout, also known as a ‘Dry Stout’, one of a range of traditional stout styles.  Dry stouts tend to be very dark in colour, with a toasted, coffee-like taste. Because of their robust taste they are often thought to be quite high in alcohol, which is not always the case – a can of Guinness Draft, for example, has only 4.2% alcohol – lower than many standard lager beers.

The second main stout category is the ‘Imperial Stout’, a stout beer of Russian origin, which is also quite dark, but with a brown, rather than black, hue. This is typically the strongest of the stout beers, with alcohol percentages often up towards the 10% mark. A stout hearty enough to curl a Russian bloke’s chest hair, Imperial stout was traditionally a popular drink to warm the cold winter evenings.

Another style of stout is the ‘Milk Stout’, also dark in colour, but often low in alcohol. The main feature of a milk stout is the addition of milk sugar, or lactose, to the brew, making it sweeter and smoother than dry stout.

Finally, ‘Oatmeal Stout’ is very similar to milk stout, but has an even smoother and sweeter taste, thanks to the addition of up to 30% oatmeal. The ‘oatmeal and milk’ image associated with this type of stout has helped strengthen the idea of stout beer as a hearty meal in it’s own right. The nutritional value of oatmeal stout made it a popular choice in centuries past for nursing mothers and athletes in England .

Beyond the traditional categories above, stout beer is still developing and evolving, with various new styles appearing, such as the ‘American-style Stout’, a medium-bodied malt beer with hints of caramel and chocolate, created using various specialty malts. Often quite dark-roasted, with a burnt-coffee flavour.

Stout beers are also quite popular with home-brewing enthusiasts, and I fondly recall one of the more pleasant beer-tasting experiences I’ve had, at a get-together of the Wort Hog Brewers Club in South Africa. One enterprising home brewer had a specialist stout he called his ‘Black Forest Stout’ – a traditional, full-bodied dry stout with chocolate and berries added to the brew to create what I can only describe as the liquid equivalent of a dark, moist black forest cake. Lovely stuff!

I unfortunately don’t have access to a black forest stout at the moment, but I’m sure a glass of Guinness from my local pub will more than adequately hit the spot.

Happy Stout Day, everyone! “May your Guardian Angel be at your side to pick ya up off the floor and hand ya another cold stout from the store!”

Arthur Guinness’ brew is good for you!

Yep, it’s a big day down the pub today – we celebrate the birthday of Irishman Arthur Guinness, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and most importantly, founder of the Guinness brewery.

Arthur Guinness’ exact date and place of birth is not known, with some indications being that he was born in late 1724 or early 1725, while others point to a date later in 1725.  In the early 1990’s the Guinness company decided to put an end to the speculations, and proclaimed its founder’s ‘official’ date of birth to be 28 September 1725. This date, affectionately known as ‘Arthur’s Day’, has been enthusiastically celebrated by fans of his dark brew ever since.

Arthur Guinness’ legacy lives on in Guinness, one of the world’s most successful and well known beer brands, brewed in almost 60 countries and available in more than 100. Guinness and Co merged with Grand Metropolitan plc in 1997, and has since become part of the multinational alcohol conglomerate Diageo.

According to Diageo, the perfect pint of Draught Guinness is poured by means of a ‘double pour’ method, which should take exactly 119.53 seconds. When poured, the draught passes through a 5-hole restrictor plate which increases the pressure and creates small bubbles in the beer, resulting in the classic creamy head. This first pour is allowed to settle, whereafter the glass is filled with a second ‘slow pour’ until the head creates a slight dome at the top of the glass.
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Guinness’ marketing has always been one of its strong suits, and this is a significant contributing factor to the continued popularity of the brand. The classic Guinness advertising series was created in the 1930s and 1940s, mostly illustrated by the artist John Gilroy. The advertising posters included classic phrases still seen in Irish pubs all over the world, such as “My Goodness, my Guinness”, “Lovely Day for a Guinness”, and most famously “Guinness is Good for You”.

The “Guinness is Good for You” slogan actually dates back to the 1920s, and stemmed from a market research campaign where people told the company that they felt good after a pint of Guinness. Beyond the feel-good factor, the stout was also considered to have some medicinal benefits – it was given to post-operative patients and blood donors, based on the belief that it was high in iron. It was also popular with pregnant women and nursing mothers.

The question “Why do Guinness’ bubbles travel downwards?” has been the subject of many a conversation down the pub. It is actually only the bubbles along the outer edge that moves down, as a result of drag – bubbles in the centre of the glass can travel upwards unhindered, while those along the edge are slowed down by the glass. As the beer in the centre rises, the liquid near the edge has to fall, and the resulting downward flow pushes some tiny bubbles downwards. Try explaining that after a few pints!
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What’s interesting is that research more than half a decade later indicates that perhaps the ‘good for you’ claim wasn’t so far off the mark, albeit for different reasons. As reported by BBC News in 2003, “A pint of the dark stuff a day may work as well as a low dose of aspirin to prevent heart clots that raise the risk of heart disease.”

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin tested the stout by administering it to dogs who had narrowed arteries similar to those in people with heart disease. They found that the dogs fed different daily doses of Guinness had reduced clotting activities in their blood, while a control group of dogs given a lager beer did not show similar improvements. The research team furthermore claim that the greatest benefit was achieved when test subjects received about a pint each day at mealtime. Their conclusion was “that ‘antioxidant compounds’ in the Guinness, similar to those found in certain fruits and vegetables, are responsible for the health benefits because they slow down the deposit of harmful cholesterol on the artery walls.”

In response to these claims, Guinness’ owners Diageo simply said “We never make any medical claims for our drinks.” Despite this, I am sure millions of Guinness fans the world over will be more than happy to call on the ‘irrefutable scientific research’ above to justify their daily mealtime pint.

So here’s to Arthur and his famous brew – cheers, everybody!