How to Build a Better Irish Beer

Note: this article also covers difference in Guinness in Ireland and abroad, as well as more information about how the widget works- PGA

Written by John Roach for

A customer drinks a pint of Guinness, in the Gravity bar at the Guinness storehouse, Dublin, in this file photo.

On St. Patrick’s Day, many a pensive imbiber will shake their empty can of Guinness stout and hear the rattle of the widget that gave their beer a foamy head. That idle pleasure could come to an end. Now, a patch of cellulose fibers is all that’s needed to get the magical foam, according to new research.

The makers of Guinness started adding the widget to cans of Guinness Draught in the 1980s. The plastic device sits in the top of the can and when the can is opened, the widget spews nitrogen and beer. This helps give the canned stout the same foamy head and creamy mouth feel as a pint poured in a pub.

Researchers at the University of Limerick previously showed that when champagne and other carbonated drinks are poured in a glass, bubbles form as the liquid hits fibers of cellulose — essentially dirt — on the surface of the glass.

“The cellulose fibers will either have been shed from the cloth used to wipe the glass dry or will have fallen out of the air,” William Lee, a lecturer in mathematics and statistics, who led the research, writes in a Q&A about the findings.

Applied to stout
The team, however, thought this mechanism didn’t apply to stout because when a canned stout without a widget is poured in a glass, bubbles didn’t form. This was thought to be due to the fact that nitrogen is added to stouts to reduce the acidity brought on by carbon dioxide.

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Irish Beer History

Written and Researched by Ron Pattinson

The Irish brewing industry

Unless you’ve spent the last 50 years in a sealed concrete bunker, you’ll be aware of Guinness’s dominance of the Irish brewing scene. Their last Dublin rival (Findlaters) closed in 1949 and by the mid-1960’s they had rounded up the last few stray ale breweries.

The only challenge to total control was in Cork, where the tied house system of Murphy’s and Beamish & Crawford kept Guinness at bay, at least for a while.

Under pressure from their own landlords (who wanted to sell Guinness), the Cork brewers gave up their tied houses in the 1970’s. They soon ran into trouble and were snapped up by foreign globalists, eager to own an “Irish stout” brand. Their stouts are now often easier to find abroad than in their native country.

The micro revolution

Ireland is one of the last of the traditional brewing nations of Europe to undergo a microbrewery boom. The stranglehold of Guinness on the licensed trade has surely played a role in suppressing new brewery startups. In 2005 progressive beer duty was due to be introduced. It should proivide a boost to the fledgling micro industry.

There was a brief flirtation with Dublin-brewed real ale in the early 1980’s (Dempsey’s and Harty’s), but neither lasted very long. It wasn’t until the 1990’s with the Biddy Early brewpub that anyone dared try again. A steady trickle of new brewpubs and micros has continued since, though they are still of minor significance in terms of volume (45,000 hl to Guinness’s 5.2 million hl). The lack of a sliding scale of duty is seen as a major obstacle to new breweries entering the market.

The story in Northern Ireland has been much the same, where Bass and Guinness have long enjoyed a duopoly. Hilden, Ireland’s oldest microbrewery (founded 1981) has survived rather than prospered. The long absence of cask-conditioned beer and the lack of proper cellars in many bars has not helped their cause. Whitewater joined them in 1996. A couple of other micros and a brewpub came and quickly disappeared again in the 1980’s. All the new brewereies have produced cask-conditioned beer on a regular basis.

Ireland now has more breweries than at any time since the early 1920’s. This is how the 20 active breweries (16 in the Irish Republic, 4 in Northern Ireland) can be classified:

Irish beer styles

Ireland is famous for one style of beer: stout. Originating in 18th century London, porter became immensely popular in Ireland around 1800. Eventually Dublin ousted London as porter capital and by 1900 Irish brewers were exporting huge quantities to England. The extent of this trade can be deduced from the statistics for UK beer imports: with the independence of the Irish Republic these increased from around 50,000 barrels (82,000 hl) a year to 1,500,000 barrels (2,455,000 hl).

Guinness pioneered mixed-gas dispense (carbon dioxide and nitrogen) in the early 1960’s. Today it’s widely used for serving both draught stout and ale. The older system of serving draught stout involved two barrels behind the bar. Each glass was first filled about two-thirds with old, relatively flat beer from the lower cask (“low stout”). It was topped up with lively, young beer from a smaller cask on a high shelf (“high stout”).

Modern stout is a mere shadow of its pre-WW I self. The classic porter strength – from the early 18th century up until 1900 – was around 1056º. Stout was a minimum of 1060º.

If you want to get an idea of old-fashioned Irish stout, try Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. It’s the closest approximation you’ll find today. You’ll notice that in 1840 Guinness Extra Stout was stronger than the current FES.

The picture to the left can be bought as a poster from

This text provided is only a small “fair use” excerpt from Ron’s site. His site has a lot of production figures, stats on the breweries and more history, more on current trends. Highly recommended. If you want to read more, please click…




Brew Biz: Werts and All

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

Written by Ken Carman

Topic: Getting My Irish Up So I Can Drink My Irish Down

I was kind of upset. I wanted to like beer. Everyone wanted me to like it. I tried to like it. Then I found out there was beer that I liked, just most bars in my part of the country: maybe most of the country, wouldn’t carry it. I got my Irish up, I guess you might say, and I sought out only places that carried what I liked. I finally found what I wanted, and by “getting my Irish up,” I started by drinking my Irish down.

The year was 1974. I just found out I might like beer. All that time as a teen seeking what was forbidden was wasted on what, to my taste, was crap: Schlitz, Rheingold, Budweiser, Pabst, Miller, Ballantine… the last was a bit unique: an ale. But that was Cream Ale: an attempt to make ale more lager like. Anyone who has read enough to know my tastes must realize I was in beer Hell, and didn’t even know it. Slowly I was introduced to a few Bocks and Heinekin. I only liked the dark. Surprised?

A lot of hops in beer? Good luck back then. I swear most brewers threw in a leaf or two per batch only to say they added hops. Ironically the version of Billy Beer F.X. Matt brewed started my turn to the hop-side of brewing. I’ve heard the other versions of Billy Beer were pretty much hopless. This version was just hoppy enough to make me realize I might like extra hoppy beers too.

But since this is being published on St. P Day, let’s stick with the kind of beer that’s more Irish in nature and doesn’t look about the same coming out as it does going in. And let’s go back to the early 70s again. I know, not my fav decade either…

My wife, then my girlfriend, visited me where I was going to college. We drove north to Montreal with her sister and her sister’s fiance. I swear, I’m a magnet when it comes to exotic experiences, especially beer-related. There was this upstairs pub called Finegans. Or was it “Finnegans?” I went on the web and found what looks like the very same place. I have since been told it’s not the same pub and I can’t find my long ago haunt anywhere on the web.

Sniff. Sniff. This brief edit to Brew Biz was added on St. Pat’s. Guess I’ll have to go have a cry in my Murphy’s, my Guinness, my Beamish, my Old 38, my Black Fly, my… wait, I’m not sad anymore. Time to get up on the table and dance with the leprechauns!

Back to 1974…

I walked up to the bar and asked if they had any dark beer. The bartender looked at me as if I had just asked for a Scwimesquat. “I don’t know what that is but I have Stout,” with an Irish brogue.

I bought one: it was Guinness Extra. I think at first taste I cringed. I finished and ordered another. By the third I was, not quite literally, dancing on the tables with the Irishmen. The leprechauns came later, after I spent years putting gold in their pots at the end of an ever flowing beer-based rainbow.
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Stout-Hearted in Ireland

Written by Sal Emma for BYO Magazine

The Guinness brewery in Dublin, Ireland, is a time machine. Cobblestone streets link the gray stone and red brick buildings — narrow thoroughfares where draft horses once clopped their way around the sprawling complex, hauling malt, hops, kegs, and men from job to job, batch to batch.

Today, diesel trucks and forklifts ply these time-worn paths of stone. Rubber tires roll over the iron tracks of the brewery’s narrow-gauge steam railway system, built in the late 1700s to supplant horse-drawn transport.

The brewery complex is a tapestry of old and new. Guinness brewers oversee 21st century computer-automated brewing in the shadow of Arthur Guinness’ original brewery and residence, for which he invested £100 (about $150 today) of inherited funds in 1759.

Guinness made a real estate deal that would make any modern businessman jealous: a 9,000-year lease at £45 per year, with water rights included.

Of course, at the time £45 was nothing to sneeze at. And the property was nothing to brag about. Only four acres, it was small, already 90 years old and broken down. It had been sitting idle for nearly 10 years when Guinness made his deal for one of dozens of nondescript breweries in Dublin’s industrial quarter, known as the Liberties. Located at St. James Gate, one of the gates in the old wall surrounding Dublin, the brewery Guinness bought consisted of a copper, a mash/lauter tun, two malt houses, a mill, stables for 12 horses, and a loft that could hold 200 tons of hay.

Guinness was an ale man. Ale was the true King of Beers in those days, and Guinness went about producing ale for Dublin. Later, a newfangled style caught his attention: porter from England.

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Scribe’s Stupid Beer Report’

“Cause some ‘brewers’ would rather be brew whores than actually go Irish.”

Green beer. Can you think of a more asinine idea? (Is “Ass in Nine” some foolish member of the Borg collective?)

Take a pissy lager or ale, add food coloring, and claim you’re being Irish for St. Patty’s Day. May the blessed ghost of the Saint eat your liver for lunch on the sacred day. May he henceforth place copious amounts of phenolics and DMS into every beer a brewer brews whose only “Irish” offering is Irish by food coloring only.

The Irish icon of beer, whether it be Guinness or Murphys or the other lesser known in the States, be BLACK. And TASTY. Some be red. But NOT fake green.

Why Scribe’s not even Irish, for the most part, and he’s offended. It’s like putting excrement in the candy you hand out Halloween, or wrapping up a can of dog food for Christmas per kid. Drinking green beer on St. Patty’s is like sneaking Tang into the holy water and then blessing yourself with it, or demanding the priest use “those little yellow fishys,” instead of communion wafers.

WORSE, actually, because, Scribe hates to tell you after all those years making up crap like “transubstantiation,” but it’s REALLY NOT the blood and the body of Christ. Hell, it’s not even wine, and hardly bread or even a wafer. About as tasteless as, well, GREEN BEER.

And green beer has nothing to do with celebrating St. Patty’s. Have a Guinness, Murphy’s, or Smithwicks if you must. But if you insist, when the Bobbie stops you and tests you at 3am, Scribe has an Irish “blessing” for ya…

May you blow or piss green.

Or is that an Irish curse?

Picture courtesy