When we were preparing to go to Ireland, we started hearing people say that Guinness tastes better in Ireland, and that got us wondering. Is it possible for beer to be better in the country it was made in, and why? Could it be possible that we’ve been missing out on the true flavor of Guinness all this time?
I’ve drank a Guinness or two in my lifetime and while I’m not their biggest fan, if faced with the choice of a Coors or a Guinness, I’d choose Guinness, hands down. Really no competition there. My only hesitation with Guinness is that it tastes somewhat watery — not as full-bodied and roasty as I prefer from a stout. But as they say, “When in Rome…”, so I was fully prepared to drink my share of Guinness while in Ireland, if not for the sake of the experiment, at least for the sake of humanity. I needed to know — Does Guinness Taste Better in Ireland?
The Guinness experiment has been undertaken many times before — to a much greater degree and in more precision than we would be able to perform — but we wanted to see for ourselves. In previous studies, testers took into consideration ambiance, taste, visual appearance and aftertaste. We planned to use those same measures. It seemed likely that the mere fact that you’re drinking the beer in its natural surroundings, as silly as that is, would make it taste better, just for authenticity sake. But we wanted to know if there were intrinsic factors at play, not just perceived ones.
So what were the possible “real” factors? How big of a difference could local water, the perfect serving temperature and the fact that the beer was fresher actually make? What about different variations or serving methods of Guinness?
Guinness Original and Guinness Extra Stout are distributed widely throughout the U.S. and other countries, so those are the ones I know best, but we’ve also tried Foreign Extra in the bottle, and have decided that it’s our favorite. Before you start wondering if we’ve only had Guinness from a bottle, which would obviously make a marked difference, rest assured that we’ve tried Guinness many different ways – in the bottle, on draught and in the can. However, while in Ireland, we suspected the majority of the beer we drank would be served from the tap, so we made sure we had a draught Guinness at a local bar before leaving the U.S. for comparison purposes.
Upon arriving in Dublin, or first goal was to drink a Guinness from the very source — the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin. According to the Guinness website, all Guinness sold in Ireland, the U.K. and North America is brewed at the brewery in Dublin. So if we were going to make this a fair experience, we would have to go directly to the source. It was somewhat unfortunate that we hadn’t slept in almost 36 hours when we arrived at the brewery. I almost fell asleep standing on the escalator to get up to the Gravity Bar, where our first Ireland Guinness awaited.
By the time we had the beer in hand, I was near delirious, so my disappointment was exemplified when I took the first sip and realization hit that this beer tasted exactly like the ones we’ve tried in the States. It had the same somewhat watery taste and I couldn’t detect any extra roastiness, special mouthfeel or really anything different at all. It was the same.
We quickly came to the conclusion that we couldn’t give the beer a fair shake due to our current grogginess, and the reason it didn’t taste different to us was because we weren’t capable of tasting it to the fullest. So we gulped down the rest and retreated to the hotel for some much needed sleep.
Over the next week, we visited pubs, bars and restaurants throughout the country in search of the Guinness everyone had told us tasted so much better in Ireland.
We even returned to the St. James Gate Brewery again to learn how to pour the perfect pint from the tap ourselves, earning a certificate after sufficient practice.
In total, we drank at least 20 pints of Guinness each. We drank more Guinness in a week than I have in my entire life up to that point. And I am very sad to say that we never detected even the slightest difference in the taste of the beer in Ireland versus the United States.
If you really wanted to split hairs, you could make a case that there was a difference not in how it tasted but how it was served. We did think it was consistently served at a perfect temperature, was always served in the appropriate glass, had the optimal amount of head and was fresher in most cases. Guinness is poured with more frequency in a bar in Ireland, thus keeping the beer fresher there than in most bars back home. In those respects, Guinness was better in Ireland. But based on taste alone, there is very little to no perceivable difference.
What do you think? Is there a real difference? Have you been to Ireland and tasted the Guinness? Does Guinness taste better in Ireland to you?
If you haven’t tried it, don’t take our word for it. Get over to Ireland and see for yourself!
And while you’re here, check out our 12 Reasons to Visit Ireland.
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.