Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 2, No. 21
Fast women, not fast beers

Feb. 28, 2002

A few years ago, your editor spent a day with a Guinness draft technician in Chicago, where Guinness has a startling presence. There are neighborhood bars with an Old Style sign hanging out front and two beers on tap - Old Style and Guinness.


Ken O'Callaghan showed an amazing devotion to quality and faith in the product he was promoting. "We're going to catch people one by one. One day, you're not drinking Guinness. Then you try it, and you're drinking Guinness for the rest of your life," he said.

"But a bad pint, that's another story. Let's say Joe's bar doesn't present the best product. You're there, you say, 'Tonight, I'm going to try a Guinness.' You try it here and you decide you're never going to try it again. We just want a fair shot, then let the consumer make his decision."

As a draft technician, O'Callaghan's job was to make sure every Guinness account poured a proper pint. That meant that the gas had to be set right, the (pouring) spout clean an operating correctly, and the staff well trained. He made the point many times a day that a properly poured pint tastes better.

The show of taking the time to pour the beer, of doing it in parts, of letting it cascade and settle, of getting a head so thick that some bartenders drew designs in it didn't hurt sales either.

That's why news out of London that Guinness is experimenting with a quicker pour option seems a bit surprising. To be fair, it's only an experiment and only being considered for busier outlets. "In outlets where it is really busy, if you walk in after 9 o'clock in the evening, there will be a cloth over the Guinness pump because it takes longer to pour than other drinks," a spokeswoman said.

The news was met immediately with angry protests in the beer's homeland of Ireland. "You pull a pint (of Guinness) for an Irishman and he expects to wait. If you pull one in less than a minute he'll say 'Where the hell did you drag that from'," noted one bartender.

We thought it made sense to see how a faster draw might be received elsewhere, mostly in the United States, so we set up a poll and began collecting comments.

The comments - as we've come to expect from readers - were eloquent. Here are a few favorites.

From George Petrigliano: "Fast women? OK. Fast beer? Come on. No way!"

From Bob Maney: "Watching that glorious dark liquid and creamy head slowly forming in your glass is part of the Guinness experience, it is the expectation before the enjoyment. After all you don't really enjoy sex unless some serious foreplay has taken place do you?"

From Sharon: "Love Guinness - love to watch it 'mature' into something you want to drink. Used to have a boyfriend who would get the foam all over his moustache and want me to lick it off ... traditional speed for me."

From David DeVore: "Why fix something that isn't broken. I've never had a problem with the time it takes to pour a pint. You just order your next pint before you finish your current one."

Apparently it can't be that easy. Nor is it as simple as when O'Callaghan was 16 years old and started tending bar in his homeland of Ireland. The place had 65 taps, and did a brisk busy. But there was never a need to hurry a pint of Guinness, because 16 of those handles poured the stout exclusively.

One minute and 59 seconds at a time.

Pairing of the week

Warm days and all this talk of smoked beer have us ready to fire up the grill and toss on some meat for a beer-food pairing that never fails. But cooking out doesn't have to be just about meat. We turned to Stephen Beaumont of World of Beer for an alternative:

"The orange peel and coriander spicing of a refreshing Belgian white beer, such as the Belgian Blanche de Bruges or Hoegaarden White, or the Quebec-brewed Blanche de Chambly, will make a believer out the most sceptical beer disdainer, and provide the perfect complement to the sweet, buttery flavour of grilled corn-on-the-cob in the bargain."

Tasting notes

Brewed by Harpoon Brewery in Boston
Michael Jackson writes:
I have known this beer since its earliest days, and its salient features seem unchanged: its teasing, gold-to bronze color; perfumy aroma, firm, almost brittle, body; cookie-like maltiness; fruity palate; and flowery, hoppy finish. In this bottling, I note an especially creamy aroma, strawberry-like fruitiness and a nice counterpoint of crispness in the finish.

Brewed by Uinta Brewing Co. in Salt Lake City
Roger Portz writes:
Pale by porter standards, this throws a lovely barley-white head and has an aroma booming with chocolate, roasted grain and dark hedgerow fruits. In the mouth, bitter chocolate is well balanced by tart, spicy hops, while the finish is quenching, with bitter fruit, peppery hops and dark malt dominating, with some extremely bitter chocolate notes coming through at the final flourish. The brewers have learned the secret of true porter: that they had to be quenching to refresh those, such as street-market porters, who were engaged in heavy labor. This would be a heavenly beer with oysters or shrimp.