As Irish beer goes, Guinness tops the charts as a wold-wide favorite. Originally brewed in Dublin, Guinness is now available internationally. Whether you grab a pint in Sydney, Australia or New York City, the branding looks about the same.
You get a dark brown bottle with a yellow label, loudly declaring, “Guinness.” Now, you all know that the Guinness Storehouse was originally known as the St. James’s Gate Brewery. In 1997, Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo, a great big corporation.
Today, Guinness, even though it’s traditionally an Irish beer, is brewed all over the world. And just like any other corporation, Diageo makes its decisions based on its bottom line. For example, since Africa is a major consumer of the Irish beer Guinness, a large factory is located in Nigeria.
We’re going to focus on a very interesting little rumor that caught our attention. The rumor suggested that Guinness brewed in Jamaica is stronger (i.e. it has a higher alcohol content) than it does in the U.S.
The answer to this rumor is actually quite simple: It’s partially true and partially false. To start, Red Stripe, a popular Jamaican beer, was purchased by Diageo in 1993.
While the Jamaican families maintain a stake in the company, a majority of the Red Stripe shares were sucked up by Diageo. So, yes, the Guinness company is now prevalent in Jamaica.
The second piece of this answer, however, is trickier to explain. The Irish beer known as Guinness that we’ve all come to love (in its most popular form) is called Guinness Extra Stout (without the word foreign.)
You see, when Guinness was making their own beer way back in 1801, they developed something called a Guinness FOREIGN Extra Stout. (Originally called the West India Porter.)
In order to make the long trip to the Caribbean where the Irish beer would satisfy the taste buds of thirsty Irish immigrants, West Inidia Porter, or Guiness FOREIGN Extra Stout, was brewed with more hops, thereby increasing its alcohol content. The higher alcohol content gave the beer greater stability to make the trip overseas without skunking.
Over time, this higher alcohol beer (Foreign Extra Stout, currently 45% of the Guinness market globally) with a more bitter taste waxed and waned in popularity. It was also sometimes sold at a price point almost double a typical glass of Guinness.
Today, basically, two beers exist on the market. The Guinness Extra Stout and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. The Foreign Extra Stout does, in fact, have a higher alcohol content at about 6.5% compared to a regular Guinness. Guess which one you’d probably drink in Jamaica?
If you said Foreign Extra Stout, go get yourself a cookie … or maybe an Irish scone. (So, the rumor is partially true since the Guinness served in Jamaica contains a higher alcohol content than the Extra Stout version in the U.S.)
Why do we say basically two Guinness beers are on the market? In the 1960s Guinness Flavour Extract was developed by food scientists in Ireland for overseas production of the Foreign Extra Stout. It’s shipped from Ireland and added to pale ale around the world to make Guinness.
So, again, when you’re traveling abroad, like, say, to Jamaica, you will probably be served Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, which may or may not have been locally made by flavoring pale ale. In the U.S., however, you’d need to pop into a craft beer store to find the foreign version with a higher alcohol content. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do right now…