For most beer drinkers, "I'll have a Guinness" has come to mean a Guinness Draught, that magical dark ale with the creamy head. However, the Guinness Brewery at St. James's Gate, Dublin, is famous for several other stouts, notably Guinness Extra and Guinness Foreign Extra. These are primarily distinguished by their Alcohol by Volume, or ABV, content, but also by their individual flavors and their packaging process, which includes either nitrogen or carbon dioxide.
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A Bit of History
Guinness has a 250-year history of exclusively brewing what was formerly known as porter. They started making a dark porter in 1778, but it was not referred to as Stout until the 1840s when the Single and Double Stout labels were introduced. Stout was stronger, richer and "hoppier" than its precursor porter. Guinness stopped making porter altogether in 1973 and has specialized in stout ever since.
Malted barley, roasted barley, female hops, water and an exclusive Guinness yeast culture used since the times of Arthur Guinness go into the making of stout. Guinness claims to use about double the usual amount of hops, which impart a robust flavor and help preserve the beer for export. Roasting a portion of the barley creates the dark color and signature flavor of the ale. Although it appears black, upon closer inspection stout is a dark ruby red. The creamy head is produced by introducing nitrogen during the packaging process. Stout served in Ireland has an ABV ranging from 4.1 percent to 4.3 percent, whereas stouts produced for export -- the Extra family -- typically have a higher ABV.
West India Porter was first brewed in 1801 and standardized in 1821 as Extra Superior Porter. These were the precursors of Guinness Original and Extra Stout. It differs from the Dry Stout or Guinness Draught in that it contains carbon dioxide but no nitrogen. The nitrogen contributes to the smoothness experienced in Draught, whereas the carbon dioxide present in Extra produces a more acidic bite. Labatts Canada is brewing Extra Stout under license from Guinness at 5.0 percent ABV.
Foreign Extra Stout
Guinness ships an unfermented but hopped wort from Dublin around the world where it is mixed with locally fermented beers and matured with a small amount of aged beer to impart its characteristic tang. Foreign Extra Stout has a 7.5 percent or 8.0 percent ABV and is sold in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and the U.S. With its higher alcohol content, Foreign Extra is as close as Guinness variants come to the original brew.