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Guinness in NYC: Is it all the same, or are there places that serve up better pints than others?

  • g

Being of Irish extraction and having developed a profound fondness for this wonderful beverage, I would like to hear the opinions of other Guinness aficionados.

Some years ago, I had the great experience of tending bar in an Irish bar in an Irish neighborhood in the Bronx, and the prevailing opinion among those from the old country was that the Guinness in the US simply does not stand up to what is served in Ireland. And there might be some basis for this belief.

It's my understanding that the Guinness served in Ireland is not pasteurized, thereby leaving in certain bacteria, thus imparting more flavor. But all Guinness that is exported IS pasteurized, certainly killing the germs but possibly also killing some of the flavor, or at least making it uniform. And, if this is true, wouldn't all Guinness taste the same in New York (or elsewhere outside of Ireland), except for factors like the temperature at which it's served and the cleanliness of the glass? (Maybe it's these factors that give one or another pub the reputation of serving up the best pint.)

I've had the good fortune and pleasure to have imbibed quite a bit of Guinness in Ireland, and while I enjoyed every drop (at least every drop I can remember), I really didn't notice all that much of a difference between the version served there and the version I find here. My Irish friends and family, naturally, think I'm a philistine of sorts as a result, but I gotta be honest here. I love a good pint of Guinness, but I've found that a pint at the right temperature in a clean glass IS a good pint.

So, what do YOU think?

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  1. I've never been to Ireland (someday!), but have enjoyed many a Guinness in NY. My two favorites are Paddy Reilly's and The Parlour. The Guiness is just better there, and I'm sure it's a host of reasons - it's poured carefully, it's allowed to build, the temperature is right. I don't know about pasteurization (although that sounds plausible), but Ive heard on occasion that Guinness in Ireland has a higher alcohol content (the Guinness in London certainly seems to).

    6 Replies
    1. re: Adam

      We discovered an interesting development in Guinness-drinking culture during a trip to Scotland (our Honeymoon) in '99... Many pubs that serve Guinness are now outfitted with a special "Extra Cold" draught tap, that dispenses the heavenly black stuff at a very refreshing and uniform temperature (can't remember the exact Celsius, but it was prominently displayed).

      We tried it first out of curiosity, but fell in love with the chill and ordered it this way whenever available (it was mid-summer).

      Anyone else had the chance to sample Guinness in this fashion? Curious to see if this feature makes it across the pond.

      1. re: KidVinegar
        Caitlin McGrath

        When I was in college in Santa Cruz, there was an Irish bar that sold Guinness both cold--for those who couldn't wrap their minds around room temp beer, even stout--and at the proper temp. Of course, the Irish customers always took the latter, and I certainly never had it cold.

        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

          I haven't sifted thru every message on this subject, but here's my thoughts on a good pour--

          1. the line has to be clean
          2. the keg can't be too cold (I liken this to Hagen Daaz vanilla-----you have to let it soften to really get the great flavor)
          3. it's got to be fresh

          Most places serve it way too cold---I've found one of the better pours to be over at Jonathan Swifts Hibernian Lounge over on W. 4th, just west of The Bowery Bar.

          1. re: JJC

            Even in Ireland, official Guinness policy is to serve it too cold, I guess so they can try to reel in all the young lager drinkers. And in the US, the Guinness cans have to be really cold for the widget to work properly, and then we have the new rocket widget that makes it possible for people to cruise around bars drinking draught Guinness from the bottle, which again must be cold.

        2. re: KidVinegar

          I was in Scotland in '99 and likewise noticed a number of places with cold taps for Guinness. I later read that it was/is part of an effort on Guinness' part to interest young drinkers. Apparently fewer young people are interested in the traditional pint of black stuff -- they're more inclined toward cold lagers -- and as a result, Guinness's market share is declining. I had a cold pint or two, and while traditionalists may blanch at the thought of it, I've gotta say, I enjoyed it.

          1. re: Chris E.

            Coincidentally (I guess), the nitro cans must be good and cold to dispense properly.

      2. Hi George-It's a funny coincidence that you bring
        this up about Guinness because just last week a
        friend of mine (who loves Guinness) visiting from Ireland,
        sent back a pint because she said it wasn't "clean." This
        was at a popular tavern where I've had
        Guinness many times and thought it was okay.
        The waiter insisted the "pipes" had just been cleaned.
        I asked her later what 'clean' and 'pipes' meant
        and she explained that if Guinness is served
        frequently, the pipes where the beer is
        contained cleans itself but if it's served infrequently,
        the pipes need to be cleaned. This has nothing
        to do with actual hygiene/dirt. You can see it in
        the head of beer and that's why it often tastes
        more Bitter than it really should.

        Don't know if this is part of the answer to
        why Guinness tastes differently at places but barkeepers
        listen up--clean those pipes!!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ruby

          All draft lines must be cleaned regularly, as bacteria grow and sour the beer.

        2. I believe you're right that Irish Guinness is unpasteurized, since it sells so quickly and doesn't spend the time ours does just getting to the pub. However, I can assure you that any bacterial activity would not help it in any way!

          I've had Guinness in Ireland, and found it remarkably similar to what we get in the US. It's a shame they're serving it so cold these days. I expect this is in response to young people who like to drink lager, the colder the better.

          Someone mentioned that perhaps Guinness is stronger in some areas. I don't think the draught Guinness is stronger (it's generally about 4 percent/vol), but Guinness makes many variations on its stout, so I won't swear to that. I think the most differences are in the bottled stouts. For example, in the US we get Extra Stout that I think is around 6 or 6.5 percent alc/vol. In Ireland they have a bottled Extra Stout that contains much less alcohol. Many countries get Foreign Extra Stout, which is a wonderful beer, and strong! I think the Irish Extra Stout is bottle-conditioned, while we get pasteurized Extra Stout in the US.

          BTW, Guinness Extra Stout now comes to us from Canada. I think the Big Boppers are still Irish, but the 6pks come from up North.

          1. All Guinness is not the same. There are a lot of factors that I think contribute. Someone mentioned Clean Pipes. true. Pasteurization. true. Tempature. true.

            I've had the Guinness in Ireland and I find the US version bitter most times. I end up drinkin Murphy's

            My girlfriend is a fine Irish Lass from Kilkenny and while I may gone on about cuisine , she lets me know when the Guinness is shite.

            I think that they pour a solid pint at the Local 138 on Ludlow and the Scratcher on 4th(near cooper union) isn't too bad. I'll also have one at Puck Fair(Lafayette/Houston) when our friend Mark is building the pints.

            The Debate rages on, and its serious stuff!

            ; )

            2 Replies
            1. re: SLAP
              Susan O'Grady

              I"m not a beer drinker, but had to try it in Ireland last spring, of course. Guinnes was okay, but I really loved the Murphys - can you get it over here?

              1. re: Susan O'Grady

                I like Murphy's too. I often order it over Guinness when I'm in a place that serves both (but not always).

                To answer your question, although it's not as ubiquitous as Guinness, you can find Murphy's at a lot of places. Best thing to do is check with your Irish friends. In the meantime, though, I know that The Ginger Man (11 East 36th St.) serves up a pint of Murphy's, as does the Kinsale (93rd and 3rd in Manhattan). I'm pretty sure that the Landmark also serves Murphy's (they're at 11th Ave and 46th).

                Good luck...

            2. had a couple of pints in the Film Center Cafe on Ninth Ave. last night. wasn't warm, wasn't way freezing either. and a pretty creamy, not too enormous head.

              1. j
                Josh Mittleman

                There's no doubt that Guinness varies from one bar to the next. Indeed, this is true of any beer and if you pay careful attention you'll notice that the beer varies from one keg to the next, too. It depends how the keg is stored, how the refrigeration is working, how clean the system is, and so on.

                But for Guinness in particular, there does seem to be consistent variation from one place to the next. I haven't been drinking so much of it these days -- the baby has taken the place of my bodhran and a great deal else in my daily schedule -- but back when I was playing the sessions regularly, there was no better place for a pint than An Beal Bocht in Riverdale.

                1. Twenty years ago I managed an Irish bar/restaurant on 52nd and 2nd called Eamon Doran's. Eamon passed away a few years ago and the building has since been torn down to make room for a high rise. The customers ranged from office workers to illegal lads with the peat just cleaned from their shoes, and the place somehow managed to feel like your "local" - the Chieftains were customers when they were in town, along with the Aer Lingus crew - who would provide the smoked salmon.
                  We served a great pint. In fact, it was informally rated the second best in the city - #1 was the Liffey in Jackson Heights (I don't know if it's still there). In addition to cleanliness, temperature and proper storage, time is also a crucial element when pulling a pint - too slow and it's flat; too quick and you run the risk of a "bishop's collar."
                  Back then, Guinness was quite strict about quality control and would periodically send their rep to inspect and sample the brew on site.
                  I realize this does nothing to slake one's thirst today, but a little history never hurts.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Ed

                    Geez, I was a customer in that Eamon Doran's on more than several occasions, but never a regular (neighborhood wasn't on my beaten path). I always enjoyed stopping in there and having a pint. (Isn't it true that the place took a mortal blow when the Daily News moved cross town?)

                    Now I see other Eamon Doran's around, one in particular on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. I occasionally stop in that one, but it just doesn't have the same great ambience of the original.

                    Any idea where the Chieftains and the Aer Lingus crews head now for a pint in NYC?

                    1. re: Ed

                      This is very much after the fact and late to boot, but I always wondered what happened to Eamon Dorans. I am living outside of NYC now and when I come back to visit family, I have no idea where to grab a pint at all anymore. How sad. Is the Bklyn one still the same family? They served a great pint, such a shame it's gone now.

                      1. re: Ed

                        This post literally brought a tear to my eyes. I have such fond memories of Eamon Doran's and Kennedy's and all of those Irish bars and restaurants along the "Irish Riveriera" on 1st and 2nd Avenues. I had my first Guiness in Dublin and couldn't wait to get back to NYC to try it again. Eamon's had great Guiness. I'm touched by the posts on this thread that were written in 9/10/01.

                      2. It may be a little late for this post but the Dublin House on 79th St is my personal favorite.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Wheels
                          George Lynch

                          Never too late to hear about another place that serves up a good pint of Guinness.


                          1. re: Wheels

                            DH swears by Dublin House -- they do a great pour. He also likes the pour at Tracks (in Penn Station).

                          2. I'm no expert, but I've drunk a fair amount of Guinness over the years. I think Jonathan Swifts on E4th street south of Cooper's Union draws a fine pint.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: MikeC

                              I really like the Dublin House on West 79th Street. Friendly bartenders and great Guinness. Cheers.

                              1. re: MikeC

                                Didn't know about Jonathan Swift's. Thanks for the tip. I'll give it try soon.

                              2. Let it be known that without a doubt, ALL BEER'S TASTES ARE SUBVERTED WHEN OFFERED ON TAP,this is much the same as how all beer tastes different when offered in a bottle vs. a can. In addition, An Beal Bocht on 238th street in Riverdale (Bronx) NY has by and large the best pint o' Guiness in the States. I Highly recommend you give it a go.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: John

                                  What exactly do you mean by "subverted?"

                                2. I have had Guinness at the St James Gate Brewery in Dublin and in NYC and in Milwaukee where I live and was disappointed that I couldn't notice a difference from one place to the other. I was hoping that the Dublin pint would be so much better. Properly chilled, not too cold, in a clean glass is whats important.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Gary Sprong

                                    My pal, Michael (natch) from Dublin, maintains that
                                    there is a big difference in pints - and still swears
                                    that Dublin pours the best. My Esteemed Spouse, the
                                    bartender, admits this may be true, but explains it
                                    away in turnover - that is, a pub that draws alot
                                    of pints has the freshest (and, thus, best tasting)
                                    Guinness to offer (in the States). And, he points out,
                                    there is a skill in the pouring of it.

                                    Also, one must keep in mind that the stout brewed for
                                    export is different than that intended for domestic consumption - no question that the taste is different, as well.

                                    In NYC, good pints can be found at Murphy's (52nd and
                                    Second), Paddy Reilly's(Second and 29th), Ashton's (50th, between 2nd
                                    and 3rd), Puck Fair (Lafayette, just south of
                                    Houston), and Kate Kearney's (50th, between 2nd and

                                    1. re: M.Dale

                                      I don't believe draught Guinness is any different in the US than in Ireland, other than perhaps the Irish version being unpasteurized. I have had both, and I have talked about the product with staff at the St James's Gate Brewery.

                                      1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                        Never been to Ireland so can't compare but Heineken (which I generally don't like) here is nothing compared to what you get lurking by the factory in Amsterdam. And in particular, I thought Newcastle (bottles!) was almost an entirely different animal in the town it's named after. Though an American and an Englishman both told me they thought my opinion was specious since I actually like Newcastle in the first place!

                                        Any educated opinion out there on the Guiness pour at the Scratcher (5th st between 2nd and 3rd aves)? How about the place at the Norhwest corner of 14th at 3rd? I like 'em but have not the expertise of those in this discussion.

                                        1. re: Dave Rick

                                          I thought Newcastle was the same, but could be wrong.

                                          Not sure about Heineken, but wouldn't be surprised if they were different. And it wouldn't surprise me if it tasted better at the Amsterdam brewery, since it would undoubtedly be the freshest you can get. Also, it's likely to be unpasteurized at the brewery, while it's almost certainly pasteurized for export.

                                          1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                            Right on about the freshness and pasteurization
                                            (or lack thereof), Jim -
                                            exactly my point about the Guinness.

                                  2. Having sampled many a Guinness in Ireland and as one with fond memories of Eamon Doran's, I second the mention of Puck Fair. I recently had a very well poured Guinness there--plus it was fun and friendly.

                                    1. Kinsale between 93rd and 94th and 3rd avenue pours an excellent Guinness. Probably the best I've had in NYC.

                                      1. I'm 'London Irish', born in London, UK to Irish parents. At 40, I have drunk my share of Guinness around the world! Having just moved to NYC after 4 years living in Galway... I can tell you there is a huge difference in the taste and quality of the Guinness in America - so far I have yet to find even a passable pint of Guinness in NYC!

                                        Here is what I have learnt from various publicans in Galway:-

                                        Guinness is 6% Alc/Vol in Ireland, Guinness for European export is capped at 4%... so don't get into a drinking match with an Irishman - you'll lose! (I kept wondering why I got drunker quicker in Ireland?!). Guinness in the UK tastes as good as the Guinness in Ireland but is less alcoholic which is why all the Irish construction workers in London can knock back 15 pints a night!

                                        Guinness for the American market is pasteurized and further reduced in Alcohol content to approx. 3.3%... Irish people traveling here often refer to this as "doesn't travel well".

                                        There is only one Guinness (there are occasional 'specials' but these are different recipes)... the Extra Cold Guinness is just regular Guinness cooled at the tap by 5 degrees - No Irish person past the age of 40 drinks Extra Cold and the further West you go the less you see the Extra Cold taps (no Extra Cold taps in Galway for instance). This is purely a marketing campaign to bring in the kids and personally I think it ruins the taste.

                                        Years back Guinness was brewed in various places around the world and shipped locally but pretty much all the breweries have been closed - all Guinness is now shipped worldwide from Dublin, other then Nigerian Guinness, which is a completely different recipe and actually not affiliated with the Guinness Company.

                                        What I have found here in NYC is that generally the pint taste bitter and the texture is 'thin' resulting in what is called a 'wet' pint. Here are the qualities of a good pint of Guinness, as told to me by various Irish bar tenders in Galway (note, you can still get a bad pint poured in Ireland!).

                                        As you drink, the foam head should leave perfect rings around the glass each time you tip the glass to drink and then put the glass down between gulps. The finished pint glass should be stripped with left over foam right to the bottom. A clean glass means the Guinness was 'wet'.

                                        Here's the funny one... a good pint of Guinness has a whiter head and a dryer, thicker, creamier texture throughout, and strangely feels lighter to lift then a poorly pulled pint, which has a more coffee coloured head with larger, looser bubbles. The texture of a poorly pulled pint feels 'wet' and 'thin', like drinking a bitter (pale ale) and leaves little or no residue on the empty glass.

                                        Guinness is actually dark red in colour, not black but appears black due to the consistency. A poorly maintain keg or watered down Guinness (by any tube cleaning contaminants etc) will result in the pint being red in colour... if you can see colour in the liquid, return the pint.

                                        I would dispel the whole 'clean glass' thing... Often in Galway when the pubs were packed you would get a glass straight out of the jet wash and the bar tender would poor you a pint in the wet glass and it would still taste lovely.

                                        With regards the size of the head... bigger is better, the head of a good pint should be at least an inch tall (and bright and creamy). In the States I see bartenders pour a pint in one shot resulting in little or no head... If that happens I return the pint. Guinness should be poured in two goes... the longer the gap between pours the creamier the pint and in fact in Ireland sometimes you can wait 5 minutes for your pint and there's no way you would complain!

                                        Also it's important to pull the first pour to a certain marker on the pint... many people pour the pint past the marker and then 'top' the pint, this also results in little or no head - in the west of Ireland, in rural bars you can order a 'medium' which is just the Guinness poured to the marker, this harks back to poorer times when bartenders charged less for a 'Medium'.

                                        I have also witnessed bartenders slam the pint down on the bar between pours.

                                        My personal belief is that I doubt I will find a good pint of Guinness here in NYC, not specifically because the bartender didn't pull it right or the pipes are clean or unclean, just because the process of getting the keg from St james Gate to the States requires the drink to be compromised - Murphy's is a better bet here!

                                        Mal Meehan
                                        Máel Coluim Ó'Miádhachaín

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: mee3d

                                          Last I was at Dublin on Hudson just below Bank they served a pretty good Guinness. It's on the sweeter and creamier side, not very bitter at all. I used to go there a few years ago with an Irish friend who said it was his favorite in the city.

                                        2. Puck Fair on Lafayette. And a lovely Irish breakfast too.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Mimilala72

                                            Yes, I concur... so far for me, The Puck Fair has pulled the best pint. Smooth, Rich, the head hangs to the glass as you drink.... very close to an Irish pint. Another place I enjoyed was Molly Shabeen on 3rd Ave but the Puck Fair was marginally better.

                                            1. re: mee3d

                                              I second TRACKS at 34th and Penn Station. The customer volume virtually guarantees freshness. Trish just poured me a great pint. Liam and the gang all pull great pints. Don't miss the succulent oysters on the half shell.
                                              Phil <-------<<<

                                          2. When I got close to the age of legal drinking in the UK, 18, my Dad recommended me to find the beer and spirits that installed the smallest hangovers. So Guinness and Irish whiskey have been my firmest friends since 1968. I've drunk Guinness on draught in Scotland, Manchester, London, Liverpool, Cardiff, County Cork, County Kerry, Dublin, Denmark, Finland, Zurich, Bavaria, Naples, Sicily, southern Spain, France, and points in between. It seems quite likely that in the USA, Nigeria, India, China, and elsewhere, it's the same as the stuff that I've drunk....
                                            It's always 4% abv, always on the cool side, always tastes the same [as in: smooth, lovely], and is always pumped with nitrogen: which is neutral. The neutrality of nitrogen lets the beer continue to grow in the barrel....it's a real ale. So the alcohol content will rise slightly as the beer matures.
                                            All other top-pressure beers are pumped with carbon dioxide. This dissolves in water-based liquids to produce an acid which kills the beer.
                                            Guinness is good for u: full of iron, vitamins, minerals, and taste. It's good for cooking Welsh rabbit instead of milk: milk stout instead. It's good for cooking Irish stew; to simmer mussels in; and in Christmas pudding. It's Very usable.
                                            The least head, the better, since the head has no alcohol; so u're getting short measure if the barman gives u head.
                                            If u pour it slowly down the glass's side, u can pour it in one.
                                            If u don't like the bubbles, Wait!!!...they will die away, in time.
                                            As to the special coldness that is offered these days: it's for the trendy. There's "Extra Cold"; and there's "Ordinary" also called "Normal", depending on how much u're liked. I'm normal. All the Best, and Happy Drinking ! !! !!! .

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: canbehonest

                                              I hate it when the barman gives me head.

                                              1. re: canbehonest

                                                I'm here to tell you, Guinness tasted really different in the British Isles than it does in the US. It has a nasty burnt taste here, and it's much smoother there. I didn't expect that to be the case, so I really don't think this is a case of mind over matter, and it was consistent - every pub I had a Guinness in England and Northern Ireland, it had the same smooth taste, and everywhere I've had it in the US, it has a burnt edge to it (such that I no longer order it here).

                                                1. re: Pan

                                                  Well Hi! there, Pan. I'm really sorry that the Guinness is so badly variable in the USA, for u. Now I know that this thread started in 2001, but some of yr fellow-Americans have found decent pints of Irish Holy Water in yr country.
                                                  In the days of long ago, when it was not so popular, I went to pubs where the Irish were going, so the Guinness got drunk, so it was fresh in the barrel....because it can go stale, especially that in the pipes. That's when it tastes burnt, as u know.
                                                  Quality licensees would pull off the first pint to throw away or to feed their rhubarb and other growing plants, as fertiliser; so that the first drunk pint was good: from the barrel. I've known horses, dogs, and cats drink Guinness: it really does appeal to a broad spectrum of society.
                                                  U can put a bit of pressure on the licensee by only ordering a half-pint first, to check it out before the serious drinking. And if u talk to him/her about it, u might get a taste for free.
                                                  Someone else was saying about clunking a pint onto the bar-top. This releases some of the gas-bubbles sticking to the glass's inside, to get it bubble-free more quickly. Happy Drinking !!! .

                                                  1. re: canbehonest

                                                    But here's the funny thing, canbehonest: I've also gotten Guinness out of cans here in the US, and it has the same burnt taste that I never experienced in the British Isles.

                                                    1. re: Pan

                                                      Indeed, dearest Pan, it is a funny thing; for the canned Guinness that I've been drinking these last few decades has been pretty much as cosy to my digestive tract as has been the draught Guinness that I've drunk in pubs and bars. Happy Drinking !!! .

                                              2. My Irish coworker calls 11st Bar (A & B) his local and likes their Guiness.