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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
        c
        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
              s
              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?
              SO

              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.