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23 Nov 2016

The Beer Goddess: On International Stout Day, I Was Flown to Ireland to Witness Beer History in the Making

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The Beer Goddess celebrates Stout Day at Guinness' Open Gate Brewery in Ireland. The Beer Goddess celebrates Stout Day at Guinness' Open Gate Brewery in Ireland.

Someone once said that “history flows forward on rivers of beer.” It’s true: Beer has played a significant role in shaping the human experience.

This brings us to Nov. 3, when stout-lovers across the world celebrated the delicious, dark beer during the Sixth Annual International Stout Day. Hundreds of craft breweries and pubs hosted Stout Day events—and I was fortunate enough to be invited to fly to the Emerald Isle for events at that most famous and historic of all breweries, Guinness.

Arthur Guinness started brewing ales in 1759 at the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. On Dec. 31, 1759, he signed a 9,000-year lease at 45 pounds per year—quite possibly the smartest investment in history.

I was thrilled that the good folks at Guinness officially celebrated International Stout Day. Created by yours truly in 2011, the day symbolizes everything that is good about this iconic beer style, and the collaborative community that enjoys it. After Guinness invited me to the brewery, I felt like Charlie in Willy Wonka at times.

There has been an experimental brewery at St. James’s Gate for more than 100 years, but it is newly open to the public: In November 2015, The Open Gate Brewery opened with the intent of allowing people to sample new beers by Guinness brewers, who are given free rein to experiment and explore new beers.

At Open Gate, these brewers oversee all Guinness beer innovation globally—which is a tremendous responsibility, since Guinness is sold in more than 150 countries around the world. The brew system is manual, so they are able to replicate any of the beers at any Guinness brewery. It’s the size of a typical craft brewery—just inside the massive Guinness walls. It’s the perfect place to taste the wider variety of Guinness’ drink portfolio.

Head brewer Peter Simpson gave me a private tour before the celebration. These lucky brewers have everything a brewer could want—in order to brew just about anything they want. They have a mini-roaster, in order to experiment with different grains. Hearty English hops, like Northern Brewer, grow outside in the hops garden. And Guinness’ “Super Yeast” is used to brew all of the company’s styles of beer.

“Every new Guinness launch from now on will start in here—and will be on the tap here first,” Simpson said. “At the moment, we’re doing two new beers every month.”

The brewery made history again that very evening: On Stout Day, Guinness invited other breweries to the event. Ireland, like the United States, is experiencing its own craft-beer resurgence and revolution—and I was told this was the first time that brewers from Irish craft breweries were invited to enjoy pints together at an event held by Guinness, on Guinness property.

Joining Guinness at the Open Gate Brewery that evening were representatives of Kellys, 5 Lamps, Porterhouse Brewing Co., Dungarvan Brewing Co. and London’s 40ft Brewery.

Liam LaHart, the founder and brewer of Porterhouse, leaned into me after the event and whispered, “Erin, you realize this is unprecedented, right?”

I got goose bumps.

Each craft brewery brought two to four stouts beers each. Guinness offered a delicious list of varietals: Apple Stout at 6.2 percent alcohol by volume, Sea Salt and Burnt Sugar Stout at 6.3 percent ABV, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout at 7.5 percent ABV, Weisen Stout at 7.2 percent ABV, Antwerpen Export Stout at 8 percent ABV, Nitro Double Coffee Stout at 5.5 percent ABV, and Guinness Draught at 4.2 percent ABV. The eighth tap featured 40ft Brewery—the first-ever guest tap.

The brewers from 40ft had to board a ship and a train to bring their 40ft Deep stout over to Dublin for the event. It was a brilliant 5 percent ABV stout, with notes of coffee, dark chocolate and licorice. It’s hopped with Target (UK) and Bravo (U.S.), adding a touch of orange and spice to the aroma.

Guinness’ new Sea Salt and Burnt Sugar Stout was especially tasty. It offered a pleasing clash of flavors.

Simpson explained: “It’s very difficult to get the balance of salt and sugar right. The saltiness and the sweetness carry each other a lot better with the bitterness of a stout than they would in a lighter ale or beer. The Admiral hops give you a nice background bitterness with a slight green note. … You’re hit initially with a little bit of roast barley and sweetness from our burnt sugar, then leading into subtle saltiness and ending with a pleasant bitterness.”

Porterhouse brought four stouts, including the only oyster stout brewed in Ireland.

Simpson was grinning from ear to ear as he showed me Guinness’ barrel-aging stouts: Antwerpen Export Stout and West Indies Porter, both in rye bourbon barrels.

“Best job in the world,” Simpson said. “And the best part is seeing people enjoy it.”

Simpson and the other Open Gate brewers recently brewed a Kettle Sour—the first time Guinness has ever brewed a Sour style.

The beer app Untappd awarded a Stout Day badge for anyone logging in a stout beer on Nov. 3. In the U.S., there were 377,718 total check-ins. In the Netherlands, Stout Day saw 16,539 check-ins, and in the United Kingdom, there were 16,582, numbers followed by Canada, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, Germany, Australia and Finland.

The top-logged beers via Untappd were Guinness Draught, Stone Xocoveza (2016), Founders Breakfast Stout, and Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro. The top cities on Stout Day were Chicago, New York City, London, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, Washington, Denver and Austin.

International Stout Day brings stout-beer lovers around the world together and gives the variety of beer a day in the spotlight—which it so rightly deserves.

Start planning for next year at www.StoutDay.com.

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