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What is Guinness?

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Guinness
Photo by Stephen Edgar [flickr]

Guinness is a traditional Irish stout beer made from roasted barley, hops, yeast, and water. The deep color and caramelized flavor that are characteristic of Guinness come from barley that has been roasted but not malted. The thick, creamy head that Guinness is well known for is achieved by mixing the beer with nitrogen, which creates smaller bubbles and thus a thicker head.

Although the company is now based in London, Guinness was first produced in Dublin at the brewery of Arthur Guinness in the late 18th century. Today, Guinness is one of the most successful beer brands and is sold in over 100 countries world wide.

A Meal in a Cup

Guinness long ago earned the nickname "meal in a cup" because of it's thick, filling nature. Surprisingly, at 198 calories per pint, Guinness contains fewer calories than most juices or even milk. In the 1920's, Guinness used the slogan "Guinness is good for you," after consumers reported an enhanced feeling of wellbeing after drinking a pint. Due to restrictions on medical claims, this slogan has long since been abandoned. Regardless of whether the company advertises it, Guinness contains a surprising amount of healthful antioxidants similar to those found in fruits and vegetables. These antioxidants have even shown to help slow the deposit of bad cholesterol on artery walls.

Guinness Varieties

Guinness is sold world wide and brewed in over 50 countries. The available varieties and alcoholic content vary from country to country. These are a few of the most popular varieties of Guinness available on the market today.

Guinness Draught - Guinness Draught is sold in kegs, bottles, and widget cans (with a special nitrogen "widget" for an extra creamy head) and contains an alcoholic content between 4.1 and 4.3 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).

Guinness Original / Extra Stout - One of the most widely sold versions, Guinness Original/Extra Stout contains about 4.3 percent ABV in Europe and slightly more in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout - This variety has a higher alcohol percent by volume than most other varieties of Guinness, reaching up to 7.5% ABV in Europe and the United States and up to 8% ABV in Singapore. To make this variety of Guinness, an unfermented hop mixture is shipped from Dublin to foreign countries where it is then fermented locally. The variance in fermentation processes and techniques account for the varying alcohol levels.

In addition to these three main varieties, Guinness has created a large array of other brews throughout its history, including a number of limited-edition stouts.

Guinness as an Ingredient

Guinness has come to represent Irish culture and cuisine and is therefore used to infuse an Irish feel into many culinary creations. In addition to being used as a cultural prop ingredient, Guinness lends a unique, rich, caramelized flavor when added to food. One of the most popular dishes to use Guinness is Irish stew. Adding Guinness to the stew creates a fuller, more complex gravy. Guinness has also been used as a leavening agent in soda breads and scones, and even as a novelty ingredient in cupcakes. In recent years, Guinness floats (Guinness poured over vanilla ice cream) have become a popular treat around St. Patricks Day.

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