A project to catch drinkers on the hop

Guinness is at it again. Following up on last September’s kickoff, hitting Irish outlets in October, a new beer has been released as part of the Brewers Project. The new beer’s a departure from the porter and stout category. They’ve even leaped outside completely.

Hop House 13 is a lager. I have heard plenty of chatter on how the brewer doesn’t like such beers but persevered for the sake of making a decent but different take on the style. At 4.1%, the folk in St. James’ Gate are attempting to compete in the lager category against old and new offerings by other macro breweries and even those they brew under licence. It’s certainly priced that way. If it eats into craft beer sales (if being sold in the same pub), I’m sure they’ll take that too.

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To cover all bases, not only is this aimed at the lager drinker it also is trying to cash in on the “cool” drinker. The one who may want to appear fashionable because he or she has heard of something called “hop”. To make it even easier and perhaps a more attractive proposition Guinness has gone and put it smack bang into the name of the beer. This is the “Fr Trendy” of beers.

Hop House 13 pours a clear golden colour. So a big tick for that. Little perceptible hop aroma. There’s citrus and apricot in tasting so I’m told. I got the subtle citrus flavours but it had more of a red berry than apricot taste for me. However, I tried this after judging a beer competition and my palate was fairly shot.

I have tried this beer on two separate occasions. It could prove popular as the weather gets better. Already countless “sure there’s a grand stretch in the evening” comments can be heard. It could pass muster for fans of summer ale as there’s a teaspoon of bitterness in the beer. It’s a little thin and watery but overall not a bad attempt.

The “crafty” Brewers Project appears to be picking up momentum. Hop House 13 will be featuring in bars across the island but not in all of them. It’ll be a similar rollout to Dublin Porter. The Brewers Project is clearly becoming a brand, label (or call it what you will) in its own right.

I’m just waiting for the day when I might overhear a drinker remark that “13” refers to the types of hops in the beer. For the record, there’s only three: mosaic, topaz and galaxy.

You could have worse beers than this but you could certainly have better. This is where it fits in. Could be better, could be worse.

Hey porter, hey porter

October sees the two new Guinness products being sold in Ireland. Officially launched at the beginning of September, the Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter have been available to purchase in the UK for an entire month. I was invited along with a handful of other bloggers to take a peek inside Guinness’ Pilot Brewery and be one of the first people to try the two new offerings but have waited until now to post about them. The reason being not only did bottles hit the shelves this week but so too did the draught version of the Dublin Porter in selected pubs.

The preview evening was hosted by Nick Curtis-Davis the Head of Innovation for Guinness, along with ‎Pilot Plant Manager Luis Ortega and Master Brewer Gearóid Cahill. Marketed under the Brewers Project, the beers mark a new departure for the company because they’ve adopted the “freedom to fail” approach to innovation. They took a conscious decision that no market research be taken prior to releasing these beers. There’s apparently no plan or future roadmap for the series.

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Critics were early to accuse them of copying the likes Shepherd’s Neame in releasing historic recreations. However, the Brewers Project is not a case of “beer archaeology” because of the extremely limited appeal this would have. The beers are “influenced” by historic recipes, not historic recreations. Take for instance West Indies Porter, it is inspired by brewery logs of 1801 for the first purpose-brewed export porter, using twice the amount of hops, by Guinness. The original recipe itself has evolved over time into Foreign Extra Stout. The 1796 reference on the Dublin Porter relates to the fact that year was the earliest record of porter being written down in the company diaries.

When Guinness lends its brand to new products people are quick to remember high profile failures. Breó anyone? Guinness drinkers have proven to be remarkably brand resilient over the years even treating the likes of Foreign Extra Stout with suspicion. So why re-attempt this now? The explanation lies in the explosion of craft beer and the role it has played in educating the consumer and reviving the interest in beer. It doesn’t pretend to be craft. These products aren’t aimed at the beer enthusiasts (they’ll try it once and tick it off the list) but rather an acknowledgement to the fact that some drinkers are now more likely to stray into the unknown and try something new. This benefits the overall beer market as it helps grow potential consumers for craft products. Part of the battle is always trying to get people to try new things.

So what are they like? First, up was the Dublin Porter (3.8% abv) that pours a dark mahogany colour. There’s roast coffee notes on the nose. It drinks dry with a little chewiness. For me it felt as if it was a tad over-carbonated. There’s a wee kick of bitterness in the finish.

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This week I got to try the draught version of the Dublin Porter. It was interesting that they opted to serve this via CO2 and not with the assistance of nitrogen. This clearly differentiates it from draught Guinness and lacks the smoothness people have come to expect. This is no bad thing and helps to pick up on the various flavours and textures within the beer. I got more chocolate than coffee on the nose and on tasting but giving way to a dry nuttiness on the finish. The head dissipates fairly quickly and the beer itself comes across a fairly light in body. I would love to think that drinkers after becoming familiar with this on draught would reach for the excellent Dark Arts Porter by Trouble Brewing as time goes on.

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Finally, the West Indies Porter at 6% abv is available in bottles only. It’s a beer that people will draw immediate comparisons with Foreign Extra Stout. Perhaps this is a little unfair. The beer pours dark brown and its aroma is reminiscent of a milky coffee that subdues notes of roasted coffee. There’s a slight chocolate hit on first taste. It’s initially creamy with vanilla sweetness but succumbs to a chewy bitterness on the finish.

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For me, these beers aren’t remarkable in the way Guinness Special Export is. They’re grand and were interesting to try in a been-there, done-that sort of way but that’s not the point. These beers are not aimed at drinkers like me and nor should they be. Their importance can be in helping convince people loyal to a brand to try one or two variants. Hopefully, some of them will go on to discover the exciting beers available out there in a way that O’Shea’s Traditional Irish Stout (aka Carlow Brewing Company) in Aldi has done. Only time will tell.