EVEN if you are not a regular beer drinker, you would probably have heard of the name Guinness. It is, after all, one of the most iconic beer brands in the world, with a history of over 250 years.
However, for the longest time now, I’ve had a nagging question about the brand, or more specifically, the bottle and canned version of the beer called Guinness Foreign Extra Stout – why is it called Foreign Extra Stout when it is made locally? And why is it so different from the Guinness Draught we get on tap?
Since Guinness recently unveiled a new image and packaging for Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (or FES for short) with a snazzy update on the classic label, I figured this would be the perfect time to find out once and for all what exactly FES is all about.
But before we delve more into FES, let’s just take a second to find out what a “stout” is.
First of all, yes, stout is beer, just brewed differently from the more common lagers out there. Lagers are made with bottom-fermented yeast, whereas stouts, porters and ales are made with top-fermented yeast. Back in 1721, the word “porter” was used to describe a dark brown ale made with roasted malts that was popular with street and river “porters” of London; the strongest of which were called “stouts”.
Then in 1759, everything changed when a man named Arthur Guinness began brewing a stout that became more, much more than “just a stout”. On Dec 31, 1759, the founder of Guinness signed a 9,000 (yes, NINE THOUSAND) year lease for the then unused St James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, and started brewing the traditional Irish stout beer called Guinness.
Today, Guinness is one of the best known beer brands in the world, and probably single-handedly changed the definition of a stout from being just a “very strong porter” to “a dark beer made from roasted malt”.
The iconic black brew (technically, it’s a very dark shade of ruby red) is enjoyed not just in Ireland, but all over the world as well, and is brewed in countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, and of course, Malaysia, where it is produced by Guinness Anchor Berhad (GAB). Guinness currently brews three main products worldwide – Guinness Draught, Guinness Original or Extra Stout, and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, which is the focus of today’s column.
Regular Guinness drinkers would probably have noticed how different the bottled and canned FES is from the Guinness Draught you get at bars. That is because although they are technically the same product, there is actually more to the FES than meets the eye (and taste buds).
Arthur Guinness first started exporting Guinness outside of Ireland in 1769, when he shipped six-and-a-half barrels to Britain. Then in 1801, the product we would later come to know as Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was first exported to the Caribbean under the name “West India Porter”. Since it needed to last a long time on the ship travelling to its destinations, the beer was brewed with extra hops and with more alcohol in it. With exports of the beer increasing rapidly (the first record of it coming to South-East Asia was in the 1860s), the exported beer was renamed Foreign Extra Stout from 1849 onward.
In Malaysia, however, the name “Guinness Foreign Extra Stout” was first used in 1965, when Guinness Malaysia (as GAB was known as back then) first started brewing the beer locally. Before that, it was actually known as “Guinness Stout”, because Guinness Malaysia used to import the finished stout directly from Ireland and bottle them locally; but when brewing began here instead, the term “Foreign Extra” was coined to differentiate it from the one brewed in its homeland. Today, all Guinness brewed outside Ireland carry the term “Foreign Extra” on their labels.
But enough about its history. What is Guinness FES, exactly, and why does it taste the way it does? Available only in bottles and cans, FES has been one of the best-known beers in Malaysia for decades now. As the name suggests, FES is a stout, brewed using roasted barley malt, hops, yeast and water. The Guinness brewed here also uses an unfermented hop mixture called the “Guinness Flavour Extract (GFE)”, which is shipped from Dublin to the brewing countries where it is then fermented locally.
According to GAB Professional Solutions manager Keith Nair, while the process of brewing the Guinness Draught and FES is pretty much the same initially, the biggest difference between the two is that the FES has a higher concentration of hops and yeast, making it not only higher in alcohol level (about 6.8% ABV), but also more intense, richer and more robust in flavour.
The gasses used in the two beers are also different – the Draught uses a mixture of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen, whereas the FES only has CO2 in it.
Now, although I’ve been drinking Guinness for a while now, I never really got into the FES much. In an attempt to show me what I’m missing, Nair conducted a three-step sampling for me at the GAB Tavern. Handing me a glass of FES, he told me to take a sip.
“For those who are not used to FES, like lager or Guinness Draught drinkers, your mind would already be telling you that FES is too bitter and heavy, so your palate automatically freezes when you take that first sip,” he explained, before instructing me to take another sip.
Surprisingly, that second sip proved to be much more palatable than the first, which Nair attributes to my palate adjusting to the flavour and temperature of the beer.
“The second sip is when you really taste the flavour. After the first, your palate froze and the bitterness was all over the place.
“But the second sip is when you really taste the sweetness and the flavours. Only after that do we give you the full glass of FES,” he said, adding that the FES is also a very versatile drink, as in you can either drink it chilled or even at room temperature, which will give the FES a richer, almost syrupy sweetness.
He also reckons that the FES is THE version of Guinness to go for if you want a REAL stout.
“The FES is a real man’s drink – rich, robust and malty, and much, much more intense than Guinness Draught. If you like the taste of Guinness but want something that is also more intense and robust in flavour, then go for the FES,” he said.
This raises another question though – what is the difference between Guinness Draught and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout? Are the two really so different? Well, that’s a story for another column ...
- Michael Cheang likes how drinking Guinness Foreign Extra Stout tends to make him feel extra local. Reader response can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org