Traditional strong bottled stout now is available as Guinness Foreign Extra, or available again, in the United States. This is the flavor of standard bottled Guinness before the family sold out to an inauthentic international behemoth, robust enough to stand up to a blue cheese and canned sardines forty years ago, clandestinely drunken in an Andover dorm.
Noting a contrast between the flavor of Guinness then and now is no exercise in wishful memory; in 1981, in response to competition from unworthy lagers, Guinness changed its recipe for stout to make it lighter, weaker, ‘more drinkable’ and therefore less interesting.
The inroad of lager beers on the stout market has been particularly dispiriting in both Ireland and the United Kingdom, where decent foreign brands are rendered inauthentic and obscene when brewed locally under license using adjuncts that are absent from recipes from the original. These beers contrive to be both acrid and bland, and have no relationship to the original other than the name.
Foreign Extra tastes little like draft Guinness and that is the point. The bottles contain the stronger stuff, both in alcohol (7.5 compared to about 4.2%) and in taste. While draft stout has a creamy, almost light flavor that finishes slightly sweet, Foreign Extra has bite. It is almost, but not, harsh; that is meant as a compliment.
It also takes us back, much like Smith & Cross rum, to the taste of an earlier time, for the basic formula was stronger during the nineteenth century than it is today, so Foreign Extra is the more authentic variation.
Not much about Foreign Extra differs from the old drink of dear, dirty Dublin; the content of bottles that reach the United States still is brewed there, unlike a lot of Guinness that now comes from Canada, where a hopped wort extract is fermented with a measure of sour beer and local water. Canadian Guinness is, to be fair, a good product, better than the bottles formerly exported from the now defunct Park Royal brewery outside London.
Foreign Extra can be difficult to find and its packaging in a four pack does not conceal its high price. Do not, however, be deterred; it is good value for money and worth some work to find.