Is there anything more Irish than Guinness? Is any other country more globally recognised through a single product?
Linking the drink to St Patrick’s Day is a marketing coup of the highest order and you must doff a ginger-wig-fringed hat to drinks giant Diageo, the owner of Guinness, for the way that it has made Ireland and Irishness synonymous with its product.
If Welsh brewer Brains has its way, Wales will be synonymous with their new brew, Brains Black, which is coming to Hong Kong this month.
Perhaps if the brew is as successful as its Irish counterpart, it will prompt the creation of its own Welsh, stereotype-laden festival here to rival the St Patrick’s Day festivities.
Brains Black is the latest product from the Welsh brewer and, although it was launched on St David’s Day [March 1] 2010 in Wales, it is currently only available in a small number of pubs in its home country.
However, Sam Tam, director of Trafalgar, a pub in Wan Chai, may well be the first person to strike a deal to get the beer anywhere outside of Wales. He has been providing British ales for several years in his establishment, and by chance was introduced to representatives from Brains by a friend. They were looking for outlets for their new product and he was more than willing to oblige, meaning drinkers in Hong Kong will soon get the chance to compare it to market-leader Guinness themselves.
At the launch Richard Davies, Brains’ sales and marketing director, said: “We are very excited about Brains Black and proud to launch it on St David’s Day. From early research we found there to be a real passion for a Welsh stout that could be offered as an alternative to the market leader.” That market leader, of course, is Guinness, which, according to parent company Diageo, is “the only global stout brand”.
Davies added: “We are hopeful that it will appeal to established stout drinkers, as well as those discovering stout for the first time.”
As part of the launch, Brains invited former Welsh international rugby player Rob Jones and former Ireland international Simon Easterby to a blind taste test. The Welshman guessed correctly; the Irishman struggled to tell the difference between the Welsh and Irish beers. The stout also performed well in taste tests with consumers.
We recently replicated those tests, taking beer fans Keith Lyons (Irish), David Bartrum (English) and myself (Welsh) to the Trafalgar to compare the brews.
The test took into account the varying taste of Guinness around the world. In 2011 a study from the Institute of Food Technologists found “some limited scientific evidence to support the theory among beer enthusiasts that Guinness tastes much better in Ireland than other parts of the world. Over a period of one year, four researchers of different nationalities travelled to 14 countries and visited 71 Guinness-serving establishments in 33 cities to collect data for 103 tastings.
Tasting scores for pints of Guinness were generally high all around the world, yet tastings in pubs in Ireland scored significantly higher. This difference remained statistically significant after adjusting for researcher, pub ambience, Guinness appearance, and the sensory measures of mouthfeel, flavour and aftertaste.”
Our panel was split on the first beer tasted. To the Irish taster the stout seemed like Guinness from a can rather than draught.
Both the English and Welsh tasters commented on the smoothness of the beer, leading them to believe, at first, that it was not Guinness.
Of course the moment of truth came when the second beer arrived and minds were rapidly changed.
The head of this beer was pockmarked, unlike the smooth and velvety head of a well-poured Guinness. But Tam pointed out that Brains probably intended the head of the stout to resemble a Guinness so, appearances could be deceiving.
The panel found the second beer a great deal more bitter and hoppier, far more like an ale or a beer from a microbrewery than a stout. One panellist claimed the second beer had more identifiable flavours while another expressed a preference for a more traditional stout.
After tasting was completed, the panel (correctly) surmised that the first beer was Guinness and the second Brains.
The difference in flavours made the tasters doubt that the brewery was aiming at an exact Guinness clone.
The beer could be a popular alternative, at least with the Welsh, around the time of the Six Nations Championship, the rugby union tournament that kicks off on February 1. Sales are likely to be helped by the fact that it will be slightly cheaper than Guinness.
Brains Black will be available in the Trafalgar, The Barn II in Causeway Bay and Casa in Sai Kung from January 22.