Nearly every brewery has an India pale ale in its arsenal. As the style with the largest share in the craft beer segment, it just makes good business sense. The IPA— generously hopped, moderate alcohol, decent malt presence—is a classic style enjoying a reinvigoration and reinterpretation.
So it should surprise no one that Guinness, the Irish beer brand synonymous with another style of ale—the stout—is getting into the IPA arms race. This week in New York City, the brand kicked off its U.S. launch tour (with dozens of other stops planned) for Guinness Nitro IPA with an intimate dinner at the Growler Bites & Booze, a serious-minded beer bar, just two blocks from the New York Stock Exchange.
Nitro IPA was developed in the Guinness pilot brewery, as part of the so-called Brewers Project series. Luis Ortega, the person credited with creating the recipe and whose name appears on the packaging said, in a press release that, “IPAs are complex and hoppy, but for some beer drinkers the bitterness can be too much. We aimed to make a balanced, smooth beer.”
It’s hard to argue with that. Despite being brewed with five varieties of hops—Admiral, Cascade, Celeia, Challenger and Topaz, this is not a hop bomb. Those used to American-style IPAs will find this very firmly in the British tradition, with a solid toasted caramel malt content. It will be available on draft, but also in 12-ounce cans that contain 11.2-ounces of liquid, allowing room for the famed Guinness nitro widget inside.
It’s the extra space inside the can that likely led to some inconsistencies during my initial tasting. At the event, the brewery handed unopened cans to the media, inviting us to pour our own beers. Rather than the traditional Guinness pint glass, the brewery suggests serving the beer in a stemmed goblet.
Thanks to the widget, the medium-amber colored beer cascaded in that pleasing nitro way, leaving a thick cake of a white head atop. The first aroma that I could discern was faint but present wet cardboard, an aroma linked to oxidation. Pushing past that, I compared notes with a colleague and we both agreed that hop character was lost among toasted barley malts. The mouthfeel was excellent.
Later, we sampled two more cans, pouring ourselves. My sample was nearly flat, with an intact but diminished nitro head, but had a very pleasing aroma of orange peel zest, with the slightest bit of pine coming through. My colleague’s sample was more carbonated but similar to the first sample. All samples had a slight mineral tang, a flavor consistent with the Guinness house yeast, and had a pleasing bitter finish.
It’s hard for a brewery to roll out a new product without tweaking and refining after launch. Guinness (which is owned by Diageo and produced more than 2.2 million barrels last year) is not a brewery to rest on its laurels. Over the last several years it’s released several new beers including a black lager, a blonde lager, a limited edition anniversary beer and several others. It’s a good bet that any initial feedback on Guinness Nitro IPA that need to be addressed, will.
What remains to be seen is if a nitro IPA will be embraced by consumers. Guinness is famous for its stout being poured and watching a glass of cascading carbonation is one of the true beautiful sights in beer. Nitro is ideal for stouts, but several years ago I wrote an article where several brewers said they believe that nitro pours, especially from draft, strip the bitter essence from a hoppy beer.
Expect to see Guinness Nitro IPA at a bar or package store near you starting this month.
John Holl is the editor of All About Beer Magazine.