Real Guinness may die - but the yeast lives on ...
In the days when British brewers had more confidence in their own products, they sold porters and stouts far and wide, without any hindrance from "marketing" men ( why is that word so often an oxymoron?). The character and power of those British products so impressed breweries elsewhere that many took up the style, and a good few still make it.
My own stout hunting adventures across the North Sea and into the Baltic have been well documented in these pages. Increasingly, the beers that I have sampled and described are becoming available here.
Some, like the stuff Guinness of Great Britain wishes us to drink, are filtered and pasteurised. If this is what's best for us, as Guiness seems to think, let's look at
some of the competitors.
An interesting example is now available in Britain from a brewery in Aarhus, Denmark, called Ceres (after the god of grains and agriculture). In Britain, this bottom fermented, flash pasteurised brew is identified as Ceres Stout, though in Denmark I have seen it more charmingly labelled Stowt.
This has a lot of aromatic Munich malt character, hints of liquorice (though none is used), spiciness and fruitiness. It has a gravity of 1072, and an alcohol content of 7.7 per cent ABV.
I have visited Ceres a couple of times, most recently with a party from Cain's brewery of Liverpool and Merseyside CAMRA members. The company is in the same group as the Faxe brewery, also of Denmark, which owns Cain's.
This is named after the explorer Yitus Baring, who died of scurvy. Had this brew existed 300 years ago, he would never have found himself in such straits.
Ceres makes a wide variety of further speciality styles, ranging from a strong, butterymalty "Dortmunder", (also 7.7 per cent) to a brew of 6.3 per cent that is a blend of lager, stout, rum and lemon essence. This is named after the explorer Yitus Baring, who died of scurvy. Had this brew existed 300 years ago, he would never have found himself in such straits.
The brewery still has imposing buildings from the 1850s and 1860s. A painting from those days shows a windmill nearby (Guiness in Dublin still has one, without its sails), but now the town has grown around the brewery.
Aarhus today is known as a university town, but it was once a centre of brewing and distilling. The techniques of early producers are recreated in a seven-acre museum village comprising buildings from as early as the 1500s. Several of Denmark's brewers make bottom fermented strong porters or stouts (the terms are used there interchangeably) of similar gravities. In Odense, the Albani brewery has a distinctively firm, malty example; Carlsberg has a chewy, treacle toffeeish version labelled both Old Porter and Imperial Stout; and Tuborg has a creamy but dryish entrant.
Despite these breweries' persistence with the style, their examples can be hard to find. This is probably due to the influence of "marketing" men (Denmark has them, too). During my recent visit, a marketing man from Faxe became quite irritated when the Merseysiders and I wanted to find some speciality beers.
A studenty spot called Cafe Sommersko (6 Kronprinsengade, Copenhagen) had about 30 Danish brews and 50 imports in various stages of freshness. We also enjoyed a lightly fruity, unfiltered amber beer at the Apollo Bryggeriet. This brewpub and rib restaurant is next to the Tivoli Gardens, at 3 Vesterbrogade.
In the Mikro Bryggeri brewpub, in Oslo, Norway, in 1991, I tasted a creamy, chocolatey, top fermenting Imperial Stout of 1055-60. Last year, a new brewpub called Akershus opened in the Oslo suburb of Enebakk, with among its products an Irish style dry stout of 1044 degrees (4.4 per cent ABV) and a respectable 40 units of bitterness. None of the older established breweries in Norway makes a porter or stout. A Scot called Carnegie established one of my favourite Scandinavian Porters when he founded a brewery in Gothenburg in the 1800s. The brewery eventually became a part of the national giant Pripps, which now makes Carnegie Porter, still top fermenting, in its Stockholm brewery.
For a time, this beer was available only on prescription, and at 3.5 per cent ABV (qualifying under Swedish regulations as a Class II brew). In 1985, the Class III version, of 1061-2 degrees and 5.6 per cent ABV was reintroduced, and the following year Pripps started to release an annual vintage dated edition, with six months' maturation in tank.
In 1992, it was voted best top fermenting beer in its gravity band at the International Brewing Exhibition at Burton-on-Trent. Carnegie Porter has a soft, deep, palate, with lots of roasted coffee and toffee notes.
A Celtic connection of another sort was forged when the yeast was snitched from a bottle of Guinness by enthusiasts at the Sinebrychoff Brewery, in Copenhagen. This brewery, founded by a Russian called Nikolai Sinebrychoff in 1819, made porter in its early days, but lost its top fermenting yeast during Finland's
period of Prohibition.
The brewery cultured up the Guinness yeast to restart production to coincide with the postwar Helsinki Olympics.
Because even Finns have some difficulty with the brewery's Russian name, it is often abbreviated to Koff. The black speciality is known as Koff Porter, though it has also appeared in the odd expert market as Imperial Stout.
Sinebrychoff has just moved to a new brewery outside the city, and I wondered whether this had endangered the stout. On the contrary, I was told when I phoned the brewery. Not only would the stout remain in the range, there had also been a special brew to mark the 200th anniversary of Nikolai Sinebrychofi's birth.
This brew was made in 1988 and matured for two years. During this time, its gravity of 1072-4 per cent produced an alcohol content of 7.8 per cent, as against the usual 7.2 per cent. Koff Porter is centrifuged but not filtered. On this special occasion, it was not pasteurised.
Koff Porter is big, intense, dry, smooth and oily, with lots of roastiness, a restrained fruitiness and plenty of hop. I hear that the anniversary edition emerged with more chocolatey smoothness and softness. A sample is rumoured to be on its way.
Across the gulf in Estonia, the Saku Brewery, near Tallinn, produces a coffeeish, toffeeish, bottom fermenting Christmas Porter of 6.25 per cent ABV, which I finally managed to taste in 1991.
There are vestiges of "black" beers right across the former Russian Empire and I have even tasted a sweetish porter from the Tsingtao brewery, in China. Many British drinkers already know the toffeeish, bottom-fermenting ABC Extra Stout (1073 degrees, 8.1 per cent) from Tiger Beer, of Singapore, and similar products from other corners of the ormer British Empire.
Lovers of unfiltered stouts may yet find themselves going for an Asian example. Half a dozen years ago, I wrote an article on this page about my seven-hour ride over crumbling, mountain roads, at the height of a flood, and during the civil war, to sample top fermenting, cask conditioned stout at a couple of very basic bars in the Sri Lankan towns of Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.
Having heard of the exotic brew, I could not wait to taste it, but my memorable journey was not strictly necessary. I would a long way to enjoy the extraordinarily chocolatey, mochalike, top fermenting, unfiltered Lion Stout, but now it is available in Britain.
At the brewery in Nuwara Eliya all those years ago, they told me it had 6.2 per cent alcohol by volume. Perhaps it does; the label essays 5.0-8.0 per cent, remarkably vague even for a bottle conditioned beer. Try it; you will not be disappointed.
You will not for the moment find Lion Stout in any of the High Street chains, but your local ethnic corner store might be able to help. If they cannot, put them on to the importer: Y.K.D. International Ltd, Tel (081) 9036912 or 9036918.
Published Online: SEPT 2, 1998
Published in Print: MAR 1, 1993
In: What's Brewing
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