Happy Saint Guinness Day! Today, around the world, hundreds of thousands of dark pints will be churned out, knocked back and knocked over – all in the name of a long-passed, snake-managing missionary. It’s the biggest day of commercialisation in the beer world, bar none. Over the years, Dublin’s most famed export has become so synonymous with St Patrick’s Day that it has become equivalent to the general celebration of things Irish, and has probably now surpassed it. People go out to drink the black stuff, it having become the focus of attention on the 17th of March (aside from my Grandad’s birthday; he’s 93 today).
There’s no denying Guinness aren’t brilliant at marketing – is there a brewery who has embraced the dusky art more totally than them? You only need to go to the hugely impressive Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, and walk around – the whole thing is essentially a museum to their marketing prowess. Toucans, sea lions, charging horses, breaking through the surf. Even I used to have one of those giant foam shamrock hat-things in my flat, for goodness sake – until we found a mouse living in it (true story).
I’m not a Guinness hater. One of the best beers I ever had was a pint of it, in Belfast when I was 18. The mystique of the settling and topping-up is Ireland’s tea ceremony, and at least has a smattering more integrity than the ‘perfect pour’ nonsense of Heineken, or whoever it was that purloined the technique for lagery means. When you go to the museum and come up out of the lift into the Gravity Bar, as the barman starts flicking the tap for your arrival, it’s like walking into a commercial.
Yet, this is pretty much all Guinness has to offer. There’s a reason why they constantly promote the moment of pouring; that’s the highlight. There are so many more great stouts out there. Sure, you can go somewhere like Edinburgh’s Three Sisters, as they try to break the record for numbers of pints of Guinness sold in 24hrs (last year, they got through a staggering 10,486 in a single day). But Scotland has some stunning stouts available, made here, brewed with endeavour and imagination. There’s far more to stout than style – these five Scottish stouts save their best for where it counts; substance.
Cromarty 2Craig’s (2.0%)
A collaboration between brewers Craig Middleton and Craig Allan, it starts off roasty, but leads into a whack of grapefruity citrus from the Cascade, Columbus and Chinook. Cromarty Craig calls this an ‘unstout’ because it is hoppy and low-alcohol, but it deserves to be in this list, no question.
Highland Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout (4.2%)
If any brewer would get the most out of the dark arts, it would be Rob Hill. Highland are renowned for their golden pale ales (and now, thanks to son Lewis, their IPA’s), but Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout is deep, raisiny, chocolatey, and all-round fantastic.
Cairngorm Black Gold (4.4%)
One of the most consistent beers in the country, Black Gold seemingly wins awards in every beer competition it enters. It has to be the most under-rated beer in Scotland; a near-perfect blend of soft, subtle roastiness and slightly sweet chocolate on the finish.
Loch Lomond Silkie Stout (5.0%)
Silkie is very definitely the word for this beer – or rather; silky. Soft and rounded, Fiona gets supreme balance in her stout – always the mark of a good dark beer. I usually get a fair bit of coffee in Silkie, which comes across like a sweet mocha, rich and hugely easy to drink.
Fyne Ales Sublime Stout (6.8%)
Like Highland, another brewer that should turn their hand to darker things more often, Fyne’s Sublime Stout more than lives up to its name. With a slight reddish hue, you’d never mistake this for a Guinness. It verges into the Black IPA territory, but the dark berry fruits pull it back. A belter.
Of course, there are far, far more than five stouts in Scotland – which are your favourites? What have I missed off this list?