On paper, the idea of a coffee-infused version of Guinness Draught Stout seems like the most obvious slam dunk imaginable. Guinness is, after all, the most widely consumed stout in the world, and indeed serves as an introduction to the concept of “stout” for many drinkers, for better or worse. We say “for better or worse” because Guinness is a very unique beer that doesn’t necessarily give an accurate impression of what most craft stouts and porters truly taste like—because of its nitrogenated (rather than carbonated) nature and very dry flavor profile, the classic Guinness stout drinks like an entirely different animal. Regardless, though, a coffee version seems like such an obvious line extension that it’s rather surprising such a product hasn’t existed for a decade or more.
Now, though, we have the new “Guinness Nitro Cold Brew Coffee” hitting shelves in the U.S., but you’ll notice that one word is curiously absent in the marketing: “Stout.” Coming along in a time when various brands such as PBR have been seeing success with “hard coffee” and “hard cold brew” brands, it seems as if the folks at Guinness are hedging their bets on what exactly their own new product is supposed to be, exactly. Although the words “beer with coffee and natural coffee flavors” do appear below the bold text, the rest of the branding seems to suggest the company wants drinkers to think of this product as “hard coffee” rather than “coffee stout.” Truly, that feels like a sign of the times if even Guinness doesn’t think the word “stout” has marketing cache for them.
Here’s what we actually know about this new product: It is a permanent addition to the Guinness portfolio that relatively quietly began rolling out in the U.S. in March, with expansion now happening nationwide. It comes in four-packs of 14.9 fl oz cans, retailing for $9.99 and equipped with the trademark Guinness “widget” that infuses nitrogen into the beer when the top is cracked, resulting in the iconic “surge and settle” for which the brand is visually known. It weighs in at 4% ABV, just a hair under the typical 4.2% for Guinness Draught. The U.S. is the first market to get this particular offering, which makes us wonder if perhaps it was primarily designed/conceived at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery in Baltimore, Maryland, the company’s U.S. headquarters.
With all that said, let’s get into tasting and see how the coffee plays with the company’s classic stout, regardless of whether Guinness is using that word.
In the glass, this pours with the classic, dense Guinness head of compact nitrogen foam you would no doubt expect. Like the classic stout, it isn’t truly jet black, but rather a very deep brown, with ruby highlights along the edges.
On the nose, the first unmissable thing wafting from this glass are expressive notes of chocolate and nuttiness. The aromatics here are less “fresh pot of coffee” or “pitcher of cold brew,” and more sweetened and confectionary in nature. I’m getting milk chocolate syrup and hazelnut coffee pods, along with hints of sweetened peanut butter. It’s perhaps a tad artificial in nature, but not in an unpleasant way, although it does make me a bit concerned that the beer will be unbalanced in the direction of overt sweetness.
On the palate, this certainly does prove sweeter than your average Guinness—to be expected, as the classic Guinness Draught is almost bone dry—but it also retains a fairly dry finish with hints of roasty astringency. The most active flavors, however, again run toward the chocolatey and nutty—I’m reminded of milk chocolate drink powder, ‘ala Nesquik, along with chocolate hazelnut spread. There’s a touch of maltier sweetness, hints of peppery spice, and some hazelnut coffee, but I expect that if you gave this drink to tasters to sample blind, more of them would call out the chocolate-type flavors than the coffee ones. All in all, the sense of “roast” is fairly mild, but I do appreciate that it finishes fairly dry.
All in all, this strikes me as pretty close to what the dedicated Guinness drinker would probably want from a coffee version of the beer, albeit perhaps further from the bullseye for dedicated craft drinkers. Still, I can absolutely see this one playing well with the Guinness core market, offering a modestly sweeter and more decadent version of their favorite stout, regardless of whether that word is actually present.
Brewery: Guinness (Diageo)
City: St. James Gate, Dublin, Ireland
Availability: 4-packs, 14.9 oz cans, $9.99 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident craft beer geek. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drinks writing.