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Guinness Goes Too Far

To many beer drinkers, Guinness Stout is a familiar and reliable beer that instills a sense of comfort and cheer. A pint of Guinness is more than just a beverage; it’s an icon. Ordering one can be as much a celebration of “Irishness” as it is a request for a beer. Thanks to this image, it is one of the world’s best selling beers. The famous stout is now available in 150 countries all over the globe and 10 million pints a day are drunk.

Despite the strength of the brand, the actual stuff in your glass of Guinness varies from bottle to can to draught. Different methods of packaging the beer produce a wide array of tastes and experiences. With the release of the new “Draught Bottle,” the options for buying Guinness for home consumption are numerous for a beer that is so reliant on one style. Currently, there are four different versions of basically the same beer available in bottles and cans. All are labeled stouts but differ drastically in taste and composition.

The traditional take-home product, the bottled Extra Stout is much more robust with a stronger roasted malt flavor than the pub version. The head is khaki colored and thins quickly unlike the long lasting white foam of the pub pour. This isn’t an imperfection; it’s due to the difficulty of carbonating bottles. The nitrogen used in kegging systems can’t be used in conventional bottles so the result is that the bottled beer is truer to its ingredients but less drinkable and therefore less popular.
Attempting to replicate the pub pint, Guinness came up with the draught can system in 1989. The idea is a noble one and the result is pretty good, thanks to a technological trick. When poured, it very closely resembles what you get in a bar, you even get the cascade effect. Though it tastes similar, it’s not quite as you remember it from the pub, the flavor feels forced and tinny. Despite its drawbacks, it’s a decent effort and deserves its place in the market as an alternative to the old bottles.

The new draught bottle attempts to capitalize on the can’s success and bring it added convenience. Again, a widget provides the gas but since it’s meant to be drunk from the bottle, you can’t watch the freshly poured pint swirl in the glass before settling. Unfortunately, the flavor doesn’t make up for this drawback. The beer tastes thin and lacks distinction. As a substitute for a pint of Guinness poured in a pub, it fails entirely. In the quest to make the product more accessible, the essence of the beer itself is sacrificed.

Guinness can’t be faulted for trying to make their carefully engineered pub pint more available outside the pub. The cans are a noble effort and their success is seen in the numerous other brands that also use the technology. The draught bottles take it too far though, sacrificing taste for convenience. If we sat at home drinking the convenient cans and bottles, what will happen to the pub?

Matt Yosca is a staff member in HBS MBA Course Services

November 12, 2001
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