Guinness Foreign Extra Stout: The World’s Best Extract Brew?

I just spotted an article on CNN’s website about the success story of Guinness in Nigeria. I didn’t expect to find anything amazing here, just another affirmation of Mike’s hypothesis about the amazing international growth opportunities for brewers as the developing world’s growing middle class acquires a taste for beer (and frankly they could do much worse than Guinness in my opinion, I salute Nigeria’s good taste!) It turns out that Nigeria now consumes more Guinness than Ireland, and is second only to the UK in consumption of this most renowned of dry stouts. That’s not to say that Ireland is slouching here; Nigeria is a nation of 150 million people, the UK about 60 million, and Ireland only about 6 million…I’d say they’re pulling their weight, for sure.

What was surprising to me is that in Nigeria, Indonesia, and other markets in which Guinness is brewed under contract this way, Guinness is apparently an extract beer.

Without getting too technical, there are two ways to brew beer, all grain or extract. An all grain brewer steeps malted grains like barley in warm water (a process called “mashing”), which creates a sort of tea by dissolving sugars and other compounds out of the grain and into the water. This “tea” is then called wort. Hops are added, the mixture is boiled for sanitization and to trigger certain chemical reactions, then the result is cooled and the yeast are unleashed, creating beer. All grain brewing is like making soup from scratch, if you will.

Extract brewing on the other hand can be thought of more like making condensed Campbells soup. A manufacturer of malt mashes the grains at the factory, then dehydrates the wort, extracting as much water as possible, which improves the shelf life. Sometimes hops are added, sometimes not, and then the dehydrated mixture is diluted by the brewer and boiled.

Homebrewers usually start out with extract brewing because it is easier, but then switch to all grain when they feel they can handle the challenge and want to increase the quality of their brews. However, this doesn’t mean that all extract beers are bad; I’ve heard of many extract homebrews going on to win awards at major competitions, and have also heard of professional brewpubs that make extract brews exclusively, among them two in Canada (one in Calgary, the other in Nova Scotia) and another in California (Pacific Coast BC in Oakland). I haven’t been to any of the three but have always been secretly skeptical, even though I’m sure that a good brewer can make proper use of any ingredient to make good beer, so long as they are smart about selecting and using it.

As for Guinness Nigeria, they use an unfermented, hopped extract shipped in from Dublin and add it to unspecified local ingredients. My guess is that certain ingredients are easy to get locally, the others are not of the same quality (or quantity) as those available in Dublin, so the extract replaces those that are harder to come by.

The Nigerian brewery was the first outside of Ireland and Great Britain and has seen torrid growth despite a global economic recession and challenging operating environment (including failing infrastructure and unpredictable governance according to CNN). I’d love to get my hands on their product and see what extract Guinness tastes like, but I don’t think it’s distributed in the US, so I’ll have to wait for now.