I usually wait until Christmas to lurk around the Whitehorse liquor store in search of sexy new beer products, but September brought a surprise: Guinness Black Lager. Guinness has been throwing some heavy coin into advertising this new product. The U.S. commercials adopt the beautiful-people-cocktail-party-scene to portray the beer as a sleek, sophisticated drinking option.
Here in unsophisticated Canada, Guinness’s marketing campaign focused more on the beer itself, apparently because Canadians are more beer-aware… and, um, less sexy? Roll film: “Of all the things that can take you by surprise on St. Patrick’s Day, here’s one you can enjoy: the surprisingly refreshing taste of Guinness Black Lager.”
The less desirable surprise pictured in the commercial is an old, male bagpipe player bending way too far forward to tie his shoe while the viewer stands uncomfortably behind him.
Black lagers are an interesting style group. The original black lagers were brewed in European nations like Germany in the early 1800s: dunkels and schwarzbier, for example. These were likely the original lagers.
As the century progressed and paler malts became more available through greater control of the kilning process, the lighter coloured lagers we know today emerged. Quick note: lagers are distinguished from ales primarily by the use of lager yeast for fermentation and the prolonged cold storage (lagering) of the beer before it is sold.
You can make a black lager from the recipe used to brew Stella Artois or Beck’s pilsner by adding dark roasted malts to the recipe. Stella Artois Dark was launched in 2010. The company’s president referred to it as a lager likely to be consumed during “down-tempo, reflective occasions,” whatever that means.
Why would Guinness, who makes a supremely popular stout (an ale, not a lager), venture into black lager land? I can only guess they want to woo drinkers who think Guinness stout is too heavy, which is crazy-talk.
Guinness stout is a light beer. It is only 4.2 per cent alcohol by volume and less caloric than your typical 5 per cent beer.
Guinness Black Lager is Guinness-lite (albeit 4.5 percent) and may actually succeed in wooing drinkers into the world of dark beers. The beer smells pleasantly grainy and has a light body. Like regular Guinness, it has very low hopping rates and derives some of its minimal bitterness from the use of roasted barley.
It’s a good first step world of dark beers, but if you’re already entrenched in that world, don’t bother.