Saturday, September 29, 2012

Beers with Widgets

The beers in the gallery above have a few things in common. 

First, they are all from the same region, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Yeah, I know that some people don't want Ireland and England in the same sentence but I have ancestors from Ireland, Scotland and England. The English connection goes back to Sir William Forman, Lord High Mayor of London in 1538, knighted by Henry VIII. At least that's what I choose to believe, it may be a whole different Forman (Foreman) line. The Irish and Scottish connection gets a bit blurred and I'm not sure which country they got kicked out of first, but I'm pretty sure some of my ancestors oppressed other of my ancestors. 

Next, they are all on my patio table waiting to be sampled (over the course of a few days, otherwise writing this article would be difficult at best) so that I might share these pearls of wisdom with you. Oh the work I go through for the sake of art and truth.

And most important, they are all in draught cans which produce a taste close to a real draft. What produces this is a neat thing called a beer widget and some extra nitrogen. You see, beers from the UK and Ireland have considerably less carbonation than American beers. That's what this little story is about, and my opinions on the beers of course.

British, Irish, Scottish and Welsh beer is not as heavily carbonated as American Beer and most of the head comes from air introduced when the beer is 'pulled' from the cask to the tap. This works fine, but the problem is that when these beers are bottled or canned there is no head when poured. The good people at Guinness solved that by creating the widget.

The Beer Widget-

The widget is a plastic, nitrogen-filled, sphere with a tiny hole in it that is added before the can is sealed. It floats in the beer, with the hole just slightly below the surface of the beer. When you open the can, the pressure inside drops and the compressed gas inside the sphere is quickly forced out through the tiny hole into the beer. This increases the amount of foam, or head on the beer. 

The end result is that when you pour the beer into a glass you get that wonderful head so unlike the head on American beer. This head does not overflow the glass but rather cascades delightfully into the glass leaving a small foamy head on top of the beer. The beer remains unfettered with all of the unneeded gases and has a smooth taste.

Another method used, and a couple of the beers above use this, is a false bottom in the can filled with nitrogen. 

My opinions and commentary follow. 

Murphy's Stout- This is a low alcohol (4%) Irish cream stout from Cork, Ireland and I like this better than Guinness as it has more flavor. The can tastes very close to my memories of this stout in Ireland where most pubs have a Guinness tap and a Murphy's tap sitting side by side. 

Young's Double Chocolate Stout- I like this one better than Murphy's, but the comparison isn't totally valid as the style is a bit different. Brewed by Wells and Young in The United Kingdom it is a milk stout with 5% alcohol. It has a nice sweet bite to the taste coming from the chocolate malt. Probably one of my favorite stouts.

Bellhaven Scottish Ale- Brewed in Dunbar, Scotland since 1719, this is one of my favorite ales. The ABV is 5.2%. I first had this on the overnight train to Edinburgh and had a few more while I was in the city.  

Boddington's Pub Ale- Brewed in Manchester, England, the ABV is 4.7%. It starts out creamy when poured and has a nice simple taste.

Old Speckled Hen- This beer was originated in Abington, Oxfordshire in 1979 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the MG plant. Old Speckled Hen was the nickname of a service car at the factory covered in paint splotches. It is a bitter with a 5.2% ABV and has a very nice taste. 

Wexford Irish Ale- Brewed in Bury St. Edmunds, England, this ale weighs in at 5% and has a nice creamy look when poured. The taste is a bit lacking and is a bit closer to a lager. Not bad, but nothing amazing.

Tetley's Smooth Flow- This is an English Bitter with only 3.6% alcohol. My first experience with this was at a bar in Mold, Wales. This is a very good bitter. The term does not mean not bitter in taste, but rather not sweet. Bitter is another term for pale ale.

John Smith's Smooth Ale- Dating back to 1778 in Tadcaster in North Yorkshire, England, this smooth ale is the biggest sponsor of horse racing in the UK. The Smooth Ale is actually a smooth (hence the name), mild (3.6%), creamy English pale ale. I like it better than a Bass.

But the grandaddy of widget beers is Guinness, after all, they invented it. 

Started in 1759 in Dublin, Ireland, Guinness has become symbolic of Ireland. At 4.3% it is a lighter beer and lower in calories (only 125 calories for a twelve once serving). They even tout health benefits by saying, "Guinness is good for you." I run this past my wife when she starts to complain that I've had too many beers.

I discovered Guinness nearly forty years ago when it was in six ounce bottles in the local ShopRite. I've had it on and off since then, mostly when I go to an Irish place, but occasionally at home. I enjoyed a few pints in England and Ireland and the best pint I ever had was at the source when I toured the plant at Saint James Gate in Dublin. Even though there are others that I like better, I'll fall back on a Guinness often, mainly due to availability. You can get it almost anywhere.

The list is not all-inclusive, there are probably more widget beers out there that I have not yet seen. Any beer above is better than the standard mass-produced American swill and some come close to craft micro-brews. The main thing though is the non-gassy feeling after a beer or two. Try a few and see what I mean.

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