What Is Guinness Beer?

A Guide to Buying, Drinking, and Pairing Guinness Beer

Guinness beer

The Spruce Eats / Photographer: Margot Cavin, Food Stylist: Kristin Stangl

Guinness is a traditional Irish stout beer made from barley, hops, water, and a specific strain of ale yeast. The yeast has been used for over 125 years and is now often simply called "Guinness yeast." The deep color and caramelized flavor that are characteristic of Guinness come from barley that has been roasted but not malted. The dark ale is known for its dense, creamy head, which is achieved by mixing the beer with nitrogen to create smaller bubbles that result in a thicker head.

Guinness is one of the most successful beer brands worldwide. In many Irish bars, you can also simply order "a pint of the Black Stuff." Often considered Ireland's national drink, Guinness is available in a few varieties today. It's both an excellent pairing for hearty meals and a common ingredient in food and drink recipes as well.

Fast Facts

  • ABV: 4.1–7.5%
  • Bitterness: 40 IBU
  • Color: 12–65 SRM

Guinness History

Although the company is now based in London, Guinness was first produced in Dublin, Ireland, at the brewery of Arthur Guinness (founded in 1759). When porters, and subsequently, the stouts (first known as "stout porters") grew in popularity in London, then Ireland, Guinness refocused brewing operations on the dark ale style. By the early 1800s, Guinness found an export market; West India Porter was the beer known today as Foreign Extra Stout. Prince Albert's death in 1861 led to the first Guinness mixed drink. While the nation mourned, a London bar steward prepared a black velvet, mixing Extra Stout with Champagne.

Much of the brand's success comes from the early pursuit of export markets and innovative marketing during the 20th century. The Guinness Storehouse Brewery in Dublin features many of these advertisements as well as other objects from the brand's history.

Long ago, Guinness earned the nickname "meal in a cup" because of it's thick, filling nature. Surprisingly, Guinness Draught contains just 125 calories per pint. In the 1920s, Guinness used the slogan "Guinness is good for you," after consumers reported an enhanced feeling of well-being after drinking a pint. Due to restrictions on medical claims, this slogan has long since been abandoned.


Guinness is sold in over 100 countries worldwide and brewed in over 50 countries. The available varieties and alcoholic content vary from country to country. In addition to these popular varieties, Guinness has created a large array of other brews throughout its history, including a number of limited-edition stouts.

For all Guinness varieties, the company has made a change in its filtration process. It no longer uses fish-based gelatin called isinglass, so these beers are suitable for vegan diets.

Guinness Extra Stout

Based on Guinness's first porter, Guinness Extra Stout (or Guinness Original) is the brand's flagship beer. It is a crisp dark beer with a red hue, a balance of bitter and sweet notes, and a dry finish. One of the most widely sold versions, Guinness Extra Stout contains 4.1 percent and 6 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), depending on the country.

Guinness Draught

Guinness Draught is the draft version of the Irish stout. It is charged with a combination of carbon dioxide and nitrogen rather than the former alone. This gives the beer a smooth, velvety mouthfeel. The very dark beer has a dense, creamy head when poured properly. It is sold in kegs and bottles, as well as cans that contain a nitrogen "widget" for an extra creamy head. The alcoholic content is 4.2 percent ABV.

In the U.K. and European pubs, Guinness Extra Cold may be on tap using a specialized keg system. This is a slight variation on Draught that is served colder than normal in order to be more enjoyable during the summer.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout

Originally, foreign extra stouts were brewed stronger in order to survive long voyages across the sea. In most markets today, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is 7.5 percent ABV. Extra hops are included as well to help preserve the beer. All of the signature Guinness flavors are amplified, and it offers a full-bodied roasted, fruity character.

Guinness Blonde

Stepping away from ales, Guinness blonde is an American amber lager. It is an American-made beer (first brewed in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, then moved to Guinness' Baltimore, Maryland brewery) designed for the U.S. market. It was reformulated in 2018 and does not taste the same as the original version.

This lager uses the same Guinness yeast that defines the brand. American hops—specifically Mosaic and Citra—lend the beer its citrus notes. Adapting the lager brewing techniques of U.S. brewers merges the two styles to create a crisp, clean 5 percent ABV beer.

How to Serve Guinness

All Guinness beers are best served cold in a pint glass. The ideal temperature for Extra Stout, Draught, and Blonde is 42 degrees Fahrenheit, but no higher than 50 degrees. When the beer is too cold, the aroma and flavor will not open up all the way. The recommended serving temperature for Extra Cold is 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

In pubs and for Draught bottles, a two-part pour is employed for Guinness. Begin with a dry glass tilted 45 degrees and pour onto the side of the glass until it's three-quarters of the way full and the head develops. Let this settle, then top it off. A fun way to test the head's density is to place a bottle cap on top; it should easily rest on top of the foam. To serve:

  • When you crack open a bottle or can of Guinness Draught, let it rest so the nitrogen can carbonate the beer.
  • Guinness recommends chilling Draught cans for at least 3 hours and pouring the beer slowly and smoothly in one stage.
  • Do not use a chilled or frosty glass because it ruins the flavor and head.

Food Pairings

Guinness is an excellent stout for food pairings. Keep it authentic by serving the beer alongside classic Irish dishes like Irish stew, bangers and mash, soda bread, and hearty, savory pies. The stouts are also excellent with savory apple dishes and smoked meats. Try them with British fruit tarts or fruity desserts with a hint of chocolate.

Guinness Blonde requires a different approach. It's best with vegetable dishes, including kale salad and Brussel sprouts. The lager is also a refreshing choice for mole chicken and similar spiced white meat dishes.

Ingredient Use

Often used to represent Irish culture and cuisine, Guinness infuses an Irish feel into many culinary creations. The stout lends a unique, rich, caramelized flavor to food. One of the most popular Guinness dishes is Irish stew in which the beer creates a fuller, more complex gravy. Soda bread, scones, marinades, cakes, and mousse are other popular uses. Create a Guinness float by pouring the stout over vanilla ice cream.

As an icon in the bar, Guinness has found its way into many mixed drinks as well. Its density means it floats easily on top of other beers in layered drinks like the black and tan. The Irish car bomb is a popular shooter in U.S. bars, and it can even be used to make jello shots.