It's a busy time of year for Guinness brewmaster Fergal Murray, as you might imagine. Not only is he tasked with ensuring the quality of every batch of beer at Dublin's St. James Gate Brewery (which produces approximately 4 million pints each day), but he serves as the globetrotting brand ambassador for the company.
Arriving Tuesday in Dallas from Denver, Murray made several stops during his whirlwind day-and-a-half tour of the city and reprised his role as judge at Trinity Hall Irish Pub's annual pint-pouring competition -- won this year by Riley Paz of The Old Monk. Murray took off the following day for a visit to Milwaukee, followed by a jaunt to Chicago for Saturday's parade with the Emerald Society, then Kansas City. His trip will culminate in New York City Wednesday on St. Patrick's Day, where he's scheduled to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
But Murray found a few minutes to share his thoughts on the St. Patrick's Day holiday, explain the difference between Guinness served in Dublin and in Texas and to share some exciting news about the availability of Guinness Foreign Extra in the United States.
"It gets hectic this time of year, but I love it," Murray says between sips of an expertly poured pint of -- what else? -- Guinness on Tuesday night before the competition commenced. "It's our peak moment, and we're trying to extend it as long as we can."
Aside from an obligatory aside about the importance of responsible drinking, Murray insists that he thoroughly enjoys the American celebration St. Patrick's Day -- even if it sometimes borders on a caricature of Irish heritage that boils down to leprechauns, corned beef and booze.
"For Irish people, it is like your July 4, almost," he says. "We don't have the extensive partying like there is here. Visitors come to Ireland and it's almost like a Mardi Gras...We love watching you guys have a good time, as long as you're responsible."
Speaking of visiting Ireland, Murray also comments on the difference between a pint of Guinness Draught served at an Irish pub and one served at an American bar. His answer may surprise those with fond memories of a particularly delicious stout enjoyed during a visit to Dublin.
"There is no difference," he says emphatically. "It has to be perception. You'd expect it to be different, just like if you went to Tuscany and had wine, or Champagne in Champagne, or tequila in Mexico.
"This pint here is gorgeous," he says, tapping the side of his glass. "Better than I get at some places in Dublin."
The confusion may stem from the fact that Guinness Extra Stout -- the stronger, bitterer version of Guinness that comes in bottles -- is brewed in 49 breweries around the world. Those breweries add local water to extract, or "Guinness Essence," to cut down on shipping costs. Over time, local traditions and laws have led to differences between Extra Stout versions found around the world. The Guinness Extra Stout found in Texas is brewed in Canada and, at 5.5 percent ABV, is slightly stronger than the 4.2 or 4.3 Irish and European version.
"But the only place our draught beer is brewed is Dublin," he says. "The same kegs you'd get in Dublin are the ones you get here."
And speaking of getting things here, Murray dropped the bombshell that the company is testing the American market with the legendary Guinness Foreign Extra. Foreign Extra is a higher-gravity version of Guinness Stout that reaches ABV levels of 8 percent, and is sold in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
So far it has been unavailable in the United States, much to the disappointment of immigrants and American beer lovers who've tried it on vacations. But that could change.
"It's going to be launched here shortly," he says. "It will be tested in individual markets, but I don't know how or when."
(During a follow-up conversation today, a P.R. spokesperson for Guinness said that Foreign Extra Stout it is "active in three test markets," but would not disclose where. Any reader reports on stateside Foreign Extra Stout sightings are welcome in the comments or by e-mail.)
As for other new Guinness/Diageo products, the company will also introduce Red Stripe Light and Kilkenny on draft.
"Our portfolio is expanding rapidly," Murray says, pointing to the half-full pint of Guinness in his hand, "but it's all about this."