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Guinness Foreign Extra Vs. Extra Stout:
What's The Difference? Plus, A Local Brew Masters Watch Party.

One of the most exciting bits of beer-related news I've received in the last year came in an interview with Guinness brewmaster Fergal Murray at Trinity Hall in March as he was touring the country making the case for celebrating St. Patrick's Day with his products.

Intrigued by outstanding Beer Advocate reviews for Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, I asked about the possibility of it becoming available in the States. To my delight and that of Guinness fans, it was as we spoke being tested in three different markets.

Last month, it quietly began appearing in North Texas. And I do mean quietly. I have yet to see it featured in a bar, and employees at one liquor store I've visited didn't even realize that it was a distinct product, stacking the four-bottle packs behind packages of Guinness Draught bottles.

Why it's not receiving the same kind of marketing push that past Guinness "advancements" like the bottle with the nitro-widget is a complete mystery to me. It's everything that made me fall in love with Guinness years ago, only better.

Guinness Foreign Extra is the version of Guinness available in Africa, Asia, the Carribean and some parts of Europe. At 6 to 8 percent ABV, it's a stronger, higher-gravity version of Guinness than the 5.5 ABV Guinness Extra Stout available in Texas and much stronger than the lighter, creamier 4.2 ABV product found in bars.

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Poured side-by-side with Extra Stout, Foreign Extra's differences were immediately apparent. It's a deeper, nearly opaque black, with a thicker, longer-lasting fluffy head that was a shade or two darker in its creamy tan color than that of the Extra Stout. The nose is richer, with dark cocoa and coffee notes more pronounced than they are in Extra Stout. It's a far richer-tasting beer as well, more balanced and complex, with a bit of hops at the end but with less charred bitterness. And it has a body to match -- all the creaminess of the draught version, without the flatness at the end. By comparison, Guinness Extra Stout seems thin and watery.

With a well-hidden 7.5 percent ABV (and a steeper price tag, at $8.49 to $9.99 for a four-pack), the only category Foreign Extra falls behind its stateside brother is its session-drinking ability, as tasty and drinkable as it may be. That aside, it's a easily the superior beer.

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The Common Table will be the host of Brew Masters watching parties beginning with the premier episode at 9 p.m. this Sunday. The show follows the ins and outs of craft brewing with Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, perhaps the most innovative brewery in America if not the world. "Hey, if people can have Sex in the City parties we damn sure can have one for our favorite beverage, right?" asks GM Jeff Fryman. Agreed! Next Sunday, November 28, the party will include a tapping of Dogfish Head's rare Bitches Brew.

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