Brewdog launched its Black Heart beer to rival Guinness, but can the young Ellon contender match up to the Irish heavyweight and its new Guinness Nitrosurge system?
Decked out in the same colours of black and gold on the cans and branding, it’s very clear that Brewdog fancies its chances of taking the crown from market-leader Guinness when it comes to slinging pints of the black stuff.
But the old grandaddy of them all has a new trick up its sleeve to see off the self-styled punk upstarts, the new Guinness Nitrosurge system.
With the addition of a little device you attach to the tops of special Guinness Nitrosurge cans, the Irish juggernaut promises drinkers they can have a pint of G at home that’s just as good as it is poured perfectly in the pub.
So which is best?
To find out, I tried Brewdog Black Heart, a can of Guinness Nitrosurge and a regular old can of Guinness (the ones with the wee ball thingie inside) to see which stout should be most talked about.
Beer 1: Brewdog Black Heart
- 4.1% (the same as both Guinnesses in this review)
- £15.50 per 12-pack of 440ml cans (£1.29 each) on Brewdog.com
- Brewdog, Ellon
- Style: Stout
Brewdog really hyped this one up when it first came out with their trademark combative marketing style, asking drinkers “What if it’s better?”
Aside from the same colour scheme, they’re even selling Black Heart-branded rugby jumpers to go after the Guinness crowd.
The advertising guff on their website says Black Heart has “layers of roasted coffee and cocoa, with a hint of caramel coming through”.
What that translates to, for me, is it basically tastes like Guinness but more bitter, and in a very good way.
I had all three of the beers I was testing out side by side, and compared to the Irish stuff, it’s just a lot more mellow, with a similar texture to a draught pint in a pub.
And it made me feel a lot less bloated too (although it’s still a thick stout, so you’re still going to get that feeling at the end of your second pint — like you’ve eaten half a chocolate cake).
As a beer it’s… pretty good. It’s not going to blow your socks off, but the dealbreaker here is the price and availability of it — you can get four packs of this in shops everywhere for around a fiver.
It definitely competes with a pint of Guinness in a pub.
Beer 2: Guinness Nitrosurge
- £30 for the device from Tesco, and £8.25 for a four-pack of 558ml special cans(~£2 each) from the same supermarket
- Guinness, Dublin
- Style: Stout
I bought a Guinness Nitrosurge device plus a 12-pack of cans imported from Ireland for my mum and stepdad last Christmas because it wasn’t widely available in Scotland yet, but nowadays you can pick them up in most supermarkets.
So, how does this fancy Guinness Nitrosurge work, and what’s the point?
It’s designed to give you the experience of a freshly poured pint of Guinness at the pub, in the comfort of your own home.
You need to buy the special Guinness Nitrosurge cans, open them, and then attach the charged-up device to the top.
Press the button, turn it sideways, and hey presto, you’ve got a pint of pub-perfect stout in your very own living room… is what the company promises, anyway.
And honestly, it lives up to that promise, in both taste and texture.
I was impressed to see the trademark cascade of bubbles down the side of the glass once I got the hang of pouring it properly through the little device’s nozzle.
I’d genuinely be hard-pressed to tell the difference between what was in my glass against what you’d get poured in any good bar in Aberdeen.
The only problem is the price of entry.
The widget is pretty expensive, although a one-off, but the special Guinness Nitrosurge cans cost a bit more than standard Guinness, as well as Black Heart.
Beer 3: Standard canned Guinness
- £12 per eight-pack, £1.50 each from Morrisons
- Guinness, Dublin
- Style: Stout
I’ve gone through more than my fair share of tins of Guinness over the years, but the unfortunate side effect of this article is after having Nitrosurge, the regular cans just can’t compare.
It opened with the familiar weird squelching noise from the little widget rattling around inside the can, poured out fine, but the texture in comparison to the Nitrosurge one was as thin as water.
Sadly, I think the new fancy Guinness has ruined the old faithful (and cheaper) cans for me forever.
I finished it, of course, because beer is beer, but I was THIS close to pouring it down the sink, and the remainder of the 4-pack I bought is likely going to stick around, neglected, in my fridge until I next have guests over, because I’ll be sticking to the Nitrosurge from now on.
Kieran is a former craft beer barman and publishes his beer column every Tuesday online. You can also read his column in the P&J’s Food and Drink magazine, which you can find inside your Press and Journal newspaper every Saturday.