If you’re a Brewdog fan, then you’ll have already heard of (or tried) Black Heart. If you’re a fan of Guinness then you’re likely to have seen the mass marketing campaign Brewdog launched to promote their version of Guinness. Brewdog has made a name for themselves as being ‘punk’, and at every turn have attempted to undercut and outshine the current monoliths of beer brewing across the UK.
Their latest stunt (I suppose is the right word) hard-targeted the beloved black gold: Guinness. A few of us are quite serious about our beer, and we have taken the time to look at both to try and fully understand what makes them different, the same, and most importantly – which is better?
Brewdog Vs Diageo
Brewdog is currently the largest independent brewer in the UK, and Guinness is part of the Diageo conglomeration. It is in their fiber to challenge one of the biggest brewing companies in the UK, but they may have bitten more than they can chew with Guinness. The love for Guinness (particularly in Ireland, but in the UK & US too) is almost religious.
Brewdog aren’t the most popular of brands at the moment, and have been mired by a few scandals and backfired marketing stunts – usually put together by James Watt.
Brewdog specializes in creating a haven for craft brewery nerds, and their bars are built around their huge offering of BrewDog beers alongside guest beers, which are usually brewed locally, or colab with Brewdog. Objectively, the beer is very expensive for what it is, but the whole experience makes it worth it (so long as you love beer). The staff are always friendly and willing to dole out samples, the beer is usually very fresh and there is something for everybody; even a loyal Guinness drinker.
As you can see below: James Watt has had a bit between his teeth for a while.
Black Heart vs. Guinness – Are They the Same?
So, here is the sip. Which is best? Or are they just the same?
Well, both are type of stout, and are made with a similar process and similar ingredients. Each are made from grain and roasted barley (pretty much burnt) to give them their rich dark flavours. They are objectively very similar, but certainly not the same.
Below is a look at both individually.
The biggest difference between Black Heart and Guinness is that the latter is a mass-market product. It is sold all around the world in millions of pubs. So, the quality of the drink can vary significantly depending on where it is purchased. There are YouTube videos dedicated to the ‘best and worst’ places to get a Guinness.
As a drink, Guinness is very satisfying. It is rich, creamy, and full of flavour. It has a slight bitterness that is satisfying and heightens the creamy elements.
Arguably, what makes Guinness, Guinness, is the theatre surrounding the process of pouring. It has been shrouded in myth and legend that there is indeed a ‘correct’ way to pour a pint. And some suggest that this makes a marked difference to the pint too. In truth, the ‘process’ does make a slight difference to the flavour and the quality of the head. But, I believe that the ritualistic pouring of the pint, the time you stand and stare as the bubbles rise, and the topping up of the head all add to the anticipation of that first sip.
Psychologically, it gives Guinness a touch of the sublime. A ritualistic satisfaction that each human craves through ceremony to build a religious devotion for the drink. It is much more than a drink. It is a ritual. It is a very clever marketing ploy, and it works.
Guinness are very vigulent when it comes to how their drink is poured, and how it is served – in which glass and at what temperature. It must be perfect every time, and there are representatives to arrive to inspect your establishment to ensure your staff are correctly trained. You may also notice a pattern of Guinness YouTubers that often the Guinness without the ceremony, are the ones with the poorest rating.
It can also be argued that Guinness is tied with a sense of national pride: if Black Heart goes up against Guinness, it ultimately go up against a sense of cultural identity too.
The marketing surrounding Black Heart is the age-old ‘Blind taste test’ – which is very likely to have been edited to make everybody seem as though they prefer Black Heart over Guinness.
Like Guinness, Black Heart is served in a crafted glass (which looks similar) and is a thing to behold. It still has the classic black heart and creamy head- with gold embolisms carefully placed to frame the liquid itself. When Black Heart was launched the glasses looked spectacular and impressive – but as they have become older they are starting to peel. The spectacle is wearing down it seems.
There is very little ceremony surrounding the pour, however, but the same process is followed where the stout is left to settle and topped up at the end. The ritualistic elements are there, but clearly not taken as seriously.
Where Black Heart shines is the flavour. In a blind tasting test, even in our team, Black Heart was picked 3 times out of 5. 2 of whom a very avid Guinness drinkers. The Black Heart has a deeper, more nuanced flavour to the body and a much more intense creaminess to it. It is very clearly a copy of the original, and it suits the tastes of a craft brewery lover, but there is something missing. Maybe the familiarity of the original drink, the smooth and easy drinking of it – or the ceremony of the first sip. It could also be the price.
Final Thoughts – Which is better?
Obviously, this subject is subjective and I personally believe that they each have their own merits. While Black Heart is a more flavourful and better-tasting alternative, Guinness is easier to drink (if you’re drinking many), is more cost-effective and is surrounded by more familiarity.
While Brewdog has managed to create a drink that is a fantastic copy of the original Guinness, they have not quite captured the magic or the reason why so many people love Guinness in the first place. The target market for Guinness are unlikely to enjoy the more ‘crafty’ elements of Black Heart but those who enjoy lots of different beers will find it a very enjoyable alternative.
Those are just my thoughts – if you’d like to share your own, there is a comment section below to share them.