Bartender’s Best

By Charlie Wohlrab

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, which means, it’s time for a Guinness! A dark Irish dry stout that originated in the brewery of Arthur Guinness at St. James’s Gate, Dublin, Ireland, in 1759, Guinness is one of the most successful beer brands worldwide, brewed in almost 50 countries, and available in over 120. Presently, there are seven types of Guinness; however, every liquor store or beer retailer probably doesn’t carry them all. I’d like to concentrate on two—Guinness Draught (English spelling) in a can, and Guinness Extra Stout in a bottle.

First, the stout. This is a hearty, full-flavored dark beer available in an 11.2 ounce bottle, which is a tasty beverage in its own right and has an interesting, if not speculative history. In the 18th century, London pubs were selling a dark beer. To increase favor among the working-class porters, which was the job title for any worker who carried things for someone else, London pubs began to mix and blend other beers and ales with this dark brown beer. The result was a dark beer with a higher alcohol content or a “stouter” porter. It really took off when Arthur Guinness began brewing a stouter porter and there was no longer a need to mix and blend. There was now a consistent product available from pub to pub. While Guinness stopped making this porter in 1973, the company has recently began brewing it again from the original recipe under the name Guinness Dublin Porter; however, the Guinness Stout is also readily available.

Technically, the difference between a porter and a stout is that a porter is made from malted barley and a stout is made from unmalted roasted barley. It is the roasting that gives the stout its deep rich coffee-like flavor.  However, today’s brewers use both names almost interchangeably.

Second, the Guinness Draught in a can with a “widget.” In 1959, Guinness developed the nitrogenation of beer.  While the effervescence in most beers comes from carbon dioxide, Guinness infuses its beer with nitrogen, which produces a smaller bubble, and therefore, a smoother, creamier product.  Thus, if you order a pint in a pub and it is poured correctly, the bubbles will gently cascade down the side of the glass. To achieve nitrogenation, and therefore, creamy smoothness in the beer you buy to take home,  Guinness relies on a widget.  A widget is the little plastic ball inside the can that releases nitrogen when you pop the tab. This device really works because Guinness Draught is the closest thing to a draft beer in a can. 

Another popular beer drink is the Black and Tan which is American. If you find yourself in Ireland, do not order a Black and Tan as this has political ramifications. However, in the states, Black and Tan refers to a tan beer on the bottom and a dark beer on the top. 

When making a Black and Tan, I am able to select from several different beers for the bottom layer. I prefer Bass Pale Ale because it is traditional, as is  Harp Lager. If you order a Black and Tan in a local bar, they will probably use a “layering spoon.”  Usually this “spoon” is chained to the Guinness tap. A local bartender will half-fill the glass with a lighter color beer and then layer the Guinness on top.  If you want to make one at home, it may require practice. If you want to serve a Black and Tan on St. Patrick’s Day, don’t wait until the last minute because it can be tricky. Practice makes perfect; but the good thing is you can  drink your mistakes. There are different suggestions how to make this layered drink, with the choice of a layering spoon or an inverted tablespoon.  However, the easiest way I have found is to use Bass Pale Ale and Guinness Draught in a can (must have the widget). Pour the Bass Pale Ale in the center of the glass half way up so it develops a nice head. Let it stand for a minute, then slowly drizzle the Guinness Draught gently into the foam. If you look sideways into the glass you can see the Guinness gently break through the foam and return to float on the beer. As I said, this may take practice, but you do get to drink your mistakes. When served correctly, this beer drink boasts a dramatic two-tone look perfect to raise a glass for St. Patrick’s Day. “Sláinte.” 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Charlie Wohlrab is a mixologist whose motto, “Drinking. . .more than a hobby” has been topmost in his mind since he first started tending bar while getting his Pharmacy degree. Now retired, when he’s not restoring his older home in New Jersey, he’s made it his goal to elevate the experience of having a daily cocktail from something mundane to something more exciting. He is now Harrisburg Magazine’s official bartender in residence. 

My recipes are like my opinions,” says Wohlrab. “They continue to be refined as I try new products and work with old standbys.” Currently working on a book about cocktails, Wolhrab welcomes comments from his readers. He can be contacted at