Head brewer PJ Tierney makes a lot of beer and cider. At the Heineken brewery in Cork he is responsible for Heineken, Coors, Orchard Thieves cider and a few other brews, as well as Murphy’s and Beamish, stouts dear to the hearts of all true Corkonians. So, why is Heineken releasing Island’s Edge, a third stout?
“We wanted to expand the category, to rejuvenate it and offer the consumer a new style of stout.” Paula Conlon, marketing manager for stout at Heineken told me. “The market had no innovation and was really quite stagnant. We wanted to offer something different to consumers, to appeal to people who hadn’t considered stout before.” The branding is light and colourful and should stand apart from the traditional black and white of other stouts.
“We asked ourselves ‘what is it about stout that people find difficult’?” Tierney told me. “The feedback we got was they can drink one pint but not a second one, or they don’t like the bitter aftertaste, or it’s an acquired taste, or that they felt full afterwards.”
Aimed at the 18-35 year-old market, Island’s Edge certainly has a few unusual ingredients. Heineken spent two years, working with Kerry Foods, using tasting panels along the way, developing a quite different stout. It still has the core ingredients according to Tierney, those chocolate malts, the roasted coffee, but two ingredients were key to the more refreshing style of Ireland’s Edge – tea and basil.
Tea apparently takes out the bitter finish associated with hops, without removing any of the other flavours. “You are not getting the tea flavour coming through on the stout, but the sensory panel found the bitter aftertaste you associate with stout had gone. About 20 or 30 seconds after you sip a stout you get a bitterness from the hops. Whatever the tea is doing inside the beer, it kills it.” They are still not sure why.
And the basil? It gives it a freshness that comes through on the finish. “We add a hint of basil; it gives a very subtle minty aftertaste; when you are halfway through the pint, the basil has a slightly cooling, refreshing effect,” he says.
“We also found that people found stout heavy, so the third thing we did was bring up the body of Island’s Edge to make it very smooth and creamy.” It has the same acidity and alcohol as a regular stout.
I tasted it this week in a Dublin pub, against a freshly poured pint of Guinness. Neither beer had the intensity of flavour you would get from a craft beer. But Island’s Edge had the same creamy head, in fact creamier, than Guinness. On the palate it certainly had some of that roasted, toasted coffee and chocolate; where it really differed was on the finish where it was dry but didn’t have the characteristic bitterness you get from a stout. Instead at the back of the palate there is a moreish, brisk, thirst-quenching note. I suspect it won’t please regular stout drinkers (although they might enjoy it in sunny weather) but then it isn’t really aimed at them.
Island’s Edge will be rolled out in 300 pubs around Dublin over the next month, followed by the off-trade and the rest of the country in the coming months.