Yes, naturally I have to dedicate at least one post this week to Ireland’s largest brewer, Guinness. After all, Guinness is what many "beer civilians" think when they hear "Stout", and it’s become the defacto "default Irish beer" to many.
A great resource for almost everything you’d want to know can be found here: The Guinness Beer FAQt and Folklore page. For instance, many people likely don’t know that there are at least ten different types of Guinness (Stout) actually available around the world.
(Most—if not all—beer geeks are aware of this fact, though I must say I was interested and surprised to find out, for instance, that in Nigeria Guinness is made with sorghum rather than barley.)
Here in the U.S. you’ll likely find the beer in four variations: Draught on tap (almost always a nitro tap); the "Pub Draught Can" (includes the nitrogen widget to simulate the creamy nitrogen tap); the "Pub Draught Bottle" which is basically a bottle version of the Can; and the "Original", Guinness Extra Stout—a higher-strength, non-nitrogen-enhanced, regular-bottled version of the beer.
I’ve had all of these versions at one time or another, and while I like the novelty of the nitrogen pour, I have to say it’s the Guinness Extra Stout that is the best of these offerings. The problem is the nitrogen creates a masking effect to the beer; it smooths it out and adds an incredibly creamy texture, for sure, but it tends to cover up a lot of the flavor and thin out the mouthfeel.
The Extra Stout doesn’t suffer from these drawbacks; instead you’ll get a richer, maltier ale with discernible roasted malt notes, maybe some coffee, and a nice benchmark for what a Dry Stout should be. Also more of a kick: 6% alcohol by volume compared to Draught Guinness’ 4.2%.
Of course, part of the fun of the Draught Guinness is the novelty of the nitro widget, and everyone should try one at least once just for the fun of it. But if you’re looking to try the world-class representative of their beer, then seek out the Extra Stout. You won’t be sorry.