What was supposed to be the biggest success is now one of Guinness' biggest failures in its recent history. The market launch of the new alcohol-free version of Diageo's legendary stout after a four year development process has now turned into a fiasco, after Guinness had to recall the product from the market due to microbial contamination only two weeks after the product was first sold.
In a statement on its website, Guinness called it “a precautionary measure” because the contamination “may make some cans of Guinness 0.0 unsafe to consume”. The company said “the issue is isolated to Guinness 0.0 and does not impact any other Guinness variants or brands.” Also, the recall only affects Great Britain, as the product is not yet on sale to the general public in Ireland or elsewhere in the world.
Guinness announced to launch Guinness 0.0 from October 26, initially in 440ml 4-pack cans in off-licenses, supermarkets and online in the UK, followed by sales in pubs across Ireland and the UK this spring 2021. Later in 2021 the product was supposed to be also available in more markets throughout the world (inside.beer, 22.10.2020). It is not yet clear whether this schedule will still apply.
Guinness 0.0 was created at the landmark St James’s gate brewery in Dublin. The early stages of the brewing process mirror those of standard Guinness, with the same main ingredients used - water, barley, hops and yeast. Only at a later stage in the production process, the alcohol is removed from the brew by cold filtration.
Alcohol-free beer is always very susceptible to contamination, as it usually still contains residual sugar that can be fermented a second time with remaining yeast cells or other microorganisms. The renewed fermentation process creates more carbon dioxide which increases the pressure in cans or bottles. In extreme cases, these containments can then burst and injure people. It was not disclosed whether this was also the problem with Guinness in the present case.
According to Guinness its team around Steve Gilsenan, since July 2020 Guinness Global Head of Quality at St. James’s Gate, is now working hard to determine and eliminate the root cause before recommencing production.