Forget the hype—true Irish beers are pure gold

Skip the green beer, and go for the gold … or the dark brown … or the amber …
or the red …

By Tom Morgan

St. Patrick’s Day is upon us. Again. It’s that not-so-glorious time of year when people around these parts celebrate being Irish by drinking American-made macro-lager that has been dyed green. Yuck. Forgive me if I retch quietly into my own mouth. If that is your plan for St. Patrick’s Day, you should probably stop reading this now. Because that’s not Irish. No, not even close. All that means is that you’ve been suckered by dubious marketing gimmicks. While I’ll hold off on pointing out how getting drunk on St. Patrick’s Day merely reinforces negative Irish stereotypes regarding their lack of fitness for full American citizenship, I will stand up for the beer. After all, beer matters. So stop being a mark and go and find yourself some real Irish beer.

After all, Irish beer—and Irish craft beer—is significantly better than the green swill you’ve been served in the past. I spent a month in Ireland two summers ago, and the craft beer scene in Ireland was far more interesting than one would suspect, even considering the usual American craft beer snobby pretentiousness. For example, many of the session IPAs I had while in Ireland were significantly better than their American counterparts back home—the body was less watery even though the hop flavor and intensity was similar, making for a better overall drinking experience. While most of the local craft beers I encountered in Dublin and Belfast never make their way across the pond, there are still a couple of options worth seeking out.

The Irish beer best known around the world is Guinness Draught, which is a Dry Irish Stout that is significantly smaller in size than its British and American counterparts, clocking in at 4.2 percent ABV. Dry and dark does not always mean bigger, but it does mean coffee-like flavors and aromas coupled with roasted and chocolate flavors. While Guinness is the most well-known version of the style, there are several others that are worth checking out, including Beamish Irish Stout, O’Hara’s Irish Stout, and my personal favorite, Murphy’s Irish Stout. I find Murphy’s smoother and creamier with less of the acrid roast flavor found in Guinness. A couple of years ago, I participated in a blind tasting of Guinness and Murphy’s using the nitro widget can, and the majority of the people present chose Murphy’s over Guinness. So even if you love Guinness, give a couple of these others a try to get a broader sense of the style.

There are also a couple of variants on the Dry Irish Stout that are certainly worth checking out. Guinness makes an Extra Stout for the U.S. market; while it still has a pronounced roasted flavor, it features more chocolate, sweetness, a bit more of the fruity esters found in British beers, and comes in at 5.6 percent ABV. Then there is Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, which has even more fruit esters along with bittersweet chocolate and roast, and is 7.5 percent ABV. Finally, there is Porterhouse Brewing Company’s Oyster Stout, which is a Dry Stout brewed with fresh oysters. The oysters give the beer a mineral tang and umami that rounds and balances the roast. Porterhouse is one of the few Irish craft beers that makes it to the U.S., although I don’t recall seeing it on the shelves recently.

If you fear the dark beer Ireland is most famous for, you’ll most likely end up with an Irish lager of one form or another. For those of you not interested in branching out, there is Harp Lager, which while brewed by Guinness, is about as interesting as the green beer I am trying to steer you away from. Forgive me, but sometimes it is difficult to turn off the sarcasm. Sorry not sorry. But at least Harp is Irish. So a step up. Your other—and by far better—option with Irish lagers is to look for an Irish Red Ale, the most common being Smithwick’s Irish Ale or Murphy’s Irish Red, although occasionally Kilkenny Irish Ale turns up. These beers will all feature a depth of malt flavor not found in the majority of American lagers, including toffee, biscuit, caramel, and grainy malt flavors, along with a hint of roast malt in the finish to help accentuate the traditional drier finish found in most lagers. Irish Reds are balanced toward malt flavors, so while some versions do feature hop bitterness in the finish, most will focus on building a depth of malt flavor across the profile, helping create a clean, crisp finish. This is a style that craft brewers in Ireland are embracing, along with the Dry Stout, as a way to define that which is distinctive about Irish brewing. I had several versions while there that I wish I could
find here!

Hopefully this inspires you to branch outside of your usual St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans. After all, even if you can’t be bothered to seek out actual Irish versions of these beers, you can look for American craft versions, which is a step in the right direction. As long as you promise to stay away from the green macro-gak.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Tom Morgan at

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