Some tasty Irish Beers to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
By Kevin J. Gray
St. Patrick’s Day does not have to mean choking down pale American lagers laced with green food coloring. Craft beer drinkers have several other palette-expanding options, mostly in the form of Irish and Irish-inspired Dry Stouts and Red Ales. Some are from across the pond, others originating stateside. Here are a few locally available options to whet your whistle.
Dry Irish Stouts
A good Irish Stout is as dark as night with a creamy, tan head. The unmalted barley and black malts used in the brewing process give the beers a roasty flavor with hints of espresso-like bitterness, and the beers tend to be dry rather than sweet. While most styles of beers are carbonated, modern iterations of the style can be infused with both CO2 and nitrogen, giving them their popular cascade effect when poured.
Guinness Extra Stout (Dublin, Ireland; 6.00% ABV) For many, Guinness is the face of Irish beer, so any St. Patty’s Day beer review would be incomplete without a mention. While the frothy, foamy draught cans and the iconic waterfall pub pours have become part of popular culture, this bottled Extra Stout version is closer to the beer Arthur Guinness first brewed in late 1700s. At 6.00 percent alcohol by volume, this version is stronger than its popular sibling (Guinness Draught only clocks in at 4.2 persent ABV), and the lack of nitrogen in the bottled version lends the beer more bite, more backbone, making the Extra Stout a generally more satisfying option.
Murphy’s Irish Stout Pub Draught (Cork, Ireland; 4.00% ABV) With roots nearly as old as Guinness’, Murphy’s is one of two rivals to the Irish Dry Stout throne (Beamish being the other). The Pub Draught version is available in nitrogen-fused cans, resulting in deep, beautiful pours and a head so thick you can stand a leprechaun on it. Muphy’s tends to be a little sweeter than Guinness, with a little less of the tangy bite at the end, and the nitrogen-infusion also makes it a generally softer, easier to drink beer. A good option for folks who like the roastiness of a stout, but want something lighter on the palate.
Saranac Irish Stout (Utica, New York; 5.50%) This American offering from the Matt Brewing Company in upstate New York straddles the line between Guinness and Murphy’s. Saranac’s Irish Stout is roasty, with hints of coffee and chocolate malt in the nose and the finish, but with less bite than Guinness. It is not nitrogenated but still goes down easily, much like the Murphy’s. Competing with the classics listed above is a reach, but Saranac puts up a reasonable attempt that splits the difference, offering an easy drinking stout with a respectable malt finish.
Irish Red Ales
As the name implies, Irish Reds generally have an amber to deep reddish copper hue. These beers tend to be lower in alcohol and in hop bitterness and generally very drinkable, with an initial sweetness and a focus on caramel and toffee-like flavors.
Murphy’s Irish Red Ale (Cork, Ireland; 5.00% ABV) Packaged in thick-glassed uniquely shaped bottles, this import pours amber with a thick, frothy head. The caramel and biscuit malt notes in the aroma descend into a malty sweetness in the mouth, with slightly jarring hints of adjuncts like corn and rice in the finish. Not nearly as smooth as its stout cousin, Murphy’s Irish Red Ale is a first step into the craft beer realm, and still miles away from green-hued Budmillercoors.
Wexford Irish Creme Ale (Bury St. Edmunds, England; 5.00% ABV) The only nitrogen-infused red ale on the list pours a creamy, light tan head atop a beautiful copper and straw body. With honey overtones and subtle tea-like finish, the beer is extremely easy to drink, with a body and mouthfeel more like that of a British bitter than an Irish red (not surprising given its country of origin). While it tends to be a bit one-dimensional, this beer can be a good option if you are starting the morning off with a breakfast pint and a plate of bangers and mash.
Great Lakes Conway’s Irish Ale (Cleveland, Ohio; 6.50% ABV) Brewed as a tribute to Patrick Conway, a Cleveland cop and the co-owners’ grandfather, this copper ale is described as a “meat and potatoes” beer and begs to be thrown at a plate of corned beef and cabbage. The seasonal brew balances toasty, toffee-like flavors with an underlying caramel malt foundation. It is hoppier and higher in alcohol than most beers in the category, yet remains extremely drinkable. Great Lakes has penetrated the Dayton beer market, so this quality brew should be available on tap in most places come the 17th.
Heavy Seas Aarsh Imperial Red Ale (Baltimore, Maryland; 7.00% ABV) Like a leprechaun on steroids, this heavy hitter takes a shillelagh to your tastebuds. Aarsh is a huge, aggressively malt-forward beer that does not hide its alcoholic strength. The antithesis to green-dyed lagers, this beer is a sipping or sharing beer that makes for an interesting counter-point to traditional St. Patrick’s Day fare.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at email@example.com.