We all know that St. Patrick’s Day is synonymous with Guinness and Jameson, but fear not; Ireland has some craft beer and more flavorful options. I’m not saying to avoid Guinness Draught; I actually enjoy it. I find it light and refreshing (perfect for the stout drinker on a hot day). Instead of drinking copious amounts of it, I spent the week and day tasting through every Irish beer on the shelves at Total Wine & More in Durham. Here’s what I learned, and hopefully you can use this information well.
First let’s stick with Guinness. Guinness Extra Stout is a step up from the standard Draught version. Containing similar flavors, the Extra Stout has a bit more punch and flavor. You’ll notice similar body and drinkability in both Draught and Extra Stout. For the best of the trio, look straight to Foreign Extra Stout. It’s even more robust and thick, sporting nice roasted malt and even coffee notes. Next in the Guinness family is Black Lager. Just don’t even mess with it. Flavorless for a schwarzbier. Smithwick’s is a nice standard Irish red ale, nice caramel notes and high drinkability. I have a Smithwick’s Pale Ale in the fridge, so I’ll report back on that after I have it.
Now, I move on to the lesser known brands. First off is Murphy’s. Their red lager is embarrassing. No flavor at all, and I mean none. Reminds me of George Killian’s Irish Red: light and prickly; made for the Bud/Miller/Coors (BMC from now on) drinker. Irish name from an Irish brewery, but a light lager in taste. Now their dry Irish stout is nice. Very similar to Guinness, but a bit more roasty and less creamy smooth.
Fear not, I haven’t forgotten about you Celiac’s! Magners make a nice off-dry cider as well as a Pear cider. I prefer the pear, it adds a bit more flavor and depth.
Now for what you came for; my recommendations for Irish craft beer!
Ohara’s IPA (Irish Pale Ale)
This was honestly a shock to me. I had never heard of them until I had to fill singles of this beer at work. I kind of went in with the thought, “OK, it’s an American PA made in Ireland. This ought to be interesting,” and interesting it was. I poured it into a Guinness glass, and I was honestly surprised by the huge burst of citrus fruits and spicy grassy notes. It smelled like a lot of Citra, Centennial, Cascade and Willamette hops: pungent and fresh. Flavor had a nice bitterness and a caramel-ridden backbone. I would put it up there in the under-rated APA category.
Strangford Lough St. Patrick’s Best
Another one I went into kind of expecting nothing. Now it’s not an Irish red, it’s an English bitter (a style dear to my heart). I didn’t expect the huge caramel and butterscotch that I got straight away. It was one of those moments where you smell, drink, smell, then grab the bottle and say, “There’s no way this is 4.2%!” It’s much heavier than its ABV, and has amazing flavor. I would drink kegs of this from a hand pump.
Porterhouse Oyster Stout
No, that’s not a typo. An Irish-made oyster stout, and a doozy too. It’s a bit thicker and roastier than a traditional dry Irish stout (a bit sweeter as well), but the oyster add a minerality that kind of balances out the beer and adds a layer of complexity. Nice balance and highly drinkable like other Irish beers. Now don’t go in expecting some huge thick roasty American imperial stout or RIS. It’s got great flavor and a nice balance. Don’t sleep on this one, trust me.
If you’re willing to branch out a bit, here’s some Irish beers made outside The Emerald Isle:
- Wexford Irish Style Cream Ale was the creamiest beer I’ve ever had.
- George Killian’s Irish Stout is actually a nice coffee and roasted malt-forward stout.
- Great Lakes Conway’s Irish Ale has the signature Great Lakes malt bill and adds some nice caramel notes.
- Boulevard Irish Ale is less caramel-forward than Great Lakes.
- Three Floyds Brian Boru Old Irish Red Ale is basically an IPA.
- Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask is as good as it sounds. Peat forward and nice.
Guys, that’s what I’ve learned this St. Patrick’s Day. If I had to pick a theme, I’d have to say, “Don’t sleep on names you don’t know.” Some of the best imports I’ve had have come from breweries I’ve never heard of or tried (Adnams Broadside, Orkney Skull Splitter, and Belhaven Twisted Thistle come to mind first). Have an open mind, and you’ll find some great imported beers!
St. Patrick’s Day is a drinking day, but that doesn’t mean we revert back to our undergraduate days. There’s great craft beer coming out of Ireland, you may just have to look a bit. I enjoyed tasting through these beers, and I think you will too!
Alright guys and gals, I’m going to finish my can of Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery Hop Ryot and move on to a The Brew Kettle 4 C’s Pale Ale. Cheers!