It’s Saint Patricks Day on Monday. A time of the year where most of us wear green, say “to be to be sure” way too much and suddenly believe in the wee folk. But most of all we often take in a few of Ireland’s most famous exports, The Pogues, Bing Crosby, U2 and Saint Paddy himself, and Guinness.
The idea of having a few quiet ones on Saint Patricks Day comes from an old legend. The story goes that Patrick was given a glass of whiskey that was less than full. He told the inn keeper that in his cellar there was a demon who fed off the dishonesty of the innkeeper and to banish the demon he should mend his ways. When Patrick returned to the inn a while later he found the innkeeper was filling glasses to over flowing, and proclaimed that the demon had been banished….sounds like a story that might have been told after a few hours there I think. These days with the ability to spin a story like that Paddy would have gone onto have a very successful career in marketing.
Guinness is the most recognisable of Irish beers out there. There isn’t too many sights more mesmerising than watching a pint of Guinness form in a glass. If you haven’t seen it before grab a few and watch it, the way the head forms, and the waves work their up the sides of the glass is worth the price of a pint itself.
But there is more than just Guinness out there to sit back and watch the world go by with. Beers like this demand to be sipped and savoured, they aren’t thirst quenchers, these are the beers that you sip and think to yourself “is it just me or did politician Eric Abetz sound like a poor Julia Gillard impersonation when on Q&A” or “did that Def Leppard drummer do that with one arm” or, and probably more importantly “was it really a good idea to spend this week’s rent on a slab of Irish beer to celebrate Paddy’s day?”(The answer to all three is yes).
Since those early days of spin doctoring, Irish beers have since gone on to be perhaps best known for its stouts, but in fact just over 60% of all beer sold there is lager. Once there was over 200 breweries in Ireland now there are only 12 major brewers, and most of those are owned by international players. Still we are lucky enough, with a bit of scratching around, to be able to find beers out there that we can use to help Paddy banish those demons.
Perhaps the most well known of all Irish style of beers. Stouts such as Guinness and Murphy’s are absolute world beaters. Guinness can be found in many forms here, including in the nitrogen charged pint sized Guinness cans, and the Extra Stout found in bottles.
With the Guinness Draught cans giving strong coffee and chocolate tastes, and aromas of roasted malty coffee. This is as close as you’ll get at home to what is off the tap at your local. The Guinness Extra Stout stubbies are superb. It doesn’t look as good in the glass as the Draught does, but gave a much more impressive complex aroma of roasted grains, woody and spicy hops, slightly sour and musty. The taste is faintly bitter, but balanced by dark fruit, with a long, dry bitter finish. There are hints of liquorice and a mysterious fruity taste, something like bruised banana.
Murphy’s is probably my favourite easy to find Irish stout. It’s got all the tastes and aromas of Guinness with less bitterness and a slightly nuttier taste. It’s such a great well rounded and smooth stout. Think chocolate and coffee, with a thick head of caramel creamy goodness. You might think Guinness for dinner, but Murphy’s is for desert. Murphy’s took three consecutive gold medals from 2003 to 2005 at the Brewing Industry International Awards.
A less well known beer to keep an eye out for is O’Hara’s Celtic Stout. In all honesty if Rugby is the game they play in heaven, then this is the beer they pour on the side lines. It’s full and robust, with a great mix of hops and roasted barley. It’s got a great sweetness to it still with a roasted nuttiness and coffee to it. It’s only been made since 1996 but if Paddy was around now this would be his drop of choice.
Hops are not native to Ireland, so historically, hops were used in the brewing of Irish beer much later than in other countries. Many years later hop were brought into Ireland from England and they were used in the brewing process. Harp Lager would be the best known and best tasting Irish Lager I’ve tried, actually Harp Lager is responsible for some of my worse judgement calls while travelling in the UK and Europe. It can be difficult to find here, but it makes a great counterpoint to the stouts and ales. Harp is crisp, and sharp with a bitter start that ends super clean and refreshing. It’s incredibly drinkable and hopefully we will see it on more shelves as it’s such a great buy for those in the know. Try your local independent bottle shop or the net.
Irish Red Ales
Irish red ales get their named because, funnily enough, they have a red hue about them. They get the colour from the addition of small amounts of roasted barley, the same ingredient that gives stout its colour. Smithwick’s is the most notable here. It comes from Ireland’s oldest brewery, dating back to the fourteenth century. It’s got this great colour to it, with a creamy maltiness and firm hand of hops in there. Harder to find than hens teeth, but when you come across it, buy lots before someone else buys it all.
Irish Cream Ales
Cream ales are a speciality, and definitely worth searching for. One of my brothers in law loves this style of Irish beers, with their rich aromas, creamy heads and crisp, hop finish. Kilkenny is the easiest to find of these styles in Australia. Kilkenny has been floating around longer than some countries have had names; it’s sweet and creamy all at once with a good bitterness that cuts through the creaminess to remind you that you’re drinking a beer not a liquid desert.