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If you’re reading this, I’ll assume that you care enough about your beer not to put green food coloring in a light lager and think you’re somehow celebrating the quintessential Irish holiday. At the very least, you’ll have a pint of Guinness. And you wouldn’t be off track with that, not a ’tall. I once read somewhere—maybe in a guide book—that if you belly up to the bar in an Irish pub and ask for a pint, you’ll automatically get a Guinness. I’m honestly not sure if this is true, since on my one trip to Ireland so far (primarily in counties Clare, Limerick, and some in Cork) I always specified what I wanted a pint of. And while it is true that Guinness tastes far better on tap in Ireland than it does anywhere in the U.S., or even—according to one Italian intern with whom I shared a pint— in nearby European countries, it is far from the only choice for a good Irish stout.
Guinness is only tenuously Irish, at best. As if being owned by London-based Diageo weren’t bad enough, old Arthur Guinness “was a committed unionist and opponent of Irish nationalism,” according to an article in The Economist. These days, Guinness’s Irish origins are something of a sales gimmick.
Another stout you’re likely to see in Ireland is Beamish, but that’s about the only place I’ve actually found it, so I won’t waste your time extolling its virtues. Instead, we’ve rounded up a fair few examples of authentic Irish ales—meaning they’re produced by Irish-owned breweries—for your reading and and drinking pleasure.
Spelled An Brain Blásta on the brewery’s website, this 7% ABV strong ale is indeed a “tasty drop” as it says on the bottle. What, you thought this post would be all about stouts? I love a good stout as much as the next girl, probably more, but Irish beer culture doesn’t begin and end with one style, so neither does this article.
Porterhouse can—and does—boast of being “Ireland’s first brew pub.” They’ve got a bunch of locations now, including one in NYC, but however much they expand, their own beers always come from Ireland, where they’re “hand crafted in small batches by a guy called Peter, helped by Tom & Paul….”
For those of you who are local to the Rochester area, we picked up this bottle at AJ’s Beer Warehouse.
Pour/Appearance: (Ben) Pours an ever-so-slightly murky deep red. Color is a slightly dull antique gunstock cherry. Head is a short-lived sixteenth of an inch.
(Meagan) Rich amber when held up to the light, pale head, very nice lacing in a nosing glass.
Nose: (Ben) Wonderful nose. Nose is a complex and malty Scots-Irish [malt] smell. Nose has some malty oat notes with hints of a feed barn. Some cedar, freshly plowed fields and leaf mould in the nose; it’s a nearly impossible to describe smell that’s reminiscent of J.W. Lees Autumn Harvest 2012.
(Meagan) Malty nose that I also found similar to J.W. Lees. I really love that smell. Sweet, caramel notes, with hints of toasty nuttiness.
Taste: (Ben) The flavor has hints of the nose, but is otherwise drier, bitterer, bits of peat. Definite roasted barley in there. With three hop varietals, it shows in the flavor.
(Meagan) Less sweet, toastier than I expected based on the aroma. Good hop bite on the back and middle of the tongue, and a slight alcohol kick that is pleasant and not overpowering. As it warms, I get more hops in the aroma, and more malt in the flavor.
Mouthfeel/Body: (Ben) Mouthfeel is medium thick, although possibly masked by the carbonation. The back of the bottle lists flaked barley as an ingredient, so there is some mouthfeel contribution from that.
(Meagan) Medium body, some malty viscosity.
Overall: (Ben) Overall, it is a fragrant, dry, hoppy and unique beverage with a definite taste of the isles to it; not quite Scottish, nor as English as J.W. Lees. I found it pleasant and remarkable, yet the nose tricked me into the belief that this was a malt powerhouse.
(Meagan) The resemblance to J.W. Lees ends with the malty nose, fresh EKG hop notes in the aroma, and maybe the color. This strong Irish ale is altogether hoppier and toastier than the nose would suggest. As Ben commented, “It’s an aroma bomb,” and “It’s refreshing, but deceptive. Not that that’s bad; this is an entirely enjoyable bottle.”
Based in Ballymote, County Sligo, The White Hag is a small brewery that lists exactly three staff members on their website. Weighing in at 10.2% ABV, Black Boar Imperial Oatmeal Stout should probably be savored slowly, with food. Fortunately, Irish pub fare goes exceptionally well with a good beer (go figure). Me, I saved enough of this libation to enjoy it with Fudge Stout Brownies.
Pour/Appearance: (Ben) Pours an opaque black with dark brown head.
(Meagan) A true black and tan, much like Old Rasputin or Yeti in appearance.
Nose: (Ben) Nose is alcoholic, bready with Irish yeast notes.
(Meagan) Some roast notes and malt sweetness. And alcohol. Hints of chocolate—before having any brownie.
Taste: (Ben) Flavor is alcohol, black strap molasses, rolled oats, brown bread and Virginia black Cavendish. A very complex, yet straight laced, orthodox flavor. Some perfume alcohol notes paired with a hint of dates.
(Meagan) Mmm…that’s good. Oh, you wanted an actual description. Fine, then. At once sweet, toasty and nutty. Noticeable and enjoyable alcohol warmth.
Mouthfeel/Body: (Ben) Mouthfeel is thick and syrupy.
(Meagan) Smooth, and quite viscous. The body makes me think of chocolate, and, yes, there they are, some cacao flavors in the finish.
Overall: (Ben) A complex, Imperial strength stout with heat and spice, and enough interesting flavors underneath a completely orthodox Irish stout profile to keep it interesting. If she were a homebrew I’d give her a very favorable score, but she ain’t, so I think I’ll just enjoy.
This one hails from Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow, “in the heart of Ireland’s traditional malt and hop growing region,” according to the O’Hara’s Brewery/Carlow Brewery website. They’re “an independent, family-owned business established in 1996.” Doesn’t get too much more authentic than that, yeah?
Pour/Appearance: (Ben) Pours a complete black with a surprisingly short-lived head in my glass.
(Meagan) Beer is obsidian dark. Thick, but not long-lasting, meerschaum-colored head.
Nose: (Ben) Nose is dry, sharp and pure roasted barley, thank God.
(Meagan) Roast. With wonderfully malty undertones. Faint coffee notes.
Taste: (Ben) Nice, crisp, dry roasty stout flavor with a genuine bottle taste. None of that nitro stuff here. Very sessionable; no strong alcohol flavors. There is a hint of oat, but that’s probably from some flaked barley. There is a definable roast bite. Some tannin and something similar to a juniper lignin† flavor.
(Meagan) Roasty, plenty of tannins. As Ben noted, none of that nitrogenated nonsense. Dried my tongue right out, but in a good way, like a strong cup of black tea does. Doesn’t have the residual sweetness of an Imperial, but it’s not supposed to.
Mouthfeel/Body: (Meagan) full-bodied, though if you’re used to nitrogenated stouts, it might not quite seem like it.
Overall: (Ben) A tasty, refreshing, traditional stout without any of the modern foolishness you get from the weak, halfwit stout imitation marketed as “Guinness” here in the states (it’s just a pale lager with Guinness flavor extract added. Pfalgerah). A crisp, bitter and clean libation that remains a responsible beverage at 4.3%.
(Meagan) Good, traditional Irish stout. Wish I could try it on tap. I’ve got nothing against stout in the bottle, but they’re so yummy on tap. Anyway, as Ben commented, the flavor seems more like what U.S. drinkers might associate with an American stout, probably due to the lack of nitrogen. Since beer does not produce nitrogen on its own, this is just fine and dandy. My dim recollection of Beamish is a somewhat drier, roastier stout, much like this. I’d happily drink a couple pints of O’Hara’s Irish Stout.
Pour/Appearance: (Ben) Pours a transparent deep mahogany. Head is short-lived light tan, one finger.
Nose: (Ben) Nose is about what you expect; sweet, roast, malt.
(Meagan) Smells very grain-y, faint roast, nutty character, probably due to the roasted barley that lends it color. There’s a note in the nose that reminds me of our Vienna lager. Could be that they used some Vienna or similar malt. The brewery website’s notes say, “The malt body is as impressive as a bock,” so that very well could be.
Taste: (Ben) Flavor is mild, no diacetyl; slight sweet malt, little bit o’ roast. A lot better than that mega brew killi-whatsit crap. Refreshing. Decent amount of flavor for a sub-5%.
(Meagan) Toasty. Bitterer, with more tannin than most other examples I’ve tried. Is that hops, or just toast on the back of my tongue? Little bit of both, I think. Buttery diacetyl is a “defect” common to the style, but as Ben said, there’s none in this one.
Mouthfeel/Body: Full-bodied, like it says on the bottle.
Overall: (Ben) Overall; roast, malt, restrained hops, balanced flavor. Some phenolics that outlast the main flavor leave a lingering bitter finish, but it isn’t unpleasant. Tastes a bit like the aroma of old trees in the aftertaste. There’s some tannin in there, which is a welcome addition. This isn’t a “kill a six pack of natty” beverage, it’s more of a cogent conversation sipper despite the restrained octane.
(Meagan) Deliciously malty, yet surprisingly dry. There’s still some malt sweetness in the finish, but not as much as the one we homebrewed, for instance. Whenever I brew another Irish Red—and it’s only a matter of time—this will probably be the one I measure it against.
O’Hara’s Leann Folláin
At 6% ABV, this export stout isn’t likely to knock you on your arse, but should be strong enough to feel quite pleasant, especially if you’re not very big. It gets a BeerAdvocate score of 89, and comes in at number four on this list of 30 Irish beers to try in 2015. Incidentally, the White Hag Black Boar was at number seven on the same list.
I really wanted to try this one, but couldn’t find it locally. Since I can’t offer you a detailed description, here’s a link to a post from A Perfect Pint that does.
Right. Now go forth and enjoy a real Irish beer on this blustery (where I am, anyway) Saint Patrick’s Day. Sláinte!
C.R. “Why Guinness Is Less Irish than You Think.” Economist 16 Mar. 2014. Print.
Kearney, Breandán. “30 Fantastic Irish Beers You Have To Try In 2015 (As Suggested By Ireland’s Beer Geeks And Experts).” Belgian Smaak 1 Dec. 2015. Print.
†”Lignoworks.” What Is Lignin? Lignoworks. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
“O’Hara’s | Carlow Brewing Company.” OHaras Carlow Brewing Company. Carlow Craft Brewery Ltd. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
“O’Hara’s Irish Red – O’Hara’s | Carlow Brewing Company.” OHaras Carlow Brewing Company. Carlow Craft Brewery Ltd. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
“O’Hara’s Leann Folláin | Carlow Brewing Company | County Carlow, Ireland.”BeerAdvocate. BeerAdvocate. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
“Porterhouse – Beers – An Brain Blasta.” Porterhouse Brew Co. The Porterhouse Brewing Co. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
“The Porterhouse Beer Revolution.” Porterhouse Brew Co. Porterhouse Brewing Co. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
“The Porterhouse Brewery.” Porterhouse Brew Co. Porterhouse Brewing Co. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
Staunton, Pádraig. “The White Hag Brewery | An Irish Brewing Company.” The White Hag. The White Hag. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.