With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching you have probably noticed a larger than normal selection of Irish and Irish-style beers. But what is it all and which style would be right for your taste? I’m going to break down the first part of that question to help you answer the second part.
So let’s begin… There are three major styles you will see – stouts, Irish ales, and the ever popular lager. Stouts gain the most attention this time of year; it’s a style that was actually invented by Guinness in the 1820’s and trademarked as extra stout porter. They are the most full-bodied of these three styles, making them great winter-warmers and dinner beers; the deeply roasted malts giving the beer a dark brown if not black color and lots of dark chocolate and roast coffee flavors. Despite being the original, Guinness is actually one of the lighter stouts out there, making it a good jumping off point to explore the style.
If a stout sounds a little too heavy an Irish Ale, such as Smithwicks, may be up your alley. Light to medium bodied with subtle toffee and caramel notes and tend to have low hop bitterness. This style was actually derived as a lighter variation of the English mild ale with its lightly roasted malts giving it a ruby or garnet color. Most American interpretations will be called and Irish-red for this reason.
Our third style, the Lager, is the lightest in color and body. Harp being the most prevalent Irish lager, these beers are fermented at colder temperatures and for a longer period of time than ales. This gives them a light, crisp taste that is perfect as an all day quaffer.
One of my favorite things about these Irish beers is that they play well together – literally! Black and tans (Guinness mixed with Harp) and the Half and Half (Guinness and Smithwicks) taste great, are easy to make and are quite impressive to look at. The key is that Guinness Draught – the draught part is important – is actually less dense and will float on top of most other beers. The result is a glass of beer that will be light at the bottom and black on top, and of course the taste will change as work your way down through the glass. This layering technique needs to be done properly but is quite easy and a quick internet search will turn up hundreds of videos demonstrating it.
Now that we have gotten all the technical stuff out of the way, grab some beer, soda bread and a few friends and be Irish for a day!