WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH
For Digital First Media
St. Patrick’s Day is known for two things — the celebration of all things Irish and the consumption of Irish libations. Among those celebratory drinks is, of course, beer. Not so long ago, our options for beer on St. Patty’s Day were somewhat limited to American adjunct lagers dyed green for mass consumption. Luckily, today our local craft brewers are offering traditional Irish styles like Irish Red Ale and Irish Stout to help celebrate the occasion with a quality brew.
The Beer Judge Certification Program 2015 Style Guidelines includes a category of Irish beers — broken down into three styles: Irish Red Ale, Irish Stout, and Irish Extra Stout. The Guidelines describe the category as “The traditional beers of Ireland contained in this category are amber to dark, top-fermented beers of moderate to slightly strong strength, and are often widely misunderstood due to differences in export versions, or overly focusing on the specific attributes of beer produced by high-volume, well-known breweries. Each of the styles in this grouping has a wider range than is commonly believed,” according to the document at http://www.bjcp.org/docs/2015_Guidelines_Beer.pdf
The Irish Red Ale was a mainstay in the commercial market a decade ago, but today it has taken a backseat to IPAs and imperial stouts. The Irish Red Ale is described by the BJCP 2015 Guidelines as “An easy-drinking pint, often with subtle flavors. Slightly malty in the balance sometimes with an initial soft toffee/caramel sweetness, a slightly grainy-biscuity palate, and a touch of roasted dryness in the finish. Some versions can emphasize the caramel and sweetness more, while others will favor the grainy palate and roasted dryness.”
As far as Irish Stout is concerned, the most familiar example is “Guinness Draught.” The BJCP Guidelines describe the overall impression of the Irish Stout style as, “A black beer with a pronounced roasted flavor, often similar to coffee. The balance can range from fairly even to quite bitter, with the more balanced versions having a little malty sweetness and the bitter versions being quite dry. Draught versions typically are creamy from a nitro pour, but bottled versions will not have this dispense-derived character. The roasted flavor can be dry and coffee-like to somewhat chocolaty.”
The third BJCP recognized Irish style beer is Irish Extra Stout, described as “A fuller-bodied black beer with a pronounced roasted flavor, often similar to coffee and dark chocolate with some malty complexity. The balance can range from moderately bittersweet to bitter, with the more balanced versions having up to moderate malty richness and the bitter versions being quite dry.” Guinness also offers an Extra Stout, which Guinness explains on its website, is “a direct descendent of our archival recipes, Guinness Extra Stout is based on a beer first brewed in 1821, when Arthur Guinness II set down precise instructions for brewing his Superior Porter,” according to www.guinness.com/en-us/our-beers/guinness-original.
If you plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and are looking for locally brewed, traditional Irish-style beers, the luck of the Irish is with you — there are several regional brewers who are currently pouring them:
Sly Fox Brewing Company’s “Seamus’ Irish Red Ale” and “O’Reilly’s Stout” are on tap at both their Pottstown and Phoenixville locations. The “Seamus” is described as “Brewed seasonally in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Pale and British crystal malts combine with Centennial and East Kent Golding hops to create a nicely balanced session beer with a delightful hop finish,” according to information at www.slyfoxbeer.com/beer/seamus-irish-red-ale. For a darker flavor, their “O’Reilly’s Stout” is “An Irish-style dry stout poured with nitrogen for a rich creamy pint. Brewed with imported pale and roasted malts, along with flaked barley, and hopped with Cascade and Target hops. Black in color, light bodied and roasty dry. An Irish-style dry stout poured with nitrogen for a rich creamy pint.” http://www.slyfoxbeer.com/beer/oreillys-stout
Victory Brewing Company’s “Donnybrook Stout” is available on draft at all three of their brewpubs, in Downingtown, Parkesburg and Kennett Square. Described as “The most refreshing dark beer you could ever imagine this side of Dublin! Low alcohol and roasted barley keep it clean and flavorful. The subtle earthiness of European hops harmonize with the roasted barley to offer a whiff of peat. Served with the classic nitrogen pour, Donnybrook delivers an impressive head and silken body of a classic stout,” according to http://www.victorybeer.com/beers/donnybrook/
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant’s “O’Sullivan Stout” is available at most of their locations. This smooth and creamy stout is described at www.ironhillbrewery.com as a “Classic Irish dry stout. Black in color with roasty malt flavor and a pronounced, dry finish. Served on nitrogen for a creamy mouthfeel.”
Tower Hill Brewery in Chalfont is serving their “Irish Red Ale,” just in time for St. Patty’s Day, described atwww.towerhillbrewery.com as “A malty ale balanced with the right amount of hops; 4.2% ABV,” Tower Hill will be serving traditional Irish fare on March 17.
So enjoy a local Irish style brew this St. Patrick’s Day, and “May the leprechauns be near you to spread luck along your way; And may all the Irish angels smile upon you St. Patrick’s Day.” — Irish Toast
Columnist Matt Brasch is a beer enthusiast and a lifelong Montgomery County resident. For more, go to http://thebrewholder.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at “The Brewholder.”