Understanding Irish Beer: It’s Not All Stout

When it comes to Irish beer, Guinness usually comes to mind (at least for many Americans). However, good Irish beer doesn’t have to be a stout like Guinness. There are various types of Irish beers, including lager, ale and porter.

And just what is stout, anyway? Originally, it was intended to distinguish darker porter made with roasted barley from lighter porters. The word stout is still usually used for dark, dry beers with relatively low alcohol content. Guinness may be the king of stouts, but there are others you can try if you want to stand out from the crowd.

O’Hara’s Celtic Stout It would be hard to find a beer with a name more Irish than this, and it’s brewed in the old Celtic tradition. There are no additives in this Carlow Brewery beer; hops, barley, yeast and water are all that’s in it. The result is a frothy, full-bodied beer with a roasty bite.

Porterhouse Oyster Stout Oyster stouts were so named because they were usually served with oysters. Porterhouse Oyster Stout takes their name a little more literally: Oysters are actually used in the conditioning tanks. The idea is to impart an oyster flavor into the beer. You’ll taste it along with hints of chocolate and coffee in this unique stout.

Murphy’s Irish Stout Murphy’s is one of Ireland’s “big three” stouts (the others are Beamish and, of course, Guinness) and it’s the lightest and sweetest of the trio. It’s chocolaty like other stouts, but with a much lighter chocolate tone. Hints of caramel make this beer almost a dessert.

If beer isn’t stout, it’s probably ale or lager. The differences are supposed to be in the brewing process, but sometimes it’s just a matter of which name sounds better to the manufacturer who decides what goes on the label. In general, ales are more robust than lagers.

Smithwick’s This is a very old red ale. Sometimes called Smithwick’s Irish Red or Smithwick’s Irish Ale, it has a creamy caramel taste that’s just a little bit smoky. With a little more alcohol in the American version than its Irish counterpart, Smithwick’s is easy to find as it’s actually owned by Guinness.

Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale Similar to Smithwick’s but a little heavier, this reddish-brown ale is harder to find than Smithwick’s in American bars and pubs. It has a creamier head than Smithwick’s but a bitterer aftertaste.

Harp Lager Lager usually refers to a beer that’s clean and crisp, not a frothy milkshake type of beer. Harp Lager is made from the water of the Irish Cooley Mountains. If you associate beer with clean mountain water and outdoorsy freshness, this one will work for you.

Remember that a few drops of green food coloring in a beer doesn’t make it Irish. If you want to impress your friends in an Irish pub, order something brown or even red with a good Irish name. You might find a new favorite while you’re at it.

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