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Irish beers: Great brews for St. Patrick's Day

F or a comparatively small island specializing in just two beer styles, Ireland has made a disproportionate contribution to the world of beer. And for people looking for a taste of the Emerald Isle on St. Patrick's Day, the real deal beats green beer hands down. • Here's a primer: The Irish brewing tradition comprises dry stout and Irish red ale. Dry stout is one of the world's most exported beer styles; the style's standard bearer Guinness can be found in bars all over the world. Lighter in body and lesser known, Irish red ale is perhaps one of the most approachable and comforting styles of ale brewed today. • Both dry stout and Irish red ale are made distinct by the addition of varying degrees of roasted barley. At lower levels, as in Irish red ale, roasted barley adds complexity and toasted bread notes. At higher levels, as in stouts, it imparts coffee and dry bitter flavors.
Irish dry stouts

Two versions of Guinness are available in the United States, Draught and Extra Stout. The Draught version is served via a nitrogen draft system that adds extra creaminess to the mouthfeel. Guinness Draught features toned-down coffee and grain notes with a mild bitterness in the finish from both hops and roasted barley. Guinness purists tend to favor the bottled Extra Stout version as superior in flavor and aroma concentration. Extra Stout has a lightly earthy coffee flavor with hints of molasses though the roasted barley component allows it to finish dry with a lightly burned bitterness.
Murphy's Irish Stout

Available only in the nitro version, Murphy's is a smoother, sweeter and less bitter brew than Ireland's other dry stout offerings. The middle flavor ranges are almost cream sweet with notes of sweet coffee, caramel and lightly toasted bread, but it does dry out and even finishes with a very light astringency. Like most nitro-served beers, Murphy's features a light body but fluffy and creamy mouthfeel.

The third and probably least-known of the Irish dry stouts, Beamish features coffee and malt aromas that show up in the flavor as well. In addition to those flavors, look for a light, nutty smokiness, roasted grains and chocolate accents. This beer is less common than Guinness but far more approachable for folks who only seek stouts on St. Patrick's Day.
Irish red ales

Smithwicks (pronounced SMITT-icks) is Ireland's oldest operating brewery, older than Guinness by nearly 50 years. Smithwicks possesses a mild caramel/toffee malt base and very low hop bitterness. The finish is lightly dry, owing to roasted malts, but not enough to stop the deep malt sweetness, which defines this brew, from lingering on the tongue.
Murphy's Irish Red Ale

The companion ale to Murphy's Stout is lighter in body than Smithwicks to the point of almost being watery. Though it features small amounts of chocolate malt, no real chocolate notes come through in the flavor. Instead look for toffee, caramel and nutty notes. Hop bitterness is low and the finish is dry and slightly herbal. If you are a stickler for Irish provenance, you might like to know that Murphy's Irish Red (owned by Heineken) is brewed in the Netherlands; Murphy's Stout is brewed in Wales.
American versions
If you want to taste Irish-style beers on tap, head to the Dunedin Brewery pictured on the cover (937 Douglas Ave.; (727) 736-0606 or Besides having a few year-round varieties such as Nitro Stout or Redhead Red Ale, there are seasonal selections, including Biere de Cafe and Leonard Croon Stout. For an American take on classic Irish styles, look for these brews by the bottle or six-pack at well-stocked liquor stores:
Dry stouts

Shipyard Bluefin Stout, North Coast Old No. 38 Stout, A-B Bare Knuckle Stout, Avery Out of Bounds Stout and Gritty McDuff's Black Fly Stout
Irish red ales

Michelob Irish Red, Samuel Adams Irish Red and Harpoon Hibernian Ale.
Joey Redner is a Tampa resident and world beer traveler.

Irish beers: Great brews for St. Patrick's Day 03/13/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 9:20am]
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