Hold onto your potatoes, because I'm about to drop an Irish car bomb: Some people don't care for Guinness. I know, right?
Sure, if all you're used to drinking are pale ales and lagers, a pint of Ireland's thick, dark stout may sit a little heavy on the tummy. But it's just not St. Patrick's Day without it (unless you're sticking to Jameson, in which case, may you be in heaven a full half hour before the devil knows you're dead).
Even if Guiness isn't your thing, you can still enjoy it this St. Patrick's Day. How? Simple: Cut it with a beer or liquor you actually enjoy.
Traditional? Hardly. St. Patrick might laugh you right out of Kilkenny for ordering a Black & Tan on his namesake holiday. But we say on St. Patrick's Day, you should toast any drink containing Guinness. Much like dark chocolate, Guinness is a beer that tends to go with just about anything, which is why it's one of the more common ingredient of beer cocktails on local menus.
St. Petersburg's Three Birds Tavern boasts seven Guinness blends on its drinks menu: Bass, Smithwick's, Boddingtons, Blue Moon, Yuengling, Stella Artois and cider. We're partial to the Stella blend, known here as a "Stella in the Dark," but if you want to keep it traditional, the Smithwick's Irish red ale is a good way to go. The brewery is 300 years old and has been part of the Guinness family since the '60s.
The Outpost in Tampa counts nine Guinness mixers on its distinctly Americanized beer blend menu: Yuengling, Magic Hat #9, Shock Top, Sweetwater 420, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Abita Purple Haze, as well as two ciders: Angry Orchard and Foxbarrel Pear. That last one sounded pretty tasty to us, but unfortunately, they were out of Foxbarrel on my visit, so I tried the Angry Orchard. The puckish cider was a little too tart for my taste; the drink was much more cider than stout. Not my favorite, but it did add a little tickle to the tongue, which was a nice little kick.
If you're down in Sarasota, swing by Pub 32, a strip-mall Irish gastropub with a clean, streamlined atmosphere, but a mighty appealing Irish menu, both in terms of food (Soda bread! Irish boxty! Irish champ!) and drink (two dozen Irish whiskeys, including Jameson Rarest Vintage and Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy, $42 a shot apiece; and nearly 20 more from Scotland and the United States). So you feel you're in good hands when ordering one of their seven layered beers, all of which use Guinness.
Some of the choices are standard (Yuengling, Stella, Smithwick's), some are up to you (the Happy Irishman is made with your choice of pale ale or IPA; the Dark & Hazy is made with a wheat ale), and a couple are downright unique, including a $10 traditional Black Velvet (Guinness and champagne) and a "Guinness & Black," which is Guinness served with an ounce of blackcurrant cordial. That last one is still a meal in a glass, but much smoother, brighter and sweeter than you'd expect a Guinness to be. The nose alone is enough to open your eyes.
By now, perhaps, you're getting a little curious: What CAN'T you blend with Guinness? That brings us to The Pub at International Plaza in Tampa. They offer a thoroughly European beer blend selection; its Guinness mixers include imported eye-openers like Wells Bombardier and Belhaven Scottish ale and Twisted Thistle.
But if you've been to the Pub, you're no doubt familiar with their upstairs "Wall of Beer," offering 20 taps you can pull yourself by purchasing a pay-by-the-ounce card. And guess what? One of those taps serves Guinness. We can already see your mind at work: How would Guinness taste mixed with Abita Strawberry Harvest? Wychwood Hobgoblin? Cigar City Cucumber Saison?
On St. Patrick's Day, we're all a little bit Irish. This year, your beer should be, too.