The Week’s Featured beer
“Here’s to a long life and a merry one, a quick death and an easy one, a pretty girl and an honest one, a cold beer — and another one!”
— Irish toast
What comes to mind when you think of St. Patrick’s Day? Likely some combination of the color green, corned beef and cabbage, and beer — not nece ssarily in that order. If beer was at the top of your list, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced green beer at some point.
Yes, much to the chagrin of beer aficionados everywhere, turning beer green with food coloring is a common St. Patrick’s Day practice.
Green beer traditions notwithstanding, there is another style of beer indelibly associated with the holiday — dry Irish stout. The best-known example of the style is Guinness Stout, which is also the most-imbibed beer on St. Patrick’s Day: Wallethub.com estimates that 13 million pints of Guinness will be consumed during the 2017 holiday.
The origins of stout are traced back to the early 18th century and porter of England. This aged, brown style of ale was popular among London’s working classes, particularly the men who worked the river docks handling cargo — the porters. Porter became the dominant style of beer in London in the 1700s, and soon after became the first true international style, shipped all over the world.
By the early 1800s, breweries were producing “stout” porters as well, which were essentially stronger versions of regular porters. It was in Dublin, Ireland, where these stouts began to diverge from standard porters. The Dublin brewers adapted their recipes to the city’s hard water, increasing the amount of black roasted malts to help neutralize its alkalinity. The result, referred to as simply “stout” by the locals, was a roasty, drier version of the stout porter brewed in London.
The most famous of the Irish breweries, Guinness, was founded in 1759 and for the first few decades was best known for brewing porter. By the 1840s stout accounted for more than 80 percent of Guinness’s output. Following the World Wars, Guinness became the largest and most popular brewer of stout in the world.
The hallmark characteristic of the Irish stout style is the roasty, coffee-like aroma and flavor, and it’s not uncommon to find some bittersweet chocolate notes as well. A bit of fruitiness might even be present, and Guinness Stout in particular features a very slight lactic-like tang that evokes aging in barrels. It should have a mellow, medium-full body that finishes dry and smooth. Many stouts are carbonated with nitrogen (pioneered by Guinness in the 1950s) which gives an incredibly creamy mouthfeel and thick head of foam.
“When I drink an Irish Stout I look for a beer that has a smooth easy drinking appeal,” wrote Mike White, brewer at McMenamins Old St. Francis School, via email. “A roast character that is present but not the overpowering consistency of the drink. Most of, if not all, the Irish Stouts I have had have been on nitro so the smooth creamy head is paramount to the look and feel of the pint. I look for an Irish Stout to be a mild body with a dark look and feel so as I can have more than one!”
Guinness is traditional on St. Patrick’s Day, but if you’d prefer your dry stout brewed closer to home, your first stop should be McMenamins. As a company, McMenamins has strong Irish roots and the holiday is one of their biggest celebrations. This year the festivities are spread out over Friday and Saturday and will feature live music around the property, as well as Irish food and drink specials, and of course, their house-brewed Irish Stout.
According to White, “the recipe at McMenamins sticks to a pretty classic style of Irish Stout. A lower (original gravity) to start with a lot of dark malts and then flaked barley to help with the creaminess and retention of the head during pouring.” Available throughout the month of March exclusively on nitro, this version is an easy-drinking 4.9 percent alcohol by volume (by comparison, draft Guinness is 4.2 percent alcohol).
Worthy Brewing also brewed a dry Irish stout for the holiday, dubbed Luck of the Eastside, and plans to pair it with Irish food specials. On Friday evening, dancers from the Comerford School of Irish Dance will complete the experience and perform on the Worthy patio.
I reached out to Worthy to find out more about their version of the ale. Brewer Zach Hoyopatubbi replied via email: “The style we’ve targeted is a Dublin-style Irish dry stout. We aimed to stay fairly close to the style; we even went as far as fermenting with an English ale yeast, rather than our own house yeast. The only primary difference being that we chose to add dark chocolate malt rather than the traditional roasted barley.”
Wherever you find yourself for the holiday, remember to stay safe and drink responsibly — and avoid the green beer. Sláinte!
—Jon Abernathy is a local beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!