Without a doubt the most famous brew to come out of Ireland is Guinness Draught. In fact, the brew is almost synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day in the United States and at some watering holes it is responsible for 50% of the beer sales on the St. Paddy’s Day. Guinness is also one of the most misunderstood beers on the market with many misconceptions surrounding it. Today I am going to try to dispel some of those myths and present you with a bit of history about this favored brew and a few other Irish delights.
Guinness began life as a porter beer that originated in London in the early 18th century not as a stout. Porters were a precursor beer to stouts and were brewed to try and replicate a blended beer drink known as “Entire.” Porters were relatively low in alcohol and mild in flavor. The designation stout generally meant that the beer was stronger than a regular porter therefore it was a “stout porter.” Eventually, as the beer grew in popularity, stout came to describe brew’s color and body, the word porter was dropped from the name and stouts became a recognized style of their own.
Arthur Guinness began brewing beers in 1759 when he signed a 9,000 year lease at the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. But, it took Guinness nearly 20 years before it started selling porters in 1778 and another 60 before the brewery produced the first Single and Double Stouts in the 1840s. The Guinness beer that we enjoy today came into being in the 1970s after a decision was made by the company to make the Guinness Extra Stout recipe “more drinkable” by reducing the gravity of the brew. It is estimated that this brew, also known as “the black stuff”, is poured into 1.8 billion pint glasses a year.
Another of Ireland’s famed stouts is Murphy’s. Brewing began on this light, sweet stout in 1856 in County Cork, Ireland. Brewery construction began in 1854 with the building situated next to a famous “Holy Well.” Eventually, the brewery became known as the Lady’s Well Brewery. Murphy’s Irish Stout’s flavor can be described as chocolate milk-like with a double shot of espresso and a thick caramel scented head.
No discussion of Irish beers would be complete without taking a look at Irish red Ales. These brews are generally amber to a deep reddish copper color in appearance with a malty aroma that carries hints of caramel or toffee. The flavors of reds carry the aroma through with sweet caramel malt and, in some, buttery notes. There should be little or no hops flavor present although, more American reds will have pronounced hop character.
A prime example of the Irish red style of beer is Smithwick’s (pronounced smit-iks). Originally brewed in a part of the medieval St. Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny, the brewery is still situated on the site of a Franciscan abbey where monks had brewed ale since the 14th century, and has ruins of the original abbey on its grounds. The Smithwick’s Brewery is Ireland’s oldest operating brewery, founded by John Smithwick and Richard Cole in 1710 on land owned by the Duke of Ormonde. Selling ales, porters and stouts, Smithwick’s was the third largest Irish brewery Smithwick’s is the major ale producer in Ireland. It was purchased from Walter Smithwick in 1965 by Guinness and is now, along with Guinness, part of Diageo. Smithwick’s, as most people know it today, was originally created as a special brew for the first Kilkenny Beer Festival. It was later renamed Smithwicks No. 1 and today is known as Smithwick’s.
Whether you quaff a pint of the hearty, black Irish stouts with their thick creamy heads and rich coffee and chocolate flavors or a sweet, flavorful Irish red that is full of caramel and fruity flavors, be sure to hoist a pint in remembrance of our Irish friends across the pond. The hard-working Irish helped build our great nation. Without them the westward expansion would have been much more difficult than it already was.
I close with a traditional Irish toast, “May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.”