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Irish Brew 101

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.”

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2012 in Beer, Beer Education, Beer Styles, Holidays

 

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Who was St. Patrick?

By the end of the week everyone will be wearing green and making merry for the yearly tradition of St. Patrick’s Day. This year, the holiday falls on a Saturday, which means that the party will start Friday night and continue until Sunday. Green eggs, corned beef hash, and boiled cabbage will be consumed with unfortunately green beer. Those who are a bit more discriminating will opt for a traditional Irish brew like Guinness or Murphy’s. We’ll talk more about the beer in a bit. But first, what do you really know about St. Patrick’s Day?

St. Patrick himself, oddly enough, was not even Irish. He was born to British aristocrats in 390 A. D. The family owned several homes and many slaves. As a boy, he had no interest in Christianity – to the chagrin of his devout family – and rarely attended services. But, when he was 16, his world took a terrible turn as he was kidnapped and forced into slavery in Ireland tending a heard of sheep. Partially to escape the horrors of slavery, Patrick turned to the religion of his parents and became a deeply-believing Christian. It was after his conversion that Patrick heard a voice in a dream instruct him to escape his bonds and return to Britain. He did and was subsequently ordained as a priest. The voice returned and commanded him to return to Ireland to bring the Christian faith to the island. On March 17, 461 A. D., Patrick died after an arduous life of beatings and ridicule and was largely forgotten by most of the Irish. But, due to his hard work, Christianity had caught on in Ireland.

In the first thousand years of Christianity, people thought to have been extremely holy were often canonized (sainted) by regional church officials. It is in this way the Patrick became St. Patrick. To this day he has never been canonized by a Pope.

In the centuries following his death, St. Patrick’s legend grew. Stories began to emerge of how he rid the Island nation of snakes and used three-leaf clovers to teach about the Holy Trinity. Lesser-known feats attributed to St. Patrick include that his ash wood walking stick that was thrust into the ground became a living tree and that he spoke to long-dead ancestors. Still, St. Patrick was considered a minor saint whose solemnity was observed primarily by European Irish only through the 16th century when it was recognized by the church and made a Holy Day of Obligation.

The holiday became known as a day of attending church and then a day of remembrance when the church lifted the Lenten restrictions forbidding the consumption of meat and alcohol. In 1903 March 17 was made a national holiday in Ireland and, thanks to banking rules, a day free from work. A few years later, James O’Mara, the same man who sponsored St. Patrick’s Day as a holiday, passed a bill that forced pubs to close on the holiday since drinking had gotten out of control. The law was not repealed until 1970.

In the meantime, St. Patrick’s Day had grown in popularity among Irish-Americans even though it is not a nationally-recognized holiday. Partiers are undeterred by this lack of status for the holiday and have celebrated it since the late eighteenth century, prior to the American Revolution. The holiday is a celebration of Irish and Irish American culture; celebrations include prominent displays of the color green, feasting, copious consumption of alcohol, religious observances, and numerous parades.

Among the alcohol consumed during the celebrations are distinctly Irish beers. Now that you have a feel for why the holiday takes place, over the next few days I will spotlight the various beers you can expect to drink this weekend. Check back daily for the stories of Guinness, Murphy’s, Harp and other Irish brews.

 
 

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