Guinness may be the most well-known Irish beer in all the land, but you can find many more craft beers that celebrate Ireland's long-standing history of brewing this St. Patrick's Day. While many know the traditionally European styles of beer that made their way across the Atlantic Ocean, Irish beers are finally getting their due, says Julia Herz, the publisher of CraftBeer.com and beer cicerone. "Of the beer styles that come up from Germany and England, Ireland doesn't come up very much," she says. "But Ireland is in fact a brewing nation." And that makes it even more fun to pair a traditional Irish-style beer with the many Irish dishes we'll be preparing this St. Patrick's Day.
The two most well-known Irish beer styles? The dry stout (where Guinness barges in), and Irish red ale. Dry stouts, known for their dark color, may be thought of as heavy beers, but it's just not so. "They are generally very sessionable beers," says Herz. "They're not traditionally very hop-flavored or aromatic centric — although bitterness does play a role — but it's the malts that make it the famous dry stout we know and love." What's most important to remember about these dry stouts, Herz says, is that color does not equal heavy in the body. "The darker color comes from a higher temperature exposure to the malts," she says. "With that, the higher heat that the malt is exposed to, it changes the flavor." In a very dark stout, you'll find lots of roasted flavors and chocolate flavors thanks to the very high heat; lighter-colored beers exposed to lower heat will have more notes of toffee, and even lighter-colored beers exposed to lower temperatures will have more bread-like, graham cracker flavors.
And then there's the Irish red ale, the sometimes forgotten sibling of dry stout, which is the easy alternative for lager and ale lovers. It's another sessionable, less hoppy, malt-focused beer that brings in those sweet and roasted flavors. "It's the kind of session beer for people drinking in a pub after a long day," says Herz.
It's not hard to find an Irish-style beer to go with the hearty foods of Ireland. "The dishes that Ireland is known for are simple, hearty, and satisfying for people that work the land," she says. What's Herz's go-to Irish food and craft beer pairing this upcoming St. Paddy's Day? As a busy mom of two, she says she'll go for the home run of Irish food and beer pairings: an Irish stew with an Irish dry stout.
Here are the best beers to go with the Irish dishes you're cooking this St. Paddy's Day, and why the pairings work:
The Irish Beer: Irish red ale
The dishes to pair it with: Corned beef and cabbage
A salty, fatty dish meets its match with a lighter, sessionable beer with a sweet spot. "One way I describe [an Irish red ale] is like toasted bread with butter and caramel on top," says Herz. That sweet (but noy cloyingly sweet) cleanses the palate after a hearty meal of corned beef and cabbage, but its versaility makes it an easy beer to pair with all sorts of dishes. Other non-Irish foods to try it with? Anything grilled, and anything spicy.
Beers to try:
Crow Peak Brewing Company's Redwater Irish Ale
Named after the Redwater river in South Dakota, the beer is a very malt-forward ale with hints of dried fruit and a slight roastiness at the end.
Freetail Brewing Co.'s Irish Red Ale (Danny Mijo)
The limited-release beer from the San Antonio, Texas, brewpub is a favorite for Texans celebrating St. Paddy's Day.
Oskar Blues' Old Chub
Not quite an Irish red ale, but it's a bigger-bodied one: this Scottish ale is similar to the red ales because of its malt-forward and caramel flavors.
The Irish beer: Dry Irish stout
The dishes: Shepherd's pie (or cottage pie), Irish stew, or oysters
When your protein is roasted, braised, or barbecued, Herz says, it goes great with the darker spectrum of beers — like those ever-popular Irish stouts. An Irish stew is probably the easiest craft beer and food pairing for St. Paddy's Day — "especially if you add some stout to your stew," says Herz. Beef braised in stout may be the best thing you've ever done in the kitchen. And for a more nontraditional St. Paddy's Day meal, try oysters with your dry stuots. Herz says that oyster-stout pairings are nearly 200 years old. "It's such a contrast," Herz says. "The brininess of the oyster with the maltiness of a stout — the beer refreshes and cleanses the palate, but the beer still retains its identity," she says.
Beers to try:
Terrapin Beer Co.'s Full of Balarney Irish Stout
The first-ever nitrogenated beer from the Athens, Ga., brewery, this traditional dry Irish Stout is brewed with flaked barley and roasted malt giving it a smooth, dark brew.
Brooklyn Brewery's Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout
A mix of English pale malts, caramel malts, black patent malt, unmalted black barley, and flaked raw barley gives this Irish stout a big foamy head, plus notes of espressso, coffee, and chocolate.
Left Hand Brewing Company's Milk Stout Nitro
Another nitrogen beer with a head like whipped cream, the stout just gets sweeter. It smells like brown sugar, coffee, and vanilla cream, with a taste of mocha, slight hops, and a roasty maltiness.