Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
I hope you’re drinking something dark and delicious today. Stout is what made Ireland into a famous beer country in the first place, but over time Ireland has slipped into also-ran status in terms of beer. The national brewing scene has become dominated by a small handful of multinationals and as a result the beer scene lacks the vibrancy of most other traditional beer nations. Cask ales are hard to come by – relegated mostly to serious beer bars only.
There are, however, signs of life in Ireland. Beershine and I just completed a month-long tour of the Emerald Isle, and we investigated a lot of breweries along the way. Microbrewing in Ireland has been relatively slow to develop, but there are reasons to be excited. In the past couple of years brewers like Dungarvan, Clanconnel and West Kerry have emerged to liven the scene up a bit. There’s a brand new brewery called Inishmacsaint in Co. Fermanagh whose distribution is so limited we never saw their beers. Another new venture is underway in Clifden on the Connemara Peninsula, Metalman Brewing is under construction in Waterford and there are rumours about people wanting a startup in Dingle, a town where hardware stores double as pubs.
Ireland is one of those places where the microbreweries all trend towards a standard range. This range usually includes an Irish Ale – the existence of which both I and the Irish themselves debate. And it usually involves something dark. Testing the beers of Ireland’s micros, one thing stands as certain. Whatever else they do, they are passionate about their stout. It shows in the character of the beers, which almost invariably exceed the character of the macrobrewed stouts. Speakings of the macrobreweries, I should point out for the benefit of those who don’t yet know what’s going on with Beamish that the brand is now almost exclusively sold in Ireland and has been positioned as a budget brand. In terms of character, these days Beamish is a clear step below both Guinness and Murphy’s (and we can put an asterisk on the Murphy’s, since the locals in Cork insist it is still made there). This I feel is a bit of a shame, because I think for most of us the three big Irish stouts stand together with a special place in our beer appreciation. To see one of them devalued and degraded just doesn’t make any sense.
But then again, none of those beers really stands up. If I lived in Dublin or Cork or Galway I would stick to the craft brewed stuff because, well, it’s just better. I think the best stout in Ireland is Belfast Black from Whitewater. Beershine votes for Celebration Stout from Porterhouse. Ratebeer also says Celebration Stout. Of course, that’s a light impy, which just goes to prove my point about impys being able to withstand averaging over many raters. The best all round stouts, judged by the site and the two us are clear, however:
If you’re not into stout on St. Patrick’s Day, what would you drink? Well, we recommend Clotworthy Dobbin, a brown ale from Whitewater in particular. Dungarvan has the most interesting red ale and blonde ale. And for lagers the Jul-öl from Messrs Maguire was the standout for both of us, although that is a seasonal.
And what does one have if not beer? Well, if you can get hold of Double L Cider, I recommend that. But you’re probably thinking about whiskey. If so, then the answer is Midleton. This one really isn’t close.
Leave a Reply