Irish Ales

Irish Red Ale DarkAlesIrish-GreenBeerThe Irish make (or made) more than Guinness. Their version of a Pale Ale is darker and maltier due to softer water, higher fermentation temperatures (and corresponding yeast), and the use of less hops. The characteristic reddish color comes from roasted or Vienna malts that also enhance the sweetness of the beer. Unfortunately, Ireland doesn’t produce many Irish Ales. In fact, there are only 20 breweries in the entire country (Guinness/Smithwicks/Harp own 3, Murphy’s, Beamish, plus 3 brewpubs and 12 microbreweries).

John Smithwick first brewed an Irish ale in 1710 but after WWI the big three were happy with their stout and porter lines so by WWII there were just some smaller breweries making this style. The last few merged together in the 1950s to form Irish Ale Brewers and that was bought by Guinness in 1965. Not until the 1990s did Irish Ale make a comeback. Smithwick’s expanded to  Canada and Kilkenny became de rigueur for fake Irish pubs all over Europe. Smithwick’s was finally exported to the US market in 2004 after Guinness quit distributing Bass Ale. Today there are many more American-made examples of the style than on the Emerald Isle.

Murphy’s and Beamish’s offerings are now "smooth" with nitrogen widgets and Smithwick’s has the market for discerning beer drinkers to itself. Oh, you’ll run across an "Irish Ale" that is actually a lager. This isn’t really unusual and in fact happens quite often in bottled commercial beers including the ersatz Irish Killian’s sold by Coors in the US. Native Territory: Ireland. Color (SRM): Amber to deeper red copper. (10 – 18). Head: White and frothy. Aromas: Light. Some sweetness. Very little, if any, hop bitterness. Some have some buttery (diacetyl) character. Some soft fruit notes are typical. Flavors: Some caramel sweetness. Sometimes bready or toasty with roasted grain coming out. Finish: Fairly short. Dry but without lasting bitterness. Mouthfeel: Medium. Carbonation: Should have full carbonation. Sometimes served on nitrogen or canned with a widget. After all, Guinness invented the widget. Alcohol: 4.0 – 6.0% ABV. Bitterness (IBU): Only to balance. (15 – 30 IBU). Serving: Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or handled mug. Serve cooler than British Pale Ales. (40 – 45°F). Almost never found in Cask Conditioned form. Malts: Pale. Malt. Roasted Malt or Melanoidin Malt or even Munich or Vienna Malt (giving some of the red color). Often with some corn or sugar adjuncts. Hops: East Kent Goldings. Fuggles. Yeast: British Ale Yeast. Irish Ale Yeast. Related Styles: Southern Brown Ale, Scottish Ale Bob’s Pick
Logo-Smithwicks-6Pack Smithwick’s Irish Ale – Dundalk, Ireland megabrewery (owned by Guinness/Diageo) – The largest selling brand worldwide. Full dark red color. Thin head. Complex bitter finish. 5.0% Rare Gems Logo-Walnut Draught House Nimrod – Austin, TX brewpub – Mild and malty. Deep copper. Served in cask conditioned form at their pub in Austin. Walnut Brewery Restaurant St. James’ Irish Red Ale – Boulder, CO brewpub chain – Coppery color. Malty. Unusually hopped with a bit of Cascade. Also cask conditioned at the pub. JT Bitting Brewing Co. O’Holloran’s Irish Red – Woodbridge, NJ brewpub – Dark red copper. Good use of British hops. "Based on a 100 year old recipe from the Belhaven Brewery". Good bite. Lingering aftertaste. Vermont Pub & Brewery Burly Irish Ale – Burlington, VT brewpub – Reddish brown/red. Well balanced. Mild. Widely Available George Killian’s Irish Red – Coors, Golden, CO megabrewery – May be called an Irish-style but really a light, mass-market lager with artificial coloring. Don’t be confused. Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale – Kilkenny, Ireland megabrewery (owned by Guinness/Diageo) – Similar to Smithwick’s Irish Ale but with a distinctly stronger taste and a bigger head. First brewed in the 1980s as Smithwick’s Irish Ale for the Europe and Canada market but made into it’s own brand. Irish Dry Stout Stout-NinkasiGuinness. It’s may not be the granddaddy of stout but it’s surely the patriarch of the family. That explains the "Irish". The "Dry" comes from not only a high-hopping rate to balance the sweetness but also from the use of roasted unmalted barley to give a grainy and roasty character (a similar effect is found in Scottish Ale). A lot of stout is served on tap on by nitrogen pressure rather than by carbon dioxide. In fact that’s expected anymore. The nitrogen bubbles are smaller and give a cascading effect to the beer, taking a long time to clear. It also gives a thick creamy head that lasts throughout the drink, coating the glass. Canned and even bottled stout is also often found in Smooth form also using nitrogen – often called Pub Draught or Smoothflow. So we see there’s a big range throughout the style. Most are pretty light in alcohol, some have a lot. Some are grainy and have little carbonation, some are smooth from the nitrogen. Some are quite sweet but most are highly hopped to balance the large grain bill. Guinness (Dublin) along with Murphy’s and Beamish (Cork) are the big Irish breweries today. The Cork breweries were bought up in the 1960s by foreign companies that wanted to compete with Guinness around the world. Now it’s easier to find these two brands outside of Ireland than in an Irish pub.

Murphy’s was bought by Watney in 1965. Watney went belly up in 1982 and Murphy’s was sold to Heineken. Beamish was bought by Carling in 1962 and resold to Scottish & Newcastle in 1995.

The American take on a dry stout might include some Northwest hops but they typically aren’t a focal point. Native Territory: London and Ireland. Color (SRM): Very black. The blacker the better. Completely opaque. Some have a touch of hidden red. (30 – 60). Head: Tan or brown head if from a small brewery; but the big commercial brands usually have a white head. Aromas: Roasted malt. Coffee. Flavors: Roasted malt. Sourness. Hop bitterness. Coffee. Bitter chocolate. Nut. Vanilla. Finish: Moderately long but not cloying. Mouthfeel: Filling and grainy. Can be as dry as sidewalk chalk. Carbonation: Tan or brown head if from a small brewery; but the big commercial brands have a white head. Alcohol: Quite variable. On tap often much lighter than in bottles. 3.8 – 6.5% ABV. Bitterness (IBU): Enough to give the sweet beer a bitter balance and leave a long bitter finish. (40 – 90 IBU). Serving:  Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or handled mug. Serve fairly cool for an ale – 40°F. In fact Guinness markets an "Extra Cold" variety in UK pubs. Malts: Pale Malt, Roasted unmalted barley. Chocolate malt. Black Patent Malt. Non-roasted unmalted barley may also be used to enhance creaminess. Acid malt is sometimes used as a substitute for a lactic acid to enhance sourness. Hops:  Brewer’s Gold. Bramling Cross. Challenger. Goldings. Yeast: Irish Ale Yeast. Related Styles:  Export Stout – Higher gravity, dryer, hoppier, and all-around stronger. Notes: Brewing water is usually a bit high in bicarbonates that counter the acidity of the roasted barley and the hops. This has the effect of extracting more of the tannins from the barley, making the beer darker, and enhancing the hop bitterness. Brettanomyces bacteria is often added during a secondary fermentation to give a sour tang, just like they did in the 1800s. Some breweries add a bit of old, soured beer to the wort to gain dryness and complexity. Bob’s Pick Logo-Guinness.jpg Guinness Extra Stout – Dublin, Ireland megabrewery – Bottled non-smooth, please. Everything the epitome used to be. Unfortunately not found worldwide. 5.5% Rare Gems Logo-Hidden Hidden Hidden Depths – Salisbury, Wiltshire, England microbrewery – Black black black dry stout.  Roast and chocolate. Earthy Fuggles hops. Always served cask conditioned. 4.6%. Mickey Finn‘s Brewery Classic Irish Stout – Libertyville, Chicago, IL brewpub – The name says it all. Served on both CO2 and nitrogen. 5.7% Wasatch Brewpub Stout – Park City, UT brewpub – Full body with long lasting, foamy head. Balanced. Non-biting but affirmative. 4.0 ABV (3.2% ABW – the most allowed in Utah). Ninkasi Noire – Lyon, France brewpub – A big black stout with a big tan head that dissipates quickly. Lots of toasty, almost burnt malt. Coffee. 4.8% Library Bar and Restaurant Shafthouse Dry Stout – Houghton, MI brewpub – Completely opaque. Deep, deep brown with gray head. Mild, dry, balanced. A bit of tempting burnt malt taste. Solid beer. Moderately thick. 5.0% Widely Available Logo-Avery Avery Out of Bounds Stout – Boulder, CO regional brewery – Very big. Roasty from unmalted barley. Chocolate. Sourness is a plus. 5.1% North Coast Old #38 Stout – Fort Bragg, CA microbrewery – Fluffy brown head. Roast and dark fruit. 5.6% Wye Valley Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout Herefordshire, England microbrewery – Creamy and very mild. Maris Otter, Flaked barley, Roasted barley, Crystal and Chocolate malts. Northdown hops. Winter seasonal. 4.6% Beamish and Murphy’s widget nitro-can stouts are very much like Guinness’ Pub Draught. See below for various varieties of Guinness.