It’s St. Patrick’s Day: have a good Irish stout. Photograph courtesy of




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March 2006
Last updated March 2010

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Beer

Irish Beer, Irish Ale & Irish Stout

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day With These Elixirs From The Emerald Isle




Irish beer has a relatively low profile in a world where Belgians, Germans, Czechs and our own American microbreweries tend to take center stage. Dublin’s Guinness is ubiquitous...but it hardly leads a vanguard of Irish beers.

Around St. Patrick’s Day, we start to think about Irish beer—not the Bud Light with green food coloring that is a popular guzzling item at certain bars, but the kind of brew a true food lover might select to celebrate the day. Ireland has its serious stouts and alluring Irish red ales; but unless you shop at specialty beer stores, you’re not likely to come across too many of them.

In Ireland, people covet their stouts. Dark brown in color with roasted flavors and cream-colored, foamy heads that would make cappuccino envious, brands like Beamish, Guinness, and Murphy’s have long been popular at pubs and at home. Relative newcomer O’Hara’s (the brewery is ten years old) has brought new energy to the category with an elegant old-style brew, giving connoisseurs, people who remember the good old days, and those who might not like the bitterness of traditional stouts something to shout about.

The biggest challenge to enjoying Irish beers is finding them in the U.S.: you may need to do some hunting. We went to a supermarket that carries 100 beers and came up with just four brands distributed by Guinness: a lager, an ale and two stouts. Elsewhere, we found a bottle of O’Hara’s; and weren’t successful in tracking down any Irish red ales by press deadline (but if you see them, grab them and try them). We did find Irish-style red ales by American brewers, like Diamond Bear Brewing’s Irish Red, Finnegan’s Irish Amber and Harpoon Brewery’s Hibernian Ale. But for the purpose of this article, we confined the brews to the imports.


Tasting Notes & Food Pairings

The result of our mini-tasting: While regular Guinness Draught Stout was our worst performer, it’s no surprise that people love the bottled Extra Stout. And O’Hara’s is a real star. They are shown below, rated on a scale of 1 to 4.

Enjoy the stouts with salmon dishes, lamb, stews, and with cheese. Drier stouts like Guinness can be enjoyed with oysters, a popular combination in Ireland. The sweeter ones, like O’Hara’s, pair with desserts—chocolate cake, even mousse. We enjoy both with sweeter loin of pork preparations and ham (and of course, sandwiches, burgers and pasta).

To study the difference between ale, lager, stout and other types of beer, see our Glossary of Beer Terms.

Irish Beers  

Guinness Draught Stout

This stout is molasses in color with very little head. Though it offers brown sugar and caramel on the nose, it was skeletal and devoid of any flavor interest; flat and uninteresting.

Rating: Not Recommended

Guinness Draught

Smithwick’s Ale

This amber-colored ale has a rich, foamy head. It is quite full and smokey on the nose, and has good body and heft on the palate, but it lacks both breadth and depth. The flavor is pleasantly bitter. Though the bottle says to drink it well-chilled, it tastes better at a warmer temperature.

Rating: 2

Smithwick's Ale

Harp Lager

Harp is perhaps the most famous Irish lager in the found in the U.S. Burnished copper in color, this beer is floral, clean and aromatic on the nose, and has a mellow, round, “sweetish” flavor. It is a medium-bodied beer that, though refreshing, is quite hollow and weak in the finish.

Rating: 2.5

Harp beer

Guinness Extra Stout

Almost opaque mahogany—dark, as it should be—this stout is aromatic, with cereal aromas that are quite exciting. It is full-bodied, broadly flavored and bittersweet; deliciously nutty and complex.

Rating: 3.5

Guinness Extra Stout

O’Hara’s Irish Stout

Dark, black-brown with a rich, beige, creamy head, O’Hara’s is more mellow, less bitter, and more complex than Guinness. An award-winner Champion in its class at the Brewing Industry International Awards in 2000, it is reminiscent of old-style stouts: chocolate notes, layers of flavor quite exciting. This is the one you can drink from aperitif through dessert. Read The Nibble’s full review of O’Hara’s Irish Stout.

Rating: 3.8

O'Hara's Stout

Ale Of The Isle

Irish Pubs Pub Cookbook Irish Cookbook
The Story of the Irish Pub: An Intoxicating History of the Licensed Trade in Ireland, by Cian Molloy. An engaging and recommended survey of the social history, origins, and evolution of Irish pubs, some of which have been owned by the same family for a century or more. Click here for more information or to purchase. McGuire’s Irish Pub Cookbook, by Jessie Tirsch. Written partly as a serious cookbook and partly as a souvenir for its patrons, McGuire’s Irish Pub Cookbook is a bright and cheery book, packed with photos and illustrations to help bring the taste of Ireland into your very own kitchen. Click here for more information or to purchase. The Irish Heritage Cookbook, by Margaret Johnson. A fresh perspective on Irish cookery with an engaging collection of recipes culled from Irish chefs, hoteliers and long-time home cooks who have reinterpreted traditional dishes with earthy panache. Click here for more information or to purchase.

Bottoms Up
Beer Bands Beer Set Beer Mug
’Mine’ Beer Bands.
Great for parties. Your guests will never lose track of their beverage again. Click here for more information or to purchase.
Clear Polycarbonate Pitcher and Mug Set. Ideal for outdoor entertaining, this durable set is crafted of unbreakable polycarbonate, perfect for beer. Click here for more information or to purchase. Libbey 12 Ounce Beer Mug Set. This classic 12 ounce beer stein features a thumb rest on the handle. Ideal for frosting. Click here for more information or to purchase.

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© Copyright 2005-2024 Lifestyle Direct, Inc. All rights reserved. All images are copyrighted to their respective owners.